About Deseronto

A glimpse of what life was like in Deseronto in 1906 and 1907 has come to us courtesy of a conversation recorded in 1967. Bill and Jack Duncan were taped as they reminisced about their arrival in Deseronto and Bill’s early experiences of work in Canada. Their father, John Duncan, had been a shoe laster in Leicester, England, but his involvement in the trade union movement meant that it was difficult for him to find work there and the family relied on their oldest son, Bill, for their income (26 shillings a week).

John and his wife Maria decided to move their five surviving children across the ocean to Canada. The family spent less than a year in Deseronto before moving on to Stirling and then Toronto, but Bill and Jack had some strong memories of their time here, including loitering in the Post Office in order to get warm in the winter!

An interesting new accession arrived by email this week from Ray MacDonald, whose mother, Mary Hawley MacDonald Selby, wrote a series of six emails to her grand-daughter in 1999, when she was in her eighties. The emails describe life in Deseronto during the hard years of the 1930s, when the Hawley family moved here from Toronto in the hope of finding seasonal work in the canning factories. Here’s Mary’s description of the struggle to find clothing:

We never bought new clothes, we wore whatever was given to us in other words “hand me downs”. Shoes did not always fit and were worn past “outgrown”. My feet to this day will verify this. When the soles of shoes were worn through Howard would repair them from old shoes. He then learned how to skin the tread from old Tires to make new soles. The men of the family had one decent pair of trousers and a button up sweater to wear for good and hand me downs for work pants. Never had a suit for over ten years. From l930 to 1939 my Aunts sent their outdated clothes to Mother and I, and we tried to update them to wear. In my first year at high school they sent me a new dress, and I wore it all winter. Each week end it was washed and pressed for the next week. Always had to take it off after School to save it. The next winter I had grown and we Cut it down and made a jumper out of it because I had outgrown it.

It’s a fascinating glimpse into a time of struggle: you can read all Mary’s stories on our ‘About Deseronto‘ site. Her brothers, Howard and Rocky, founded the Hawley Brothers furniture company on Main Street, Deseronto, in the 1940s. This successful firm operated until the brothers’ retirement and Mary describes the early years of the company in her emails.

Technical digression

Sharing the stories was something of a technical challenge: Mr MacDonald sent us the printed emails scanned into a PDF file. I had visions of having to re-type all 10 pages in order to turn them into something that I could share on the About Deseronto site. A colleague from the UK gave me some helpful advice. There are two types of PDF files – some are images only and require optical character recognition software in order to convert them into text (my colleague recommended http://www.paperfile.net/). Others are images and text. You can tell whether you’ve got the latter by searching within the PDF file. If you can find words, then it’s image and text. For this type of file (which is what I had), there’s a useful program called pdftotext which will convert the PDF file into a text file. You can get pdftotext as part of the XPDF download. You have to extract the zip file and then run the program from the command line, after navigating to the directory where the pdftotext program is sitting. You run the program by simply typing ‘pdftotext’ followed by the name of the file you need to convert and the name of the text file you want to create. For example: pdftotext myfile.pdf newfile.txt.

Mary Selby died in 2009, so we are very grateful to her son for sharing these emails with us and for giving us permission to share them with a wider audience.

Cole family sleigh-ride - 2010.27 (7a)

This festive photo was one of a small collection recently donated to the Archives by Bev Boomhour. It shows members of the Cole family on a sleigh ride. Bev remembers the sleigh, but doesn’t think she ever rode in it herself.

We’d like to take this end-of-the-year opportunity to thank all our donors for bringing or sending their historic materials into the Archives. We’ve had over thirty donations of photographs and other items this year. A particular vote of thanks goes to those people who gave their time and memories to the oral history component of our ‘About Deseronto’ project this year.

We’re still looking for more memories (and photos) of living, working and growing up in the town, so if you are willing to share them, please head over to the About Deseronto site and let us know what Deseronto means to you!

United Church, Deseronto

The archivist paid a visit to the United Church in Deseronto today, so that she could encourage the members of the Deseronto Diner’s Club to take part in the ‘About Deseronto‘ project. We’re hoping that people in and around the town will share their memories, photographs and objects with us, so that we can, in turn, share them with the wider world through the About Deseronto website.

We are also taking part in a Community Digitization Project which is being led by the Prince Edward County Archives in Wellington. We are organizing a Digitization Day in Deseronto Public Library on September 15th. We are hoping that people will bring in their old photographs of the town, or of their families for us to scan and add to the online information we already hold about Deseronto and the surrounding areas. We are also able to photograph any interesting historic objects that might be lurking in corners of people’s houses.

We hope to see you at the Library on the 15th!

Bay View Ranche (now Fingland's Farm): scanned image donated by Brad Fingland

And, more to the point, are you willing to share it with the rest of the world?

Deseronto Archives has received some money from Ontario’s Ministry of Culture to create a website that will allow people to upload their own memories, videos and images of Deseronto and the surrounding areas. We’re delighted to report that the ‘About Deseronto’ website is now up and running!

We would love to hear from you if you would like to share any old photos or memories of the town. You can bring any materials into the Library on a Wednesday (or on other days by arrangement with the archivist, Amanda Hill) and we will be happy to scan them and add them to the About Deseronto site. If you have old objects relating to the town, we can take photos of them. If you have your own scans or digital photos, you can send them to us directly at deseronto.archives@gmail.com.

Later in the year, the site will be updated so that you will be able to upload items yourself directly to About Deseornto.

We’re very excited about this new project, but we’re going to need your help to make it a success.

You can contact the archivist on a Wednesday between 10am and 4pm at 613-396-2744 to arrange a time to bring your treasures in. Or just visit the Library on Main Street on any Wednesday between those hours.

We look forward to seeing what you’ve got!

Bank of Montreal, Deseronto, c.1910 (now the Town Hall)

We are very pleased to be able to announce here that Ontario’s Museums and Technology Fund has granted $16,000 to Deseronto Archives for the development of a new website called ‘About Deseronto’.

This project is going to be an interactive community website where people can share their memories and images of people, events, artefacts and pretty much anything relating to the history of the town of Deseronto and its surroundings.

The site will be open to current residents of the town and to anyone with a Deseronto connection: there are many people whose families have lived in the town in the past and who are interested in helping to tell the story of those people and their activities.

We look forward to working with people who are interested in sharing information with the site over the next six months. We also hope that we can arrange some cross-generational activities, with old and young people working together to collect and contribute information.

Watch this site for further information as the project gets under way!