Friday, January 26, 2007

A Mirror with a Memory

Before I jump into this week’s subject, I thought I would share a scene, especially with readers not from around the Gananoque area. We’ve finally gotten our cold snap, and while walking into work this morning I noticed that the waterfalls had become very quiet. The reason, as you can see from these pictures, is that they are frozen. This dam continues to control the flow of the Gananoque River, and regulated the water that powered the many industries that lined the riverbanks in the past. Today, the waterpower that built Gananoque is still important, as it generates electricity for the town.

My title is taken out of the Canadian Conservation Institute’s exhaustive “Notes,” and refers to the first photographs ever produced: the ghostly Daguerreotypes. The Daguerreotype was invented in France in 1839 by L.J.M Daguerre, who agreed not to patent the invention in exchange for a pension from the French Government, allowing the technology to easily spread in the following years. These early photographs were made with “silver amalgam” a mix of silver and mercury on a copper plate. The result is a very reflective, mirrored surface with a negative image on it. Much like a hockey card hologram, you have to turn the daguerreotype and have the light hit it at an angle in order to see the actual image. When revealed the image is exceptionally clear, if somewhat spooky. They really do seem like “mirrors with a memory.” The daguerreotype you see here, to the right, is only visible because it is reflecting the outside of a black binder. The left picture is actually reflecting the knit of my sweater, and the half-dozen previous shots revealed only a reflection of my camera in the frame.

Just like today, with our own emerging competition between Blue Ray and HDDVD, different forms of similar technology competed for the mid-nineteenth century consumer market. Daguerreotypes were considered too expensive and too time consuming, and fell out of use by the American Civil War in the 1860s. Yet, their ethereal quality has ensured their continued use to this day, as some artists still produce them on a small scale. Paper photographs obviously won out in the end, but for a time, two other varieties competed: the tintype and the ambrotype. [1]

We don’t have any examples of the ambrotype, which was a negative image made on a sheet of glass with a dark backing of paint or cloth to give it the appearance of a positive. The ambrotype was invented in the 1850s, but by the late 1860s or early 70s they had more or less gone out of fashion.

The tintype is perhaps the most widely known and was the most common of these early forms of photography. “Tintype” is actually a misnomer, since the pictures are actually made on very thin pieces of iron, and are therefore sometimes more properly referred to as “ferrotypes.” These tintypes or ferrotypes were likely in an album or a fancy frame at some point but were taken out long ago. They are all somewhat irregularly shaped, with few straight edges. They are tiny, only a few inches square, yet they are very detailed. Unfortunately, as with so much in the collection, the catalogue cannot identify the people in the pictures. Clothing and the technology can give us some inexact clue to the dates, but for the most part the identities of these people are lost to time. They are important, however, as the process for making tintypes and daguerreotypes resulted in only one copy being possible. There can be no other original copies of these particular early photographs.

Finally, there is a little mystery with this one. It appears to be made of copper, it is certainly a negative and is affixed to a small wooden block. I have no idea what kind of early photograph it is. If anyone has an idea, please let me know. [Jeremy from Queen's University Archives has since informed me that this would have been used in printing, making copies of this image. That fact only increases the mystery of who this woman is!]


At long last, we have begun moving our volunteers over to the main collection area and have started the long process of photographing the entire collection. Things are moving very quickly with so many helpful and enthusiastic people hard at work. We have also begun thinking about setting up an exhibit for the summer. Our subject will be: Gananoque Industries, Labour and Lifestyle, 1860-1890. Many thanks to Pam and Lisa for getting in on the early stages of research.

I am currently setting up small exhibit on winter sports for the upcoming Senior Winter Games being held in Gananoque, and thought I would include a couple of the pictures found by volunteers John McDonald and Eileen Truesdell. So, for this week’s splash o’ nostalgia here is the all-star line up of the 1930, trophy-winning, Gananoque High School Hockey Team. Luckily, the names are listed and we have, in the back row: Ray Hawke, Arnold Bates, Harold White, Gerard Gardener, Henry Littlejohn, Oliver Wing and Archie Sequin. Front Row: Bill Valentine, Bernard O’Hearn, Bernard Shine, Merrill “Smiley” Cummings.

Next week I’ll hopefully be able to show a little on the storage plan for the artefacts and a show off some of the many thousands of artefacts in the Gananoque Museum Collections.

[1]Canadian Conservation Institute, Notes. 16/1 "Care of Encased Photographic Images" also see for an excellent link to more information on Daguerreotypes, Tintypes and Ambrotypes.

Friday, January 12, 2007

The Gananoque Citizens' Band

Just after Christmas in 1920, Gananoque ratepayers received a letter from the Gananoque Citizens’ Band. It implored the town’s people to support a special bylaw that would see the band receive a small stipend for the appointment of a permanent band leader and to pay for instrument repairs. The letter argued that this would ensure the continued existence of the venerable institution. It seems the band had fallen on hard times as radio and movie theatres had cut into their market. The letter, signed by band manager W.J. Kelly, asked:

“Does the band not help to increase tourist traffic annually? Does it not give 52 weeks free advertising to your town? Does it not brighten your recreation hours at the park in summer at the open airs, or soothe you when you enjoy the placid bosom of the St. Lawrence by moonlight? When you bury your illustrious dead these funeral are ours. When you do honour to the living, these occasions are also ours” [1]. (Left is a picture of the Gananoque Citizens’ Band Music Chest in the Museum Collections)

I wasn’t able to find whether or not the bylaw passed, but the Gananoque Citizens Band did continue to play for over 50 years after this letter was sent. In spite of the dramatic appeal of 1920, the Gananoque Band had been thriving during the first decades of the 20th Century.

Originally, the militia organized the first band in Gananoque in 1854 and they practiced in Auchinvole’s Tannery, a large red brick factory that once stood, aptly, on Tanner St. A military officer, Captain Murdock, was the instructor and a local man, J.B. McMurchy, was the leader. Two years later, the Gananoque Carriage Works formed the Silver Cornet Band which was manned with the remaining members of the militia band and eventually evolved into the Gananoque Citizens’ Band. Like so much else in Gananoque, industry was the real starting point. In fact, industrialization was the root of many such local bands throughout North America, just like the English band movement a few decades earlier. The brass band was a symbol of pride and prosperity, and formed one of the only outlets for the arts in a rural or industrial community [2].

This photograph, taken in 1860, shows the Gananoque Brass Band. According to the names scribbled on the back Captain Murdock and J.B. McMurchy are shown, but it’s unclear which ones they are. The man in the white striped pants is likely one of them. The military influence in the band is clearly seen in the kepis and uniforms.

In the decades that followed, the band became a central part of the community. With the onset of the “Golden Age” of tourism in the Thousand Islands, music was in demand. Entertaining the wealthy captains of industry and Victorian elites who retreated to their castles and hotels in the islands was certainly lucrative. It was during that time that a young composer and baritone player named William E. Rees moved to Gananoque from Cincinnati, Ohio and took over as band leader. It is possible that Rees is in this photograph, taken in Oshawa in 1900, standing fourth from the right. If you look very closely you can make out “LEADER” on his cap. According to one source, “Bill Rees was a distinctive character, a rugged individualist who called a spade a spade, and his superb musicianship was unquestioned.” Working as general superintendent and engineer with Parmenter & Bullock manufacturing and then Ontario Steel Products, both in Gananoque, Rees also served as orchestra leader for the upscale Thousand Islands Club on Wellesley Island and the famed Frontenac Hotel on Round Island. Rees’ most lasting contribution to Gananoque was in designing the bandstand which stands today in the town park and continues to be used [3].

Interesting enough, William Rees formed his own band, The Rees Orchestra, and the two bands amalgamated sometime in the first decade of the 20th Century. Ever conscious of changing times, the new Citizens Band and Rees Orchestra attempted to branch out into new forms of entertainment. In 1908, they leased the Grand Opera House where they opened a “Five Cent Theatre.” Great care was taken to advertise the fact that “our machine in the first place is strict FIRE PROOF and will thereby insure our patrons’ absolute safety which they could not expect in almost any 5¢ theatre in Canada…” Furthermore, “Murder scenes, Prize Fights and all objectionable pictures will positively not be shown…” [4]

I haven’t been able to determine how long the band/theatre operation lasted, but by 1920, it had obviously closed up.

The band continued on until the 1970s under a number of different directors. A junior band was also formed to train the next generations of band members. This small town band went on to compete and win in several competitions including the Perth Courier Cup, 1931, 1932, The Canadian National Exhibition in 1932, and the Dominion Championship in 1933, and certainly helped lift spirits around Gananoque during the Great Depression.

All things must come to an end, of course, and the Gananoque Citizens’ Band is no longer with us. Their training house became a daycare, and bands were brought in from elsewhere to play in the town park. It was common across North America for community bands to fold up in the 1970s. Economic recession and changing interests were the main culprits. Brass instruments fell out of style with young people, and new forms of entertainment – television, records, rock music and cheap car rides to the city – spelled the end for this, and many other, small town citizens’ bands [5].


Many thanks to our volunteers, Eileen, John, Marcia, Kathy and Aidan for finishing off some big chores this week. We have nearly all the photographs present in the Gananoque Museum Collections inventoried and we’ll now set about getting them copied. The extensive coin collection has also been documented by Aidan and Kathy who have made some more interesting finds. In the coming weeks, we’ll begin to show off some of the interesting items we find as we take stock of the large archival holdings and a few other interesting odds and ends.

[1] General letter to Gananoque Ratepayers from W.J.Kelly, Gananoque Citizens’ Band, Dec. 28, 1920
[2] Pages from unnamed published book found in non-accessioned dossier, Gananoque Museum Collections. For a general discussion on the roots of the band movement see: Michael J. Lomas, “Secular Civilian Amateur Wind Bands in Southern England in the Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries,” The Galpin Society Journal, Vol.45, (Mar., 1992) pp.78-98
[3] Same unmarked dossier as above
[4] Open letter from The Citizens’ Band, April 24, 1908
[5] See: Jay Zorn, “The Changing Role of Instrumental Music” Music Educators Journal, Vol. 76, No. 3, (Nov., 1989), pp.21-24

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Changing Meaning of Symbols

One of the many problems with small town museums is that the collections are often so similar to others that they become redundant, with nothing to separate one museum from another for visitors. Every museum, of course, has something unique, but every North American museum seems to have a spinning wheel, a butter churn, wool cards and a plethora of military uniforms. Narrowing the local museum’s mandate has become the norm since the early days of every community having a museum that collected everything. While I have written about my amazement at finding sawfish snouts and 500 year old English oak, there are some interesting things that can emerge from the hodgepodge. Disparate and dissociated artefacts can begin to have some relationship between them, and Gananoque's museum collection can quietly speak about larger things.

Take for example this quilt and this serving dish. Many North Americans and Europeans would be shocked to find a swastika quilt under their tree at Christmas, and the serving dish, if manufactured today, would likely be used as proof the makers were some sort of potter-neo-Nazis. In fact these scattered and unrelated objects tell us a great deal about the changing meaning of symbols in the west. Before the Nazis came to power and killed countless millions under the banner of the swastika, it was a sign of good luck. To this day billions of people in Eastern cultures continue to revere it. Although we in the west associate violence and evil with the swastika, it is also one the most revered icons of the Jain religion, one built on ultra-pacifism and respect for life. It is one of the oldest symbols of the world, one found from India to England, Africa to Japan; a common religious or folkloric icon at home in hundreds of cultures and thousands of places, often used to ward off evil or bring good fortune. The savage events of the 20th century changed that benign symbol into one immediately identifiable with the worst of human nature, at least to westerners. So these once treasured belongings now appear to us as oddities from, perhaps, a more innocent past.

In other news, work has begun again after the holiday break. To date we have surpassed 1000 artefacts inventoried, or getting close to 25% complete. Queen’s University Archives has taken an interest, and has kindly offered to take in our collection of Joel Stone papers and account books on loan to be copied and professionally treated. My thanks to Paul Banfield and the staff of the Archives for doing such a great service for our town and museum collection.

Finally, having received a number of inquiries and comments on the Gananoque Citizen’s Band, next week I will discuss that proud and venerable institution that entertained Gananoqueans for over a hundred years. A point of nostalgia for many, the Citizens Band was part of a tight-knit and proud community. It was more than just a band; it was a major part of any town event and added a richness to small town life. It died out with the advent of Television and the changing tastes in leisure. People were drawn away from the town park bandstand and regular communal entertainment into the solitary comfort of their living rooms.

For Further reading on the changing meaning of the swastika see: W. G. V. Balchin "The Swastika" Folklore, Vol. 55, No. 4. (Dec., 1944), pp. 167-168