Reich+Petch designs new visitor centre at Upper Canada Discovery Centre for bicentennial celebration of War of 1812

To commemorate the bicentennial War of 1812 and its 50th anniversary, Reich+Petch Architects Inc. was selected by the St. Lawrence Parks Commission to design an addition to its 19th-century living history village located in Morrisburg, Ontario. The project included the design of a brand new 8,000-square-foot visitor centre and its exhibits, a new gateway to the village, a renovation to its popular store and eatery, and improved on-site immersive experiences. The brand-new visitor centre in Upper Canada Village opened to the public in August 2011. This centre and six forts in Ontario are receiving a redesign by Reich+Petch Architects in honour of the upcoming 200th anniversary.

Reich+Petch Architects Inc., in association with NORR Limited, designed a brand-new contemporary facility while maintaining a cohesive aesthetic in harmony with the surrounding buildings on site. Its vernacular pays homage to traditional local barn structures with their cedar-shingle gable roofs by including wood siding and 25-foot vaulted exposed timber ceilings. Not only is it a sympathetic neighbour to its surrounding heritage building, but it maintains its contemporary appeal with clean lines and generous glass windows providing panoramic views of the village and the surrounding landscape.

The centre consists of a new 4,500-square-foot exhibit that explores the St. Lawrence River’s role in the War of 1812, the Battle of Crysler’s farm, how people lived and settled along the river and how the communities changed over time. Reich+Petch designed these exhibits with contextual graphics, selected artifacts and innovative audio-visual interactives such as a giant touch table (think massive iPad) and an immersive fog wall with a projected battle scene. As the prime architect and the exhibit designer, Reich+Petch ensured seamless integration of the exhibits with the building.

“Reich+Petch is always excited about being involved in renewal projects as they are often a once-in-a-generation opportunity,” says Tony Reich, principal at Reich+Petch. “Our extensive experience in museums and attractions helped us to design and create the vision behind this bicentennial project.”

Reich+Petch also redesigned the interiors of the adjacent 6,300-square-foot village store with new displays and graphics. Improvements were also made to the popular 30-minute train ride through the site with new thematic immersive experiences including an audio tour and audio-visual pyrotechnic shows where canons blast at visitors on the train.

In commemoration of next year’s bicentennial War of 1812, the St. Lawrence Parks Commission and others have decided to enhance their attractions, especially the historical monuments and forts. Reich+Petch is honoured to be the exhibit designer for new exhibits at numerous other forts across southern Ontario including: Fort York Visitor Centre in Toronto (opening to be determined); Fort Henry and Kingston Discovery Centre in Kingston (opening Spring 2012); Old Fort Erie and Laura Secord Homestead in Niagara Falls (opened July 2011); Fort George National Historic Site in Niagara-on-the-Lake (opened July 2011); and Fort Malden National Historic Site in Amherstburg (opened June 2011).