Tuesday, December 15, 2009

'Tis the Season

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Back again in 2010.

Friday, December 11, 2009

New Plaque at Burlington's Union Burying Ground

Next time you are driving by Ikea, slow down and take a moment to realize that you have just passed a unique heritage cemetery. Better yet, park your car in the lot near Sears Home and wander around to the front of the cemetery where you will find a new plaque. The Hamilton Chapter of the United Empire Loyalists had the unveiling of this plaque, Sunday, November 15th.
The new plaque will let people know of the hardworking United Empire Loyalists, who are buried here. Established in 1848, the Union Burying Grounds was founded by ten pioneer families who were members of the Methodist Union. The families holding plots here were major contributors to the early growth, prosperity, and well-being of Nelson and the Village of Wellington Square: Baxter, Crosby, Cummins, Davis, Fisher, Gage, Galloway, Ghent, Kerns and Pearl. I find it impressive that almost 150 years later, the descendants of its founders continue to manage and maintain this historic burial place. The fine brick wall was built by Jabez Bent in 1888 - sadly it is in much need of restoration. The wrought iron gates and original name plaque also date from 1888. The grave markers are invaluable historic records and also merit preservation. This cemetery feels especially unique given it's setting of urban development.
*photo courtesy of The Burlington Historical Society

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Home Children - in the news

From 1869 to 1939, an estimated 100,000 orphaned or abandoned children were taken off the streets of Britain and sent to Canada and other former British colonies with the promise of a better life. Some studies have shown that up to two-thirds were abused by their patrons in Canada. Yesterday, November 16th, Australia offered a formal apology to all Home Children sent there, with Britain planning to do the same thing next year. The Canadian government has said that no such apology is being planned. There is currently a private member's motion to declare 2010 as the Year of the Home Child. Read about current news. Learn more about Home Children.
photograph - immigrant children from Dr. Barnardos Homes at Landing Stage, St. John, New Brunswick, undated.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Estaminet - new heritage designation

The old Estaminet Restaurant - which has been Emma's Back Porch downstairs and The Water Street Cooker upstairs for nearly 20 years - has been voted by Burlington City Council to be protected under the Ontario Heritage Act.* This historic building which opened in 1919 is in the middle of the Old Lakeshore Road precinct, an area to undergo future development. You can read the Old Lakeshore Road Precinct Urban Design Guidelines if you want to learn more.

*Once a property has been designated under Part IV of the Act, a property owner must apply to the local municipality for a permit to undertake alterations to any of the identified heritage elements of the property or to demolish any buildings or structures on the property.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Books - new, old and create your own

I want to bring your attention to the 19th Annual Book Fair sponsored by the Waterdown-East Flamborough Heritage Society. It will take place Saturday, November 14th, from 9:30 am to 3 pm at St. James United Church in Waterdown (306 Parkside Drive). You will be able to buy new and used books, antiquarian books, genealogy supplies, and meet local authors. Several new local history books will be available - these kind of publications are often very hard to find. Of special interest to the family researcher is a 1 hour seminar at 10:30 am given by Rick Roberts of Global Genealogy - it is called "Publishing a Local or Family History: Six Steps to Success". I will be marking it on my calendar - maybe I'll see you there.

Monday, October 19, 2009

When is a book more fun than the computer?

Just the other day the library received a donation of a copy of the 1877 Illustrated Historical Atlas of the County of Halton. Although the library already owns several copies, (including an original 1877 copy signed by the first Reeve of Wellington Square), I was excited to accept it. Researchers love using these wonderful oversized books. They exist for all counties of Ontario, but I think what really makes them special is how visual they are - you can see the landowners names on the allotments. In addition, the atlases contain county histories, and include sketchings of important local sites and persons (read, those local folk who financially subscribed to the publication of the atlas). Yes you can access these atlases online (go to The Canadian Atlas Digital Project). Nothing beats using the print copies though. Next time you are in the Burlington Central library ask us to show them to you. You won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A new blog in town

As a blogger of things heritage in Burlington, I am especially interested in the newly developed Burlington Historical Society Archives Blog. As the archivist writes "here you'll find news about what is going on in the Archives, new additions to our collection, and special events." I find the blog postings on new acquisitions especially interesting. For example, the BHS archives just received the original minute book for the Nelson Township Council, dating from the first meeting in 1836 up until 1864. Congratulations to the BHS archives on a great new blog. You can link to it from this blog - see Links You'll Like.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Burlington Index - now online!

A little known, but extremely useful local history resource is now available for researchers online. The Burlington Index has been in print for years, with new information being constantly added, but until now, few researchers knew about it. Now you can find it on the Burlington Public Library website, under the Local History section. This subject index is a retrieval tool for the library's non-digitized materials primarily located in the Burlington History Room at Central Library. Much of the content is only reached by using this resource. Indexed items include an extensive vertical file collection of
uncatalogued pamphlets, newspaper clippings, scrapbooks, Tweedsmuir Histories and other materials donated by current or former citizens of Burlington or assembled by Library staff. Once you find items of interest you can come into Central Library and ask to use the materials within the library (photocopying is available). Otherwise you can phone 905-639-3611 ext 138 for futher assistance or e-mail askalibrarian[at]bpl.on.ca.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Freeman Station finds a new home!

Burlington City Council recently approved the relocation of the Freeman Train Station to its new home - out of 6 possible sites, the beach site was chosen because of it's close proximity to the former Radial Electric Line and the Grand Trunk Railway Line. The new site is across the street from the Joseph Brant Museum and beside Discovery Landing which will make it highly visible to anyone visiting the lakefront. The train station which was active until 1988 has spent recent years sitting derelict behind the fire department on Fairview Street. The next step will be to determine what the restored building will be used for. A decision for its use could come this December - it could be used for retail, entertainment or recreational purposes. The City's Official Plan allows for a variety of uses so time will tell.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Brant Military Hospital - an excellent new website

It might come as a surprise to many Burlingtonians, that our city had a hospital back in 1917, long before the existence of today's Joseph Brant Memorial Hospital - and it's location was pretty much on the same spot of land on the waterfront.

The Brant Military Hospital was established during World War I in 1917, as facilities were desperately needed to treat soldiers seriously injured in the war. With only the Hamilton General Hospital available to service the Head-of-the-Lake area, the federal government expropriated the posh inn known as the Hotel Brant to become a military hospital (not a popular move with then owner, A.B. Coleman). The resort was quickly adapted - the large verandahs where tourists had once whiled away their holidays were boarded up and made into wards. The atmosphere became rather sombre as the building's first new inhabitants included amputees and bullet wound victims. In 1919, a second wing was built and used for soldiers wounded in the war and brought there to convalesce, with patients shipped to Canada from England and France once they were well enough to travel. Serious efforts were made to improve the soldiers' morale with concerts by Hamilton entertainers and even a hospital newspaper called "Carry On" published the writing efforts of patients.

There is an extensively researched new website entirely devoted to the Brant Military Hospital recently created by Illinois researcher, Gene Beals. This is his 4th military website. He is especially interested in the Brant Military Hospital as his great-uncle Joseph Crinnion was on staff.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Natural Heritage - The Comfort Maple

Heritage is most often associated with man-made things like buildings, but on a recent country drive I was able to see for myself an incredible example of natural heritage. The Comfort Maple tree is approximately 500 years old and incredibly, still stands today. It is nearly 100 feet high and measures 20 feet around the trunk. It is believed to be the oldest sugar maple in Canada. This tree was already a century old when Champlain was exploring Canada. In 1816 the Comfort family, settlers near Pelham in the Niagara region, obtained the land on which the then 300 year old maple stood. Luckily the family never felled the tree (cannot imagine the task that would have been) and today it and a small grassy area around it make up a Niagara Peninsula conservation site. If you would like to find the Comfort Maple, click here - you will surely need the detailed directions. It is not easy to find but once there an inspiring site to see.

Restricted Hours of opening at the Archives of Ontario

The new building is beautiful, the facilities are state-of-the-art, the exhibition space is great, the staff are helpful.... but for many historians and genealogists, the new hours of the Archives of Ontario may prove limiting. Current listed hours of opening are Monday to Friday 8:30 to 5 pm. Gone are the previous evening and weekend hours. In a recent issue of Global Gazette published by Global Genealogy (an on-line Family History magazine), professional genealogists Kathie Orr and Ruth Burkholder discuss the issue and the importance of making the Archives aware of the need for longer hours.”

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

An opera in the making ...inspired by the life of Joseph Brant

Opera Hamilton has received a $50,000 grant to be used towards a commissioned work of the life of Joseph Brant - the contemporary opera will be called Tyendinaga and is being written by Toronto composer Tomas Dusakto. It is hoped that Opera Hamilton will have it on the 2010-11 season.

This is not the first time the dramatic life of Joseph Brant has inspired an artistic work about his life. In 1898, author and member of the Ontario Historical Society J.B. MacKenzie, wrote the play "Thayendanegea: an Historico-Military Drama". If you are interested in reading this play, the Burlington Central Library has a copy in the Burlington History Room. Readers can enjoy perusing it in library.

Monday, April 20, 2009

A New Home for the Freeman Station? 5 possibilities...

The city of Burlington has plans to move the old Freeman Train Station, yes, the one that has been "parked" behind the Fairview St. Fire Station for the last four years! Recently City Hall held an open house to showcase 5 possible spots where the station could be moved to - 4 of the 5 are in the core area and belong to the City. Possible "homes" include: land on the lakefront across the street from the Joseph Brant Museum, the north-west corner of the park behind the Burlington Art Centre, the north-east quadrant on the corner of Elgin St. and Brock Ave, Municipal parking lot 5 on Brant St. across from Elgin St. and lastly, the Burloak Waterfront Park.

At this point, city planners do not know what kind of tenant will take over the restored old station when it does find its new home (see report). This writer is especially excited that something is being done to start the process of restoration of this wonderful local treasure. The station was named after Joshua Freeman, the founder of the village of Freeman. Built in 1904, it was located on the corner of Brant Street and Plains Road. It was in use until 1988. In its heyday, this Grand Trunk Railway station was a hive of activity, especially on shipping days of the Aldershot fruit harvest.

Courtesy of the Burlington Historical Society

Friday, April 3, 2009

Archives of Ontario on the move

On April 2nd, the Archives of Ontario opened its doors to its new state-of-the-art home on the York University Campus. This move has been on a gargantuan scale - 53,000 containers, folders and volumes of archival records have been meticulously packed and moved.

For genealogists and historians, the "one big reading room" as staff refer to it, is 75% larger than the old Archives reading room, offers new microfilm readers, more work stations, state of the art viewing booths for sound and moving images, wireless capability and even a lounge for day-long researchers.

Getting to and from the new Archives from the Halton-Hamilton area may not be as easy as to the old location on Grenville Street. Driving won't be too bad, but for public transit users, visiting the Archives won't be as easy as hopping on a Go Train to downtown Toronto. Apparently plans for a rapid transit busway that will shuttle commuters from Downsview Subway Station to the York University campus have now been finalized. This is very good news for those making their way to this exciting new facility.

Friday, March 20, 2009

"Meet me at the Brant Inn" to be aired on TV

Burlington's own Historical Society dvd "Meet me at the Brant Inn" is going to be televised Saturday, March 21st at 10 p.m. on PBS - WNED Buffalo. Bought copies of the dvd are hard to come by (the Society has sold out twice) and there are 40 holds on the library's 5 copies - don't miss your chance to see this showing.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Valley Inn Road Bridge - last days to drive over it!

The old Valley Inn Road bridge (or better known by decades of local kids, as the clickety-clack bridge) is soon to be closed to car traffic. It will be maintained as a pedestrian throughway, which no doubt local hikers, runners, and cyclists will enjoy more fully without the intrusion of cars. It goes without saying that as a wildlife and nature sanctuary, the closing of the bridge will be seen as a blessing for the area.

It's hard to believe that at one time the Valley Inn Road and bridge served as a major connection for travelers going east from Hamilton towards Toronto, or west towards Dundas. By the late 1800's this route was very busy and the Valley Inn Hotel opened near the west side of the bridge. (Today the City of Hamilton has put an informational marker about the Inn on the site where it stood.) The Hotel was a favourite spot for farmers , who while taking their goods to market, would stop and have a drink. The Hotel was very close to one of the unpopular toll houses (road building was an expensive business) and there are stories of liquored up travelers giving the toll collectors a hard time -there are examples of travelers driving their wagons right through the toll gate and taunting the toll collector to stop them if they could.

The original bridge collapsed in 1964 when a transport truck went over it and the current single lane "Bailey" (military) bridge which was meant to be temporary is the noisy one which has become such a well loved landmark. On a cold sunny weekday morning recently I could barely find a spot to park to take this photograph, and traffic crossing the bridge was brisk, so I would say that interest in the closing of the bridge is high. There are only a couple of months left to drive over the bridge - don't miss out.

How do I find the Valley Inn Bridge? Valley Inn Road intersects York Blvd, just next to the RBG Rock Gardens parking lot. You can drive down Valley Inn Road, cross the bridge and then exit via Spring Gardens Rd (beside Woodland Cemetery) which will take you back out to Plains Road.

Read more about the Valley Inn Hotel in an article from the The Waterdown - East Flamborough Heritage Society, "Vanished Flamborough: The Valley Inn" Part 1 and Part 2.

Friday, February 6, 2009

In honour of Black History Month - two very different local perspectives

Oakville and the Underground Railroad

From 1820 to 1865, the Underground Railroad secretly transported thousands of fugitive slaves who traveled from the southern U.S. across the border to freedom in Canada. For many escaped African Americans, Oakville harbour was their first view of Canada and a new life of freedom. Oakville native, Captain Robert Wilson (pictured at right) helped hundreds of blacks cross Lake Ontario on his ships. One individual, James Wesley Hill crossed the border in a packing box in the late 1840's, settled on a farm near Oakville, and went on to help many escaped slaves by giving them work picking strawberries. His house still stands today at 457 Maple Grove Drive.

Oakville's influx of newcomers led to integrated schools and church groups in addition to new businesses - there was a distinct change in the fabric of early Oakville society. Emanicpation Day was celebrated in St. George's Square. Freed slaves from all over Ontario returned to Oakville to remember the occasion and march up Trafalgar Road to Captain Wilson's house (which still stands at 41 Navy Street).

To learn more about Oakville's connection to the Underground Railroad, see Deborah Lerech's essay, The Underground Railroad.

Joseph Brant - slave owner

There was an interesting news article in The Toronto Star last week commenting on Joseph Brant and the fact that he owned about 30 slaves. Of particular interest is the story of Sophia Pooley. Born to slave parents in New York state, at about age 12 (different sources vary) she was kidnapped with a sister and sold to Brant in the Niagara area on the U.S. side of the border. When Brant moved to Burlington in 1784 he brought Sophia and his other slaves with him. When she was about 20, he sold her to English settler Samuel Hatt of Ancaster. Sophia lived into her nineties in the Waterloo region. Her story is part of the oral history Refugee: or the Narratives of the Fugitive Slaves in Canada, published in 1856 and makes very interesting reading. To learn more about Sophia Pooley, see this excerpt from Refugee.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Joseph Brant found in Ottawa!

I was fortunate enough to spend my birthday recently wandering the galleries of the esteemed National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa - there I saw 2 famous original oil portraits of Burlington's very own Chief Joseph Brant.

The first portrait by society artist George Romney, was painted when Brant was 33 years old. The portrait was done in Romney's London studio in 1776 when Brant visited the city with Guy Johnson (who was the royal commissioner for Indian Affairs of North America). Brant is shown wearing a white ruffled shirt, Indian blanket, silver gorget and a plumed headress . He is carrying a tomahawk. Romney's painting is gorgeous to see and so well illustrates how Brant straddled both native and western worlds.

In the same gallery I found this second portrait, (bottom picture) by William Berczy. This portrait was believed to have been painted shortly after the Chief''s death at the age of 65. Brant appears as a completely assimilated Mohawk Chief, standing on the banks of perhaps the Grand River pointing to the site of his people's new homeland. The artist has an interesting link to Canadian history - born in Saxony, he studied art in Italy and England before coming to North America. In addition to working as a portrait painter, he was also a writer, town planner, engineer, architect and land developer. It was in his role of land developer that Berczy met Joseph Brant in 1794. He is known to have settled a group of German colonists in the town of Markham.

Photographs courtesy of National Gallery of Canada

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

"Burlington loves Heritage" - come celebrate Heritage Day at Burlington Central Library

Don't forget to mark Saturday, February 14th (10 - 3:30) on your calendar and plan to celebrate Heritage Day at Burlington Central Library!

Numerous local heritage organizations will have interesting exhibits for your interest - and there is a wonderful lineup of speakers.

10:30 am - former Burlington Mayor Walter Mulkewich speaks on "Why heritage is important to Burlington"
11:30 am - Elizabeth Crouch, archivist of St Luke's Anglican Church, speaks about 175 years of St Luke's history
12:30 pm - Burlington Post columnist, Don Crossley shares unforgettabe articles
1:30 pm - Joseph Brant Museum curator, Paul Stone speaks about the Frank Wright photograph exhibit
2:30 pm - Ken Cruikshank, local author and historian talks about the "People of the Bay"

This free event takes place at Burlington Central Library (2331 New St) on the first floor in Centennial Hall. Ample parking is available. See you there!