Friday, December 15, 2006

Streetscapes and Coins

With the volunteers busily working, the project continues to make some great headway. Last week town staff arranged the removal of some of the large, antique, display cases to off-site storage. Now the old factory floor of the Jones Shovel Factory has space to bring in shelving and will hopefully provide a lasting storage space for Gananoque’s historical collections. There are many challenges to the space: the ceiling is a bit high and it will be a struggle to keep the humidity under control, but it is the best option we have found so far. The large windows have been covered so we have successfully resolved the light issue.

We had five volunteers working in our space at the former Textron plant this past week. To date we have inventoried some 720 artefacts (approximately 17%), and have removed hundreds of photographs from damaging frames and self-adhesive albums. Some damage has been quite severe, but we have reached other photos just in time. When this phase of the project is complete we will have the whole collection scanned and it will be available for the town’s people. Luckily, we have Eileen Truesdell and John McDonald working on the photos, and their knowledge of the town has provided some great information for what would have remained anonymous pictures.

Aidan Baker and his mother Cathy are among our most enthusiastic volunteers and have been working with intern Erin Findlay on cleaning and cataloguing a collection of 200 or more coins from all periods and places. Much of the time has been spent on the delicate and careful removal of tape and old rubber foam used in former displays. The adhesives have almost permanently grafted (or cross-linked as we say) to the metal and removing it is a time consuming and frustrating chore. In ideal conditions, chemicals and a fume hood would speed things along, but our workers do their best with Q-Tips and distilled water. Aidan has found some very interesting coins in his work. This Upper Canadian coin from 1816 (on the left) commemorates Brock’s death at the Battle of Queenston Heights in 1812. You can see how the tape and glue has obscured and damaged the face. The collection also includes a number of coins relating specifically to Gananoque such as a silver dollar depicting the Gananoque Town Hall and the curious wooden nickel which was a favourite souvenir in Gananoque in the mid-Twentieth Century.

While working with volunteer David Wells at the Chamber of Commerce we came across our first real experience with some active mould. As you can see, the artwork, (a presentation to Charles S. McDonald for all his service to the community), is nearly destroyed and the mould is still working at eating away the rest of the paper. We have isolated this artefact so it does not contaminate others until we determine how best to treat it.

To end off this week, I have included four pictures of Gananoque landscapes. The first is a postcard from the 1960s and shows how different the streetscape looked. The clock tower is where the Toronto Dominion Bank now sits and across the street the Bank of Montreal. I have tossed in a present image of the street for comparison. I am sure many will agree that the push for a modern look doesn’t always have the best results.

This drawing dated May 28th, 1870 is a “Wilmott Print” and depicts the falls on the Gananoque River that powered the various mills. You can see the logs collecting at the base of the rapids below the bridge. Finally, the photograph on the right, as you can see in the writing, is of the same mills depicted in the print. The picture is from the 1880s and the caption tells us that the man driving the horse is Frank Latimer, a family name still very much alive in Gananoque.

As we move through the collection it is becoming more and more evident just how important and representative the artefacts and photographs are to the history of Gananoque. The educational potential for young and old alike is unlimited. I would like to thank the Town staff for all their help this past couple of weeks in removing heaps of rubbish and the display cases. Many thanks also the Eileen, John, Cathy, Aidan, David and Kathy as well as intern Erin for all their hard work.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Discoveries of Early "Cadanoghqua"

This morning, while searching about for that great artefact to display online, I stumbled across an old file case marked “Deeds, Mortgages and Legal Documents.” I popped it open to find yet another trove of forgotten items – land grants from every era of the Nineteenth Century, files from factories and receipts to and from local businesses. The most important items, bar none, were two tattered account books. The first dated 1818 belonged to a merchant in Gananoque – perhaps Ephraim Webster whose shop appears on the military sketch in 1815. The other immediately caught my eye, as the hand writing was very familiar. There is no doubt that this is the town founder, Joel Stone’s account book from 1795-1796. I have done a considerable amount of work on Stone and his times, and this find was astonishing to me. To my knowledge this piece is more or less unknown, and contains a vast amount of information on the day to day workings of a frontier outpost. The settlement, “Cadanoghqua” as it is spelled in the account book, had barely begun, and was little more than a cluster of shacks and two mills. Lady Elizabeth Simcoe, the wife of Upper Canada’s first Lt. Gov., John Graves Simcoe, stopped at the settlement the year before and recorded her impressions.

“A very wet morning after a night of incessant rain; the Canadians would not stir, so I waited to breakfast. Mr. Stone, who is building a mill opposite Fairfield’s came, and was extremely civil; brought butter and milk. About nine the rain ceased. I walked to look at the mill and embarked. Gave a dollar to the people. Mr. McGill said Stone was too much of a gentleman to offer anything to. The mill he is building is to have 15 saws. He says there is a portage of only half a mile from the Gananoqui to the Rideau.”

Curiously she also reported the same day: “Our Canadians are old and do not sing; however, I made them sing “Trois Filles d’un Prince,” tho [sic] indifferently.” [1]
Of course here we also see Lady Simcoe’s painting of the settlement only 4 years before Stone began keeping his records in this account book, (Image Courtesy of Archives of Ontario). The settlement was transforming rapidly as Stone and his many workmen cleared the wilderness and built their new lives.
The account book contains information on what he was buying and selling in the local area and the tiny number of names listed is a clear indication of how small the population was. This book is not only a reflection of early Upper Canadian commerce, but also how New England merchants did business. It is sometimes easy to forget that Stone spoke with a New England accent and carried on in the ways of a “Yankee” merchant. Stone’s new little Kingdom was in many ways a new New England, and it would be decades before English-speaking people would refer to themselves as “Canadians.” The entries range from his own records of paying for passage to Kingston and paying to feed his men en route (the men are never named), to agreements to cut and deliver planks and boards, to buying “Dear skins” from Silas Judson and other woodsmen. It also lists the many luxuries that Stone imported into the area – linens, buttons, silk handkerchiefs, and calico.

What is wonderful about the account book is that it not only tells us who was living in the settlement and who was buying what, but it also has other very interesting entries. For example, on Weds, 2nd March 1796 “Benjamin Butterfield began work______at the rate of 8 dollars per month to take his pay from the store.” There was little actual cash on the frontier. He also recorded the weather on the back of the book: “…this is the 20th day of January 1796 and is the first time I have seen the Cadanoghqua river shut with Ice this Season so as to prevent Boats passing up to the Mills.” Fascinating stuff, and there will be more to come as I use my spare time to transcribe this and other fantastic finds.


This week we also began our volunteer program, and it is off to a great start. Our present task is removing hundreds of old pictures from their decaying and damaging frames and encapsulating them in acid-free plastic. In addition, we are filing the pictures and taking a detailed inventory. It is a huge task, and with so much else going on, with the help of our dedicated volunteers it can finally be accomplished. In the New Year we will begin to scan the pictures and make them available for the community. My sincere thanks to John, Eileen, and Dianne who participated this week, and the many others who have offered their time. There is so much to do that all offers are very much appreciated.

These pictures are just two examples of the photos the volunteers are working with. The first on the left was probably taken from the old water tower looking down towards King Street. In the background you can see the McDonald House (now Town Hall) and the Victoria Hotel at the far left, indicating the picture is probably from the opening years of the 20th century prior to the Shovel Company taking over the hotel. The telephone polls are interesting and I am sure could provide a more exact date for the picture. The second picture on the left shows the Gananoque waterfront long before it was a tourist destination. Where the Arthur Child Heritage Museum now stands was a Train Station and the Gananoque Inn, across the mouth of the river, was a Carriage Factory. Yet, the geography is immediately recognizable to residents and visitors.

Thanks again to Erin Findlay of Algonquin College and Kathy Karkut and all the Volunteers for their valuable assistance this week. Without their help the project would be nowhere near where it is today.