Saturday, April 30, 2016

Saturday Sightings- Black-capped Chickadee

Happy Saturday Everyone!

This species of bird is a small, North American songbird that lives in deciduous forests and mixed forests, not migrating for winter months.  It is the state bird of Maine and Massachusetts, and the provincial bird of New Brunswick.  The black-capped chickadee is considered “cute” because of its oversized round head, tiny body and curiosity about everything, including people. 

They eat mainly insects, especially caterpillars, hopping along tree branches while they search for food, hanging upside down or hovering to catch food, while also catching it in the air.  During the winter, seeds and berries become more important and the black-capped chickadee commonly caches food, having a great memory for where their cache is kept.  They frequent bird feeders for seeds and will also accept seeds from a person’s hand at times, proving that they tolerate human approach well, though they are always moving, never staying somewhere for more than a week or two.  They will usually move miles south during fall and winter, and then come back north again in the spring. 

Fun Fact: These birds can reduce their body temperature by as much as 10-12 degrees C, from their normal temperature of about 42 degrees C, to conserve energy on cold winter nights.
Have a great week ahead!

Friday, April 29, 2016

Local WW1 Servicemen Photos Needed

In June, there will be a commemoration event on the 100th anniversary of local participation in WW1 to be held in St. Thomas.  We are assisting by compiling photographs and addresses (at the time) of those locals who served.  Could you take a moment to look through this partial list and see if you have any information, letters or artefacts of these men?  
Send anything you have, particularly photographs and their address, to Angela at  We will be putting together a slideshow and table display for the event in St. Thomas.  Watch for more blog posts with lists from different local towns.  We thank you in advance for your help.  

Josh. Bertram
Chester Bell
Russell Braddon
A.J. Boyle
Thos. Campbell
Leslie Clark
George Doolittle
Wm. Doolittle
John A. Graham
John L. Graham
Duff B. Gow
George Hefford
Albert Hicks
John Johnson
Don Kirkland
Arch. Kerr
H. Locke
Leroy Lacey
Florence Lyons
Adair Mills
Wm. Mitton
Wm. McNernie
Thos. Osborne
Albert Spearing
Frank Strong
Jos. Welch

Photograph and location of their resident at time of enlistment needed.  Send this post along to family, friends, and community members who may be relations.  

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Museum Opening May 1 with New Exhibits

Backus-Page House Museum starts the 2016 season on Sunday, May 1st at noon.  There are updates to the Mary Storey Textile Arts Room exhibit.  Brand new until June 30th on the second floor of the house is the must see Kist exhibit.  Stop in to see what Scottish settlers brought with them to the New World.  In case you missed it last season we've left our Beds, Baths and Beyond exhibit intact with the addition of a tub suitable for babies.

Hours of Operation from May 1 to Thanksgiving Monday
Tuesday - Friday  10am - 4:30pm
Saturdays, Sundays and Holiday Mondays  Noon - 4:30pm

Admission: Adults $5, Children/Students $2.00
Group Rates with 6 or more adults are $3.00/adult

Group Tours, Tea Parties, Catered Picnics, and Facility Rentals by appointment.  519-762-3072
Tell your Grade 3 teachers that we are taking bookings for pioneer studies field trips.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

World War Wednesdays: Letters Home to Dutton, Second World War Edition

Dutton town hall, ca. 1942

     Welcome back to another edition of Letters Home to Dutton! This week I thought it would be interesting to jump forward to the Second World War, and feature the letters available through the Canadian Letters and Images Project from that period. Each of the following pieces were received by family members in 1942 and subsequently published in the Dutton Advance. If you have any information or anecdotes involving any of the people featured this week, I'd love to hear them!

October 22, 1942
Letters From Local Boys Overseas
Dear Mrs. Duncanson (*Dutton Women's Institute*):
I received your parcel Sept. 8th and I was very please to receive same. I am keeping quite well and fit, and hope all the folks of Dutton are the same, We are doing plenty of training, and just when the weather is very unsettled. Although the sun shone all day it was very chilly. We are under canvas yet and it's awful hard to keep our kit clean. I hope we move in billets of some kind soon. I guess you get all the news from the papers, so I can't tell you much. Thanking you very much for the parcel.
George Hefford
Dutton High School, ca. 1943
October 22, 1942
Letters From Local Boys Overseas
Dutton Women's Institute.
Dear Members: With many thanks and deep gratitude, I am again in receipt of your parcels and the contents have been greatly appreciated. I might say that personally I have especially enjoyed the fruit juices contained in your parcels which are always very acceptable, but more so since I have been in hospital. I am feeling much better now, but am still somewhat of a cripple. However, I have been taken from hospital and am a guest of Mr. And Mrs. Massey for a month, which is a very welcome change after six and a half months in hospital. It is a very pretty part of the country here and one of the most beautiful views I have witnessed, overlooking a great valley and on to the foothills of the Black Mountains of Wales. The small and numerous towns of Wales of which we are surrounded are most interesting, and especially on market days when I have visited them. The Masseys have certainly gone to a lot of work and expense to make this a most entertaining place for convalescent guests. There is cycling, archery, croquet, tennis, billiards, riding, fishing and clay pigeon shooting. So no matter what our condition, there is a form of entertainment for us. I met Bill Hockin about three or four weeks ago while hobbling about on crutches, and it certainly was good to see someone from home, although I believe there are others from home now stationed near my location and I am going to try to see them as soon as I become a bit more mobile. Again many thanks for your untiring and unceasing work of remembrances of the boys overseas.
Vernon Shipley
Main St., Dutton, ca. 1945
November 12, 1942
Letter Received By Parents From Lieut. H. W. Hockin
On August 24th, Lieut. H.W. Hockin, a prisoner of war in Germany, sent a letter to his brother, Capt. J.M. Hockin in England. This letter was sent on from England and was received by his parents, Mr. and Mrs. H.B. Hockin, on Saturday. The letter, which was censored, is as follows.
France, 24 Aug. 42
Dear John: Today is the first chance we have had to write, I think it is phoney, but worth a try.
This is to let you know that I am a prisoner along with a number of my pals and many others, and not killed. However, you will probably have an official report before you get this, if you get it at all.
I won't tell you much about what has happened [Paragraph deleted by censor].
Please let dad and mother know and tell them I am O.K. and not wounded. Also look after my kit and uniform. Better store them in England, I think.
Hope to be able to give you the full story some day. Until then we are counting on you fellows. Good luck.
As ever, Bill
     Thank you all so much for your continued interest in these truly amazing pieces of local history. As long as you keep reading them, I'll keep compiling them!
Delany (@DLeitchHistory on Twitter)

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Letters Home to Dutton, WWI Part Two

Dutton, Main Street, ca. early 1900s (Robert Moore Postcard Collection, Elgin County Archives)

     Thanks so much for your interest and comments on the various postings of last week's blog! As a result of the positive feedback I have decided to continue with the Dutton Advance letters and finish off the First World War this week with two more. Unfortunately, I was unable to find any information on the featured writer, William Mitton through Elgin County Archives, which would have been nice to add. If anyone knows anything about him or any authors featured in this week's post, I'd love to hear it! I try to add faces to names whenever possible.

     Without further ado, here are some more letters that local boys sent home to their families and the people of Dutton, courtesy of the Canadian Letters and Images Project:

June 9, 1916

But Uses "Sausages" for Instilling Fear
Apt Description of Scenes at the Front
Jas. G. McMillan, formerly inspector of mines in New Ontario, and who enlisted with No 1 Tunnelling Co., in December, writes the following interesting letter to his father, Mr. Donald McMillan, Dunwich.
France March 15, 1916.
We have been on the British front since March 2nd, being for the first week attached to mining companies of the Royal Engineers, and then put in place of one on a position at the front. Mail addressed as before will reach me alright, but it should be now sent to the Army Postoffice, France, instead of to London. I believe we are officially known as the First Canadian Tunnelling Co., R.E. One section of our company is still on the Canadian front, but will join us shortly. I am down at headquarters now, but will be going back to-morrow. We are four days up and four days here. We have certainly the better of the Huns in artillery on this front, although they give us a good many shells, too. It is surprising how little damage is done by all the shelling that goes on. One will rapidly get used to it, like one does to handling explosives, I am sure. Of course the damage done buildings is extensive, and there is a limited danger zone, but it is surprising how seldom they get anyone with shells. Rifle grenades which are shot up into the air from rifles and fall into or near the trenches are fully as dangerous. Another of their devices for instilling fear into the hearts of Britons is a sausage. These sausages are immense cans of high explosives that are thrown wobbling over the front lines, and after lying for a few seconds burst with terrific noise. They say it is quite possible to dodge them even if they light close by. We have similar devices known as footballs, which are thrown from trench mortars, for wrecking things on their side. A person is comparatively safe from rifle or machine gun fire behind the parapets, which are built up to the height of a man. This sort of fire is kept up mostly at night against working parties along the front and is brought to bear almost continuously upon the communication trenches.
The ordinary routine throughout the day is to keep up the sniping and artillery fire, then as the light begins to fail the infantry on both sides start to let each other know they are there, and keep up rather heavy firing for about an hour. It is at this time that the machine guns start for the night. They are too easily located to keep up their fire during the day. The last shells of the day are usually sent over at this time. All night long flares are sent up for the purpose of locating parties at work on the parapets or on the wire entanglements.
Judging by the great number of flares he sends up Fritz is rather a nervous individual. It is rarely necessary for us to light up the front as he does it nearly always for us. Of course it is only necessary to show even the smallest light to bring machine gun or rifle fire upon you. A noise will often start it as well.
The shell fire is carried on more on the chance of catching relief parties. Our dug-out is at the head of a communication trench, where it joins the support trenches. This vicinity is quite frequently shelled a couple of times in the afternoon, always about the even hour. The closest shot, however, so far was one of our own shells which fells 200 yards or more short of the German lines. It exploded ten yards away but did not burst the case. The case might just as well not have gone through the door of the dug-out.
Casualties here are not very numerous, except when an attack is made. In the last four days I knew of a sergeant being shot by one of our machine guns, another was shot in the back by a bullet that came right through the parapet, and four were injured by the discharge of a rifle grenade.
For myself I am in the best of health, and hope you all are the same.
Dutton, Main Street, ca. 1909
April 26, 1917
Viewing The Sights Of Auld Reekie
Pte. Sam. McFarlane, of the 4th Canadian Mounted Rifles, who recently visited Edinburgh, writes to The Advance as follows:
It would take too long for me to tell you of the many picturesque places, the bonnie sights I have seen since I started my furlough. Edinburgh is the most beautiful city I have ever seen. The streets and buildings are superb, the beauty spots are many and varied. The interesting historical places should be called legion, for they are many.
I have seen the British Museum, Forth Bridge, Scott's monument, and garden, Knox's house, Holyrood Palace, Burn's residence, while in Edinburgh, St. Giles' Cathedral and a great many other places, but I lingered longer in the Kirkyard of old Grayfriars than any place else. Here are martyrs' prison cells, here the gravestone where the Scottish Covenanters signed the solemn league and covenant with their blood.
As I stood upon this hallowed spot there arose in my imagination the silent stern-faced Scot coming forward to sign his name, followed by his bowed wife, who sighs with trembling hand but stout heart; the buoyant youth full of life and disregard for the troublous times that are sure to follow; the sweet-faced maiden full of trust and hope. More and more follow.
What sought they in the old churchyard in the dark hours? Freedom to follow the dictates of their own conscience, freedom from oppression and tyranny.
For the same reasons millions have place their names on the muster rolls for active service, and have vowed to do or die to liberate the weaker nations of Europe who have been ground under the iron heel of the worst tyrant since there was first light.
The castle here is a volume in itself, obsolete now as a source of defense. It is very romantic and historic.
St. Margaret's Chapel, the smallest church in Scotland and oldest building in Edinburgh, stands close to the prison. I stood in the dungeon where the Marquis of Argyle slept his last night on earth previous to his execution, his head replacing that of Montrose on the Talbooth.
Queen Mary's apartments were in that day, I suppose, considered elaborate, but they would not cut much ice now-a-days. I looked out a window where her infant son, afterwards King James IV. of Scotland and I of England, was lowered out and taken to be baptized in the Catholic faith.
The gun carriage which bore the remains of our late lamented Queen Victoria, is in the hall, the same room where the young Douglases were lured to a banquet, given a mock trial and murdered.
     I am so glad to have found this archive and be able to keep the memories of both the Dutton Advance and our local heroes alive and in print. Stay tuned for future posts from the Second World War, which could feature some local celebrities we all know and remember!
Thanks for reading,
Delany (@DLeitchHistory on Twitter)

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Saturday Sightings- The Wood Thrush

Happy Saturday Everyone!

This species of thrush is closely related to other thrushes, including the American robin, and is widely spread across North America.  It spends its winters in Central America and southern Mexico, and feeds on soil invertebrates and larvae, as well as fruits which makes it an omnivore. It finds its food by foraging on the forest floor mainly, flipping over leaves to reveal insects, and fruits are swallowed whole. 

The wood thrush is a solitary, territorial bird with brown upper parts and mottled brown and white underparts, both males and females looking similar.  This species are monogamous breeders and about 50% of all mated pairs are able to raise two broods from 2-4 chicks a season.  Their nests are vulnerable to squirrels, raccoons, blue jays and great horned owls, to name a few, with adults primarily taken by hawks and owls.  Interestingly, the wood thrush has been seen displaying a behaviour known as “anting,” which occurs when a bird picks up a single ant or a group of ants and rubs them on its feathers.  It is not known why this species does this, but it is thought that perhaps it is to get defensive secretions from the ants for medicinal purposes or simply as a part of the birds’ own preen.

Fun fact:  The wood thrush is the official bird of the District of Columbia and the male’s song is often said to be the most beautiful in North America.  The male is able to sing 2 notes at once, which gives it a flute-like quality, with each individual bird has its own repertoire. 

Take care!    

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Clean Up Day: Volunteers Wanted

Can you help us on Saturday, April 16 at 9am to clean up the museum and grounds?  We are preparing for our upcoming season.  

Tasks suitable for all ages including high school students needing volunteer hours.  

Potluck lunch at 12:30pm.  

Contact Angela Bobier

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

World War Wednesdays: Letters Home to Dutton, WWI

The former Dutton railway station

     This week's post is the result of something I always knew existed but never actually looked for, but then when I did look into it, it was better than I could have imagined. Not that I'm ever running short of ideas to share with you, but sometimes I put a bit more thought into the kinds of things that you all seem to enjoy based on the responses. So, this week, I thought I'd do another local piece from good old Dutton, based on some publications by the Dutton Advance.

     Previously, I had been aware that the dearly departed local newspaper ran some fascinating features during the Second World War which published letters written by local boys to their families back home in the area. I decided to look into them this week, and was pleasantly surprised to discover that I am not the only one interested in reading them. In fact, some of the Dutton letters are being used as part of a lesson on soldier's lives for Canadian kids through The Canadian Letters and Images Project. The best part of all is that the project has created a wonderful digital archive in which the Dutton Advance even has its own collection! For this week, I decided to compile the letters from the First World War, and depending on reader response I will continue to feature more of the letters from both the First and Second World Wars as the weeks go on. Your feedback is always welcomed and appreciated!

Without further ado, here  are two letters from William Mitton:
November 12, 1914
"Its Not So Much the Material Help as the Spirit Which Affects Them"
W.J. Mitton has received the following letter from his son, William, who is with the Eighth Battery forming part of the First Canadian Contingent. The letter was written on board S.S. Grampian as it lay in Plymouth Bay.
Well, here goes for a few lines to let you know the kind of trip we had. We sailed from Quebec on October 1 and proceeded down the river to Gaspe Bay. The whole fleet assembled there. We reached there on Oct. 2 and laid there until the 4th, when the whole fleet steamed away three abreast. It was a sight that must have made the habitants open their eyes. A fleet of that many liners and warships never left Canada before and I guess it will be many a day before it happens again. Gaspe Bay surely was an ideal place to conceal the mobilizations of the fleet. It is a large bay just past the mouth of the St. Lawrence on the south side, and is far enough off the track of all ships to be unseen. There is no town and I guess there is no telegraph, so I guess we were out of the ken of the world till to-day (Oct. 15.)
We had a big escort, which increased greatly as soon as we began to near Europe. We had several battleships at last, including the big Queen Mary. She is a regular monster, one of the most powerful fighting machines in the world. We passed the Bishop's Rock light early this morning, Oct. 14, and steamed up the channel and I saw the chalk cliffs of old England for the first time. We reached Plymouth Bay just before dark and are now anchored in the harbor to unload and entrain for our camp.
It surely gives a man confidence in Britain when he sees all the warships lying in port here. There seems to be dozens and dozens of them, ranging in size from the big white super-Dreadnoughts to the vicious looking little destroyers.
We had ideal weather nearly all the way over. The last two days were rather stormy and this boat is a great old roller, but I have never yet been sea sick, so it didn't bother me at all. We had all kinds of amusements on the ship - sports, card parties, concerts, etc. almost every night, so the time passed quite quickly.
We have had very good luck with our horses. Our battery did not lose a single horse and the whole brigade only four,and it was a very hard trip for them too. To-morrow will be twenty days they have been on the ship.
December 2, 1915
Preparing For Christmas In the Trenches - More Canadians Should Enlist
November 7, 1915
I am still in the best of health, though at present I have a slight cold, but guess it will be O.K. in a day or so.
Things have been rather quiet here lately and I guess that nothing much will happen on the front till spring.
We are sleeping in the old convent and I hope we don't have to move till spring. We have made stoves out of old oil cans, etc., and although they usually give out more smoke than heat, they are much better than nothing. We have also made beds from a few odds and ends of wood from the engineers in the next field and a few old sacks stretched over them. Really, they are not so bad either. When you have been sleeping on bare floors and cobblestones, etc., for over a year, you can make yourself comfortable any place. I don't believe I'll ever be hard to suit in the matter of accommodation or fastidious about my meals again.
Quite a few of the fellows have been away on leave to England. They get seven days in England, so that's not so bad. We are sending about five a week at present, so guess I'll get a leave sometime.
Say, dad, do you remember an Englishman named Tommie James, who used to work for Dugald Blue on Clay St.? He says you placed him there and often asks about you. He is a very nice quiet fellow.
So Harold James has enlisted. Well its near time a few of the native-born Canadians came over here. In this battery I don't believe there are twenty-five native-born Canadians. There seems to be a disposition on their part to wait till its over and then enlist. No, it don't look as if the war would be over for some time yet but I guess we can stand it if Fritz can.
Well, Christmas will soon be here and I guess we will have a mild celebration of some kind. We used to be able to get English beer and stout here, which would have added a little to the spirit of good fellowship, but that is now prohibited, so guess we will have to be content with tea. All the beverages you can get here are light wines (red and white), the first tastes like red ink and looks the same, and the other tastes like vinegar thinned out with water, and Belgian beer of which no white man will take more than two glasses.
I had a letter from Bernice the other day. They are both well. She was talking to Sam Hughes when he visited Berlin {now Kitchener} recently and seems to think he is the greatest military genius since poor old Napoleon snuffed out. She told him that she had a brother with the 1st contingent and he asked for my name and number, so don't be surprised if you hear that I have been made a corporal or a spare general or something like that.
Well, folks, I really must close as there is absolutely no news. Nothing ever happens here so if I write long letters I'd have to draw on my imagination and there are far too many doing that now. Write as often as you can and I'll do the same.
Your son.
     There's definitely more where these came from, so stay tuned for more updates from the front!
Thanks for reading,
Delany (@DLeitchHistory on Twitter)

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

World War Wednesdays: Vimy Ridge Week in Elgin County

     This Saturday, April 9 marks ninety-nine years since the battle of Vimy Ridge during the First World War. Often considered the battle where Canada came of age as a nation, it was also a significant day for Elgin County. On the first day of the battle, Wallacetown native Ellis Wellwood Sifton single-handedly eliminated a German machine gun emplacement at the cost of his own life, posthumously receiving the Victoria Cross. We reflect on his selfless act each year with pride and gratitude, and the Elgin County Museum holds an annual program to commemorate him. This year, the program will take place at the museum on Saturday at 2pm. It will feature local re-enactors and demonstrations, as well as a number of soldiers' letters to groups across the county who sent their support. In addition, Sifton's original Victoria Cross will be present for viewing, an occasion which only occurs annually on this day. More information available from the St. Thomas Times-Journal:
Ellis Sifton
     Since there have been so many years since Vimy, there have been numerous commemorations and ceremonies to observe its anniversary. I thought it would be interesting to take a look at various events in Elgin County that recognized local contributions to the battle through the years!

50th Anniversary, 1967
     This photo shows a Vimy Ridge commemorative service at Royal Canadian Legion Branch 41, St. Thomas on April 10, 1967. The ceremony was covered in the Times-Journal that day with the caption:

"Veterans of Vimy - The Battle of Vimy Ridge was commemorated in St. Thomas on Sunday with a wreath-laying ceremony at the Pearl Street Cenotaph. Left to right are, front row: A. B. Ellis, Roy Palmerston, Jack Bentley, Art Cooper, Harry Marshall and A. E. Watts; second row, J. F. Pratt, George Smith, Dan Jackson, Cyril Brown, Chet Smith, Maurice Heath, M. Nicholls; third row, E. B. Martel, Bert Watson, Jim Baron, Ted Bentley and Charles McAvay; fourth row, Reg. Mayne, Ellis Walker, Art Hardy, George Tanner, Rev. Charles Cook, Louis Mann, not identified; fifth row, Bill Crocker, Alex Betterley, Ernie Mitchell, Fred Lawson and George Hambleton; sixth row, J. E. Johnson, Frank Sefton, not identified, Joe Skelding, Stan Robinson, Harvey Pettit and C. W. Ball."

60th Anniversary, 1977
Front from left: Fred Morley, Charlie Cook, Charles Slather, Clarence Silver, Fred White, Herb Tucker, Bob Watson. Rear: George Walker, Dave McKillop, Herb Watson, Tom Watts, Art Freeman, Ernie Mitchell, Max Morriss, Charlie Baldwin, George Stevenson.
The Times-Journal from April 11 of that year describes the commemorative ceremony, again held at the Legion on John Street, St. Thomas:
"For many, the Battle of Vimy Ridge is merely a date in a history book. For Fred White, it remains a very real and tangible experience. Mr. White, now a resident of Westminster Hospital in London, was among over 100 First World War veterans attending an all-day commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, held Saturday at the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 41 Hall on John Street.
     Sixty years ago Saturday, Fred White was a 17 year-old private with the 4th Infantry Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. The battalion was one of many massed together for the decisive Vimy Ridge encounter. 
     Looking back on the battle, Mr. White recalls the great suffering of many of the soldiers. "You didn't know whether you were going to eat today or tomorrow," he said. "You had to carry your own rations or you went hungry." 
     Mr. White was a scout and a runner for his battalion at the time of Vimy Ridge. "I had a lot of responsibility," he recalled. The details of the battle itself were harder for Mr. White to pin down. What he did have was a very clear recollection of the feeling of the battle.
     "You've got to watch out for yourself in the mud and the crap," he said. "Got to control yourself; your mind is the main thing. You had to keep your mind ahead of you; if you didn't you've had it."....
     The activities started with a memorial service, followed by movies of the war. There was a luncheon attended by local elected officials, then entertainment in the afternoon."

     These are just some of the ways in which the area has reflected upon its connections to one of the most significant events in Canadian history. How will you be recognizing this anniversary?
     Thanks for reading,
Delany Leitch (@DLeitchHistory on Twitter)

Information courtesy of Elgin County Archives and the St. Thomas Times-Journal.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Saturday Sightings- Red-eyed Vireo

Happy Saturday Everyone! 

This bird lives in open wooded areas across Canada and the eastern and northwestern USA.  A migratory bird, they spend their winters in South America, but can be as far north as Central America.  They eat insects, caterpillars and aphids, their favourites, and pick these from the foliage of the trees, sometimes hovering while they forage.   They also eat berries with Tamanqueiro and Gumbo-limbo being two popular types in the trees where they winter, and instead of hovering to get their fruit, the red-eyed vireo will hang upside down on branches to reach for them.  In some tropical regions, these birds are often seen in mixed-species feeding flocks, moving in the bulk of the flock higher up in the trees.  This birds nest is a cup-shape held in the fork of a tree branch and is unfortunately also a species that suffers from nest parasitism by the brown-headed cowbird. 

Fun fact:  The red-eyed vireo sings for long periods of time.  It holds the record for most songs given in a single day among bird species, with more than 20 000 songs in one day.
Have a great rest of your weekend!