Surviving for Posterity

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Making It Into The Archives (Appraisal for Accession)

This photograph of a fellow who was young in 1975 will likely never be offered to an archive.

For materials generated over the last two hundred years there is a threat which remains largely unarticulated.  All documentary heritage, but particularly images, must survive the bias of fashion, the great purging sieve of taste.  There is a rhythm to things which is difficult to define but usually marches with human generations.  The beliefs, cause and tastes of one generation are often rejected by the next.

The day arrives when certain materials appear comic, embarrassing, sometimes politically incorrect or even offensive.  Then they are discarded.

In the world of collectables and antiques some of these images will qualify as ephemera.  Ephemera is a term used for materials which were only meant for brief use and which were expected to be thrown away, such as greeting cards and calendars. These things will go out of fashion, be purged, and then come back into vogue and be collected.   Since they were produced in numbers there are usually survivors to collect.    The problem for the archivist is that many original documents which are not ephemera will also face the bias of taste; for example, government reports on topics which do not interest the present generation. 

Some archivists are aware that the menu of materials available to inform later generations has already been edited; others are not.  How many school histories vanished long ago because they contained pictures of women in bloomers juggling wooden skittles?  How many commercial fonds have been stripped of illustrations of glass baby bottles, heavy land-line telephones and melamine tableware?

Usually, we have little trouble convincing our sponsors that collecting the roaring twenties is worthwhile.   That epoch was purged some time ago, and is now deemed interesting.  However, we will find it much more difficult to impress our sponsors by documenting the peace movement complete with ponchos, craft jewellery, long hair and bell-bottom trousers.  As things are now it is unlikely that much grassroots, eye-witness, primary source visual evidence of this period will survive.  The public is still too busy laughing.

In 1956, T.R. Schellenberg said that, when it comes to documentary heritage, age is to be respected.  This is part of a complex discussion, but his argument is based on the assumption that as time passes less is likely to have survived to enter the archives.   Thanks to theorists such as Schellenberg, archivists should be sensitized  to the impact that both changing fashion and shifts in conventions pose to the endurance of visual records.   As professionals we must resist including current fashions and mores in the template we use to adjudicate whether a record is worthy or not.  While the general public is unable to get beyond the humour of crimplene, hockey hair and pink bathtubs we should quietly go about our business, carefully selecting quality images that fit the mission for the archives.

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Filed under Archives, History, Ontario, Material culture, Photograph history, Photographica, Photography

World War Two Scrapbook, Windsor, Ontario

poppy_smOn November 11th, 2013 a wonderful biographical scrapbook about persons from Essex county who served in World War Two was published on the web. The scrapbook belongs to The R.C. Diocese Of London (Ontario), specifically to Our Lady of the Rosary in Windsor, Ontario. At this point, it is not known who created it.

The scrapbook is extremely fragile, being comprised of highly acidic papers, inks and adhesives and for the same reason, light sensitive. After careful consideration, it was decided to create a digital file which could be displayed on the internet.

I can’t say enough about the generosity of the congregation of Our Lady of the Rosary in publishing this treasure. All things considered, they did the right thing by sharing digitally, instead of the old way through an exhibition which was often so damaging and which only provided limited access anyway. Because of its nature, the scrapbook is threatened by thousands of hands turning pages to seek information. This may now be avoided.

However, the publication of the scrapbook on the web has precipitated the usual cascade of truly stupid comments. Among them are rants against archives for failing to measure up against a parish church.

These critics need to imagine a space the size of the ground floor of their home, filled top to bottom with shelving containing hundreds of boxes of papers. Many of these papers will not be organized in a roughly alphabetical order (like the Scrapbook). Nor will it be obvious what much of the papers are actually about. The records await the archivist to sort them out and make a finding aid. But wait! The archivist must spend five out of six hours a day helping the general public with enquiries and other duties.

Yes, it is true that every Ontario archive has some trusted volunteers willing to pitch in. However, these people have their own research interests and lives outside of the archives. Faced by the reality of how long it actually takes to do a good job on a foot of original records they usually finish the assignment and then say, “There you go, but no more of that please. Let me do something else.”

I for one am tired of being cast as a villain. Our archives are choc-a-bloc with wonderful collections. If Ontarians want to see these things up online like the Our Lady of the Rosary Scrapbook, then we need to lobby governments to provide help to get the professionals out of the reading room and into the storage to arrange, catalogue and digitize as they are educated to do.

The World War Two Scrapbook belonging to Our Lady of the Rosary can be viewed at http://wp.dol.ca/webportal/diocese/content/1/5/WWII%20Virtual%20Exhibit/810

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Filed under Archives, Canada at war., History, Ontario

The Sons of St. Crispin

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A cobbler at work in his shop, May, 1907.

In the 19th century, every Ontario village had a shoemaker, sometimes more than one.  These men were also known as cordwainers, although some sources say that only men who made more luxurious footwear out of softest leather truly deserved the name.  In contrast, cobblers were men who repaired boots and shoes, but did not make them.  As time passed, the distinction between shoemaker and cobbler became blurred as one man often performed both functions.

It does not take much imagination to perceive the autonomy which shoemakers enjoyed.  They were masters of their own small shops and could decide their own hours.  They could take on apprentices and get paid for the privilege.  They knew everyone in their village and most of the farmers thereabouts.   Conversation during a visit to the shoemaker was not limited to shoes, so they understood much about the politics and economy of the community.

In the 1860′s all this began to change.  Better transportation, in particular, the railways, permitted centralized manufacture of footwear on a large scale in cities such as Toronto, Hamilton and Montreal.  Newly patented machines made it possible to mechanize most of the process.  Village shoemakers could not compete with mass manufacturer.  At first, many of the employees in the factories were men who had been village shoemakers but had moved to the city.  The regular wages offered seemed appealing in contrast to the struggle to survive in a village shop with a declining number of customers.  However, city workers experienced a sense of loss — loss of autonomy and loss of control of their working days as well as loss of respect.  Moreover, it was not long before manufacturers found that they could hire semi-skilled labourers to operate the machines.  These were known as “green hands” to the older shoemakers and much resented by men raised in the apprentice-journeyman system.  Manufacturers also hired women, because they would work for lower wages.

In the northeastern United States in the 1870′s, the Knights of St. Crispin became one of the first large scale labour unions.  (St. Crispin is the patron saint of shoemakers.)   Although they described their occupation as a quiet and gentle craft, the shoemakers believed that strong opposition was required if they were not to be pushed out of their own trade.  Among other demands, the Knights of St. Crispin argued that shoemakers should be permitted to remain in the villages and work and not forced to move into cities although it was not clear how this could be accompished.   After the rise and fall of the Knights, other organizations representing shoe workers appeared, including the Boot and Shoe Makers Union which was very vigorous in Ontario.  In Toronto, female shoe workers lead their male colleagues into a mass strike in the 1880′s.  The issue was the right of female workers to unionize and the right of equal pay.  When the Toronto shoe industry began to loose out to factories in Montreal, of course the union was blamed, although the reasons were actually not quite so simple.

The elderly cobbler in the photograph is still working in his own shop.  At  right a window provides a glimpse of an unpaved road and the business across the street.  However, on the wall a prominent card (shield-shaped, upper right) announces that he is a member of the Boot and Shoe Makers Union.  The movement born on the factory floor has moved beyond the city and been embraced by local entrepreneurs.

Photograph from the collections of the Lennox and Addington Historical Society, Lennox and Addington County Museum and Archives.

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Filed under Edwardian Era, History, Ontario, Material culture

The Doorway to the Light

1308smThe Lighthouse at Presqu’ile, Brighton, Ontario, 1840

For a long time, I have wondered what was in the mind of Nichol Baird when he designed the entrance to the Presqu’ile light. The doorway is tall and narrow and tapers to a point. To me, it looks like a narrow boat, standing on end, but it is usually described as “gothic” and indeed it reminds one of a church window. Upper Canadians liked to see medieval design elements incorporated into otherwise symmetrical Georgian buildings. For want of a better term, this practice is known as gothic revival, or sometimes “carpenter’s gothic”. In 1840, gothic revival architecture could be found all over Eastern Ontario. St. Mary Magdalene, Picton, is an example. It was built in 1834. To Upper Canadians, these references to ancient Western European buildings were a statement of learning, respectability and stability.

Gothic revival elements were most often used for churches and sometimes for schools or residences, less often for structures with other purposes. Pointy, lancet windows were not uncommon but unless the building was religious in use, builders usually favoured rectangular entrance openings. These were more practical for admitting furnishings and cheaper to maintain and repair.

Nichol Hugh Baird (1796-1849)was a Scot who had spent time in St. Petersburg working for his uncle, the proprietor of a factory. Baird was an engineer and inventor rather than an architect. He came to Canada in 1828 and made a living from a number of patronage appointments mostly concerned with roads, bridges and canals. Biographical references suggest that he was a tempermental chap, sensitive about suggestions that any commission might be too big for him. Perhaps the inclusion of a gothic door on the Presqu’ile lighthouse was his way of demonstrating that he knew a thing or two about things early English. Perhaps he liked to consider himself an architect as well as a builder and engineer.

Or perhaps in his mind a tall, narrow, pointy building needed a tall, narrow, pointy door.

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Filed under Architecture, Buildings - Ontario

The Lives of Ordinary Folks

Judith Salkeld Robinson

Judith with her camera.

Sometimes during my archival or appraisal work, I stumble on something which seems worthy of a better fate than a cupboard. Such a find was a ‘disbound’ scrapbook which once belonged to Judith Salkeld Robinson. Assembled during the years 1905 to 1914, the book contains Judith’s snapshots of summer rambles and family visits, including a Mediterranean cruise on the new P&O Line. The last two pages concern her marriage to Lieutenant C.A.K. Matterson of the Cheshire Regiment. This took her from Cheshire to Fivehead on the Somerset levels.

With the help of some researchers in the United Kingdom, I have been able to fill in some names and information which take us beyond the few notes left to us in Judith’s careful hand.

Judith Robinson was not a professional photographer. Acidic paper and the passage of a century have also been less than kind to her album. The photographs were sometimes challenging to reproduce.

Do all these intimate survivors of a vanished time really deserve publication? It is never an easy decision. Anyway, it is done. I have chosen to make it available “on-demand” as I expect it will be of special interest to the few, rather than the many. Below, a link to on-demand printing site:

The Edwardian Summers of Judith Salkeld Robinson by Jennifer L. Bunting. Cranberry Hill Enterprises

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Automobile Touring – Knight’s Kamp Dining Hall, Ontario

PhotoSince the late 19th century, what we now call cottages or cabins were known in Eastern Ontario as “camps”. As the affordability of automobiles made family touring possible thousands of commercial, privately operated holiday “camps” sprung up to serve tourists who could not afford (or did not wish) to own a cottage of their own. These rustic resorts usually consisted of a cluster of brightly painted wooden cabins located convenient to a sparkling lake. Some were able to offer a sand or pebble beach. In the centre of the camp was the dining hall which might also serve as a restaurant for day-trippers.

Knight’s Kosy Kabins and Kamp was located on the north shore of Lake Ontario east of Toronto, possibly in the Oshawa/Whitby area. This snapshot appears to have been taken in the early 1950′s. The flag (a Union Jack) tells us that we are not on “the American side”, as does the Bell sign which informed travellers of those days that there was a pay telephone available. The Telegram sign would be promoting the Toronto Telegram, one of the two newspapers. The old “Telly” is now nearly forgotten. Tin signs advertising 7-Up and Orange Crush encouraged thirsty travellers to come in. As well as cold soft drinks, such dining halls offered postcards as well as penny candies, gum and peanuts to tempt the children. Many sold cigarettes as well.

Most holiday camps derived most of their business from the excellent sport fishing in eastern Ontario. However, with the danger of the vast open water of Lake Ontario, it is likely that Knight’s Kabins catered more to travellers who stopped overnight on the way to another destination. There was probably also local business from beach-seekers on hot weekends. If a camp was lucky enough to have a good cook, it sometimes evolved into a destination for the delicious Sunday lunches which tempted restless families in the 1950′s.

If anyone knows more about Knight’s Kosy Kabins I would be interested to know.

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Filed under Buildings - Ontario, History, Ontario, Material culture, Ontario Architecture

Wild Apples – Port Hope, Ontario

AppleThievesEDProbably taken somewhere on the soft hills east of Port Hope, which are actually ancient sandhills on a sunny early autumn day in about 1903. All the men were Methodists in their boyhood, and the occasion might have been a church outing of some variety. The voices which could have told us are long stilled, another example of why it is so important to make notes on the back of your pictures for posterity. The original is not a snapshot but an albumen print laid down to card which suggests (but by no means confirms) a professional hand. The composition features hi-jinks with apples and is more interesting than the usual line-up. The photographer might be Mr. Byers, a frequent attendee at groups of the time, or it might be one of the Skitch clan. The Skitch family included photographers and they were members of the same church. -Or the author of the picture might be a gifted amateur.

Inscribed on the back [left to right]: Jack Elliott, Fred Douglas, Ewart Jewel [sic], Moss Hewson, Howard Reeve and Wes Pennington. Howard Reeve and Wes Pennington were in the same class at school and are seated next to each other. They were probably friends.

Apple1Elliott

 “Jack Elliott”, likely John A.R. Elliott, son of Henry Elliott of Port Hope and his wife, Charlotte Woodley. He was born February 8, 1879, and would be the oldest of the group. He had collegiate education and might have been a Sunday School Teacher. His father, Henry Elliott, was a regular attendee at the Methodist Church and in 1907 a donor to the building fund. Jack Elliott married Flora Pillsworth. Henry Elliott was County Registrar and Jack seems to have followed him into a clerical career.

Apple2Douglas

“Fred Douglas” is Frederick Roland Douglas, born 12 January, 1885, son of John Wilson Douglas a contractor in Port Hope and his wife, Elizabeth Kennedy (Methodists). In 1901 at age 16, he was clerking in a grocery store but he later acquired a skilled trade as a file cutter. In 1907, Frederick Douglas married Minnie Elliott of Lindsay. Douglas had enjoyed military activities. He is recorded as a member of the 1st Company, 46th Regiment Militia in 1905. In 1915, he enlisted for service in the First War. Afterwards, he returned to Port Hope and appears on the voters rolls to at least 1945.

Apple3Jewel    “Ewart Jewel” is John Ewart Jewell, born Port Hope 26th August, 1889, son of John Cornish Jewell (a carpenter) and his wife Mary Jane Pethick (Methodists). In 1911, Ewart Jewell was living in Hamilton, Ontario and working as a clerk in a bookstore. He served for one year in the 13th Regiment, Hamilton Militia. Ewart Jewell enlisted in January, 1916. He seems to have survived the War, but what happened next is unknown.

Apple4Hewson

“Moss Hewson” was born in about 1890 in Port Hope, son of Robert Hewson, a carpenter (Methodist). He married Ruby Giblin of Cobourg on June 5th, 1912. Moss Hewson became an enameller and lived in Port Hope until at least 1949.

Apple5Reeve “Howard Reeve” is William Howard Leslie Reeve, son of William Reeve and his wife, Emma Thomas (Methodists). He was born on May 18, 1887 in Port Hope. By 1911, Howard Reeve was employed as a bricklayer. He married Gertrude Allison in Peterborough on June 12th, 1918. Howard Reeve later became a builder and was living in Port Hope as late as 1968.

Apple6Pennington

“Wes Pennington” is John Wesley Penningon, born in Port Hope on the 19th November, 1887, son of Benjamin Pennington, a bricklayer, and his wife, Ann Salter. Henry Pennington was recorded as a Sunday School Teacher at the Methodist Church, Port Hope, in 1907. Wes Pennington married Ethel Georgina Gutteridge and became a bricklayer and contractor. He died in Port Hope in 1953.

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Filed under History, Ontario, Photographica, Photography