leisure


When an archives’ focus is geographical, as ours is, there is often reason to be thankful for the fact that a town has a fairly unique name. This makes it easy to take advantage of the increasing number of online resources around the world which allow searching of historical materials by keywords: there aren’t any other Deserontos, so when we find a hit, we can be fairly sure that the article or book in question is about this town.

This week, the resource we were plundering was the National Library of Australia’s Trove service. This is an incredibly rich seam of information from Australian and international sources, including digitized newspapers, manuscripts, maps and photographs. Among the results for a search on Deseronto was this interesting snippet about a hard-fought and arduous event held in Deseronto in June 1897, the year of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee:

Great Tug of War

A story of an extraordinary tug-of war comes from Canada. At an athletic meeting held at Deseronto, Canada, on Jubilee Day, two teams, styled Picton and Deseronto, were down for a tug-of-war, seven men aside, one pull of 3ft. to a finish : and for the record time of 2h. and 10min. those fourteen men strained every muscle in the glaring sun without any apparent advantage. Picton secured eight inches in the first hour, which Deseronto reduced to nil, but could not get it over scratch 1/16th of an inch.

They, however, held it there for half an hour, when Picton again, by fractional parts, got 7in. ; and the judge, after consulting the captains, decided to call it a draw in Picton’s favor, as the condition of some of the contestants did not warrant a continuation, although they were all averse to a draw. Stimulants had to be administered to every man frequently, and applications of cold water and rubbings were in order.

This story appeared in Victoria’s Traralgon Record and Bairnsdale Advertiser newspapers in October 1897, some four months after the event itself took place. News evidently travelled more slowly in 1897 than it does today.

The tug-of-war was one of a series of events held on June 22nd. The advertisement in Deseronto’s own newspaper, The Tribune, on June 18th proudly proclaimed that “This will be one of the most imposing celebrations ever held in the Bay of Quinte District”.

Diamond Jubilee celebration
In its post-event coverage on June 25th, The Tribune noted that the tug-of-war was “a magnificent exhibition of strength and endurance”. It went on to add that

the Picton team was organized by Mr. Taylor of the Bank of Montreal in 1892 and…has never been beaten. Mr. Taylor only induced them to come here on the understanding that he would not captain or coach their opponents, so that there might be fair play for all. He did, however, show the home team the correct position for pulling, a most important point. To those who think the pull should have had a time limit we are informed that it was conducted on precisely the same lines as the great international pull at Madison Square garden New York in 1892.

We missed the opportunity of organizing a rematch at last year’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, but maybe if Queen Elizabeth II is still on the throne in 2022 we could arrange a re-run of the event for her Platinum Jubilee. With nine years in which to practice, perhaps this time Deseronto will win!

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Naylor's Theatre in 2009

It’s hard to believe these days, but Naylor’s Theatre in Deseronto was once on a theatrical circuit which included far more famous venues such as Washington’s National Theatre, Philadelphia’s Orpheum Theater and New York’s Broadway.

This advertisement from The Deseronto Post of November 24, 1920, is for a touring bedroom farce called Twin Beds, starring actress Mabelle Estelle (who was originally from Scranton, Pennsylvania).

Twin Beds

Twin Beds was written by Salisbury Field and Margaret Mayo and was produced by Selwyn & Company, owners of the Selwyn Theater at 229 West 42nd Street in New York (now the American Airlines Theater). Edgar Selwyn (1875-1944), who had founded the company, was also a co-founder of Goldwyn Pictures. Margaret Mayo was his wife. The play was based on a novel and was also turned into a movie four times.

The show was obviously a popular one: it appears seven times in the timeline of plays at the National Theatre between 1915 and 1925 and had run on Broadway for a year before that. It returned to Washington D.C. in the May of 1921, where it was favourably reviewed in the Washington press. We can find all this out from the Library of Congress, which  has an excellent online newspaper service called Chronicling America. This allows searching across a range of digitized American newspapers from 1836 to 1922. You can also download images of the newspapers which interest you. The picture below is from The Washington Times of May 1, 1921 and shows Mabelle Estelle. You can click on the image to go to the page of the newspaper on the Chronicling America site.

Mabelle Estelle in the Washington Times

And, from the same site, here is the listing from The Washington Herald for Twin Beds:

Twin Beds advert in the Washington Herald

Naylor’s Theatre is now silent and empty, unlike its Washington and New York counterparts. It’s difficult now to imagine a time when stars of the American stage would have been staying in Deseronto on a regular basis!

Skating on the Bay at sunset

Skating on the Bay at sunset

There were many people enjoying the ice on the Bay of Quinte today: the photo shows some youngsters skating on what was once the log pond beside Mill Street in Deseronto. It brought to mind an advertisement from The Tribune of December 9th, 1892, which was encouraging parents to buy skates from the Anderson and Miller store on Main Street as a Christmas gift for their children.

The Bay is Frozen

I’m not sure how thrilled their mothers would be at getting “the latest improved Washer and Wringer”, though.

On this day in 1892 a concert was held at the Deseronto Opera House[1] by the Edith Ross Scottish Concert Company, who were invited to perform by the St. Andrew’s Society which had recently been formed in the town. According to the Tribune which was published on the next day:

The following lines, composed by Mr. A. D. McIntyre, the talented secretary of St. Andrew’s Society, as a welcome to the Edith Ross Scottish Concert Company, were read by him with great effect at their entertainment in the opera house last night:

Miss Edith Ross and Company,
We kindly welcome you,
And hope our hearts you will engross
With song and music too;
We trust that ye will feel at ease,
Just as you would at home,
And may our toes and fingers freeze
If we give cause to blame.

We hope that you will soon again
Revisit our good town,
Which surely in a year or so
Will be a city grown;
For we have here the energy
And everything beside
To make Deseronto go ahead
At ebb or flood of tide.

I’m sure if you took twa’ three days
To look our works around,
That you would wonder where on earth
Their likes could e’er be found;
With basswood, pine and oaken logs
Your brain would sure be tossed,
And round great piles of every kind
Of lumber you’d get lost.

You’d see the logs a rolling up
The runway from the dam,
Sliced into lumber instantly;
I tell you it is gran’
To see the slabs thrown, lightning speed,
From sound and healthy pine,
And in the finer part that’s left
Behold a nine by nine.

The Factory you’d visit too,
Where they make sash and door,
And ship them to Australia
And other countless shores;
Then you would ramble to the wharf,
Where ends the B. of Q,[2]
Its rails and solid bed stops short
When Jamie Stokes[3] they view.

And now you jump upon the train,
No trouble in the least,
And step off on the platform
At Deseronto East;
Blacksmith, Machine and Loco Shops
Are now left far behind
With Car Works and the Shipyard, full
Of crafts of every kind.

The Cedar Mill you’ve also passed,
Where ties are made and shipped,
And where the Shipyard’s sturdy oak
Is often sawn and ripped;
Another mill you have sped by,
Where shingles are the ware,
And now from off this platform,
Behold the Grist Mill there!

Here you can buy the purest flour
That ever yet was made,
And Oh! you’d open wide your eyes
Surprised at Richard’s[4] trade;
The wheat is brought by great shiploads
And by the Railway too;
But come a little farther down,
The Burners we will view.

Here’s where the refuse is all burned,
The sawdust and the dross
To wondrous chemicals are turned
That nothing go to loss;
And if you look away beyond
The Refuse Docks appear,
Which, in the summer, are filled up
For winter work and cheer.

And still a little farther down
The Secret Works you see,
Where one of Scotland’s honored sons[5]
Practises chemistry;
And right behind, encircled neat,
The Gas Works you espy,
From whence our streets and ilka house
Receive their light supply.

And yet a wee bit farther on
Red Terra Cotta stands
In its artistic excellence
Pourtrayed by Hynes’[6] hand,
Who pounds and moulds it with his fist
This and the other way,
And then brings forth a matchless bust
In Terra Cotta clay.

But what’s the use in trying thus
Our industries to name,
For it would take a week or more
To numerate the same:
Imagination needs must fly
Far North, South, East and West,
In town and city, bush and plain,
You see the Rathbuns’ Crest.

Again, a welcome please accept
From old St. Andrew’s boys,
Who wish ye “Merry Christmas”
And many earthly joys;
And as you travel through this world
Do not forget, we pray,
The thriving town and leal hearts
On Quinte’s famous bay.

This poem is a wonderful snapshot of the industries along the Deseronto waterfront in 1892. According to the 1901 census, Archibald Duncan Macintyre was an accountant who was born in Scotland on 3 March 1859. We can surmise from the contents of his poem that he worked for the Rathbun Company. He came to Canada in 1876. In an account of the first annual St. Andrew’s Day dinner (November 30th, 1892), the Tribune described Macintyre as “a true and loyal Highlander” and a man of “poetic genius”. A few years later, he had become the Chief of the Sons of Scotland and the Archives holds this photograph of him:

Photograph of Archibald D. Macintyre, c.1902

Photograph of A. D. Macintyre, c.1902

Macintyre died in William Street, Trenton, on December 13th, 1921. His occupation was given as “Filing Clerk, C.N.Ry [Canadian National Railway] Stores”. He had been living at that address for three years before his death. He was, however, buried in Deseronto’s cemetery: an event that also took place, coincidentally, on December the 15th.


[1] At this date the Opera House was on the upper floor of the Baker Block on Main Street
[2] The Bay of Quinte Railway
[3] James Stokes was listed in the 1891 census for Deseronto as ‘wharfinger’: the man in charge of the day-to-day business of the wharf. He was 42 at the time of the census. He died in Toronto on April 4, 1913, aged 64.
[4] This was presumably Richard Rayburn, the flour mill manager, according to the 1891 census.
[5] The 1891 census lists 41 year-old William D. McRae as “Superintendent, Gas and Chemical Works”. McRae was born in Scotland.
[6] Michael J. Hynes, artist and manager of the Terra Cotta works

One of the clever things about putting the Deseronto picture collection online with Flickr is the ability to annotate the photographs. If you go to Flickr by clicking on the image below you will see that each of the cast members of this Methodist Church concert has their name attached to their face in a note.

Anyone with a Flickr account can add to photos in this way (signing up for an account is free), so anybody with additional information about the photographs can annotate them or comment on them within Flickr. You can see an example of this on a photo of a crashed aircraft in the Deseronto Archives collection (although I’m not sure how useful this particular annotation is!). It would be good to get fuller names for some of the married women in this photograph, who are mainly identified by their husbands’ names (e.g. Mrs Walter Scott).

The Methodist Church in Canada merged with the Presbyterian and Congregational Churches in 1925 to form the United Church of Canada. The church hall of Deseronto’s United Church was named Stover Hall in honour of Percy Stover and his wife, Gertie (née Snider), who are two of the individuals in this photograph.

As we’re experiencing a particularly snowy February, here’s a photograph to remind us that the warm days of summer will be here again before too long. This shot was taken by Harold McMurrich Rathbun, grandson of Hugo Burghardt Rathbun, the man who established Deseronto as a major lumber centre in the late nineteenth century.

It was taken on a trip to the Sandbanks in Prince Edward County in July 1908. To modern eyes, the people in the group seem rather over-dressed for a July day at the lake. Look at the thickness of the coat that the man is carrying. And what on earth did he have in that bag?

The negative of this photograph is one of many taken by Harold M. Rathbun that were presented to Deseronto Archives by the South Fredericksburg Heritage Committee in 2005. The photo’s reference number is HMR2-06-28.