I recently had the pleasure of preserving, arranging and describing St. Andrew's church's records for the Grimsby Museum. The collection's items offer an invaluable record of the development of early Grimsby and Niagara history, when Empire Loyalist families settled in the area. Several prominent figures were involved in the church’s history, including Colonel Robert Nelles, who served during the War of 1812 and was also appointed to the Legislative Assembly of Upper Canada. These records provide a detailed narrative of the Niagara region and development of the Anglican Church from the 1790s until present day, as well as many pivotal events prior to and after Confederation in 1867.
Particular records and artifacts of interest include:
Of course, this is a small taste, as the collection is so rich. Click here to access the collection's arrangement list for a quick snapshot of the records. Click here if you are interested in looking at the archival description, which provides researchers with an in-depth look at the collection (including an administrative history). If you are interested in accessing any of these records, please contact the Grimsby Museum.
Thank you to the Grimsby Museum, Adam Montgomery (who assisted with the administrative history and taking photographs) and St. Andrew's Church. Thank you to Olia Jurychuk for sending me a copy of Linus Woolverton's will, which detailed information about the church's lych gate.
Cultivating Beauty: Ontario Horticultural Societies from 1906-Present an Exhibit by Royal Botanical Gardens
The Centre for Canadian Historical Horticultural Studies, a scholarly centre within Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG), hosted an exhibit on March 14th at the Burlington Public Library detailing the history of Ontario Horticultural Societies. I curated the exhibit, Cultivating Beauty: The History of Ontario Horticultural Societies, and delivered an engaging presentation focusing on a history that spanned well over 100 years.
Prior to this, I happily organized a large collection, under the supervision of Erin Aults, Library and Archives Specialist, and David Galbraith, Head of Science, consisting of records from horticultural societies from across the country. With the burgeoning number of environmental histories being written, these documents fit nicely into the larger story showing how these societies altered the Canadian landscape. These documents also add to Canada’s rich social history, showcasing how motivated individuals came together to make positive contributions to their towns and cities, enhancing the social and cultural fabrics of their communities.
My favourite part of researching horticultural societies has been seeing how they have admirably responded to local, regional, national, and international events, planting flowers along the way. Originally, society members beautified towns and cities as a means of fostering good, moral citizens. They also raised their trowels to harvest and reap vegetables throughout two world wars. Many women also filled societies’ ranks participating in increased numbers throughout the century. During my presentation, I provided the audience with an overview of this wonderful history, showcasing the commendable efforts of these societies, who have worked hard to make Ontario beautiful. I felt honoured to read the words of horticultural society members who read those very words during their own speeches throughout the century. They spoke with such beautiful sentiment and I felt proud to share their story.
The exhibit, which can travel, details women’s involvement in societies, First and Second World War food production, rural school beautification, and other great stories.
There is also a focus on the Burlington Horticultural Society showing how its members were a large force behind Burlington’s beautification efforts. Their numerous projects fostered civic improvement and pride that still continues. This group is still active today, working hard to keep Burlington-and Ontario-beautiful.
The presentation was a success with approximately forty people attending the event. After my talk, I was asked by the Burlington Horticultural Society to present at their Annual General Meeting in 2019. A smaller (also travelling) version of the exhibit can be found at the Burlington Public Library for one month. After that, the exhibit will be featured at the Royal Botanical Gardens.
*All label reproductions are courtesy of Royal Botanical Gardens
If you would like to learn more about horticultural societies more generally, or the Burlington Horticultural Society more specifically, please check out my presentation.
As many of you know, it takes a lot of people to put together an exhibit. Erin Aults kindly organized the event with Michelle. Christie Brodie, RBG's Interpretation Projects Coordinator, did all of the wonderful graphic design for the exhibit's labels, printed and mounted them, and taught me about the process. RBG staff cut the mounts. Benjamin Peddle, Burlington Library's Service Librarian helped me locate the library's collection on the Burlington society, and then scanned images for use on the labels. Bill Kilburn of the Back to Nature Network and Erin watched me do a presentation run-through, giving me suggestions about how to make my speech better. Pat did a wonderful job of helping us set up the exhibit and to greet visitors at the door. Joyce Vanderwoudes, member of the Burlington Horticultural Society, met with Erin and I to discuss the society's history. A special thank you to W.H. Perron for letting us use one of their early advertisements in the display.
Thank you to everyone that helped me make this event such a success!
*For source information please look at the end notes at the end of my presentation.
HortiCULTURE: Artifacts from the Archives of the Centre for Canadian Historical Horticultural Studies and Royal Botanical Gardens
Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG) recently hosted the Hamilton Museum Educators group for a museums and technology conference. As part of the program, staff put together an exhibit to showcase two archives at RBG: the Centre for Canadian Historical Horticultural Studies (CCHHS) and RBG's institutional archives.
CCHHS collects and preserves literature, documents, and artifacts relevant to the history of horticulture in Canada. The topic of horticulture is broad in scope; it includes any resource relating to horticultural plants and their development and use in Canada. The archive has many important scientific documents on topics such as phenology and plant hybridization. Popular writings, pamphlets and brochures, government reports, seed catalogues, and correspondence, photographs, slides, among other ephemera, also make up the collection. There are also personal papers of many successful horticulturists, like Isabella Preston and Art Drysdale. CCHHS' records tell us a lot about Canadian plants and landscapes and how they have changed over time. They also offer us a larger view of societal changes in Canada.
Royal Botanical Gardens' archives keeps administrative records of the institution which includes historical samples of past stationary, plaques, china, photographs, and even drapes. This archives also has important papers of past employees including published papers, correspondence, and other intellectual works. Records of past events, corporate publications, and 80 years of photographs that capture the staff, gardens, and landscape make up a significant part of the collection.
Erin Aults, RBG's Knowledge Resource Management Specialist, and I worked to put the exhibit together. Marie Minaker, RBG's volunteer archivist, suggested artifacts from RBG's archives to include. Artifacts were grouped into five categories: Canadian horticultural education, women in botany, historic seed catalogues, ephemera, and other special collections.
All photographs are courtesy of CCHHS.
Last winter I organized an archival fonds consisting of forty years of documentation produced by Quetico Centre, a conference and education centre in Northwestern Ontario. This was a joint project for Athabasca University and the Atikokan Centennial Museum. This post describes my experiences organizing the project- my first attempt to create a fonds. Archival work requires both practical and theoretical knowledge to ensure that the documents are well cared for and properly organized. I ensured that all materials were handled in a way that complied with conservation and collection standards; however, this post will focus on the theoretical framework I used to complete the project.
Creating the Fonds
The Quetico Centre Fonds project was completed in compliance with RAD, a standardized process of arranging and describing documentary heritage used in archival science. This method uses the principles of provenance, original order, and respect des fonds to dictate how documents are arranged. Provenance refers to the individual, family or corporate/administrative body that produced the materials being archived. In this case, Quetico Centre was a corporation that produced the documentation. Original order and respect des fonds are important archival considerations which state that documents must be kept in the order in which their creator originally kept them. This method of arrangement provides a context used for better understanding the documents' meaning, both individually and in relation to the others in the collection. Throughout the project the original order of the documents, if it could be established, was kept. For instance, the board of director materials were kept in the order in which Quetico Centre administrators originally filed them. However, it is not always possible/most beneficial to keep the original order. For example, there was a box of various newsletters where it was apparent that an order was never established; they were just thrown together. In this instance, to better assist researchers, I decided to create an order, putting each newsletter in chronological order. This way the evolution of the Centre could be traced through the examination of developments over time.
Prior to arranging materials, I examined how the archival field had evolved over time to determine how archivists ascribed meaning to documents. This decision was particularly important because, in some cases, I had to make decisions about which materials to keep and which ones to discard. The Atikokan Centennial Museum has limited storage space, thus not all materials could be kept (a decision which was reached by the Curator, myself and our donors.)
Hans Boom, in his article, "Society and the Formation of a Documentary Heritage: Issues in the Appraisal of Archival Studies," shed light on this complex matter. His article outlined archival historiography and displayed how the field has evolved by showing the attempted creation of guidelines for accepting and rejecting archival documentation. The earliest assumptions were that a decision about what was to be kept or thrown away could be made on a case-by-case basis. As the need for archives increased, this was no longer a viable solution. Scholars attempted to create formal guidelines for creating a documentary heritage. Wilhelm Rohr, for example, introduced a hierarchical gradation, meaning that the producers of documentation were placed on a hierarchical scale in order to determine the value of the documents. Meinert took this idea a step further by stating that only the creator of the document could give it meaning. Meanwhile, Fritz Zimmerman proposed that the value of archival documentation is derived from human interest and need; therefore, human demand gives documents their value. Boom argued that this could not be possible because it would be too difficult to predict what historians would want to use in the future. According to Boom, there has not been a suitable answer to the problem of how to properly form a documentary heritage. He provided his own solution, stating that the value of a document can only be determined by a comprehensive view of society. In other words, archivists cannot use contemporary value systems to judge documentation. Rather, they need to adopt the value systems of the time period in question to properly determine what documents to accept or reject.
I decided to use Hans Boom’s theory as the foundation of my project. To accomplish this, I read several books about education during the time period in which Quetico Centre operated, as well as books about Northern Ontario education. This research helped to place Quetico Centre’s history within the larger adult education narrative, as well as geographic place. I also read local history books which provided me with nuanced details about the Centre’s operations. This information gave me a better understanding of the Centre’s values and philosophies.
The information acquired from these readings provided me a context in which to judge the collection's documentation. I felt more confident in making decisions about which documents to keep. For example, several pamphlets discussing adult education in Mexico were disposed of. The information in these pamphlets may have influenced Quetico Centre’s philosophy; however, they were never alluded to in any of its Director's speeches or writings. There were several other pamphlets that included information on broader adult education topics that seemed to be more pertinent to the collection. It should be noted that all documentation, before its removal was checked with one of the collection's donors (the Director's widow). She provided her opinion about the materials and verified if their removal seemed appropriate. This practice was done out of respect for our donor, who lived the history we were organizing and was an invaluable resource throughout the project.
After organizing the fonds I created a finding aid. The aid's purpose was to assist both researchers and museum staff by providing easy access to the collection. RAD-compliant descriptions were used to ensure an easy to use, standardized document was produced. These descriptions help users gain a better idea of what the collection encompasses so that they can make decisions about what documents will be useful for their research. The fonds's description gives documents context by providing historical details about Quetico Centre's establishment, its key players and educational vision. Good descriptions mean that researchers can search for documents in a more independent manner. Thus, museum staff can spend less time helping the researcher, and more time on other museum duties, like cataloguing.
To further assist future researchers I created several documents to accompany the finding aid, including: a time line of important dates, biographies of people involved with the Centre’s activities, and a booklet entitled, Quetico Centre: Learning Through Discovery. This booklet places the Centre within the context of adult education in Canada. It will be sold to visitors in the museum's gift shop and handed out at the Quetico Centre exhibit opening in June.
The Final Product: Images and Finding Aid
I feel that the project was a success. I can say with absolute certainty that I have a new appreciation for the amount of work archivists undertake to organize collections. It consists of many hours of unseen and rigorous labour. As a researcher I feel I have a better appreciation of the work involved.
If you are a researcher interested in Canadian adult education, education in northern Ontario, or Atikokan history, check out the finding aid below.
 Jean Dryden and Kent M. Haworth. Developing Descriptive Standards: A Call to Action. Occasional Paper No. 1. Ottawa: Bureau of Canadian Archivists, 1987, 1-15., 1.
 Wendy M. Duff and Marlene Van Ballegooie. “The Foundations of RAD.” In RAD Revealed: A Basic Primer on the Rules for Archival Description. Canadian Council of Archives, 2001., 2.
 Ibid., 3.
 Hans Boom. “Society and the Formation of a Documentary Heritage: Issues in the Appraisal of Archival Science.” Archivaria 24, 1987., 90.
 Ibid., 95-96.
 Ibid., 91.
 Wendy M. Duff and Marlene Van Ballegooie. “The Foundations of RAD,” 2.