The Billings Estate Museum is one of those little museums that is one of Ottawa’s best-kept secrets. Our family had an enjoyable visit at the Billings Estate on Family Day last year, which is typical of the well-planned special events that they hold throughout the year at Billings. We participated in activities that would have been popular during the pioneering times–snowshoeing, sledding, horse-drawn carriage rides, eating maple snow, scavenger hunts, etc., all on the extensive and beautifully kept Billings property. After our day outside, we wandered through the house to look at many interesting exhibits, photographs, scrapbooks, writings, and artifacts that allowed us to see glimpses of the Billings family and their personal experience with Ottawa’s early history.
The 1829 Billings House, built by Braddish Billings is the oldest wood-frame building in Ottawa and is designated as a National Historic Site. It is the third home of Braddish and Lamira Billings. The Billings were one of Ottawa’s founding families and had a significant impact on Ottawa’s early history. They settled on the shores of the Rideau River in 1812 as the first settlers of Gloucester Township. They helped build farms, an early Ottawa bridge, and a timber business. Visitors can learn about the Museum and its collections through its exhibits, educational programs, special events and workshops.
The exhibits show the lives of five generations of Billings who lived in Gloucester Township and abroad. The five generations of Billings made contributions to their community over the years in such diverse fields as: medicine, healthcare, business development, real estate, politics, education, religion, science, and more.
There are beautiful collections of needlework, beadwork, schoolwork, collections of minerals, insects, photographs, and artifacts throughout the house. The Billings family prospered through hard work and ingenuity and rose to the middle / upper class while staying in the same geographical area.
The broad historical periods covered by the exhibits are:
- Early Settlement (1783-1825)
- The Bytown Era (1826-1854)
- Emerging City & National Capital Settlement (1855-1900)
- Focus on Growth (1901-1945)
- Growth and Transformation (1946-2005)
It was fun to see the collected artifacts that represented the wide variety of interests of the five generations of the Billings. My favourites exhibits included a fabulous quilt wall-hanging that takes up most of the hallway leading to the upstairs. Each square is a pictorial representation of something connected to the Billings Estate and family.
A pictorial family tree takes up a display near the entrance of the museum. It is fun to see the family line laid out that way.
Early pictures of the Byward market and an interesting timeline covering 200 years peppered with artifacts to puzzle over is in one of my favourite rooms.
There is also a small gift shop that sells some unique gift items including teapots, and old-fashioned sugar candy for the kids. The store is open during regular business hours.
HOURS OF OPERATION
2100 Cabot Street
Ottawa, Ontario K1H 6K1
Take Riverside Drive South to Pleasant Park. There are lights at the intersection for Riverside and Pleasant Park.
Turn left onto Pleasant Park and follow it to Cabot Street.
Turn right onto Cabot Street and follow the signs to the museum.
Free parking is available and there is room for buses to park.
Public transportation: The museum is near the Pleasant Park transit station.
The Billings Estate serves high tea overlooking their beautiful flower gardens. Choose a scone and tea served with Devonshire cream and jam or order their 3-tier service with finger sandwiches, scones, and desserts. Visitors are welcome to bring their own snacks or meals and picnic on the grounds.
TEA ON THE LAWN
Served from May 12 to August 28 on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Sundays, from noon until 4 pm, rain or shine. You can contact the museum for the daily menu and pricing.
They also provide an indoor tea service to groups by reservation during the rest of the year.
***Please note that due to special events the Tea on the Lawn will not be served on August 18 because of the Vintage Bike Show.***