Transportation and Access: Coach Company Alters Bus Route to Service Heritage Village
by John Rae | December 2013
Editor’s Note: In his article series for the OHS Bulletin John Rae examines a variety of access issues for heritage organizations and institutions. In his sixth installment, he discusses the importance of transportation as an “access” issue, not just for persons with disabilities, but for all patrons who wish to visit and do not drive. John, an OHS member and volunteer, has recently been appointed to the newly created Inclusive Design Advisory Council to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg.
This article first appeared in the December 2013 issue (no. 190) of the OHS Bulletin.
Imagine you have discovered what sounds like a fascinating heritage village, and have decided to spend a pleasant Sunday afternoon in the country when you suddenly realize that, as a blind person, you cannot get there. Until recently, this was the reality facing prospective patrons who wished to visit Westfield Heritage Village, and who do not or cannot drive.
Westfield Heritage Village, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary in June, was founded by Brantford secondary school teachers Golden MacDonell and Glenn Kilmer. The village first opened in 1964 with seven historic buildings that had been relocated from surrounding communities, reconstructed on site and furnished with artifacts donated by local families. Fifty years on, the village has grown to encompass nearly forty heritage structures, ranging from the 1790s through to the early 20th century. These buildings are staffed by costumed interpreters who demonstrate aspects of daily life in early Ontario.
Today, Westfield has a variety of thriving public and school programs, and benefits from the participation of a dedicated group of nearly 400 volunteers. In addition to its architectural holdings, the site cares for a collection of nearly 25,000 artifacts.
“Westfield is a very special place for visitors of all ages,” says Lisa Hunter, Westfield’s Program Coordinator. “There is so much to see and do here. In addition to our Sunday and holiday Monday programming, we offer a wide range of special events throughout the year.” Some of Westfield’s most popular programs include: The Sweet Taste of Spring maple syrup program, Ice Cream Carnival, Telling Tales Festival, Haunted Halloween and Pumpkin Sunday, as well as ’Twas the Night Before Christmas and Christmas in the Country.
“We want Westfield to be accessible to everyone,” adds Hunter.
Dustin Galer, a graduate student studying disability issues within the context of Canadian labour history, is one of Westfield’s many active volunteers.
“I believe it is important to share the history of people with disabilities in addition to dealing with the practical aspects of increasing accessibility to heritage sites,” says Galer. “What I did not expect was the level of interest and engagement by the staff at Westfield who responded enthusiastically to my ideas about increasing the site’s accessibility and improving the programming to reflect Ontario’s histories of disability,” he added.
Over the past year, an accessibility committee has been reviewing Westfield’s facilities and programs to find new ways to ensure they can be enjoyed by all. In addition to reducing physical barriers, the committee is working to provide alternative interpretive formats, including large print, multiple language and audio guides.
One of Westfield’s challenges is that it is situated in a rural area between Kitchener and Hamilton and, until recently, access was restricted to private automobiles and charter bus services. The committee submitted a carefully prepared proposal to Coach Canada in the hope of convincing them to slightly divert their route to include service to Westfield during regular operating hours, and the company responded positively.
The program is currently undergoing a start-up phase, and will be fully operational in the spring of 2014, providing transportation to and from Westfield along the Hamilton-Kitchener route during times when Westfield is open to the public. While the committee couched its proposal in the language of business, the ultimate goal was increased access for all people regardless of ability. This should be a win-win result for both Coach Canada and patrons who wish to visit Westfield, and this work could serve as an example to other sites located in rural areas.