Whimsical Birdhouse City In Picton
On our first day of vacation in Prince Edward County, Ontario, the summer of 2022, Bob and I opted to scout out the locale and take it easy. The first stop we made was at a popular attraction called Birdhouse City near Picton, Ontario, Canada.
It all began in 1980 with the construction of the first massive birdhouse that was a scale replica of the historic Massassauga Park Hotel. The luxury Hotel once stood at Massassauga Point on the Bay of Quinte. It dated from the 1800s before being demolished in the 1940s.
It was one, Doug Harnes, a retired superintendent with the Prince Edward Region Conservation, who applied his woodworking skills to fashion the 83-room birdhouse with Purple Martins in mind.
With his birdhouse carefully installed, Doug then decided that, if one birdhouse was good, more would be better.
Mr. Harnes then organized and enlisted community groups, businesses, schools and individuals to help make more nest boxes. Following Mr. Harnes’ lead, many also modeled their contributions after other historical buildings in Prince Edward County. Mountain View Church birdhouse is a replica of Wesley United Church that actually began life as Mountain View Wesleyan Methodist Church in 1878.
The build committee for the original church put plans in motion in the fall of 1877. It was the farmers who got the stone and built the foundation to be ready for the contractor in the spring. Mountain View Church was the only twin-steepled church in Prince Edward County.
In order to protect nesting birds from predators that would either kill nestlings or eat the eggs, each birdhouse is placed securely on a platform at an appropriate height on a pole. A baffler is put in place to prevent mice, squirrels or snakes from gaining access to the nests.
With roughly 100 birdhouses to discover and enjoy, Bob and I appreciated the trail cut through the long meadow grasses. It wound its way among the randomly-placed nest boxes.
One birdhouse is fashioned after Roblin’s Mill, a grist mill that once operated in Ameliasburgh. The original mill was built in 1842 by Owen Roblin, the grandson of a United Empire Loyalist.
By the time the Metro Toronto and Region Conservation Authority purchased the historic Mill, it was scheduled for demolition. Now standing at Black Creek Pioneer Village, the reconstructed Mill uses the original flooring, timbers and machinery that were salvaged.
Although Bob and I visited in late July, there was still nesting activity taking place at Birdhouse City. We saw at least two House Wrens visiting birdhouses, some with insects clutched in their beaks.
Of course, as Bob and I circulated among the birdhouses, those that touched a chord with us were the ones that captured our interest. One birdhouse replicated a one-room schoolhouse that once was home to students in Ameliasburgh.
Bob and I both attended different one-room schoolhouses similar to this one for the first years of our schooling.
Next to my childhood home, there was an old Log Schoolhouse not unlike the one shown above. This replica is fashioned after the Log Schoolhouse at 1271 County Road 7 in Prince Edward County. It fulfilled its purpose circa 1875.
Another nesting box that really caught our attention was Gilead Schoolhouse #10, not because of its appearance but because of its name. Having watched the television series, A Handmaid’s Tale that takes place in the fictional dystopian Republic of Gilead, Bob and I were surprised to see a schoolhouse with such a name.
We since learned that Gilead is simply the name of a road in Prince Edward County. Gilead Schoolhouse #10 was a brick building established circa 1877. The original schoolhouse has now been restored and is located at 1084 Gilead Road, Bloomfield.
Moving on, Bob and I were keen to see what other treasures we could uncover.
Less historical in nature, the contributions by some groups exhibited a great deal of charm. Perhaps built as part of a Brownie Pack project, the Third Picton Brownies’ birdhouse serves to outline the Brownies’ promise and law besides being adorned with cute nature images.
Keeping Bob and me company as we meandered the sinuous trail was another House Wren. It kept a keen eye on us.
Although some of the birdhouses on display are very whimsical, each one still serves a valuable purpose, a safe place for birds to nest.
Imagine our surprise when Bob and I rounded one bend in the trail and discovered a birdhouse modeled after The Leaning Tower of Pisa!
This photo was taken of the Leaning Tower of Pisa and Pisa Cathedral in Italy when Bob and I visited Tuscany in 2015.
Some carpenter had fun with this one and even included the Pisa Cathedral, although obviously not to scale and in much less detail than the real structure.
Representing the Canadian Prairies is a grain elevator birdhouse. It stood proudly alongside the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
Giving a nod to the Victorian Era, the woodworker who fashioned The Crystal Palace birdhouse kept the historic colour scheme of light yellow and green. Following the construction of Prince Albert’s Crystal Palace in Hyde Park in 1851 in London, England, North Americans embraced the idea and built impressive buildings all over Canada and the United States using variations on Paxton’s use of glass.
Prince Edward County commissioned a smaller, hybrid replica in 1887. It was built by Frank T. Wright, and like the building in London, a large percentage of wall space is devoted to windows. The historic Crystal Palace resides at the Fairgrounds in Picton and is the only original structure of its kind still standing in North America.
Continuing our wanderings brought us to this birdhouse replica of Picton Firehall.
The original firehall was built in 1866 and had meeting rooms upstairs. These rooms served a dual purpose. The space was perfect for the Bijou Opera House to put on live traveling shows and movies. Today, it is used as the Town Hall.
Bloomfield United Church birdhouse is a replica of the church built in 1881.
As Bob and I poked about idly enjoying the warm sunshine, soft breeze and delightful birdhouses, suddenly he drew my attention to some birds in a distant tree.
Far from being an excellent photo, it still proves that the habitat of Macaulay Mountain Conservation Area does indeed attract a variety of birds.
How apt then to next discover the billboard for Alfred Hitchcock’s movie “The Birds”.
The person who created the Mustang Drive-in birdhouse not only commemorated the original drive-in theatre but also the famous Alfred Hitchcock horror movie, “The Birds”.
Complete with miniature cars and trucks, the Mustang Drive-in birdhouse is a depiction of an evening’s entertainment about to unfold.
The actual Mustang Drive-in Theatre has operated in the heart of Prince Edward County since the 1950s.
Birdhouse City may be a miniature community of whimsical handcrafted nesting boxes, but with Macaulay Mountain Conservation Area being one of the birding hotspots in Prince Edward County, we’re sure that birds make use of every birdhouse during spring breeding season.
Bob and I thoroughly enjoyed our time spent at Birdhouse City. It gave us a glimpse into the history of Prince Edward County and into the volunteers who value our feathered friends enough to build and help maintain all of the wonderful nesting boxes.
Frame To Frame – Bob and Jean