Original Building Facade November 2017

Press Release: New Administration Building Under Construction at Ruthven Park


For Immediate Release
April 17, 2018


Betsy Smith, President

Marilynn Havelka, CAO


Ruthven Park National Historic Site’s staff are pleased to announce that it has undertaken a project to expand. As of June this year, visitors arriving on site will be greeted in our new administration building which is currently being built adjacent to the parking lot within the public area of the site.

Local contractor Harrison Brothers Contracting Inc. was the successful bidder.

This new location will be convenient for staff who can work closer to the historic buildings where activities on site most often take place, subsequently enabling them to better serve visitors. The building will accommodate staff offices, a small gift shop, exhibit area, and meeting space. The rationale for the location is to maximize the use of utilities already present at the public washroom building; to keep the modern building out of the picturesque landscape; to protect the historic views from the mansion; and to minimize the disturbance of the cultural resources, vegetation, and ecology of the site. The design will be simple and in keeping with the purpose it will serve.

The red brick Gate House office has served the site as the point of entry to the Site since 2001. The building, built in the 1860s, was originally a house for the Ruthven Park gate keeper. The Thompson family rented it to local families for many years until The Lower Grand River Land Trust Inc. took over the site in the 1990s. Unfortunately, the building as it stands today is not accessible for persons with disabilities, staff have no privacy, there is very limited room to work, and the 1950s addition to the historic footprint of the Gate House is not in keeping with the original architecture. The new purpose of the Gate House will be to act as storage and additional staff workspaces.

The building is a bit behind schedule due to unseasonal weather conditions, but we expect by next week you will see the framing up for the structure.

The Lower Grand River Land Trust Inc. Board have been working on plans for the new building over the past year. We are fortunate to have received one of Haldimand County’s generous grants through the Rural Business and Tourism Community Improvement Plan to help assist with the cost of construction.

We hope you visit Ruthven this summer to enjoy the landscape, mansion tours, public events, and the new welcoming atmosphere of the administration building.




Ruthven Park National Historic Site is located at 243 Haldimand Hwy #54, just North of Cayuga. The Site and Thompson Family Mansion are open to the public 7 days a week from May 19, 2018 to September 3, 2018 and throughout the remainder of the year for large group tours, facility rentals, trail hikes, education programs, public events, and more.  Admission charges apply for guided Mansion tours and some events. Donations are always most welcome and appreciated. For more information, please call the Gate House office at 905-772-0560 or visit the website: www.ruthvenpark.ca.

Year of the Bird Series: April – Tree Swallow

Editor’s Note: 100+ bird organizations declared 2018 the “Year of the Bird” as it is the centennial of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act’s ratification. Many are pledging to do 1 thing per month to help birds. As Ruthven Park National Historic Site has a bird banding station in collaboration with the Haldimand Bird Observatory, we are featuring one blog post per month on different birds! Below, you will find the second installment in this 12-part series.

Article by Christine Madliger, Post-Doctoral Researcher (University of Windsor and Carleton University)

Wetlands, riversides, and meadows have just recently seen the return of this month’s “Year of the Bird” entry – the Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor). This feisty, beautifully-plumaged songbird will always be high up on my list of most favourite birds. For six years, my husband (Chris Harris) and I studied the tree swallows nesting at Ruthven Park, focusing on how habitat quality affects their stress hormone levels. As you drive up to the main expanse of the park or explore the surrounding areas, you can see a whole collection of wooden bird boxes (see photos below) where this species builds its nest and raises one set of 5-6 young each spring/summer. Tree swallows can also be found nesting in natural cavities in trees, but they do not have the strong beak required to excavate these cavities themselves. Instead, they rely on woodpeckers to do the work for them! Right now, females are busy choosing their mates for this season, assessing potential suitors by the blueness and shininess of their feathers.

To many birdwatchers and ornithologists, tree swallows are considered a common bird. Some have even gone so far as to call tree swallows the “white rat” of the bird world because they have been studied in such great detail. Part of the reason for their popularity as a study species stems from how accessible they are while nesting. Colonies of nest boxes allow researchers to easily monitor the birds and learn more about their reproduction, plumage colour, behaviour, physiology, and how they respond to climate change. Despite being small birds that only weigh around 20 grams, they are also very hardy. This means that researchers and bird banders who monitor colonies of nest boxes can capture the birds to band them, take measurements and weights, and even acquire small blood samples, without interfering with the bird’s ability to successfully breed.

Despite being so highly studied, scientists still have a lot more to learn about this species, especially regarding their migration and over-wintering ecology in places like Mexico and Cuba. Tree swallows are part of an interesting group of birds known as aerial insectivores, which also includes the martins, swifts, flycatchers, and nightjars. This diverse group all shares one thing in common: a reliance on flying insects as their primary food source. Compared to all other groups of birds in North America, aerial insectivores are in the sharpest decline and scientists are still trying to determine why this is so. Even tree swallows, which are quite abundant and widespread, have been showing population declines since the 1970s. Most likely, there is an assortment of factors driving this decline, including habitat loss and decreased availability of food sources.

One method that scientists are using to learn more about what might be contributing to tree swallow declines is an exciting type of tracking technology. Geolocators are comprised of a light sensor and a computer chip and are fitted to a bird’s rump with a special harness. They are light-weight enough that the birds can carry them year-round. By recording the timing of sunrise and sunset, geolocators allow researchers to determine the approximate location of a bird on any given day. Recently, scientists at the University of Guelph led a study that put geolocators on tree swallows at breeding sites across North America. The birds traveled to their over-wintering locations and then researchers retrieved the geolocators and data the following year when they came back to their breeding sites. This work has located crucial stopover sites along tree swallow migratory routes and is helping to pin-point the most important locations for conservation work.

If you have the opportunity to visit Ruthven Park this spring, stop at a distance for a few moments and observe the tree swallows using the nest boxes around the mansion and banding lab. You may see males vying in the air to claim possession of a highly-coveted waterfowl feather, which they use to beautifully line their nest (see photo below). Or you may hear a male and female chatting away at one another, their song a pleasant assortment of bubbly gurgles and chirps. Visit a little later into the spring or in the early summer and you will see both parents flying out over open water and fields, collecting mouthfuls of squirming insects to feed their hungry young. Regardless of when you happen upon them, these common but beautiful birds are certainly worth a closer look.


March 2018 Newsletter

Dear members and friends,

Welcome to a new season! It has officially been spring for 7 days – the equinox was Tuesday, March 20 – and although there’s been a chill in the air, there are signs of growth and renewal throughout Ruthven Park’s beautiful picturesque landscape. Though the Mansion is still closed (until Victoria Day long weekend), we encourage visitors to explore the grounds during regular opening hours to take in the signs of spring.

In this month’s newsletter, you’ll find a recap of past events – such as the 5th edition of “A Grand Bridal Show” and our Snake Education Day – and details about upcoming events such as the 2018 return of Ghost Walks and our Earth Day Grounds Clean Up.

You can access the PDF of the March newsletter on your device by downloading it when you click here: March 2018 Newsletter

We hope you enjoy reading it as much as you enjoy the changes that come with spring this season!


Ruthven Park staff

Year 0f the Bird Series: March – Eastern Bluebird

Editor’s Note: 100+ bird organizations declared 2018 the “Year of the Bird” as it is the centennial of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act’s ratification. Many are pledging to do 1 thing per month to help birds. As Ruthven Park National Historic Site has a bird banding station in collaboration with the Haldimand Bird Observatory, we are featuring one blog post per month on different birds! Below, you will find the third installment in this 12-part series.

Article by Bill Read (Eastern Bluebird Society)

The Eastern Bluebird is a cherished sight for birdwatchers across Ontario. It held a special place in the folklore of our early settlers who welcomed it as a true harbinger of spring. During the pre-settlement era, the Eastern Bluebird would have been a rare to uncommon sighting, limited as the species was to forest fire burn areas, clearings created by indigenous peoples and prairie edge openings.

Populations increased dramatically during the late 1700s and 1800s as settlers cleared the dense forest to plant crops and build farms. Fence rows were lined with tree stumps and split rails, creating ideal nest cavities for Eastern Bluebirds. These combined factors helped the species to become common to abundant in Southern Ontario and across Eastern North America in the late 1800s. With changes in agricultural practices and the introduction of House Sparrows around 1850 and European Starlings around 1890 populations of Eastern Bluebirds began to decline. Farms became more mechanized after 1945. Larger farms, fewer wooden posts, more t-bars and barb wire reduced the number of available nest cavities. House Sparrows in urban areas and starlings in rural areas began usurping bluebirds and other native cavity nesting birds from natural cavities. Populations continued to decline well into the 1970s. Weather related declines were not followed by rebounds to former levels within a few years. Concern around this time by the birding community resulted in the Ministry of Natural Resources declaring the Eastern Bluebird rare based on a COSEWIC (council on the status of endangered wildlife in Canada) report by Chris Risley in 1981. The Eastern Bluebird was never in any great danger of becoming extirpated from Ontario even though it had declined precipitously from its high point in the 1800s. It has a range that includes all of Southern Ontario and most of Northern Ontario above Thunder Bay and extending east and below  a straight line from Moossonee to the Manitoba border.

(tip: click on each photo above to enlarge it for a closer look)

Most of this concern was based on comparing present population levels with those in the late 1800s which would never have existed in the pre-settlement era. The first breeding bird atlas in 1987 showed clearly that there were a lot more bluebirds in the province than people realized. Warmer weather both during the nesting season and in their wintering areas and hundreds of predator proof well monitored nest box trails have helped the bluebird to increase its numbers from a low point in the late 1970s. The Eastern Bluebird was classified as not at risk in 1996 based on a COSEWIC report by Bill Read and Robert Alvo. It continues to do well across its range in Canada in large part to the thousands of well managed nest box trails. Recent long term trends for Eastern Bluebird from 1970-2015 show an annual increase of 1.94% for Canada and 1.28% for Ontario. In recent years it has been overwintering in greater numbers in Ontario. A record total of 925 Bluebirds were recorded on the 117 th ( 2016-2017 ) Christmas Bird Count mostly in the Carolinian areas above Lakes Ontario and Erie and as far north east as Rice Lake near Peterborough.  Its future is bright in Ontario. Indeed it is a conservation success story.

For more information on the Eastern Bluebird, how to successfully set up your own bluebird trail, and to read our newsletter, please go to the Ontario Eastern Bluebird Society website!

Evening Art at Ruthven Park Spring Workshop Series

This spring, enjoy Ruthven Park’s suite of art workshops on biweekly Wednesday evenings in the Coach House!

The Evening Art at Ruthven Park Spring Workshop Series is open to everyone; no experience is necessary for participation in any of the workshops.

The cost is $40.00 + HST per workshop in the Series. However, the more you book, the more you save.

  • $75.00 + HST for two workshops (save $5.00)
  • $110.00 + HST for three workshops (save $10.00)
  • $140.00 + HST for four workshops (save $20.00)

Space is limited, so you must book and purchase your tickets in advance. You may do so by visiting the Gate House office in person, by calling 905-772-0560, or emailing info@ruthvenpark.ca.

Book Paper Sculpture Workshop – Wednesday, March 28, 2018 at 7:00 pm

Craft a beautiful “Quiet Nest” book paper sculpture, inspired by the Easter season, with award-winning artist Donna Wark.  No previous art experience is necessary; the only tools required are a sense of humour and a desire to be creative.

Light treats, tea, and coffee included.

Instructor’s Bio

Donna Wark is an award-winning paper artist from Binbrook, Ontario who specializes in turning vintage paper into visually stunning book sculptures.

Her work has been seen on multiple media levels, and has been sold through live auctions, galleries, festivals and commission work. Some stunning examples of these pieces can be viewed on Donna’s website.

Historic Rag Rug Workshop – Wednesday, April 11, 2018 at 7:00 pm – SOLD OUT

Create your own historic rag rug for your home with returning instructor Helen Sluis. Participants in this workshop will learn a centuries-old technique of rug braiding that requires no sewing whatsoever to hold it together and produces a rug that is very durable, reversible and, if under 4′ in diameter, machine-washable. Rag rugs and smaller projects such as the trivet-sized piece that will be made during the course are perfect for both traditional and modern homes and can be made to suit any decor.

Light treats, tea, and coffee included.

Instructor’s Bio

Helen Sluis is a longtime employee of Dundurn National Historic Site in Hamilton, Ontario who has put a great deal of energy and effort into gardening and programming at that site. Working in a museum environment for many years inspired this heritage arts’ instructor to learn how to recreate a wide variety of 19th century handicrafts including crazy quilts and floor coverings such as hand-painted floor cloths and rag rugs. She has taught versions of this rag run workshop at Ruthven Park a few times in years past. Staff hope that former participants who’ve asked when she will be back will be pleased by her return!

Watercolour Painting Workshop – Wednesday, April 25, 2018 at 7:00 pm

In anticipation of blooms in the garden, celebrate warmer weather with an evening of watercolour painting. Inspired by our Edwardian Garden, local artist and educator Heather Gross will lead you in exploring this wonderful medium, putting pigment to paper to capture the colours of spring and summer. No previous watercolour experience is necessary! All art materials will be supplied.

Wine, cheese, and tasty nibbles included.

Instructor’s Bio

Heather Gross’ passion is watercolour. The simplicity of water & pigment combined with the complexity of techniques to be explored both excite & challenge her. Inspiration comes from nature in her backyard and far off places. Painting from real life & photos, Heather captures the interplay of light, shadow, shape, pattern, texture & colour in her home studio in Cayuga. Botanical illustration has recently captured her interest.  Heather is excited to be one of eighteen juried Canadian artists selected for the Art of the Plant exhibition, at the Canadian Museum of Nature, Stone Wall Gallery, in Ottawa. Her botanical work will be shared with a global audience from May to October 2018.  Sharing her passion, Heather enjoys teaching watercolours in Cayuga.  As a retired teacher & school administrator, art now gives direction, purpose and time to play in retirement.

Yoga Workshop & Candlelight Tour of the Mansion – Wednesday, May 9, 2018 at 7:00 pm

Join certified yoga teacher Rachel Binek for a mindful yoga class. A healthy treat break will be followed by a candlelight tour of the Mansion.

Please bring your own yoga mat as we are unable to provide them at this time. Please also dress for exercize and bring a reuseable water bottle in case you get thirsty during the class.

Instructor’s Bio

Namaste.  Rachel began to practice yoga over three years ago after discovering its joys and benefits, especially in healing anxiety, while backpacking throughout Southeast Asia. In 2016 she completed her 200 hour Registered Yoga Teacher training in Rishikesh, India specializing in Hatha yoga. This spiritual journey brought her a new sense of peace, light, and love towards herself and others that she now loves to share with the world. One of her favourite places to practice outdoors, in that it helps to keep her in the moment, regardless of the distractions that Nature can bring; wind, noise, etc,. Rachel teaches Introductory Hatha and Hatha Flow classes, and eagerly anticipates sharing her passion in the special series that will be held at Ruthven Park. She hopes all who attend will leave feeling balanced, connected to their bodies, and awakened.

Current Hours (effective until May 19/18)

The Gate House Office: Monday to Friday, 9:00am to 5:00pm

The Grounds: Monday to Friday, 9:00am to 5:00pm

The Mansion: tours by appointment only fo 6 or more people


Contact Us:
Phone: (905) 772-0560 
Toll-free: (877) 705-7275

Mailing Address: 
243 Haldimand Hwy. #54,
Box 610
Cayuga, ON N0A 1E0