Thursday, April 05, 2007

Gananoque in the Gilded Age

Opening May 18th, the Arthur Child Heritage Museum along with the Gananoque Museum Collections are pleased to present: “Gananoque in the Gilded Age: 1863-1890.”

Making use of the many artefacts and archival photos from the collections, the exhibit will tell the story of the period when Gananoque grew from an industrial village into a town.

It is not a rosy tale of simpler times or a golden age; it is the period of history which Mark Twain called “The Gilded Age.” This was a term meant to signify that for all the rapid economic expansion and radical growth of technology and industry, the majority of people struggled to make ends meet and to make sense of a new and changing world. It was a gilded age – appearing like gold, but it was really just a thin layer covering a dark and heavy base.

This was the era of the robber barons and the captains of industry, who amassed immense wealth while the average workers toiled to eke out a living. Although Twain was referring to the United States, Gananoque in this period was a microcosm of the wider trends in North America. The National Policy of the Sir John A. Macdonald government, which slapped tariffs on American manufactured goods, ensured that factories could operate and produce goods in Gananoque, using the cheap water power of the river.

Did this benefit the factory owners or the factory workers?

There was something wrong with the system and in the late 1880s as nearly every worker in Gananoque, be they skilled or unskilled, joined the Knights of Labour: a pan-American, pan-industrial labour union. They fought for better working conditions, better wages and to be treated with dignity. The workers challenged the captains of industry for control of the Village council and for a say in their own destinies. But, the power of the owners was not easily challenged…

This is the display area in the main gallery of the Arthur Child Heritage Museum. Each week until the launch, I’ll be showing the little changes that take place as the exhibit takes shape.

Opens May 18th.

Many thanks to Lisa and Pam who assisted in the research for this project, and sincere thanks to Providence Continuing Care for the donation (and transportation) of some second-hand display cases.

HBC Local History Grants

In other news, the Hudson Bay Company’s Local History Grants programme along with Canada’s National History Society (Producers of The Beaver Magazine), have announced that they will provide funds to help produce a new resource for people to learn about the history of the town founder, Joel Stone. Together with Graphic Artist Wesley Cote, we will be producing a comic book based on the adventures of the Loyalist in the American Revolution. Most sincere thanks to the HBC and the National History Society for making this possible. The final product will be available in August. Check back here regularly for some snippets of the art work and story.

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