Sainte-Marie among the Hurons has been the site of both a Papal and a Royal visit. This jewel of a landmark was a French Jesuit mission settlement in the 1600’s, to the Huron Wendat people.
Approach the entrance laneway, the magic begins; the entire site is lit with thousands of antique candle lanterns. Walk towards the main building and the scent of wood burning fires mingles with fresh cut evergreens, this will lure you onwards, but also back…back to the days of handcrafted seasonal traditions, to the Christmas of old, the simple times, which so many of us crave, this event will gently warm your heart and soul.
This is very much a community event; as you walk through the doors and place your food bank donation into one of two oversized canoes in the lobby, much like the Grinch, your heart grows at the generosity of the visitors. This year attendance increased by 19% from last, with a whopping 7,294 visitors, additionally, 7,084 pounds of food was contributed, an increase of 14%. The food is donated to the local Salvation Army food drive.
Community choirs sing in the auditorium, carolers wander the site; staff assist visiting children to create traditional crafts of corn husk dolls and simple beaded bracelets.
Students from St. Theresa’s High School in Midland baked over 15,000 gingerbread and lavender shortbread cookies which are sampled as you meander through the outer buildings.
I urge you to partake in the introduction information session to the site, then bundle up and step outside to wander the historic buildings and displays, where more of those gorgeous lanterns light your path. Historically accurate reconstruction of the buildings makes for intriguing exploration of the grounds, while knowledgeable staff in historic clothing, encourage hands on participation in events of the gone before days; blacksmith shop, tin smith, candle making, are but a few of the active vignettes you will discover. You will be richly rewarded on your way with warm apple cider, biscuits, hot chocolate with marshmallows (while not historically accurate, it is a sweet treat to wrap chilly fingers around the cup of). In the long house, you will find native drumming and singing. A nativity scene made from cornhusk dolls will delight, as will the live burro. The path will lead you back inside, follow the sound of live music to the dining room, where Nick Boudouris , overseas the kitchen which offers traditional French Canadian menu items; Tourtiere was served with a tart cranberry
preserve, fresh roast potatoes and gravy, the accompanying veggies were hit and miss for me…hit with the tender crisp carrots, miss with the peas. Poutine appeals to many, hefty burgers, the Native classic “three sisters soup”, (corn, squash and beans) round out the main course offerings. Desserts included; butter tarts, apple crisp and while cheese cake isn’t a French Canadian traditional, it seemed a popular choice. The heavy wood tables were filled with patrons, enjoying their meal and reveling in the musical talents of Franco-Ontario French traditional musicians the Famille lefaive “ARIKO” and Jill et les Bucherons. Music has a highly significant place at St. Marie among the Hurons, Father Jean de Brebeuf wrote the first Canadian Christmas Carol, “The Huron Carol”, one of my personal favorites. Follow the painted turtle markings on the floor, as they will lead you into the historic displays, where tonight, the halls are abuzz with local artisans.
When the evening is done and you bid adieu to First Light, you can’t hope but notice the magnificent tower of the Martyrs Shrine, a backlit beauty, contributing even more aesthetic atmosphere. First Light has been honored as one of the top 100 events to attend in Ontario. I strongly suggest that you make this one of your first seasonal experiences as it is sure to set the tone for the holidays.
Sainte-Marie among the HuronsDiscovery Harbour 16164 Highway #12 Midland Ontario L4R 4K8
Written by: Penelope Morrow
Penelope Morrow is a writer, editor and food aficionado from Barrie, follow her tweets