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Montreal Families

Upper Canada Village caters to kids with special needs

Sign language, tactile tours and wheelchair-accessible wagon rides are some of the highlights of Upper Canada Village’s Accessible History Weekend on July 8 and 9.

Walking through the gate of this ‘living-history site’ near Cornwall, Ont., is like stepping back into small-town Ontario in the 1860s. Costumed interpretive staff spend their days milling flour, spinning wool, caring for sheep and cows, making horseshoes and strolling around the town.

Several of the historic buildings have been modified to add wheelchair ramps, and Coordinator of Interpretation, Bruce Henbest, said these legislated improvements to accessibility made staff consider how they could improve service for people with less visible challenges.

The tactile tours will explore historic themes through touch, scent and sound. For example, during a stop at the blacksmith’s shop, visitors will be invited to come in and feel the anvil and hold the tools he works with or objects he has made.

“They get a very hands-on experience of what the blacksmith’s shop is like,” Henbest said. “For those who can’t see or have limited vision, it goes a long way to making the visit more enjoyable.”

A braille site map will be available, as well as a map modified to indicate quiet spaces and areas of the village where noises or smells that could potentially trigger a reaction in someone with sensory-processing issues.

Henbest says that visitors with special needs are welcome anytime and the village offers free rental of all-terrain wheelchairs throughout the season, as well as iPads loaded with virtual tours of areas of the site that can only be accessed via stairs. And 120 interpretive staff have received training on how to provide better customer service for visitors with dementia, Alzheimer’s or autism.

At its autism-friendly Sunday mornings throughout the summer, visitors on the spectrum or with sensory-processing difficulties are provided with itinerary suggestions to find quiet spaces.

“The program is specifically tailored to reduce triggers such as the sound of the train whistle and steam engine whistle, or other sudden noises,” Henbest said. “We have also limited some of the loud machinery like the power loom in the wooden mill and the sawmill equipment, to make it less overwhelming for kids who are disturbed by those sounds.”

Upper Canada Village is located at 13740 County Road 2 in Morrisburg and is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. until Sept. 4. Admission is $19.95 for ages 13-64, and $12.95 for kids 6 to 12 for the Accessible History Weekend, and free for children 5 and under. Parking is free. Senior admission (65+) is $18.95.

For more information, call 800-437-2233 or visit uppercanadavillage.com.

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