Monday, March 30, 2015

Media Mondays

Media Mondays

Happy Last Monday in March!

Owl Nesting Boxes 

I have noticed that a popular sighting at the Backus-Page House Museum are a variety of different types of owls in the surrounding forested areas. I have completed Saturday Sighting posts on the owls we have either heard or saw here on the property. 
In completing some research on the different populations of owls I came across an Owl Nesting Box project that I think would be an excellent Summer Workshop to have here at the museum! 
No date has been set for the idea and the donation of scrap barn-board would need to be made in order to make it possible. However the nesting boxes that we could make would positively influence the owl populations in our area. 
The first nesting box plans I came across are intended for the Eastern Screech Owl - this species of owl is a common sight/sound around our area. They make a very distinct sound that I have heard early in the morning and around dusk. 
Below are the plans that I intend to use for building a nesting box for the Eastern Screech Owl. 

Another owl that desperately needs nesting boxes around our area are Barn Owls. These owls can be found in our area but a rarely spotted - sadly they are in significant decline in population. They tend to make their homes in vacant barns, church steeples, dead wood etc. all things that we seem to demolish. Therefore, many of their homes have been destroyed and they move away to find new places to nest. Barn Owls sound very different than the Eastern Screech Owl. 
Nesting boxes for Barn Owls are also very different than those intended for Eastern Screech Owls. I have looked at a variety of different styles of nesting boxes. Below is the link for the plans I believe would be the most successful. 
These plans allow for the boxes to be built on the side of a barn or the ladder of a silo. 
The link below offers a plan that would allow for a nesting box to be mounted to a tree.

Overall, I find these species of bird to be the most interesting and beautiful. I intend to attempt making each of these nesting boxes and if they are successful (which I hope they are) I will ensure posting images and the plans I followed. 

For more information on birds in general please visit the following website - I found it to be increasingly helpful when doing my research, finding nesting plans, and any information about bird species in our area.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Saturday Sightings

Saturday Sightings

Pileated Woodpecker 

The evidence of the Pileated Woodpecker can be seen all around the forests of the Backus-Page House Museum. Trees with large, rectangular or circular holes reveal the presence of the Pileated Woodpecker foraging for food in the surrounding area. Even if you cannot physically see the bird you may be able to hear its incessant drilling sound that echoes through the trees. 

The Pileated Woodpecker is one of the larger species of woodpecker that we see along the lakeshore. This bird is about the size of a large crow. Its colouration is a mixture of black, red and white. Pileated Woodpeckers enjoy foraging for carpenter ants which usually take hold in dead trees or stumps. Sometimes these birds can create such large holes in trees that it can cause them to die or even collapse! 

For more information about the Pileated Woodpecker please visit the following website:

Friday, March 27, 2015

Foodie Friday- Celery Soup

Celery Soup
  • 9 heads of celery
  • 1 tsp salt
  • nutmeg to taste
  • 1 lump of sugar
  • 1/2 pint of cream
  • 2 quarts boiling water
  • Cut the celery into small pieces; throw it into the water, seasoned with nutmeg, salt and sugar. Boil it till sufficiently tender; pass it through a sieve, add the stock, and simmer it for half an hour. Now put in the cream, bring it to the boiling point and serve.
Serves about 10 people.
Backus-Page House Museum

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

World War Wednesdays: WWII German Prisoners of War... In Elgin County?!

World War Wednesdays: WWII German Prisoners of War... In Elgin County?!
A soccer team of German POWs in Canada, courtesy of the Canadian War Museum
     Hold onto your hats! This week's story seems so unbelievable to me. Researching local Second World War history has unearthed some crazy stories, and this is definitely one of them!
     The vast majority of local history pursuits I undertake start from little tidbits I hear amongst people's stories (usually my grandpa), which make me want to run to the archives and get the full scoop! I remember hearing a while ago that  groups of German Prisoners of War (POWs) came to work on local farms, and that a number of these men ultimately decided that they liked it so much in Elgin County that they stayed (of course, it wasn't hard to see what a great place Elgin County is to call home!) When I was at Library and Archives Canada the other day I came across a book written by Winston St Clair which included an interesting section on how the No. 4 Bombing and Gunnery School at Fingal was used to house these POWs, and how this affected the surrounding area.
     In March and April 1945, after the School had been officially shut down following the end of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, the potential of POW labour for Elgin County was raised frequently in the local newspapers. On 10 March, The St. Thomas Times-Journal published a story which stated that the county would be receiving such assistance. Another story in that paper from 6 June announced that POW help would be available after 15 June and that the men would be housed at the Fingal RCAF station.
     The cost to the farmer would be thirty-five cents per hour per man, in minimum groups of five. The farmer could receive the men at Fingal, or they could be delivered to the farm at a cost of forty cents per POW, per day. They would be guarded at all times and both the POWs and guards would bring their own lunches.
     Of course, this idea was not entirely welcomed since many people imagined the camp to be filled with hardened Nazis ready to rape and pillage their way through the township. In actuality, the prisoners who were sent for agricultural work were classified into security colours of "white" or "gray". These men were for the most part non-combative with no desire to escape into a strange and hostile land. Given the conditions in Germany at the time it is probable that their only desire was to return to find their loved ones alive. It is also probable that less anxiety would have been related to the topic if the media had used the proper term "POW Hostel" to describe the Fingal facility instead of "POW Camp". The Hostel was intended to host up to 150 POWs.
     On 4 July, two Army Officers and thirty-five members of the Veterans Guard reported to Fingal for guard duty, and ten days later a group of 107 prisoners arrived. By the end of the month, fifty more prisoners arrived. The farmers were generally satisfied with their work, and the only complaint was of a bureaucratic nature (the farmers were not completing the necessary paperwork). By mid-August, the guards at Fingal contained some WWII veterans and recently-trained soldiers.
     The POWs were supposed to have been returned to their permanent camp at the end of the fall harvest season, but Daily Diary records indicate that this was not entirely the case, as a prisoner was killed by a truck while performing maintenance work on the station in March of 1946. In April, the Elgin County farmers awaited news on the possibility of POW labour before deciding whether or not to plant sugar beets. They considered the POWs to be reliable and experienced workers and the Germans preferred farm work to the industrial labour which would have been required of them in the United Kingdom. In early May, the Department of Labour advertised in the papers that POWs would again be available.
     In June, the Army assumed control over the Fingal Hostel. However, before this was made official, the Department of Labour assumed control of the facility. Although the POW agricultural labour project had been successful, the United Kingdom (which actually "owned" the prisoners) requested that they be returned for industrial work. The German POWs then left Fingal in late 1946.
     To me, this story symbolizes the remarkable idea of looking past political and ideological differences and collaborating in a way that benefits everyone. The farmers received a helping hand when demand was high and help was scarce, and the prisoners were able to experience all the bounty that Elgin County had to offer. I'm sure that a number of families' stories became intertwined with these workers, and their interactions not only influenced perspectives at the time, but even up to the present day.
Credit and recognition for the material used in this blog go to Winston St. Clair, "What Place Was This?"
Thanks for reading,

Monday, March 23, 2015

Media Mondays

Media Mondays

Happy Monday!

For this Media Monday post I would like to add onto my post from last week - discussing Lake Erie. Through reading parts of Ron Brown's book - The Lake Erie Shore: Ontario's Forgotten South Coast, I came across some information regarding the various shipwrecks that can be found at the bottom of Lake Erie. I did some research and came across a few interesting websites and documents that showcase some of these shipwrecks. The first website had 4 very plain maps that listed numbers that coincided with shipwrecks described below the map. I used these maps to figure out what areas were close and researched the numbers that were close on the map.
The above link will take you to Map B - which is the closest to our area.
Numbers that I researched are as follows: 130 and 131. 
The first listing at 130 is the shipwreck - "Groton" which was a 136ft Schooner which sank on November 11th, 1897. This ship was said to be at anchor outside Talbot, Ontario and sank during a storm. All crew were rescued. 
Another interesting one was 131 - "Mountaineer" which was a 2 masted schooner that was 58ft which sank July 31, 1882 near Port Glasgow, Ontario. The ship was said to have ran aground and was smashed by gales during a storm. 

In researching these and other shipwrecks I have discovered various websites that have given me extra information. The first website is:
This will take you to shipwrecks starting with "M," at the bottom of the webpage you can navigate through different letters to discover different shipwrecks. 

Another interesting website that offered me primary resources during my research process was:
This website will take you to information regarding the Groton that I discussed briefly above. It will show you the various newspaper clippings from the year that discuss the shipwreck! 
You can navigate through this website using the search bar at the top of the webpage. 

Overall, my investigation into the shipwrecks that are close to our location has just begun. I plan to research more thoroughly and discover more about the shipwrecks in Lake Erie! 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Saturday Sightings

Saturday Sighting

Wild Turkeys 

Recently along the tree line in our back field we have spotted a large number of wild turkeys congregating together. Turkeys are normally spotted in flocks and together they search the ground for nuts, berries, or insects. They are a common game bird in our area, however because the Backus-Page House Museum is part of the John E. Pearce Provincial Park we have NO hunting permitted on our grounds. This allows for us to see a variety of animals in our surrounding area. 

Wild Turkeys are known for the common gobbling sound that we hear during early spring as part of the turkey's mating rituals. Males puff themselves us and strut in order to impress their female counterparts. These birds are also known for their great size which can range from 5 to 18 lbs on average. Turkeys are covered in brown feathers and have a thin neck and small head that is normally red or blue in colour. Female turkeys lay between 4 - 17 eggs, young turkeys are fed for the first few days but then are meant to fend for themselves as part of the flock.

For more information regarding Wild Turkeys please visit the following website:

Friday, March 20, 2015

Foodie Friday- Cabbage Soup

Cabbage Soup
  • 1 large cabbage
  • 3 carrots
  • 2 onions
  • 4-5 slices of lean bacon
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 quarts of medium stock
  • Scaled the cabbage, cut it up and drain it. Line the stew pan with the bacon, put in the cabbage, carrots and onions; moisten with skimming's from stock, and simmer very gently, till the cabbage is tender; add the stock, stew softly for half an hour, and carefully skim off every particle of fat. Season and serve.
Serves about 8 people.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

I Love the 50's: 'Restful' Weekends

Sunday was really the only day for rest for people during the Victorian era, although they were not very restful. For individuals who lived in rural locations, a typical Sunday consisted of tending to any livestock on the farm and doing any work that needed to be done on the land. During the spring months horses were hitched to ploughs, disks and harrows. The purpose was to prepare the land for planting crops. In the summer months horses pulled mowers and hay rakes. Women also spent many hours completing any household duties, such as laundry, cooking, cleaning and of course child rearing. 
Mondays were the most relaxed work day because many individuals refused to do much work as it was the first day back to work. This is understandable because weekends were far from a break from work. To make up for the lack of work on Monday many people would have to work longer hours on either Thursday or Friday. Then the 'restful' weekend would begin again and the cycle would start over. It's no wonder why people in the Victorian era were often exhausted and tired. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

World War Wednesdays: Local WWI Hall of Fame

World War Wednesdays: Local WWI Hall of Fame
     Use of the term 'World War' is certainly done without exaggeration. In the cases of both global conflicts in our history the entire planet was affected, and every person alive at the time was impacted in some way. Regardless of whether or not active combat took place in every country or if members of every nation were called upon for service, living in a world with such turmoil was a unanimous struggle. For those of us lucky enough to call Canada home, it is often thought that we were perhaps more removed from these conflicts because no battles were fought on Canadian soil. On an even smaller scale, those of us who come from the West Elgin area of Southwestern Ontario may sometimes feel as though our little region was almost sheltered from the peril which was mostly based in Europe. Our vast agricultural area was in high demand by the country mobilized for war, which resulted in farmers being required to forego active duty and remain on hand for food production. Indeed, a number of our fathers and grandfathers were considered crucial components of the war on the home front, and provided food for both the remainder of the country and the boys overseas. If, like myself, you have ever wondered why your male relatives who were of age to fight at the time remained at home, this is probably the explanation. Their contribution was equally valuable and warrants a great deal of pride.
     Of course, our area has its fair share of veterans as well, who we know and honour. Our local legions are fantastic facilities and fixtures of the community which foster a year-round commitment to remembrance. Being such a small area means that the men and women who have served in conflicts are everyday parts of our lives, which gives us an even greater appreciation of their selfless acts.
The remembrance mural at West Lorne Legion Branch 221
     Something that we don't always realize about our humble home is that we do have connections to people who attained a high degree of notoriety during these conflicts, especially during the First World War. In fact, two men who hailed from our area, where their long-ago homes still stand to this day, are forever a major aspect of the war not only in Canada, but from a worldwide perspective. This post will describe the lives of these two local heroes who have made not only Southwestern Ontario but their country as a whole incredibly proud.

Hero #1: Sir Arthur Currie
     One of the most significant Canadian figures during the First World War was Sir Arthur Currie. He was born in 1875 with the original surname "Curry" in the hamlet of Napperton, just west of Strathroy, Ontario. His family home still stands, though it is privately owned and said to be in a state of poor repair. He attended local common schools, and eventually Strathroy District Collegiate Institute before moving to British Columbia to become a teacher in 1894. On 6 May 1897, he joined the 5th Regiment, Canadian Garrison Artillery as a gunner, and by 1900, he had achieved the rank of corporal. At this point, he was offered an officer's commission, which would give him a much higher status in the social circles of Victoria. However, a commission was an expensive proposition, since officers were expected to provide their own set of tailored uniforms and to donate their pay to the officer's mess. Currie took on his role as militia officer seriously, and showed an intense interest in artillery, and especially in marksmanship. He was promoted to captain in 1902, and then to major in 1906.  By September 1909, he had risen to lieutenant-colonel, commanding the 5th Regiment C.G.A.
     When war broke out in Europe in 1914, the Canadian Minister of Militia under Prime Minister Robert Borden, Colonel Sam Hughes, offered Currie command of the 2nd Brigade. He was subsequently promoted to brigadier-general in September of 1914.
Second Battle of Ypres
     In the chaos that followed the release of chlorine gas for the first time in battle, Currie proved his value as a combat officer by calmly issuing commands from his brigade headquarters even as it was gassed and then destroyed by fire.  At one point, he even personally went back to the rear and brought up two regiments of British reinforcements that had been unwilling to move forward. The Second Battle of Ypres proved to be the making of Currie. His superiors noted his natural instinct for tactics and his coolness under fire. He was promoted to major-general, and given command of the entire First Canadian Division. He was also invested as a Companion of the Order of Bath (CB) and as a commander of the Legion d'Honneur.

The Somme
     Although the Canadians did not take part in the infamous Anglo-French offensive on the Somme on 1 July 1916, they did eventually move into the line in the fall to aid the slow crawl forward. Unlike some of his senior commanders, Currie was under no illusion that a full frontal assault would bring about a breakthrough that would end the stalemate of the trenches. Instead, Currie proved himself to be the master of the set piece assault, designed to take limited objectives and then hold on in the face of inevitable German counterattacks. In a battle where every foot of ground was fiercely contested, Currie's talent at these bite and hold tactics became apparent as did his almost obsessive unwillingness to squander men's lives in costly frontal assaults. When the battle finally ground to a halt in the mud of November, the Canadians had taken every objective ordered of them, although at the cost of 24,000 casualties.
Vimy Ridge
     The commander of the Canadian corps, Sir Julian Byng, sent Currie to examine the Battle of the Somme and interpret what lessons could be learned from it, as well as conduct interviews with the French officers who had been involved. After presenting his research, Currie began the training of his men immediately, and provided them with maps of the battlefield and objectives. Although the overall Battle of Arras was a failure—British regiments on the Canadians' right flank failed to reach their objectives, making a breakthrough impossible—the four Canadian divisions had worked as one unit to score a nation-building victory. Currie was recognised as the architect of this triumph, and was knighted by King George V with his appointment as a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George (KCMG) in the King's Birthday Honours of 4 June 1917. When Byng was promoted to general in command of the British Third Army in mid-1917, Currie was raised to the temporary rank of lieutenant-general on 9 June]and given command of the entire Canadian Corps.
Currie being knighted in battle
     Currie's planning and leadership would again be relied upon at Passchendaele  and during the Hundred Days Offensive, which continued to prove his immense capability. After the war, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George claimed that he wanted to promote Currie to commander-in-chief of all British and Empire forces on the Western Front in place of Sir Douglas Haig. This and the entirety of Currie's impressive achievements and honours remain a major part of Canadian First World War history, and it all began in a tiny little Ontario area we all know well.


Hero #2: Ellis Wellwood Sifton
     If you're from anywhere around the Elgin County area, you may have noticed the Wallacetown signs which feature poppies and the slogan 'Home of Ellis Wellwood Sifton'. The road at the back end of the Wallacetown fairgrounds by the 4H building is named for him, Sifton St. The home in which he grew up is the large red-brick home with the barn on the right-hand side travelling west on Talbot Line, just outside of Wallacetown, and is still a private residence. Thanks to some persistent and successful efforts, his name has continued to gain prominence in our area in the hopes that his immense sacrifice in WWI will be well-known by the area he once called home.
     Sifton was born into a farming family on 11 October, 1891. On 23 October 1914, having just turned twenty-three, he volunteered for service in the Canadian Expeditionary Force at St Thomas, Ont. He joined the 18th Infantry Battalion, which eventually became part of the 4th Infantry Brigade of the 2nd Division of the Canadian Corps. He was appointed lance-corporal before embarking for overseas on 18 April 1915.
     Sifton’s experiences in the trenches mirrored those of thousands of other young Canadians of the 2nd Division as his battalion entered the line for the first time in September 1915 (in which month he was promoted corporal) and as it engaged in its first major battle, an attempt to capture one of the craters near Saint-Eloi (Sint-Elooi), Belgium, in April 1916. Trench routine was punctuated by raids in July and August before the unit moved to the Somme front in France, where it captured its objectives in the assault on Courcelette on 15 September. Casualties were heavy, the battalion losing over 50 men killed, or about 1 in 12 of those who had participated in the attack. The following month a failed attempt to take Regina Trench led to another 25 men dying in battle. Sifton’s unit then moved to the base of the ridge near Vimy, where it engaged in trench raids in December 1916 and March 1917. On 14 March 1917 Sifton was promoted lance-sergeant.
     Since late 1916 the Canadian Corps had been preparing to storm German defences on the Vimy ridge. The operation opened on 9 April 1917, the 18th Battalion having been given the task of supporting the 21st Battalion’s attack into the village of Les Tilleuls. The first German defensive line was reached with little or no resistance, but the second proved far more difficult to take, machine-gun nests causing heavy casualties. Sifton saw the barrel of one such gun showing over a parapet and charged immediately into the trench, overturning the weapon. He attacked the crew with his bayonet, and then held off a quick counter-attack by using his rifle as a club. The skirmish ended with Sifton and his comrades (who had just arrived) holding the position, but a wounded German picked up a rifle and shot Sifton dead. He was later awarded the Victoria Cross,  the highest military decoration awarded for valour "in the face of the enemy" to members of the armed forces of various Commonwealth countries, and previous British Empire territories.

Sifton's Victoria Cross
    Some 69 Victoria Crosses were awarded to Canadians or foreign nationals serving with Canadian units in World War I, an indication not only of the importance of that war to Canada’s military history but also of its brutal nature. Sifton was one of 53,000 Canadians killed in Belgium and France from 1914 to 1918, where the infantry suffered 90 per cent of all losses.
     Following his death at a tragically young age, the award was given to his family. Being Pacifists, the Siftons did not believe in engaging in violence, so his award was packed away in the attic. It was not until new residents of the house discovered the award that Sifton's story became better known and his remarkable accomplishment made available for all to see courtesy of the Elgin County and Elgin Military Museums.

     It can thus be concluded that our little area has played more of a role in WWI than we may have thought. These two great heroes represented Southwestern Ontario with bravery and selflessness, and helped to put the area on the map. It is important that we continue to remember their contributions, along with those of so many others, and demonstrate our pride and appreciation so that we can understand the close connections that the area had to one of the greatest conflicts in human history.

Thanks for reading,

Delany Leitch

Monday, March 16, 2015

Media Mondays

Media Mondays

Happy Monday!

I continue to discover a variety of great books for anyone interested in learning more about our local area. I have already posted a book in the past by author Ron Brown, titled
"Ontario's Ghost Town Heritage."
However, Ron Brown has written extensively on Ontario and I have discovered
another interesting read written by him titled,
 "The Lake Erie Shore: Ontario's Forgotten Southern Coast."

This book allowed for an extensive preview on Google Books which allowed for me to read a good chunk of the beginning (just enough to get me hooked)! I really enjoyed the beginning of the book which discusses how Lake Erie came to be formed and the myths of a monster which lurks beneath its surface. It also gave some interesting facts about the many shipwrecks that have occurred and remain at the bottom of the lake. It has helped to direct my attention in the direction of the shipwrecks to discover which ones are close to our area. The book also includes a section titled: "Erie's Ghost Coast: The Forgotten Ports." In this section many local area ports are mentioned including, Talbot, Tyrconnell, Eagle, and Port Glasgow. Unfortunately the preview ends before I am able to read into the information on the above said locations but I did see a few interesting images including one of the Talbot Estate before demolition! Overall, this book leads more to the investigation of Lake Erie as a whole and adds an interesting spin on the history of our local area.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Saturday Sightings

Saturday Sightings

Bald Eagles

If you are so lucky to be cruising along the coast of Lake Erie on a clear day you may have the opportunity to see a Bald Eagle soaring in the sky, sitting on the branch or nesting in the very top of a tree. Bald Eagles have become a popular sight here along the edge of Lake Erie due to their recent increase in population in the area.
Bald Eagles are a large bird of prey with a dark brown or black body and stark white head. They have a large yellow beak as well as huge yellow talons. Eagles have extremely accurate balance and vision. If an eagle loses a feather from one wing, they will lose one from the other side in order to remain perfectly balanced. Eagles can also see four to seven times farther than a human. When baby eagles are born they are grey and fluffy. The feathers on their heads do not turn white until they are about four years old. Eagles have a hard time reaching adulthood and because of this only about 50% survive.
For more information on Bald Eagles please visit the following website:

Friday, March 13, 2015

Foodie Friday- Bread Soup

Bread Soup
  • 1 lb of bread crusts
  • 2 oz of butter
  • 1 quart of common stock
  • Boil the bread crusts in the stock with the butter; beat the whole with a spoon and keep it boiling until the bread and stock are well mixed. Season with a little salt.
Serves about 4 people.
Backus-Page House Museum

Thursday, March 12, 2015

I Love the 50's: Hair Care

In the early 1800's men did not wash their hair. Instead they would comb it very thoroughly to get out any powders and/or dirt. Years later, by the mid 1840's to early 1850's women began to adopt occassional hair washing. Only every few weeks would the hair get washed and maybe once a week the hair would be rinsed with water, opposed to using shampoo. After having washed their hair both men and women would apply a grease to help hold their Victorian hair styles, particularly men because they liked having glossy and rich looking hair. Hair oil was also thought of as a way to prevent the hair from becoming brittle and damaged. This oil/grease would also be used to shape moustaches and eyebrows. Some of these oils/greases would be coloured to help hide grey hair. 
Interesting Fact: coloured moustache oils were referred to as 'mascara' in the Victorian era. Mascara is still used today,  however, it is used by women on their eyelashes.
 Below is a recipe that was used to make hair grease, which was used to style hair. 

Mix two ounces of bear's grease, half an ounce of honey, one drachm of laudanum, three drachms of the powder of southernwood, three drachms of the roots of bulrushes and a small amount of the oil from sweet almonds. 
(one drachm is equal to 1/8 of an ounce)

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

World War Wednesdays: History People Problems

World War Wednesdays: History People Problems
A woman drinks tea on a pile of rubble in the aftermath of the London Blitz, 1940.

     I hope that a deviation from the theme will not be unwelcome this week! When I first began blogging with Tyrconnell Heritage Society, my posts served as almost an emotional outlet for some of the history-related events that I experienced. Last year, I attended the national D-Day ceremony here in Ottawa and I found it to be a very moving and thought-provoking time, which I later expressed in one of my first posts. I've always found that the only way I can properly deal with thoughts and feelings is to write them out, so it's great to be able to do so in this format. Throughout my time as a blogger my posts have shifted towards more informational content, but I thought I'd create this little feature to periodically discuss some of the problems that I encounter as a student of History which I hope you may find relatable or at least laughable in a sad and pathetic kind of way.

     As I've mentioned in some of the previous posts, I've recently undertaken a research project through my Second World War course which involves local history of Elgin County. This was something that I challenged myself to do because local history projects involve a great deal of ground work (traveling to archives to access documents, networking with other historians or people who can provide additional information), as well as the usual historiography research. In doing so, I have learned a couple of things that make my not-so inner history nerd want to curl up in a ball under my bed and never come out.

     When I first took on this project, I was required to meet with my professor, Dr. Serge Durflinger, to discuss the topic and the manner in which I was going to pursue it. It turned out that Dr. Durflinger had done a similar project himself regarding the Second World War and his own hometown of Verdun, Quebec, about which he wrote a book called "Fighting from Home". Being the terrific and helpful person that he is, he gave me a bit of advice. He said that while I was doing my research, it would be very difficult to stay focused on the topic because I would find things about my hometown that are so fascinating and full of personal connections that I would want to read every single article and document. So far, this has proven to be true. It turns out Elgin County was just as interesting in the 1940s as it is today, if not more, and I'm having a great time discovering the charming, heartwarming, and remarkable stories of its wartime residents.

     Another thing that Dr. Durflinger and I talked about was the documents that I would be accessing in order to gather my research. Something that is a very hot topic in the History department here and in classes is digital history, or how primary documents are being preserved and made accessible to the public. Last semester when I researched Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, I was able to access his entire life's collection of diary entries which have been meticulously scanned and digitized by Library and Archives Canada and can be found on their website. Had I not been able to do that, I would have had to travel to the LAC and request the documents in hard copy, and filter through the thousands and thousands of pages to find what I needed. When they created King's digital diaries, the LAC made it keyword searchable, which means that if you were looking for a specific theme you could just type in that word and only read entries that include it. It is thus an extremely valuable resource and makes life much easier as a researcher!
     Unfortunately, not all historical documents are like that, if they are even digitized at all. Dr. Durflinger told me that when he was conducting research at his local archives for his book, he scanned copies of original documents so that he could have them on hand. He said that one day he received a phone call asking if he had the scanned copies he needed, because the entire primary collection had just been disposed of. He thus was in possession of the only remaining copies. It is stories like these that are like nails on a chalkboard to historians. The thought of precious original materials being tossed out with the trash is absolutely horrifying. I suppose that in a fantasy historian world, there is room and means available to store every single document, photograph, painting, etc. that has ever existed, but that just does not seem to be possible today. It seems as though the number of times that these things are being accessed is making it not worthwhile to continue storing them in vast quantities which require carefully controlled conditions.

     When I travelled to the Elgin County Archives in St. Thomas the last time I was home, I was the only visitor there, and the archival assistant, Stephen, was beyond helpful in finding resources for me. He brought out the entire collection of original newspapers from the No. 4 Bombing and Gunnery School in Fingal, and just being able to look at them let alone read them was so exciting! Yesterday, I travelled to Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa to continue my search for documents. Their hours are extremely restricted, and even then there were not many people there. While I was unable to meet with an archival assistant because of the hours (they're only available from 10:00-3:00 and only on weekdays), I got to explore their catalog system and search for things that might be useful. They have a full service of genealogy resources, so I thought I would try that out. I searched some relatives' names under their 'Births, Marriages, and Deaths' records, but nothing came up. I then searched for my great-grandfather under the Military Medals Awarded category and he did not appear (though he did receive medals in WWII). Then, out of curiosity, I searched for the  Wallacetown WWI Victoria Cross recipient, Ellis Sifton, and nothing came up. I couldn't help but feel a little disappointed by this. While I think that the digitization system is one that will both revolutionize and improve research prospects for historians, the current state of the process leaves much to be desired.
     Digitizing historical materials involves countless hours of meticulous and repetitive work which can be especially difficult when dealing with rolls of microfiche slides. Thanks to a few impressive collections and dedicated individuals, small portions of these are being completed and made available for public use, and make up the resources that would be incredibly useful if they happen to match your research topic. For the time being, these collections are a minority, which is frustrating at times. We have the technology available to us, it has proven to be highly effective in the case of the King diaries and others, but it takes a great deal of time and effort to do so. It is my understanding and belief that professional historians are not necessarily the ones who undertake these digitization projects, due to the repetitive and time-consuming nature of the process. If I were a professional historian, I would not be too excited to dedicate my time and expertise to a scanner and endless pile of documents either. From what I have seen, these tasks are entrusted to students and other employees who may be better suited for the technical aspect of the process. While I think that this is not necessarily a bad thing, it seems as though at the moment the research of myself and others is dependant on this small number of individuals who have digitized limited collections of resources with varying degrees of organization and effectiveness. It is my hope that in the course of my career I will see a day when at least the most prominent of historical documents in a general sense are made available to the public online in a way that is easy to use and explore. I also hope that this does not make historians lazy and unappreciative of these resources, but that it opens new opportunities for types of research that have never been possible before.

     So what is my point of all this? Do I think that we should all be spending our free time gathered in archival rooms reading old newspapers before they crumble away in our hands or are thrown away? Definitely not. What I do think is that having those newspapers scanned online and in an interactive way would help the public to interact with them in ways that we have never yet experienced. Wouldn't it be so cool to be able to Google the newspaper that featured your grandma's birth announcement and read the other things that were happening at the time, or to zoom in on a high-quality image that used to be in a dusty old box where nobody ever looked at it? It is often said that historians are notorious for not being able to embrace the future, but when it comes to this topic I look to it with open arms.

Oh and one more thing: if you find yourself in possession of old documents (family photos, old letters, etc.) that you are unsure of the origin or don't know what to do with, find yourself a local historian or historical organization (like the Tyrconnell Heritage Society) and consult with them before you think about disposing of them. They may be able to help you get some answers, or they could be of greater use to the person's research or to the facility. Never underestimate the power of a crumpled old photo!

What do you think? Would doing this spell the end of the archives as we know it? Would we no longer have a need for archival professionals if we could access it all ourselves? Let's hear your opinions!

Thanks for reading,

Monday, March 9, 2015

Media Mondays

Media Monday

Happy Monday Everyone!

In adding to last Mondays post I have continued to stumble across a variety of books
which help to shed light on the history of our surrounding areas. My most recent find is titled "Vanished Villages of Elgin," by Jennifer Grainger.
This book was published in 2008 and I am amazed that I have yet to read it!
I researched parts of this book through Google Books and I was able to read sections on
Aldborough Township, Port Talbot and Tyrconnell!

I found this book to be very interesting because not only does it discuss a variety of interesting places that no longer exist in our area but it also includes a variety of primary source documentation like maps, photos and surveys. The sections on Port Talbot and Tyrconnell are very accurate and interesting to read. I enjoyed reading the history of Port Talbot and how the property came to be privately owned and the past projects that were planned for it. I also enjoyed the images detailing the Pearce family homestead from 1877. Lastly, another part of the book that I found extremely interesting was the mention of the underground railroad and how many fugitives found refuge on the shores of Port Talbot, Stanley and Burwell.
Overall, this is a very interesting read for any local history enthusiasts and I hope to eventually purchase this book for the museum library because it is an excellent and interesting resource to have!

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Saturday Sightings

Saturday Sightings

Ring-Necked Pheasant

We have an enormous collection of birds that roam the grounds here at the Backus-Page House Museum and call the surrounding provincial park their home. We have recently created a small bird-sighting book for our visitors which includes 12+ pages listing the various birds that have been and can be sighted on our grounds during the various seasons. One such bird is the Ring-Necked Pheasant. A rare sight these days but this past fall a staff member viewed one racing across the grounds into the neighboring woodlands.
The Ring-Necked Pheasant is a gorgeous bird with interesting colouration and a long thin tail. The males have green/blue heads with a white ring around their necks. The females however are more of a ruddy brown in order to be more camouflaged. These birds are rarely seen in the air other than when they are startled, they spend the majority of their lives on the ground. Ring-Necked Pheasants are a common game bird and are regularly hunted, however the provincial park provides a safe haven for all animals because no hunting is permitted on its grounds. These birds typically live in bushy farmlands or in the edges of forests. They feed on insects, berries and a variety of grains and seeds.
For more information on the Ring-Necked Pheasant please visit the following website:

Friday, March 6, 2015

Foodie Friday- Apple Soup

Apple Soup
  • 2 lbs of good boiling apples
  • 3/4 tsp of white pepper
  • 6 cloves
  • cayenne or ginger to taste
  • 3 quarts of medium stock
  1. Peel and quarter the apples, taking out the cores; put them into a stock, stew them gently till tender. Rub the whole through a strainer, add the seasoning, give it one boil up and serve.
Backus-Page House Museum

Thursday, March 5, 2015

I Love the 50's: Underwear

The purpose of underwear or 'drawers' was to protect the individual from the cold temperatures. Underwear was very simple and had little decorative design (if any at all). 
Men's Underwear in 1850: men's underwear were ankle length, resembling loose fitting pants. Buttons or ties were used to fasten the underwear at the waist and at the ankles, to help prevent draughts. Men's underwear varied from being made of cotton, flannel or knitted wool, which determined how comfy and warm the underwear would be. 
Women's Underwear in 1850: The underwear that women wore resembled the underwear that men wore. They were long enough to tie at the ankles. The early pairs of underwear for women were two separate sleeves for each leg and they would tie or use buttons to fasten at the waist and at the ankle. Of course this meant that there was a bare, exposed gap between the two leg coverings. Over the years women became experts at sewing the two pieces of fabric together to prevent having a gap. Women's underwear was typically made of cotton. Over the years the length of women's underwear also became shorter, to being tied just below the knee.
Women refused to wear underwear when they first came about for obvious reasons. The main reason being it made it very difficult to use the privy because the underwear would have been worn under long skirts and/or several layers of petticoats.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

World War Wednesdays: Newfoundland and Wartime

World War Wednesdays: Newfoundland and Wartime

            As a separate colony of Great Britain at the time of the outbreak of the First World War, the general sentiment in Newfoundland was enthusiastic towards involvement in the conflict. In accordance with this, the Newfoundland Regiment was expanded, along with the merchant marine (private ships used for war purposes as a separate branch from the navy).

     In addition to this contribution, the Voluntary Aid Detachment was created to send female nurses and healthcare workers overseas to hospitals in France and England. Some of these volunteers also served directly in the trenches.


            Men who did not qualify for enlistment into the forces were recruited to become part of the Newfoundland Forestry Corps. This group worked in British industry to help sustain the war effort.

Working in the forests of Scotland, ca. 1917

            The Royal Newfoundland Regiment will forever be remembered as the territory’s greatest contribution and one of the largest prices paid in the entirety of the First World War. The Regiment recruited men aged nineteen to thirty-six, and was nicknamed the “Blue Puttees” after their unique uniform. In October 1914, ‘The First Five Hundred’ Newfoundlanders sailed out of St. John’s. The Battle of Beaumont-Hamel in July of 1916 is where the “Blue Puttees” earned their fateful place in history. 801 men went into battle, and by the next day only 68 had returned. This massive slaughter was a major blow not only to the Regiment itself, but also to the people of Newfoundland, who in the matter of just one day had lost a significant portion of a generation of young men.

Newfoundland Regiment, No. 3 Platoon, A Company, Fort George, Scotland, ca. 1915

            By war’s end, Newfoundland’s debt had been increased by $35 million, most of which had come from the decision to raise, equip, and train their own overseas regiment. In the final chapter of the conflict, there had also been political controversy regarding conscription. During the war, the railway had expanded, which incurred another major debt of $1.7 million, prompting the government to take control but with a continued loss of money. In the 1920s, Newfoundland began borrowing heavily from foreign investors in order to diversify the economy, but this required a costly improvement of existing roads and utilities. By the 1929 stock market crash and beginning of the Great Depression, railway spending had accounted for two-thirds of Newfoundland’s $80 million national debt.

            With disastrous results, the Great Depression coincided with the loss of an international market for dried cod due to advances in refrigeration techniques. The fishery, a major component of Newfoundland’s economy, suffered heavy losses. By 1933, the debt owed had reached $100 million. Government relief existed in the form of small food rations of only half of a person’s nutritional needs, owed to a fear of the government that the ‘dole’ would make people stop working and reliant on assistance. To keep the costs even of this basic program down, the government closely policed dole applicants with a system of officers who had sweeping powers, which resulted in riots. At that time, Great Britain began fearing that the chaos could negatively affect the Commonwealth, so it considered intervening more actively in Newfoundland politics. In the 1933 Newfoundland Commission, British Lord Amuleree stated that the problems were due to Newfoundland’s irresponsibility, and recommended a direct British takeover. On 16 February, 1934, Newfoundland ceased to be a self-governing nation, and the Commission Government was sworn in. This government entailed:

v  Seven appointed people from the British government

v  No elections to be held and no legislation passed

v  An undemocratic structure which was out-of-touch with the public

v  The establishment of the Newfoundland Ranger Force to enforce the law and provide the Commission with information in rural districts

By the time of the outbreak of the Second World War, military spending and improved export prices improved conditions for Newfoundland. As was the case for many nations at the time, the unfortunate circumstances which launched them into another state of war also served to alleviate the effects of major economic crisis. Newfoundland had finally become self-sufficient, even to the point of actually lending money to Britain independently.

 After the war, during which time Newfoundland had proven itself to once again be capable of functioning on its own, there became the question of what would replace the Commission system. In 1948, Newfoundlanders voted to become part of Canada, and the confederation became effective in 1949. After enduring a harrowing chapter of the first half of the twentieth century, the story of Newfoundland would then be interwoven into the greater story of Canada.


Thanks for reading,


Monday, March 2, 2015

Media Mondays

Media Mondays

Happy Monday everyone - March is finally here, spring is on its way!
Ive decided to dedicate this post to a variety of interesting books and websites that have resulted in some interested visitors throughout the summer of 2014. We have had many visitors come to the museum in search of Ontario's forgotten places. I had never realized how many interesting books and websites that have "Tyrconnell" listed in them until I came across a book titled,
"Ontario's Ghost Town Heritage," by Ron Brown.

When I picked up the book it automatically opened up to page 94 and 95
which is titled "Tyrconnell"... Spooky!
The section on Tyrconnell gives a short history about the village, fishery and wharf. It also goes on to discuss St. Peter's Church and the museum which are still open and operational. Overall, the book is increasingly interesting, with a impressive collection of photographs that go with every location listed. Some other areas listed that are close to ours include Dawn Mills and Cashmere.
From there I was intrigued to find out what other resources mentioned Tyrconnell and I came across some very interesting websites. Some of which our visitors this past summer mentioned as reasoning for travelling out to the museum. Many of these websites list the museum as being haunted which is a very interesting rumour that some of our staff have grown to believe!

The first website is as follows:

This site discusses a short history of Tyrconnell as a pioneer settlement. The nice thing about this site is that it includes some artistic photography of some areas in Tyrconnell. Images include the barn at the Backus-Page House Museum, the honey house, museum house, beach and more.
Although the description states that Tyrconnell was most famous for the whiskey it produced as well as the location of a distillery which is incorrect. The Tyrconnell that is famous for whiskey production is located in Ireland.

The second website is as follows:

This website provides a list of areas that are considered Ghost Towns or Abandoned. Upon scrolling through the list I came across Tyrconnell. This site provides a short description of the area and how during the pioneer days it was popular as a grain port. It also goes on to describe how once the railway was created the port was no longer as busy and eventually fell in popularity.

Overall, these sites have grown in popularity and have allowed for many visitors to find our museum that can be considered "hidden in the boonies." Hopefully we receive more of these interested visitors during the upcoming summer!