Our guide showed us through all the rooms and explained important milestones in the personal history of Alexander Graham Bell and his family. This working 10-acre farm also illustrates life in the second half of the nineteenth century, with its finely decorated cast-iron stoves, its surprisingly modern looking bathroom, its authentic Victorian-era kitchen and the associated manual washing machine and other household equipment.
“Happy Thought” – detail of cast iron stove at the Bell Homestead
When the Bell family moved here, they had to look after 60 to 70 farm animals as well as a garden and orchard. Various versions of Alexander Graham Bell’s telephones are displayed in different rooms, including a replica of the telephone that was used for the first long-distance phone call between Brantford and Paris, Ontario, in August of 1876.
Some of the telephone equipment that Alexander Graham Bell invented
The Henderson Home was Canada’s first telephone business office. Originally located in downtown Brantford it was moved to this location in 1969. Various rooms document the evolution of the telephone: an 1890 long distance telephone, a wall phone from 1907, a 1924 dial telephone, as well as transatlantic phone cables from the early 20th century. Another room in the Henderson Home features an 1890s telephone exchange; visitors can also inspect a telephone booth from the early 1900s. A payphone from 1961 moves us up in the chronological history of telephone technology.
Replica of an 1890s telephone exchange
Circling back through the leafy environs of Tutela Heights, with its old stately houses that front the Grand River, we continued our drive to Her Majesty’s Royal Chapel of the Mohawks, better known as the Mohawk Chapel. Ontario’s oldest church played an important role in the native history of this area. The church was built in 1785 by the British Crown and given to the Mohawk Indians in appreciation of their support during the American Revolution. Mohawk leader Joseph Brant, whose native name was Thayendanegea, had led Mohawk and colonial Loyalists against American revolutionaries on the New York frontier. After the war was finished, Brant relocated from the Mohawk Valley to establish a reserve on the Grand River in 1784.
The Mohawk Chapel
The Mohawk Chapel is one of only two royal chapels in Canada and was built in 1785. The original entrance of the church faced east, towards a canoe landing site on the Grand River, but was later relocated to the west side of the building. The building itself is a simple wood structure covered with white wooden cladding. The interior of the church is covered in pine and features eight stained glass windows that were installed between 1959 and 1962 and depict scenes of the Six Nation’s native history.
Tomb of Joseph Brant and his son John Brant
Audrey, the curator of the church, gave us an introduction to Brantford’s native history and pointed out the graves of important native personalities such as Susan Hardy, the grand-daughter of Joseph Brant’s sister Molly. Joseph Brant himself and his son John are also entombed in the churchyard of the Mohawk Chapel. Next to this tomb there is a boulder, a memorial to native poetess Pauline Johnson. Many of the gravestones in the cemetery surrounding the church commemorate people who passed away in the first half of the 19th cemetery. Audrey explained that archeologists have been studying the history of the cemetery.
Memorial to native poetess Pauline Johson
East of the church is a pathway to an observation deck that overlooks the ox-bow in the Grand River, the historic disembarking site of the native people when they came to attend church services in their canoes. An elevated flood control dyke now stands where the Grand River used to flow. By 1788 there was a Mohawk community of about 400 people, founded by Joseph Brant, which later evolved into Brantford. The Mohawk Chapel is the only remains of this Mohawk village.
It was getting close to mid-day now, so we moved on to our next destination: the Brantford Farmers’ Market whose history goes all the way back to 1848.