Cold through the ages

An L&A Archives dive into the “winter” records

February: master of deception with its bright but frigid days. A 95 year old member of my family once told me that February is the sunniest month of the year. She obviously wasn’t talking about my disposition as I stared blankly at her, disbelieving. She’s 95 and has seen her fair share of Februaries, maybe this is the year I trust more. I just can’t get July out of my head whenever I think about this…

Sunniest or not, February is cold, and people here in Lennox and Addington County have known all about surviving and thriving in the frigid winter months. Some folks like George Detlor (1794-1883) even understood what it meant to survive and thrive in those months not traditionally thought to be frigid. One of Detlor’s diaries spans from 1822-1849, and his entries for May 1834 paint an interesting, albeit frightening, picture for that month:

  • 13  Last night and this morning snowing 2 inches all go off by night
  • 14  snowing again
  • 15  snow and frost  Icesickles [sic] 1 foot long

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MAY! Foot long icicles! 

Of course people deal with the cold in their own ways. For instance, I like to wear what are clearly spring/summer clothes with sweaters and pretend winter’s not happening. Incidentally, you now have insight into how I feel about spending money on clothes for one season. And if you’re this guy, you do the logical thing and turn parts of an airplane into a snow machine.

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N-6212   Airplane modified into snow machine, [192-?]. Lennox and Addington Historical Society Collection

We don’t know much about this fellow and his winter death trap. Please feel free to get in touch if you do. This may or may not be Lennox and Addington County but how could I leave this shot out?

Winter clothing and fashion through time is just as fascinating as an airplane snow machine. Winter clothing today looks almost summery next to the billowing, heavy dresses and muffs of the past. Fur had its day in the sun (not really in the sun but I’m still pretending winter’s not happening), and there’s plenty of proof of that in our photograph collection. 

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Left: N-2482  Unidentified woman in winter overcoat, carrying fur muff, [1864]. Stephen Benson Photograph Collection.
Middle: N-2955  Elbert and Russ Kellar in winter coats, [1910]. LAHS Collection.
Right: N-5345  Tom Mills, 1935. Plumley Family Photograph Collection.

Spring is around the corner and the bulky coats and hats will be returned to the basement closets. There will be a spring in our steps (pun intended), and the birds will come alive with song. Sunny February will be replaced with even sunnier months – July is obviously sunnier than February! Winter is hard but at least we have heaters in our winter vehicles now. 

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Broadsides, bibles and annual reports, oh my!

Setting goals to ensure longevity of archival records and their stories

On CBC radio last week they interviewed a guest, a specialist in career shifts and big life changes. Normally, I have one ear on the radio, the other on the circus that is my house, but the change guru got my full attention when describing the usefulness of setting goals over stating New Year’s resolutions. As soon as you set an end point plus an evaluation measure, it’s a goal not an aimlessly thrown out resolution floating in the ether. 

We tend to float resolutions but I have a goal in mind for the archives this year, and it involves the entire community. It’s a goal with a major challenge to be sure; measuring its success will, to some extent, be based on arbitrariness. 

So can it be a goal with no clear end measure? I think so in this case. The goal is this: take every opportunity possible to involve the community in the continued growth of the archival collection. This seems obvious since the community is already involved in our growth – to the tune of about 90% of the annual acquisitions come from the community – but I want to make sure to reach as many community members as possible. In fact, the Lennox and Addington Historical Society started this off when it first organized way back in 1907:

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They were successful in their bid for furnishing their space as seen in the top image. And certainly successful in their bid for textual records as evidenced in the Lennox and Addington Historical Society Early Collection now at the archives.

I’m taking the risk of sounding like a toddler who just had a snack worthy of a pro wrestler but is somehow still hungry. We receive generous donations from the community already, the problem, I fear, is that the records we seek, the records that tell a part of the Lennox and Addington County story, are not clearly identified. Who wants an old photograph of the family from Croydon or a letter written by Aunt Florence about the apple orchard they harvest each fall? We do! 

My colleague JoAnne very succinctly described her goal of “de-growing” the Museum collection but we’re looking in the opposite direction (a photograph takes up way less storage space than a piano!). I won’t repeat what JoAnne notes about the gaps in the Museum collection – you can read her blog yourself here – but I will say the Archives has similar gaps in the records we hold. 

In 2019, the community left us with very interesting items that I would like to highlight here. This is not a highlight reel of the most important records we received because they are ALL IMPORTANT. I’ve chosen to highlight three unique in format and stories they tell.


Centreville Broadside
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Saturday, September 29, 1900, the Camden Agricultural Exhibition was held at Centreville. All early agricultural societies with their fairs and exhibitions had the aim of improvement of farming methods, and prizes were given out to the best in many categories: horses, cattle, poultry, pigs, sheep, fruit, vegetables, grain, and farm implements and manufactures. From 1853 until 1893, the Centreville Fair was held on the road side in the village with use of the town hall. John B. Alysworth was secretary-treasurer for the first fifty years, then Joe Tate until 1920.

This broadside is a fantastic example of a record produced by area agricultural societies and complements other agricultural collections at the archives. For example, a minute book of the Addington County Agricultural Society, 1853-1873 that also contains membership lists from 1853-1867, and prize lists from 1853 to 1864. We also hold a minute book of the Lennox Agricultural Society, 1853 – 1856.

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Left:  Centreville Broadside  
Middle: Addington Agricultural Society, partial list of members for 1853  
Right: Prize List, Horses, from Centreville Fair, 1980


Hannah McDowall bible
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Reverend Robert McDowall (1768-1841) clergyman of the Reformed Protestant Dutch and Presbyterian churches, came to the Bay of Quinte area in 1790 and organized congregations in Ernesttown, Adolphustown, and Fredericksburgh townships, settling in the latter (Sandhurst) by 1800. For more than 40 years, McDowall preached, performed marriages and spread the doctrine of Presbyterianism across central Upper Canada. In December, 1800, McDowall married Hannah Washburn, daughter of Ebenezer Washburn a United Empire Loyalist from New York, and they had one daughter and three sons. 

Robert McDowall died in 1841, and is buried in the McDowall Memorial Cemetery, Sandhurst. Upon his death, the “Widow and Family” of McDowall were presented a bible from the Synod of Canada in January, 1842. Amazingly, members of Hannah’s family kept the bible for generations, and subsequently donated it to us this past summer. For a more extensive biography of Reverend McDowall, see http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/mcdowall_robert_7E.html.

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Left: Dedication in Hannah McDowall’s Bible presented to her in 1842 after her husband’s death
Middle: Marriage certificate signed by Reverend Robert McDowall, 1817
Right: McDowall Memorial Church, South Fredericksburgh, LAHS Collection, L&A Museum and Archives. Robert and Hannah McDowall are both buried in the cemetery visible to the left of the church.


United Church of Canada, the Enterprise Pastoral Charge Annual Reports, 1948-1954
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Still in use today, the United Church of Canada, Enterprise, has been in operation since 1892. Throughout its history, the Enterprise Pastoral Charge has included churches in Centreville, Desmond, Fifth Lake, and Enterprise-Roblin which includes Marlbank, Lime Lake, Ebenezer, and Tamworth. 

The annual reports donated to the archives are a treasure trove of local families, thus a fantastic resource for genealogical studies, and church and clergy history. Included on the cover of each report is an in memoriam list for that year, again, a very useful source for genealogical research.

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Cover and pages from the 1948 Enterprise Pastoral Charge Annual Report


These are only three of the donations received in 2019 but three that demonstrate the various types of records we hold and that are always welcome. And like the Lennox and Addington Historical Society said in 1907, we collect “materials of historical interest in order that these documents may be properly cared for.” Next time you’re cleaning house, keep us in mind for records you have no use for anymore – if those records help tell the story of Lennox and Addington County and its people, we probably want them.

 

1.    The Ontario Association of Agricultural Societies (OAAS). The Story of Ontario Agricultural Fairs and Exhibitions, 1792-1967. OAAS, 1972.

Lest we forget: Stories from World War Two Archival Records

There’s been a lot of information from us at the Museum and Archives lately about Anne Frank and the travelling exhibit from the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. I say this not as promotion, rather to provide context for this blog because without that exhibit, it’s hard to say whether Donald ReidLuva PerryHarold Rogers or Erich Possin would be at the forefront of my work lately. 

In conjunction with the Anne Frank exhibit, many students have joined me in the archives to learn about archival records from our collection that reflect the Canadian experience both overseas and at home during World War Two. There’s no greater opportunity to pore over an archival collection than trying to piece together a thoughtful program for students, and for a municipal archives, our local war records are substantial and impressive to say the least. Over the years, families have donated incredible collections from loved ones who served in the war, and veterans have kindly gathered their papers and records for us, recognizing that the only way to remember their stories is to first share them.

I’m putting those very records in the hands of young people in our area. Each record I’ve included in the archival class tells a story, and I’ll highlight three here.  With Remembrance Day around the corner, these records seem even more important to bring to light, lest we forget. 

Reid Diary

Donald Reid, a resident of Napanee, enlisted in 1940 when he was 21 years old. He eventually trained as a pilot in Belleville and Oshawa, and received his wings on September 24, 1942. He started writing a journal the day he boarded a boat to England – October 27, 1942 – noting on that day, “it’s of course the first large boat I’ve been on and to-day the largest in the world. Looking throughout the ship, it is a piece of workmanship I’ll marvel at forever.” He was, in fact, boarded on the Queen Elizabeth, a large troopship at Pier 21 in Halifax. 

Donald describes his day-to-day movement on his sea journey and after his landing in the United Kingdom, except when there’s “nothing new to report.” He begins night flying on February 2, 1943, and “it’s no easy picnic here.” The diary comes to an abrupt end on Thursday, February 11, 1943: “Last night of night flying – now I can sleep at last, in fact, no sleep have I had in past 35 hrs. Also found I was posted to 30 O.T.U. and leave Tuesday.”

Donald Reid never made it to Tuesday. He died in a plane crash on February 13, 1943 at 24 years old. There’s a young student in this area who said it simply and perfectly after studying this diary during the archives class: He died two days after his last entry, and that wasn’t fair. She went on to observe how Donald’s last entry was an entry like any other day. Of course Donald Reid could not see his impending death but somehow we expect his diary to reveal that he did.

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Luva Perry Letter

War records are a difficult area of research and study. There have been countless times where, without realizing it, tears have sprung up in my eyes as I read a letter home to “Mom” from a young soldier overseas. The soldier’s homesickness reveals itself between the everyday notes about the weather and where they’ll be stationed next.

However, we occasionally catch a happy story amongst the angst, and Luva Perry, the first woman from Lennox and Addington to be posted overseas, wrote one of the best celebratory letters I’ve seen. She enlisted in the Canadian Women’s Army Corps on June 4, 1942, and served with the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps as a driver, and then in London, England, was attached to the Royal Canadian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (RCEME) as a clerk.

Luva’s letter (co-authored with her long-time friend Grace) is for her “Folks” back in Napanee and describes the celebrations after VE Day (Victory in Europe, May 8, 1945) going on around her. Written on an armed forces air letter, Luva’s prose is light and humorous, not your typical war letter home to family:

“…the town went wild, thousands of civilians dancing and screaming in the streets, speeches in the square – we were kissed by everything and everybody – I came in and washed my face at least six times…[at one a.m.] there were crowds of civilians in the square whooping and dancing so we joined in and were really all out for Victory.”

Luva and Grace returned to Napanee after the war. On her return, Luva collected her letters to her family and kept them as mementos of her time overseas. It’s a good thing she did because her letters are a bridge between the students and researchers here and the roles of women in the war, a vital group to the victory story.  

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Letter from Luva Perry detailing celebrations for VE Day (Victory Day in Europe)

 

Harold T. Rogers and Erich Possin Letter

Harold Rogers Portrait

Harold T. Rogers was a handsome man. He could’ve been a movie star if not for the war that took his life on June 25, 1944 at the age of 20.  A pilot officer with the Royal Canadian Air Force, Harold was born in Odessa where his family lived at the time of his enlistment. 

This may not be the first time you’ve heard about Harold Rogers because his story, along with Erich Possin, a German soldier, has been told before. Why tell it again? Because it’s a story of human compassion, something we don’t hear about often in an otherwise horrendous war.

On January 26, 1948, four years after Harold dies, the Rogers family receive a letter from Erich Possin, a German war veteran living in Berlin. He has written to the family before for confirmation of their relation to Harold Rogers. Erich was the last person to see Harold alive, and was offering the family the peace it may bring to know about his final moments. Erich was charged with searching for wounded and dead soldiers after an air battle near the village of Prouville in Northern France when he found Harold:

….I found your son. He was lying alone about 300m from our position, and as I still remarked weak signs of life I cared [sic] for medical assistance, but it was all in vain, with low words I could not understand, unfortunately, your son died in my arms. My thoughts were in his native country with his relatives. We had become comrades; for to-morrow already I could have had the same fate.

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The students haven’t seen this letter, it’s too fragile to handle even in its plastic enclosure, but we touch on the theme in class of compassion crossing enemy lines. This story continues with Erich Possin eventually coming to Canada to meet the Rogers family. An unlikely bond between “enemy” and family for sure but a story that reminds us all of our humanity.



Photograph Information

Top Photo:
Credit Canadian Army Photo, 1944

Reid Diary:
Diary: A2016.17.1 Donald Reid Diary, 1942-1943
N-13679 Donald Reid with his parents, Clarence and Gladys Reid, [1940]
N-13689 Donald Reid (1919-1943)

Luva Perry Letter:
A2007.46 Luva Perry fonds. Letter to her parents in Napanee, May 1945.

Harold T. Rogers and Erich Possin Letter
Letter received by Harold T. Rogers’ family from Erich Possin
Soldier Portrait: Harold T. Rogers (1924-1944)

“The Diary of *A* Young Girl” Comes to the Museum

Confessions Of A Curator

Museums collect so that we tell the stories of our past and present. History can be warm and sunny, telling tales of family, love, community do-gooders, technological advances, medical breakthroughs, ancient places discovered underfoot. But from the happiest of histories – human misery and sadness are often underlying. 

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A feeling of gloom and sadness is felt while staring at a reminder of the horrors of WW2. This flag was brought home by a local soldier after torn down in Germany when the war ended.



A museum’s job is to tell the story as unbiased as possible – to tell the facts through the cultural and archival materials left behind. Sometimes the pieces left behind make us squirm, make us feel bad, make us close our eyes. We piece it together and present as honestly as we can. We let our visitors digest the story and ascertain their own opinion on the event, person, or place – for good or bad. History isn’t always sunny – ignoring it doesn’t erase its effect on us; our lives are shaped, blessed and cursed by it in countless ways. As our histories reach further and further into our memories, society can often become senile and forget what happened. 

I live and breathe history, I work with it every day. You will often find my curator’s nose in a book to figure out what things were used for, and you will often find my hands cradling and moving objects to understand their workings and function better too. I go home at the end of the day and gather in the kitchen to make dinner for my family. Often with my work day in my head.  History is never turned off for me. I live to understand the past. This is a fortunate thing for my own children (they would perhaps disagree) because I have wonderful conservations with them about my work, about the exhibits that I create and that we visit at other sites too.

With my 8 and 11 year old, I have in-depth conversations about politics, immigration, cultural identity, and most recently we discussed the ramifications of war and civil rights in other countries.  But I am lucky, my children can have these conversations with me because I have talked to them about this since they were in utero. They acknowledge that not everyone in this world carries the same rights and freedoms and that humanity hasn’t always been kind to one another. 

When speaking with their friends about history (yes – I am the nerd mom among their friends), I am often afforded a look of shock, amazement, and bewilderment and often asked “Is this true?” or “Did that really happen?”. Through these conversations with my children’s friends it occurs to me, they simply don’t know. It isn’t talked about. The bad parts are sometimes skipped. 

Why do we always want to tell the sunny side of history – especially when some of the most profound revelations were born from strife. It also occurred to me that our children don’t have living relatives to talk to about the wars of the 20th century. 

I am a forty-something and have been blessed to talk to my adopted Dutch grandmother about her experiences in the war. She was a war bride and married her “strapping soldier” soon after the war ended in 1945. I was raised not only with Oma’s stories and but also my father’s love for military history and his pinache for reciting war stories. I have always had a respect for that tumultuous time in our very near past. So what is difficult for me to realize is that our children find it inconceivable that the wars happened. The stories that were such a part of our grandparents’ lives are now fading to the foggy past for today’s child.

This has to change now. Our children need to understand their past so that they are guided  into an informed future. How can I help with this? What can the museum do? With this in my mind, I set out to do something special – I approached The Anne Frank House in Amsterdam in hopes of a partnership.

I am proud to say, this Fall the Lennox and Addington County Museum is working with the Anne Frank House, Amsterdam to present their travelling exhibit “Anne Frank: A History For Today”.  This exhibit will be featured for a six week run from October 15th – November 22nd.  The exhibit “Anne Frank: A History For Today” tells the story of Anne Frank against the background of the Holocaust and the Second World War. 

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Exhibit Photo  “Anne Frank: A History For Today”   Credit: www.goldmuseum.com


 

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Photo featured from “Swinging Monkey, Flying Pig”, March 10 2014 – home school association blog.  Credit: Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre


 

Anne Frank’s life is the thread that one can find throughout the exhibition. The experiences of the Frank family sheds light on events and processes that took place before, during and after Second World War. The exhibition contains many photos of the Frank family that are combined with other photos and information about historical events. The story told in the exhibition presents the concrete consequences of the political decisions that were made at the time, and also the consequences that individual choices had for others who were persecuted, like the —–Frank family (Anne Frank House, Amsterdam). 

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The Secret Annex, Amsterdam   Credit: www.housecrazy.com


 

Staff from the Anne Frank House are working with L&A County staff to teach them about the exhibit so that best possible tour and program is presented to our visitors. We have invited schools across the region to visit the exhibition and the exhibit will have public hours for people viewing outside of school visits. 

It is our hope that our students walk away from their visit with a bit more understanding of the human injustice that happened within their great-grandparents time, and that injustices continue today in other parts of the world. How do we stop them?  Why do they continue? This is their future to uphold and to make better.

It is also our hope that we instill a memory of Anne Frank and that she is acknowledged as a real person who became a voice for the Holocaust. The diary left behind revealed Anne as a person with real worries and wishes (she wanted to be a published author). We also hope that it is understood that Anne herself was just a girl who was blossoming into womanhood – she struggled with feelings towards her family (her mother included) and members of the opposite sex, she had great humour and made jokes, she envisioned her future with its hopes and dreams, just like our children today. She was a completely relatable person.jo5.jpg

Frank Family – Margot, Otto, Anne, Edith (c1942)  Credit: Anne Frank House, Amsterdam


 

The members of the Secret Annex hid for over 2 years. In August 1944, the annex was raided and the inhabitants were seized. After the annex raid, Anne’s diary was found by a friend of the Frank family and was kept in a desk drawer in hopes that the Franks would return. Anne did not survive the war, she was interred and died of typhus at Bergen-Belsen, a concentration camp in Germany. Her father Otto, was the only surviving member of the Frank family. Upon his return to Amsterdam, he was given Anne’s diary. It was Otto that fulfilled Anne’s wishes to be a  published author. Her words have been read around the world in multiple languages, her story, her thoughts, dreams, and fears have been felt and given life for over 70 years. 

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Anne Frank, c1940  Credit: Anne Frank House, Amsterdam


 

History is not always sunny, but it is ALWAYS educational. Our hopes this Fall are to inspire and to instill a sense of right and wrong- so that our children are informed to help make a better future. So that they understand that humanity isn’t always kind, but they can help make things right and that they can stop the terror with the use of their OWN voice. 

On October 15th at 7 pm – the museum will officially open the exhibit with a public reception and viewing. Special guest lecturer and author – Jochebad Katan will speak on her family within the holocaust and how she herself, a baby in the war, was spared. Jochebed will be presenting her talk Five Courageous Helpers: My Family’s Precarious Survival in Holland, which speaks about the courageous gentiles that helped them to survive. “My parents and I were one of the extremely few Jewish nuclear families in Holland that came through the Holocaust intact. This talk outlines the crucial roles that five very different individuals or families – none of them Jewish – played in enabling us to survive” (Jochebad Katan).

The exhibit is presented in partnership with the Anne Frank House, Amsterdam
https://www.annefrank.org/en/education/product/61/anne-frank-a-history-for-today/

Rabbit Holes and Gold Mines

Rediscovering Records in the Archives Collection

“What’s the oldest thing in your collection?” asks a student during every high school research trip to the archives. It’s the question that weighs on a lot of historically minded people when they step into our space. The answer may be different today than it will be tomorrow. Don’t be mad that if you ask this question, my answer will always ride along with the caveat, TODAY, we believe the oldest item to be…

It was a Monday morning when I innocently geared up to create a Facebook post on the Macpherson House. I took the last swig of my lukewarm coffee and got to work. First task was to find photographs of the Macpherson house as it changed through time. Simple enough. Then my colleague Lisa says, “what about that box labelled ‘Macpherson House’ on shelf [BEEP], it has photographs.” That sounded promising. Lisa has been working on a collection inventory, a full review of the collection, and has an anecdotal knowledge of box placement I can only imagine. 

The box comes out and the expected photographs are great examples of the Macpherson House as it changed through time. Perfect. Then it starts. Anyone who has done historical research or tried to watch just one Youtube video at a time knows exactly what happened next. I start down a rabbit hole, a phenomenon that happens regularly in our line of work. Jim Sova, one of our dedicated volunteers, has this problem every time he loads a newspaper microfilm reel onto the machine. Jim’s been digitally preparing our local papers to be keyword searchable. He says some days it takes longer than it should as he goes down the rabbit hole of social musings in the community news sections. His solution is listening to a podcast (specifically Malcolm Gladwell’s Revitionist History – an excellent podcast, by the way) while he works with the papers. It’s difficult to listen to Malcolm Gladwell and read about Mabel’s delightful trip to Kingston all at the same time.

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Jim Sova listening to Revisionist History


 

I start sifting through the rest of the box. Records of the Macpherson/Fisher families start to spill out. Without Revitionist History playing in my ear, I went to the rabbit hole, jumped in, and hopped around in it for a while. The records include Allan Macpherson’s military order papers, a baptismal record, and what appears to be a draft of the original Napane [sic] Mills poster by Macpherson in 1819. Then I struck gold in that box. Today, I believe the oldest original item in our archives is a 1774 testificate of John and Mary Fisher. A testificate was required for travel between parishes in Scotland, a character reference if you will, used in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century. The Fisher’s brought it all the way to Canada and here it remains. John and Mary are the grandparents of Allan Macpherson’s wife, Mary Fisher. No, this original document was not created in our county but the Fisher/Macpherson families sure were vital to this area’s economic growth and success. Let’s not be too hard on the testificate’s Scottish heritage.

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Hopping around the rabbit hole investigating the Fisher family for way too long led me to another fascinating item in our collection. Here’s the thing: until you have reason to compile all resources on a subject or family, you don’t always know what’s waiting in the boxes to be discovered. In this case, it was a rediscovery. There are folks out there familiar with these records, I’m sure, but when you’ve only been at an archives for four years, rediscovery happens all the time. I went beyond the archives walls (virtual walls) and found our museum holds a beautiful hand beaded and embroidered purse from 1804 with the name ‘Mary Fisher’ stitched on the front. Wow. Her grandparents’ 1774 testificate and now a purse Mary Fisher made and used in the early 1800s. There’s more about the Fisher family and purse from our curatorial team here.sNapanee Mills Broadside 1819.jpg


 

I can with some measure of certainty say to the next person who asks, the oldest original document in our archival collection is a testificate from 1774. That feels good to say until I rediscover the next oldest thing. And the Macpherson House Facebook post was never completed. It’s a small price to pay for the trip down this particular rabbit hole because I definitely escaped into a gold mine.

For more information on the documents highlighted here, please email archives@lennox-addington.on.ca.

A Little “Shoe and Tell”

Confessions of a Curator

I cannot believe how fast the spring is flying by. We have just successfully celebrated our first long weekend of the summer and our thoughts are leaning towards the heat of the sun, toes in sand, water splashes, end of school, and the exciting plans of our summer vacations! Yes, even this weary curator is planning some time away to enjoy the sounds of the ocean and the excited awes of my children as we go whale watching in the Bay of Fundy this summer. 

While summer is generally a time of fun and mental shutdown for students- it is status quo for most adults. In the museum world, the summer often lends itself to additional grant funding to employ university students to assist museums/archives/libraries/art galleries with projects that would otherwise be on hold until staff can get to it- and let’s face it- this could mean years. 

This summer, the museum was fortunate to receive a grant from Young Canada Works to hire a university student to help me with our collection. A museum collection is catalogued similarly to a library – in that every object in the collection is assigned a number and inputted into a database to help track its provenance, location, condition, exhibition durations, and donor information. Our collection has close to 14,000 objects to track – wowzers! 

How do you stay on top of it- honestly sometimes you don’t! Other projects pop up that take you away from the collection and a backlog begins to build. In the end, a curator always finds their way back to the collection – to classify, to research, to organize, to photograph, and to plan. This is the yellow brick road for any Collections Manager in the museum biz – it leads us to our happy place. This summer, our intern will help me review a portion of our collection, we will edit our database, we will sleuth object stories and get selected objects into the public domain for you to discover.   

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Our curatorial storage houses many shelving bays that have been sorted into relevant themes, boxed with accession numbers and shelf located in the database. This is an ongoing job in the museum world. As items are moved for exhibit, education, and photographing, it is critical they are returned to their location, otherwise hours are lost locating wrongly shelved items.


How do we do we start this project?

We figure out where we want to start- with this project we decided to focus on the last 5 years of records. It is the equivalent of about 500 objects- not all will be uploaded but all will be reviewed. The database is reviewed to ensure our paper records actually match what is in the database. Once we are happy – we decide what objects are going to be uploaded. The object’s story is the most important component to any museum collection.  

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Alannah, our summer intern, is reviewing the accession entries to ensure accuracy and to sort the list for online uploading. 



The object is pulled from storage so that we may begin the process of including it in the online database. We are usually given a solid genealogical reference at the time of receipt. Aside from the provenance, a curator or registrar will also examine the object for any other stories that can be gleaned from it -for example – who manufactured the item, what is it made out of, what does it tell you about the time it came from- this information is not only interesting for the general public but is highly useful to the curator who develops the museum exhibits and education programs. 

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The artifact is located and placed on a cart and put in the queue for photography. 

The shoebox that holds the little shoes placed safely on the cart waiting to be examined and their delicate details photographed.


 

The curator becomes a “history detective”

With our thinking caps on we go in search of the story. Where do we go for this for information? We are fortunate at L&A County to house our own archives. Aside from the provenance given to us at the time of donation, we scan newspapers, family files, and photographs to build our object stories. From there we may delve into business indexes, land records, and vital statistics not extrapolated from family files. We may also use secondary sources within our curatorial libraries and reliable websites.  

These little red shoes were worn by Doris Wells, who was born in 1923. Doris’s family lived in the Camden area. She married Bill Vesterfelt, who worked at the Strathcona Paper Company in the 1960s. Doris died in 2013 and the little shoes were donated to the museum shortly after by her sister. Unfortunately, we do not have a photograph of Doris, a photo is a terrific aid in making the objects more personal. 

These shoes are in very good condition. I suspect these weren’t worn very much – most likely best occasions and remember these are baby shoes, how much ground coverage does a pair of baby shoes actually get?  They are made from plush velvet and have small glass beads sewn on the vamp, straps, and sides. They are delicate and special little shoes. 

The provenance tells us the L&A connection, but sometimes the object can speak to us about life at the time it was used – popular trends, economy, and social issues. These little shoes are in the Mary Jane style. A popular style even today, but what we discovered with a little digging, is that the term “Mary Jane” comes from the popular comic strip Buster Brown (1902) and his friend Mary Jane, who always wore this strappy style of shoe. Sleuthing these fun facts makes this job so much fun! 

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©1903, New York Herald Co.
kyleredente.blogspot.com


 

Once we have filled out the story, the object is photographed- carefully capturing all the small details. A detailed photograph will later reduce the physical handling of the object- we no longer have to take it out of storage every time we need to reference it, we can use the photos. This leads to long term conservation. 

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The images are added to the accession entry- the entry is reviewed and marked for upload. Once the upload is complete – the public can enjoy it online. We have started to upload, it’s a small portion for now, but the online collection both archival and museological can be discovered here at https://lennoxaddington.pastperfectonline.com/

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Our PastPerfect database is our main tool in organizing all the information related to the museum collection. As new information is discovered about objects, we can edit the entry. It also lets us track condition, location, exhibitions, donor information, and conservation treatments


 

Working with the collection takes time, patience, thoroughness, and a love for historical details. Our massive collection will not be digitized overnight. I know it will be years, and even then it won’t be finished. I fully realize that I will be retired, enjoying the beaches of Bali, and my successor will be working with the collection, digitizing, and readying the collection for whatever wonderful new technology awaits, in the mean time I am going to enjoy it. I will slow down and embrace the history around me- and remind myself, that someday- my time, my era- will one day be housed within museum walls, and I want someone to care for it, the way I am caring for my parent’s and grandparent’s history today. 

I am pleased to introduce our summer intern – Alannah MacGregor. As we work through our collection,  she is going to be a big help this summer.  The museum is grateful for the support of the Canadian Museum Association and the Young Canada Works program for this summer opportunity. 

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About Our Intern

I am currently a student at Algonquin College in the Applied Museum Studies program and will be starting in the third year of the program come September. My interest in the Lennox and Addington County Museum came from wanting to know more about my home county as well as wanting to work with a diverse collection. I would like to go into collections management so the opportunity to work on this project as a collections assistant is excellent for me, as I am getting to learn about how collections management works outside of the classroom. 

I was further interested in the position as it is a chance to expand my knowledge of historical collections as my educational background is in science. I am excited to become familiar with the collection and to find out the stories that go with the artifacts being featured. I feel like this is an important project, as I believe it is the stories that go with the artifacts that are important to people, and finding those stories, to me, is something worth doing.  

Museums: A place of learning and fun!

An Inspirational Spring

The intentionality of programs at a Museum have two main goals, to educate and inspire. My favorite challenge is to have both simultaneously, engaging the audience of all ages to learn and enjoy the process. Through art classes, puppet shows, Lego and Meccano, music, storytelling, school visits and so much more, our guests have had many opportunities to experience our lively Museum over this past month.  We also installed our second Museum @ Play exhibit – Lego Love. All of these programs can present an opportunity to learn, you just have to know what questions to ask and how to make connections to other experiences. A big thank you to local Lego and Meccano collector Hubert Hogle, artists from Glocca Morra Farms, Rag and Bone Theater, and Beyond Classrooms Kingston – to name a few – for visiting our Museum this month to make learning fun!

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Last week, three local grade 6/7 classes participated in a program that I developed and delivered in partnership with our Archivist, Lisa. My intention was simple: to inspire senior students to see history in a new way, and leave the Museum and Archives with more questions and excitement then they came with. That is exactly what happened! Students observed artifacts within the Museum in an entirely different way and sat in the Archives searching family files, looking through microfilm, making connections and wanting to know more. More about their families, where they came from, how they lived and how they each came to be here today. Completely astounded, not by the chaos of 80 students wanting to ask questions and find answers though, I took a moment to look around and was engulfed by their pure excitement to learn. History is not brought to life in a textbook, the stories and details are recorded in them are important, but the true connections to history are found within the links to your own life. Students were fully engaged and did not want to be pulled away from research, not video games or devices, 200 year-old books and records! It is possible! History is not boring, it is who we are, and the way we can change the mindset is by teaching them to think about the events in history as their own stories not about something they cannot connect to. Students were learning valuable lessons about primary research, what life was like for the people before us, and figuring out how to make the connections to their own life. Success. One of the teachers emailed me at the end of the school day thanking me, and letting me know that the rest of their day was pushed aside because the kids just wanted to learn more…about History! These students will be using their research to complete a creative project to represent their history that will be presented at the Museum during Archives Week on April 3rd. We are inviting the public to join us and relish in their excitement, I am sure they would love to share with you “The History We Wrote”.  

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The next few weeks at the Museum patrons will be able to join us for a free Museum Kids Woven basket program (please visit our website for a new pre-registration initiative for this program), a Spring Wreath Making Workshop, Tuesday Night at the Museum musical performance from Steve Medd and our LIVE performer Alex Leggett. For more information on upcoming programs and events, please visit our website www.CountyMuseum.ca or follow us on Facebook @CountyMuseum.

Thank you for making history with us!

Museums – What’s Not To Love!

Confessions of a Curator

Is it conceivable that not everyone loves history? Is it possible for anyone to look at a pair of women’s gloves or shoes from the 1920’s and not imagine who wore them and what fantastic party they went to? I didn’t think so, but sadly, it’s true – not everyone cares. The curator in me rises up and I am challenged. I must help the non-caring and must show them the beauty in the living history that surrounds us, the material culture left behind for us to touch, the photographs and diaries that shed light on day to day activities from our past.  

Museums inspire, they allow you to breathe the same air of some of the great moments of history. A couple of years ago, I visited several of the Smithsonian museums. I was stunned to see the objects that have defined the greatest moments of American history- the Wright brothers early flying machines, NASA space capsules, letters and stuffed animals placed on the Vietnam War Memorial for lost loves. I visited Lincoln’s memorial and stood where Martin Luther King spoke those famous words, “I Have A Dream…”.  While exploring the museums in Washington, I walked the road of Route 66, gazed at Dorothy’s ruby slippers, chuckled at Archie Bunker’s chair, got very nostalgic looking at Kermit The Frog, and was engrossed in Julia Child’s kitchen. For those few minutes, I was part of their history. That’s what a museum does…it lets you escape into the wonder of it all.

Teddy Bear with letter, Nasa craft, I have a Dream inscription

For a brief moment I was part of their history. Gifts given at the wall of the Vietnam War Memorial- the 1960s NASA Space Race, and standing on the steps where “I Have A Dream…” was first voiced.


 

I have felt the same sense of wonder when I visited The Louvre and gazed at the masterpieces of the Greek and Hellenistic period through to the Impressionist period. It seems you walk for miles, then you turn a corner, and there she is- the great lady herself- Mona Lisa. It is amazing, in that moment, I am sharing a space with Da Vinci himself. Can you believe it?! During that same trip, we drove to Giverny to stand in Monet’s house and see his lily ponds. While there, we made our own art and got lost in all the magic. I was there with my children and I shared that experience with them. While they were young and perhaps didn’t quite grasp the awesomeness…some day they will understand.

Girl showing her colouring, mom and son taking a selfie

Shared experiences in France with my children. Although they were young, those profound experiences are imprinted. Four years later, we still talk about seeing Monet’s gardens and the artwork at The Louvre. I don’t think the memory will fade anytime soon.  


 

I do not need to travel internationally to get a historical rush. I have visited many Canadian facilities and have stopped in wonder at the bones of the Blue whale in the Canadian Museum of Nature, I have watched the drill of the Fort Henry Guard on a warm summer’s eve, I roamed the red beaches of P.E.I and visited Green Gables. I have walked every gallery in the Canadian Museum of History several times over and always with pride. We live in an amazing place and I usually share these experiences with family and friends. Museum experiences are imprinted into our memories and I feel are best shared with friends.

2 photos, brother and sister posing in and by Museum

My kids are as excited as I am to visit museums. I am raising another generation of history geeks, but at the same time instilling within them a sense of place, giving them moments to wonder, and letting them ask questions


 

It is the idea of sharing the same space that links you to that moment in time.  As a museum curator, I carry this same feeling as I assemble my own exhibits.  As an example – in our collection, we have a pair of World War Two military boots, they are very worn, tread bare, the toes have holes, the leather cracked but none of that matters…those boots landed on the beaches in Normandy.

Donated by Wes Alkenbrack several years ago.  He was well known in the community , an incredible story-teller and poet. I did meet him and listened to his stories. The boots have taken on a whole new meaning for me.  In the moments that I have prepped them for exhibit, I have been transported to France and I try to imagine the fear, pain, cold, and hunger felt by Wes when he wore those boots.

I want you to have those moments too! That is what I want to create for you when you visit the museum.  Whether it is looking at the 1920’s bathing suits, photographs of life on the Napanee River, or the whimsy of the recent art exhibition. The intent is to captivate you and get you wondering.

2 pairs of boots

Boots worn by Wes Alkenbrack. He served in the 47th (R) Field Battery, Royal Canadian Artillery before enlisting in the 32/34 Field Regiment, (R.C.A.) on 8 June 1940. He served overseas with the 34th Field Battery, 14th Field Regiment, (R.C.A.). Landed at Bernieres-sur-Mer Normandy, France as part of the first assault wave on June 6th, 1944.


 

Perhaps, I am just a museum geek and I am alone in my thoughts, but I have given this some thought. Why do you visit a museum? Well here it is – laid out for you, the *top reasons to visit a museum.

1. Museums make you feel good 

They let you slow down and do things at your own pace.

2. Museums educate you

It becomes nearly impossible to exit a museum without having gained any information or insight during your visit.

3. Museums are community centres 

Museums are a lot more than collections of artifacts; they allow you to meet with neighbors, discuss thoughts and opinions, and become an active part of the community. Museums are hot-spots for community engagement.  

4. Museums inspire

Exhibits and programs will connect you – these personal memories imprint on you for life.

5. Museums are a great way to spend time with friends and family    

Sharing learned experiences with family and friends enrich relationships.

6. Museums are community and business partners    

Museums are economic stimulants – often working with local printers, electricians, plumbers,  caterers, artists, and musicians.

7. There is ALWAYS a museum close to you…visit it!   

No excuses. Go and visit. Feel inspired, slow down the world for a while and enjoy.

*courtesy of Colleen Dilenshneider, Chief Market Engagement Officer for IMPACTS, a global leader in predictive market intelligence

 

At the end of the day, I am not sure if I can convince everyone to love history, but you can bet, I am going to try! The past enriches our lives. Visiting a museum, art gallery, botanical garden, zoo, and archives, puts us in touch with our historical, cultural, and natural heritage and allows us to grasp who we are and understand where we are going. It doesn’t get any better than that. I challenge you to visit the museums in your backyard, please start with the Lennox and Addington County Museum and Archives! I bet you will be surprised what you will learn and how much you enjoy it!

Museum hours

Monday – Saturday: 10am–5pm

Macpherson House & Park hours

Tuesday – Thursday: 1pm-4pm

Archives Hours

Monday – Friday: 10am – 12pm*, 1pm –4pm

*closed from 12pm –  1pm 

Museum and Archives daily rate

Adults: $3
Children under 12: free

Museum & Archives location

97 Thomas St E, Napanee, ON K7R 4B9

Macpherson House & Park location

180 Elizabeth Street, Napanee, ON K7R 1B5