Be a Part of Lennox & Addington’s Story – Scan your Photos to the Archives!

Are you part of Lennox and Addington County’s story? Then we want to hear about it! 

Share photographs with us during the month of April and be part of our community digitization project. What’s in for you? You’ll walk away with free prints of your scanned photographs to share so your original copies stay safe for a long time.

For the month of April, you’re encouraged to bring 1-5 photographs of anything or anyone in Lennox and Addington County to the Archives. Photographs can be of yourself growing up here, your ancestors from a century ago, a business or even your family participating in a COVID-19 activity while stuck at home. Anything goes as long as you can tell us the story behind it!

 

Here’s how it works:

  • You bring 1-5 photographs of any size and colour to the Archives
  • We scan your photographs, you tell us the story behind them
  • You walk away with 8×10 colour prints of your photographs 

Scanned images become part of the permanent digital collection at the Archives of Lennox and Addington to be shared with the community 

Stop by the Museum of Lennox & Addington, located at 97 Thomas Street East in Napanee, Monday – Friday from 10am – 5pm  until April 30th. Note that we will be open on Saturday, April 30 from 10-5 for this project. Call 613-354-3027 for more information or contact Kim Kerr at kkerr@lennox-addington.on.ca.  

March Break Fun at the Museum of L&A

We’re all counting down the days until March Break, and I couldn’t be more excited to have a week full of fun events lined up to keep your families entertained! This year we’ll be blasting off with daily space-themed activities that coincide with our Astrophotography and Vintage Space Toy exhibits currently on display. 

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While you are enjoying the exhibits make sure you keep your eyes peeled for Lennox, the friendly space alien, who is hiding in one of the photographs. When you find Lennox make sure you let our staff know, so you can get a prize!

Families who don’t want to schedule themselves to a specific program, no need to fret. Parents, you can plan your museum visit around your schedule and still make it out to the other awesome March Break events happening in our community. 

We have drop-in activities available at any time through the week as well as our fun learning nook to explore.  Yes, that command center was handmade by moi! I had so much fun making it, and I’m sure your kiddos are going to LOVE playing with it. 

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For those who are just learning about space to those who are space-obsessed, we know there will be lots for everyone to enjoy. Puzzles, books, stargazing, planet exploration, puppet-making and more! LEGO lovers, you can come and build a space ship (I’m hoping some readers will get my LEGO movie reference)!

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From Monday to Friday we will also be offering staff-led programs and story time throughout the day. While you are here enjoying the programs, we are also offering free family passes to view our exhibits.

Here is our week’s breakdown:

Monday… we will be making planet puppets. Be inspired by our felt solar system, or color your own paper puppets!

Tuesday… the Miller Museum of Geology will be here for an immersive meteorite activity.  Kids will be able to get their hands on micrometeorites, examine them under the microscope and learn all about these marvelous space rocks. 

Wednesday… enjoy a galactic space sensory activity. You may get ooey-gooey so come dressed appropriately. 

Thursday… the Museum of L&A is the host site for March of the Museum. Staff from surrounding Museums will be on site hosting programs and activities to keep you entertained and inspired by our local history. Test your engineering with our special balloon powered rocket activity! Please pre-register, as seating is limited! *If seating is sold out please contact us and we will have a kit available for you at another time*

Friday… we’re all about astrology. Kiddos will be making an illuminated astrological viewer with museum staff. 

Saturday… we have a special guest joining us from Pineapple Toolbox. Depending on your skill level you can construct a flying space craft with glue or try your hand at sewing. We encourage you to preregister as kits are limited!

To be honest, this Museum programmer has been looking forward to March Break for 2 years! It’s not quite back to “normal” but this jammed-packed week will sure help to make your March Break memorable. We’re open Monday to Saturday from 10am – 5pm. While you are here make sure you check out our new space themed book shop too! We can’t wait to see you back in-person. 

Have a question? Please check out our website at www.countymuseum.ca or contact us at 613-354-3027. 

We’re Having a Moment

I had to update my personal information form at the dentist recently, and I smiled at myself as I wrote archivist under profession. I knew what was coming as soon as I handed the form over the counter. As predicted, the receptionist scanned the page to make sure every field had appropriate content, and said, “Archivist, oh, what’s that?”

What is that? It’s a lot of things actually. If we believe the entirety of the profession can be explained from scenes in popular culture, then I guess I find the answer to historical questions in archival records every time and save someone’s life doing it. I’ll tell you from experience, I have never rushed through archival records in search of clues to save someone’s life (every Dan Brown book turned movie, ughh) nor witnessed a researcher doing the same.

BUT luckily, we’re having a moment. We’re – as in archival professionals and as a professional field – in popular culture and the news lately, and I think all of it is great for people’s understanding of and learning about what we do and why it’s important.

Yes, I’m about to bring President Trump into this. How can I leave out the fact that the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) of the United States is opening an investigation into the former President’s handling of White House records? If you haven’t been following this (it’s ok, I understand), US presidents are required by law to transfer their letters, work documents and emails to the National Archives. All of the records, not some, all. Trump is accused of taking boxes of records from Washington, D.C. to Florida, some of which are marked classified, and destroying others. Now NARA is asking the Justice Department for an investigation.

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National Archives of the United States, Washington, D.C. Image from Bestbudbrian, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons


 

How bada$ is that??? The National Archives taking on a former President. Archives are complicated institutions bound by laws and policies that we have to balance with the needs of our communities and stakeholders. Certainly in the L&A County Archives, we’re not chasing records down through investigations but we have laws and policies we must abide by too. NARA is using its power to ensure laws and policies are followed so that history doesn’t get rewritten by what’s missing or omitted from the record base. It’s hard to come up with a modern archive that’s more important to have intact than that of this particular former President. Scholars and journalists will be busy with this one for decades, I imagine.

On a brighter note, archivists are featured in supernatural thrillers now too. Netflix’s series Archive 81 tells this story: “An archivist takes a job restoring damaged videotapes and gets pulled into the vortex of a mystery involving the missing director and a demonic cult.”

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Image from Netflix, accessed February 22, 2022


Ok, I know how that sounds, but there’s legitimate archival work being showcased until the demons show up. What’s important here is that the archivist gets entangled in this supernatural mess (also never experienced this as an archivist) while working to digitize analog media, something archives are compelled to do all over the world in their efforts to preserve the historical record. Finally, a pop culture reference to archives beyond the stuffy reading room and hurried flip through “old” books and texts. The work of digitizing records (photographs, diaries, sound recordings, old films, etc., you get the point) is not quick or cheap. Staff time is intense with this type of project and don’t forget maintenance costs – yes, even digital files require upkeep!

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Examples of different media types archivists work with.


There are many other examples of archives in pop culture and the media (think genealogical shows like Who Do You Think You Are? and Finding Your Roots) that I don’t have space for here. And what does all of this have to do with our work in L&A County? Nothing really, except to highlight that we do a lot of different things to collect, preserve, and provide access to the historical record. I’m just happy to see that the profession is being noticed and hopefully better understood. That way, when I joke that I hardly use my teeth at work, I’ll get a smile instead of a dead glare from my dental office receptionist.

And… We’re back!

Back open at the Museum of L&A

After another month (mostly) working from home, with only my cat to keep me company, I am thrilled to be back in the archives! In January, I devoted most of my time to bringing more content online, specifically photographs. I’ve been busily updating descriptions in the collections database to get as many digitized photographs up online as possible. I’ve also spent a lot of time scanning photographs on loan from some of our community members, continuing the quest to preserve snapshots of everyday life in L&A throughout the twentieth century.

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One of the most vivid photographs I came across while working from home was a photograph of T. I. Winter’s drug store in Newburgh, taken in 1910. We have little information about the photograph or who the people in it might be, but the clarity and detail within the photograph – from the crumpled newsprint on the street to the stacks of paint cans in the window – really brings the scene to life.

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We’ve also been busy behind the scenes developing online exhibits (coming soon!) for the Museum website and the next archival exhibit that will be on display IN-PERSON in March. You can look forward to hearing L&A stories highlighting agriculture, labour, and even fire insurance maps! We have also begun working on a few social media campaigns for the Spring – get ready for a look at the many forms of art and nature in the archives!

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Being back in the archives means that I have more time to devote to what I cherish most about my job, processing collections – ensuring that the cultural records of L&A are properly stored, organized, and retrievable, so that the unique and varied stories of life in L&A may be shared both tomorrow and one hundred years from now! Community archives work is fascinating because it is continually a balancing act between preservation and access, managing your time and resources in a way that ensures that the public can easily engage with collections while maintaining the physical integrity and unique history of each item.

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As disheartening as it was to have to close the museum’s doors once again, coming back to the building each time brings a new appreciation for the work and learning that happens here. There may be a few more hills to climb in 2022, but I’m certain that it is going to be an exciting and educational year in the archives!

We’ve missed you! Book your visit today.

Moving With The Times

Confessions of a Curator

I am writing this blog on the day the biggest snowstorm has hit in years!  I honestly sit here in a bit of awe that we are still in the midst of this pandemic almost 24 months later and that I am yet again working from home. But alas, here we are and do want to know the most scary thing of all?  – I am left alone with my curatorial thoughts… so many of those and let me tell you… yikes!

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The view of my backyard and my snowy birds just trying to find their meal.



What is a curator to do when her museum is closed?  Quite simply – I organize and organize some more…I have been working diligently over the past 2 years to organize and navigate our amazing museum collection.  We have close to 15,000 objects in our collection and I recently completed a collection plan for the site.  This plan included an in-depth review and physical inventory of the collection.  If there is ANY blessing to COVID, it is the gift of time.  I have had time to think and do things for our collection that would have otherwise been waitlisted.  

Much of my job doesn’t get seen by the public. I would say a good 75% of my day is “back of house” projects that make the “front of house” (ie exhibits and programs) look good. As tasking as it all seems sometimes – if the backend is navigable and all things traceable, my future self will be happy! The means better collecting, better exhibits, and more comprehensive programs.

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The Curatorial team made great headway in 2021 to organize several storage spaces in the museum. Here is the dynamic duo pictured in the furniture storage room.



What I am now working towards in the wake of this review is filling in the known gaps and making sure our County story continues beyond the 19th century.  The museum collection needs to start infilling post war story telling. Our grandparents and even more so now, our parent’s generation is now historical and as much as we don’t want to think about it, the stuff that is from their childhood, their angsty teenage years and early married days…are wanted for the museum. Objects from the 50s, 60s, 70, 80s, 90s and everywhere else….are needed. We need to make sure we tell the whole story of the County so that years from now and when there is someone else caretaking the County story….I know I have done my part in the collective preservation. 

My curator’s brain had to orient itself with that thought. The entire existence of our County history was not formed just 200 years ago….it was formed 25 and 50 years ago too and continues to be formed now…through these unprecedented COVID times and our everyday lives beyond this pandemic.  The stories that are in our parent’s living memory matter and we need them preserved.  I would love to hold some of the more obscure County tales in my hands….those unique objects that shape the physical, emotional, social landscape and character around us. While we have started this collecting with a couple of 1960s and 1970s wedding dresses, vintage toys, and household items…we still have a long way to go. 

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Wedding Dress worn by Debbie Morgan at Roblin in 1976. This accession is not yet available online, however it came complete with shoes, veil, catalogues, and photos.


 

To help perhaps inspire some of you…the museum is hosting a vintage space toy exhibit “FUN IN SPACE” this spring. These toys will surely bring back many memories of your own childhoods or that of your parents. These incredible toys, from the 1950s and 1960s, are demonstrative of a time when kids were in constant awe of the world above them, when the Space Race was full on, and when the moon landing was front-page news.  This collection represents a period of time when our world as we know it was changing, when technology was changing daily and it was widely believed that living off planet wasn’t too far off.  Our imaginations were soaring and the creation of these toys was a result of these exciting times. 

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Space People c1950.


 

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Space Patrol Walkie Talkies c1955.


 

This time is in living memory, so while NASA was not in our backyard here in L&A County- the narrative and the technology influenced our lives here 50 years ago and it changed an entire generation forever!

This is just an example of how one event impacted our lives. I haven’t even started with clothing, music, art, literature, social customs, County events and programs, and home trends, that also  need to  come together to give us a solid picture of these times from our not so long ago.

The Museum of Lennox and Addington want to collect for everyone and to tell stories from all walks of life.  Can you lend a hand?  Do you have story to tell me from these “newly historical” decades?  Email me at museum@lennox-addington.on.ca.  Your stuff may be just what we need!

A Plain White Treasure Box

Do you know that feeling of joy when you’re unwrapping a gift and you’re pretty sure you know what to expect? You open the gift box, you unwrap the object and suddenly you’re holding something completely different in your hand! That was exactly what I felt this past week when opening a box of artifacts. 

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The past few months I’ve been inventorying my way through the boxes stored in what has been functionally deemed ‘the military aisle’. Early last week I moved on to the next section of the aisle, and brought down a plain white box. I carried the box to my workstation, took the lid off, and saw that the inside was full of objects wrapped in opaque white tissue. I moved one of the wrapped objects onto the table, gently unwrapped it; and what’s now sitting in front of me, but an Austrian pig! Okay more accurately a ceramic piggybank with an Austrian maker’s mark. I bent down to table level, looked this itty bitty piggy in the eyes and started giggling really hard. Why was I giggling? Well if you take a look at the photo above you will see that the pig has a horizontal division in its colouring and this pattern, to my eyes, makes the pig look like its wearing pants. Immediately I am reminded of the internet debate of how a four legged animal would wear pants. If you don’t know this humorous debate I recommend looking it up. Looking at this piggybank I’d say pigs wear pants on all four legs, not just the back two. 

So why on earth am I rambling about how a pig would wear pants? The answer is simple, because I wanted to share with you a moment of joy brought to me in just an everyday moment of my job. A week or so later, I‘m still cracking up every time I look at the pig. There were three more artifacts I found just in this box, which made me smile.

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The first of these artifacts is pictured above. Upon first glance, with the artifact in a neutral position. I assumed that it was a very simple pair of garden snips. Upon gently squeezing the two handles together the artifact reveals itself to be a very small curling iron. When I saw this I had a moment of pure delight, this was completely unexpected. I had never seen a non-electric curling iron before. With a little research I learned that this hazardous hair appliance would have been used by warming the metal end in a fire then applying it to the hair like you would an electric curling iron. This frequently resulted in burns. Personally, I have never been so thankful for modern hair styling tools.

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Another artifact from this box is an ironstone bowl. Many museums have plenty of examples of ironstone, this is because ironstone was much more durable for transport than other more delicate ceramics such as porcelain. When English potters were sending their wears over to North America they found that ironstone was one of the most popular materials as it was less expensive and stood up to the trials of rural North American life. How does this bowl from the late 19th century lead to a moment of joy? Very simply, because we have only a snapshot of its history. This bowl was found in an abandoned unspecified Methodist church likely south of Napanee. As far as we know this is the only bowl that was found in the abandoned church and doesn’t that bring up a number of questions. Is this the only surviving member of a set? If there was only one, what did the church use it for? Did the bowl even belong to the church or was that just a convenient place for someone to get rid of it? I don’t know the answer to these questions but it brings a little bit of wonder to my job getting to take a moment to just imagine the different possible pasts for this bowl before it came to the museum. 

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The last artifact I’m going to talk about was actually the only military related object in this box. Coming across this case it immediately peaked my curiosity. With a little research a heartwarming story unfolded. In the months approaching the first Christmas of World War One, a 17 year old Princess Mary, of the British royalty, wanted to use her private allowance to purchase a small gift for every soldier. Though this wasn’t feasible it prompted a public fund where people on the home front could donate a little money to give a gift to every soldier associated with the British Empire. It took several years but eventually almost every solider had received a small gift generally of tobacco or a small writing case all kept in one of these small metal cases. Starting with the good will of a single 17 year old girl in 1914 it snowballed to a six year campaign to deliver a gift to every soldier. I find myself now in 2022 reading this story, and I can feel my day brighten up a little. 

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Like everyone, there are days doing my job where the next task (or box) seems like just more of the same, but I was super lucky this past week to be reminded that every day brings at least a little surprise. Sometimes there’s a little truth to those old adages; it’s good to spend a little time stopping to smell the roses, or giggling at the pigs, whichever you prefer

Genealogy, DNA and a New Pair of Eyes

Let me start by saying I feel a bit like the guy who has been on the end of the bench most of the hockey game, but late in the 3rd period with everyone else tired and sore I am put in and I happen to be in front of the net when a shot from the point deflects off my leg and goes into the goal and we win the game.  Will I be recorded as scoring the winning goal?  Yes.  Was my play the main reason the team won? Not really.  Will I tell the story of my winning goal for years to come? Of course, I will!!

Kim MacGregor and I are both volunteers at the Museum of L&A. We recently combined an interest we share, and did a presentation titled “DNA and Other Genealogical Tools to Solve Adoptions and Other Family Tree Mysteries”. The presentation went as well as could be expected in an online environment where you speak to a camera and receive feedback through brief typed messages in the chat window.  One audience member came forward and asked her question live.  It was refreshing to hear from someone, almost in person, and hear about her tree “brick wall” and share some suggestions about how we might approach it. 

Her problem intrigued me and a couple of days after the presentation I contacted her to see if she was interested in my assistance and she was. 

Her 3X great grandfather (on her direct paternal line) shows only a mother and no father on his birth certificate. For upwards of 50 years, they have been trying to identify this unknown man, let’s call him Mr. 4X. I think I may be able to help with DNA analysis, but it may be a long shot. Her 3X great grandfather was born in 1796, so Mr. 4X is likely born in the 1770’s or earlier and I should find him in or around Little Thurlow, Suffolk, England in 1795. Autosomal DNA (Ancestry uses this type of DNA) can be useful back to 7 or 8 generations at most and this is 6 generations back from her, so we may need some luck.

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To put this in perspective, she will be half 5th cousin to anyone who is descended from the same man. The good news is that we have a lot of 5th cousins, typically in the thousands. The bad news is that we will share a very small amount of DNA with them. Typically, only 0.05% when we do match and we will only show a DNA match on about 15 to 30% of the 5th cousins who have tested.

She shares her Ancestry tree and gives me access to her DNA results. She has already done DNA testing on herself, her father, a sibling and four 2nd to 3rd cousins on the paternal line. The DNA results have also been cross posted to other sites such as GEDMatch and MyHeritage to increase the pool of matches to work with. She has even tried Y DNA testing for her father and another male on the paternal line with no close relatives or a clear male line identified.

I open her tree and it is a thing of beauty. Without a doubt the most complete tree I have ever seen. She has over 9000 people with over 14000 records and notes on many of her DNA matches to identify confirmed or suspected lines. She has even identified a group of DNA matches on her father’s side, but has not been able to single out a likely candidate to be related to Mr. 4X.

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This is my chance!  Her tree is so good it is like we have a power play for the last two minutes of the game. I just have to get in front of the goalie and something is bound to deflect off me and go into the goal.

I start digging into the tree, but she appears to have already looked into most of the avenues I would suggest. 

I try the next closest potential matches and they only have partial trees so I build them back, but they are all in US locations back to the early 1700’s and mostly in Virginia, so no usable leads. There is a single match in Australia that looks hopeful, most lines trace back to Ireland and Scotland but, one line goes back to Essex County, next door to Suffolk County. I search further, but the line ends up connecting to a known line in the tree and not the line we are looking for.

You also need to become knowledgeable on the geography of the country and the immediate area to know if matches are even close to the area we are looking at. Also be aware that place names and boundaries can change over time.

Time to try a different approach. I copy the DNA match group from her father’s side into an Excel spreadsheet and see if I can find any patterns. I create smaller groups where the DNA matches appear to share DNA with her and each other. I eliminate groups where anyone has an identified ancestral couple who could not have descended from Mr. 4X.  I also highlight in green groups that might tie to Mr. 4X or his ancestors.

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The red and orange highlighted are out, the green highlighted are the paternal line potentially and the unhighlighted I have not yet classified. I then find a group (the green band towards the bottom) who match each other, but are quite distant and have no identified potential lines.  The group also has a single match to the earlier group of the known paternal line.  I look at them in detail and only some have accessible trees and none go further back than 3 generations.  Again, I start building the most complete tree back to my time line – the 1770’s and see if there are any locations close to the mother in Suffolk County in England.  Remember that we will be dealing typically 6 generations back from the DNA match and if the tree is complete, I will have 64 4X great grandparents to try to identify and locate.  I find a lot of Yorkshire and Lancashire families before one Essex County family shows up.  A quick check with Google and the town in Essex is only 20 miles from the town in Suffolk.  There may be a possibility, but this is only in the tree of one of the DNA matches.  I go back to the match list and try a trick I use.  I look for matches who may have ancestors outside England to reduce the size of the tree I will have to search.  I find one with a Scandinavian name and most of the close ancestors, except for one line, trace to Denmark.  I build the England part of the second tree and it starts, like the other one in Utah, but I soon see the same last name popping up – Wyatt, and then it traces back to the same family back in Essex.

Suddenly I have a suspect for Mr. 4X – John Wyatt born Dunmow, Essex England in 1771 and still living there in 1795.  I think I just felt a puck bounce off my shin pad.  The goal light is on. I think they are crediting me with the goal.  Time to use that goal celebration that I have been practising for years.

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But wait.  The game isn’t over yet.  We have to defend our lead.  Have I jumped to an early conclusion?  Are there other suspects I should consider?  Yes, this is just a lead but, I think, a very strong one.

We go on to build the tree around him and the case looks better.  Ancestry is giving us over 20 Thrulinestm to DNA matches through two other sons of John by a different woman.  We still need to build the case and a Y DNA match between her father and one of the Wyatt male lines would be ideal.  She has already reached out to a couple of Wyatt descendants to see if we can make that Y DNA match and she has been busy adding documentary evidence to the new additions to the tree with some reinforcing the match and some twists to the story.

So how did I answer the mystery so fast?  It was 4 days from contacting her to sending an email saying, with some proof, that I think John Wyatt is the man she is looking for.  The simple answer is that I was in the right place at the right time and took a look with a new set of eyes.  Without the vast amount of work she had done to build her tree, identify the common ancestors that many of her DNA matches descend from, make extensive notes on names and locations found in the trees of DNA matches and get other relatives tested to add to the pool of DNA matches, I face months of work to get to this point, if I can even get this far.  Identifying an unknown father for a birth that took place 225 years ago is always a big ask.  DNA testing has opened up possibilities we could only dream about 20 years ago.  It also takes a bit of luck and ours had to do with the Utah ancestors, but that is a story for another day.

If you would like me to be that “new pair of eyes” to help with your family tree mystery, you can contact me through archives@lennox-addington.on.ca.

From Amherst Island to Vichy, France

Exploring the Life of a World War I Laboratory Assistant

To be honest, before I started my internship here at the Museum and Archives, I hadn’t spent much time exploring Lennox and Addington County. Despite having boarded the ferry across to Adolphustown countless times and taken that scenic drive along Bath Road, I had never really paused to take in the beauty and history that Lennox and Addington has to offer.

I started my internship in the first few months of the pandemic, an event which quickly encouraged many of us to slow down, unplug, and appreciate the world around us. In my time here, I’ve gotten to know the quiet grounds of the county courthouse, admired the church architecture along Bridge St. and the grand facades of century homes in downtown Napanee. I’ve stopped in Bath for a lakeside picnic, even taken a road trip along County Road 41 to put my canoe in at Bon Echo Park for the first time. My most recent L&A journey was to Amherst Island, and the person who led me there was Gertrude Preston. 

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As an Archives Assistant, processing collections is my main game. Having previously worked with the PastPerfect database and studied archival theory, I had an idea of what I was in for, technically speaking. However, I didn’t anticipate the emotional aspect of processing a fonds from start to finish. You really get to know the stories of the people in the collection, and, in a way, they become like old friends. I’ve spent the last several weeks processing the Gertrude Preston fonds, which includes a unique photograph album of Gertrude’s time in Vichy, France in the last days of World War I while she was stationed at Base Hospital No. 19, as well as photographs taken after the war, as she and her coworkers explored the coastal towns and small islands along the French Riviera. 

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Michelle Barclay Blog 6 7 8.jpgGertrude was born on Amherst Island on August 30, 1891 to her parents William and Mary Preston (nee Patterson), who had a homestead in Stella, Ontario. Gertrude’s mother died of pneumonia in 1893, leaving Gertrude to be raised in part by her grandparents James and Margaret Patterson (nee Neilson). Gertrude’s life is a bit of a mystery, but we do know that she was a nurse who completed her training in the U.S. in 1915, and that she joined the U.S. Army during World War I, not as a nurse, but as a laboratory assistant. In the lab at Base Hospital 19, Gertrude would have processed samples and recorded test results, among other things, to ensure that military soldiers, nurses, and staff remained healthy. 

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It is unclear how Gertrude ended up in New York State, enlisting with the U.S. Army, and travelling across the ocean on a massive steamship called the Baltic on June 4th 1918. Perhaps Gertrude sailed from the U.S. because there was greater opportunity to serve in the war effort from there, or perhaps she was always a traveller at heart. Gertrude took her passage home from Brest, France on March 4th 1919, settling for a while in Clifton Springs, New York, where she worked as a sanitarium nurse. Gertrude lived in the U.S. for several years, perhaps decades, bouncing from New York, to Ohio, to Florida, until returning to Ontario sometime before 1949, continuing to practice as a nurse until retirement. Somewhere in that time, she put together this vivid collection of photographs that tell of her experience during the war and the elation and hope that sprung at the war’s end. All of these photographs are now described and digitized, accessible online in our PastPerfect database!

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The Gertrude Preston collection is special because, although it does not explicitly highlight Lennox and Addington County, it serves as an example of the exterior lives of those with roots in the County.  Gertrude’s worldview dictated what she photographed, and having grown up in L&A County I like to think that when Gertrude looked out from the harbour at Cannes in 1918, she thought about home and the view from Amherst Island out onto Lake Ontario. After all my research into her life, one thing about Gertrude’s story that I am absolutely certain of is that the memories carried in her photographs will continue to be cherished by future generations of the L&A community.

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Remembering Beyond the Battles

When the Covid-19 pandemic began so too did the sweeping war metaphors to describe the global and personal situations we were facing. Our armies of front-line health care workers led the charge against the enemy, leaving the rest of us to navigate the home front (literally in our homes). The list goes on. The similarity between war and this pandemic I can’t get out of my head this Remembrance Day is that of how the world continues after an event that irrevocably changes it. 

I’m not suggesting the pandemic is over and we charge ahead with comparisons to post-war Canada, nor am I suggesting that such a comparison is fair.  This Remembrance Day, I’m reflecting on that nagging similarity and the folks of post-World War Two Lennox and Addington, both those returning home from overseas and those who remained at home for the duration of the war.

In 1945, soldiers and military personnel returned to their homeland, to their lives, yet at the same time, not their lives at all. What does a soldier do after returning when all they’ve known for the past few years is to serve in the military? What did the jobs look like after the war in Canada for people working in a war related field, only to be dismissed once the war was over and their services no longer needed? The government, at all levels, had ideas for job creation and economic stimulation as evidenced in our local paper, the Napanee Beaver.

The province was clearly planning a boom in road construction before the war was even over, a plan that would catapult the Ontario economy into the future. Readers of the Napanee Beaver on December 6, 1944 would see the following article about Premier George Drew’s plans for road development:

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“I think it is no overstatement to say that to a very great degree the whole structure of our present way of living is based upon highways and the vehicles moving over them, and that the speed of our postwar development in this Province will depend very largely upon our highways and the way we use them.”


In the January 17, 1945 issue, Napanee mayor Duane R. Hall M.D. provided ideas for postwar development and jobs ranging from acquiring a modern municipal snowplow to building a commercial airport in Napanee. His vision of a hospital eventually came to fruition but we’ll never know if council heeded his advice on always having industrial activity on their minds. 

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“These works will provide employment for our men when they return from the fronts. In these postwar undertakings I am assured that we will have material assistance from both the Federal and Provincial Governments as part of their post-war reconstruction and rehabilitation plans.”


Next came a federal plan recorded in the March 7, 1945 issue in the form of the Farm Improvements Loan Act passed at a recent session of Parliament. Farmers could now borrow money at a lower interest rate for up to ten years to make improvements to their farms such as new machinery and a new home or barn.

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“The measure is also regarded by the Government as part of the program to stabilize employment and incomes in the post-war period while raising standards of living on farms.”


Getting the economy back on track and people working again was at the forefront of post-war Canada, not unlike the situation we find ourselves in currently. I know this Remembrance Day I’ll be thinking about how uncertain life and the future must have felt for post-war Canadians trying to return to their lives shifted by a global event. 

The Best Photographs Happen in Real Life

Over the years, you may learned – without even realizing it – that your real life is ‘ordinary’.

We have all seen those photographs. Of families on blankets at golden hour. Those photographs are beautiful. They are to be cherished, for sure. But photographs like that – studio or posed photos – teach us that only special things should be photographed. You, in your best clothes. You, with your best smile toward the camera. The kids, hugging and grinning, squared on to the photographer.

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We’ve all learned that “Special moments” do not occur daily. They do not happen naturally, and without a fair amount of orchestration. But that is all a lie. What we have learned is a lie.

It happens when we stack our events in our lives, and then we give them ratings based on how important they are, or how rare.

For example, a graduation is more important than one of the many regular days of school, we reason. It is the culmination of something great. Yet, without those many days of school, a graduation would not have been possible.

A wedding is more important than the many thousands of small touches, glances, kisses, or acts of kindness partners express toward one another every day, we reason. Weddings truly are wonderful things, and often times they bring together family and friends and all the love of the world under one roof. Yet so are the ‘everyday’ moments leading up to the union of two people.
I believe the best photographs happen in real life.

This old studio photograph of me in a white dress and pigtails, aged about 5. That photograph is cute. I am smiling and look presentable. My grandmother – who took me to the studio – loves that photograph. It is nice to look at, for sure. My grandmother might remember something about that day that she took me – she might remember whether it was rainy or sunny out, whether it was winter or summer, perhaps even what day of the week it was. She has an uncanny quality like that, to remember all those little details.

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Yet there are no details in the photograph itself. You cannot tell by my white summer dress, whether the weather outside the studio was cold or warm. It is possible I wore snow pants to the shoot and removed them at the studio. You cannot tell what phase of my life I was really into. Was I playing with dolls or trains? (Both, I think). Was I a quiet kid, or loud and boisterous? What were my pastimes?

None of this information is available from a photograph like that. There is NO STORY.

Photos of real life are different. Photos of real life (a.k.a. documentary photographs) can capture the entire gamut of human experience, from the very negative to the very positive. They are appealing because they tell a story. They remind us of people we love, living or gone. They remind us of silly stories, tiny details we’ve forgotten.

Documentary photographs can also save us from the constant desire to be perfect! Because they tell a story of each person and each family just as they are, in all that makes them human, flawed, relatable. The people in the photographs are NOT ‘perfect’, if perfection means smooth skin and flawless smiles. But the photographs are more perfect because they celebrate the human condition, and human character exactly as it is, without finding and correcting perceived ‘flaws’.

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In other words, documentary photographs go against the trend to achieve perfection. Because here is the thing: Families are all different, and no one has it all figured out. Some clients I photograph tell me that they normally do not like the way they appear in candid photographs. It is a common feeling, I think. It is probably because we have no control over how our faces look when we don’t carefully plan the shot. That’s why selfies are so popular.

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What we often forget, though, is that the people around us already know us. They already see us for who we are, they see all those ‘unsightly’ angles of our faces that we might try to hide when we take selfies, and all those moments in between the smiles. They see more of us than we see of ourselves.
And they already love us. Just the way that we are.

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So, in addition to all the functions I’ve listed above, I have come to think of documentary photographs as a kind of therapy for people who are still coming to terms with the way they appear. It is a chance to view yourself just as the world sees you. And to begin to accept yourself. To just go with it, without thinking about the things you cannot change. To embrace your messy house and unbrushed hair, and the food smeared on your children’s faces. To focus, rather, on the human touch, the connection, the shared smiles and hugs, and even on the conflicts. To see yourself as this imperfect but powerful force in your life, a force that works tirelessly to provide for those around you, to wipe up the messes and the tears and tickle out the laughs.

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Give yourself some credit, because you owe yourself that much: you are so worth it, and for reasons that have nothing to do with the smoothness of your skin. I believe that documentary photographs are good for the soul. They are good for the people in them, good for the community, good for the world.

They preserve meaningful moments full of context. And they remind us that everyone experiences struggles and everyone experiences joys. They show the world that a tender moment between parent and child is at least as important and worthy of attention as a tucked out chin and contrived smile.
Photographs of real family life are therefore not ordinary. Because our real lives are simply extraordinary.

 

Our Ordinary Extraordinary Lives at The Museum of Lennox & Addington

Over the last two years I got to be a part of an exhibition to showcase real life in Lennox and Addington. It was such a joy to meet the eleven participating families, and to capture little snippets of their real lives. My focus on these was to show just how unique each family was!

For instance, even though we had three families who own dairy farms and one who lives on a hobby farm, each of these families’ galleries looks completely different! 

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We also wanted to focus on daily routines, because these are often ignored in photographs. For instance, how The Lowry family prepared their grandchildren to get on the schoolbus each morning. Or how the Roberts Family lovingly takes care of their daughter with special needs, helping her towel off after a swim in the pool, or carefully chopping up the food on her plate.

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And of course, we wanted to showcase some of the beauty and diversity of things to do in L&A county. I had the Rochette family show me around their apiary (where they do “bee tours”), the Milne family took me to Fairfield park in Amherstview, and the Flood family enjoyed a (chilly) afternoon at McKinnon Brothers Farm, complete with food, bevvies, and live music, and the Carriers invited me to their backyard rink!

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Possibly the most spooktacular of all, the Eves family had me over while they prepared their Halloween decorations for their annual haunted walk. They open this up to the community of Entreprise (and anyone else who is up for it!)

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It was so much fun to take these photographs. It was also a lot of fun to see them on the walls of the museum. I hope that they not only spread cheer and intrigue museum visitors, but that they also make you think about your own life, and what holds magic for you.

To check out more of my photography here
 
Book your visit to the Museum of Lennox and Addington to see Our Ordinary, Extraordinary Lives on exhibit until December 31, 2021.

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