Before Cottage Country: Haliburton?s history honoured at the Haliburton Highlands Museum

This article was originally published in the 2020 Spring issue of Invest In Style Magazine.


“The Haliburton Highlands Museum was established in 1967 with a mandate to preserve and celebrate the history of Haliburton Village and Dysart Township,” explains museum director Kate Butler. “While the museum covers all of Haliburton’s history, we focus largely on the first one hundred years—its formative period.” 


Over the years, the museum has grown substantially from a single Victorian home to a complex of buildings. The museum’s main building houses exhibits related to native peoples, early settlers, the lumbering era, and the later rise of tourism. Throughout, hundreds of rare artifacts are on display.



“One of our most popular artifacts greets people as they enter— our taxidermied Sidehill Gouger,” Butler says playfully. Never heard of a gouger? They’re very rare, so it’s not surprising. The gouger is a species of wild goat adapted to hillside living.


The legs on one side of their bodies are shorter than those on the opposite side, allowing them to walk and graze sideways on steep slopes. But this peculiar adaptation means that they can only walk in one direction around the hill; if forced to walk in the other direction, a gouger would topple over.


Or so goes the tall tale, a product of local folklore.


Don’t miss the opportunity to stroll down a quiet country lane behind the exhibit building and explore a collection of heritage structures moved from elsewhere in the township. Begin with a recreated settler homestead depicting the modest and often harsh existence faced by settlers in early Haliburton. The farmstead consists of an 1870s log cabin and log barn which contains the tools a farmer used to try to attempt to transform the imposing forests and rocky soil into fields of crops. There’s also a blacksmith shop where a craftsman would have pounded glowing metal into shape.



And then there is the beautiful Victorian-era Reid House, the first home of the museum, which Butler refers to now as the museum’s largest artifact.


Fifty-year old wheelwright John Russell Reid arrived in Haliburton in 1871, as part of the first wave of settlement. Accompanying him were his wife, Amy, and their 19-year old son, John Russell Jr. They built a modest cabin and a workshop in what was then little more than a hamlet. Life in Haliburton in those days was hardscrabble and it proved too much for the elder Reids, who moved back to England less than a decade later. John Russell Jr. remained and became a wagon-maker and woodworker. In 1882, he built a comfortable home to replace the log cabin.



Today, the home looks much as it would have when the Reids lived there. Staff members lead tours through the building, pointing out period furnishings and artifacts—including a number belonging to the Reid family—that help bring Haliburton’s Victorian-era back to life. Museum programming includes summer activities for kids, historic walking tours, boat tours and the occasional play by local theatre troupe, Rural Rogues.


Though it preserves the history of Dysart Township, the Haliburton Highlands Museum is very much a part of the community’s present – and its future.


COVID-19 Update From Haliburton Highlands Museum: “The Haliburton Highlands Museum is re-opening to visitors by appointment starting on July 2nd, 2020. You can book an appointment for a private one hour visit for up to eight members of your household and/or “social bubble”. Appointments are available Wednesday to Sunday and can be booked by visiting If you have any questions about making your booking, please feel free to contact us.”