people


Portrait of a Native American man on silk

This intriguing portrait on a fragment of silk belongs to a descendent of the Portt family who lives in Massachusetts. The six Portt brothers left Ireland in 1819 and settled on lands in Tyendinaga after the first surrender of a large part of the Mohawks’ original territory in 1820. One of the brothers, William, is described in a letter of 1835 as having learnt the Mohawk language. In the 1820s William Portt had been a schoolteacher for the Mohawk people and it seems from correspondence dating from that time that he often acted as a representative for the Mohawks’ interests. One of William’s brothers, John, was a Justice of the Peace, while another, James, served as a sergeant in the Hastings militia and lived to the remarkable age of 94.

The portrait was discovered in the binding of a Portt family photograph album and is only a few inches square and, as you see, very fragile. We don’t know who painted it or the name of the man it depicts, although it seems very likely that the subject is one of the Portts’ Mohawk neighbours. It is possible that this item is over 175 years old: an extremely rare visual record from Tyendinaga in the first half of the nineteenth century that we are thrilled to be able to show here. If you can add anything to our knowledge of the item or have any information about the Portt family that you’d like to share, please leave a comment.

Deseronto has no snow on the ground this December (so far!) but this Christmas card from the 1920s reminds us of what the weather can be like at this time of year:

Christmas card from 1920s

The card was printed by Old Colony Greeting Cards of Toronto. The picture on the front, ‘Winter’, was by ‘Revilo’ and the message inside is from Evelyn ‘Tottie’ Hall (born 1882) who lived in Deseronto in the early part of the twentieth century.

The rhyme reads:

All the things you care for best,
A happy heart, a mind at rest,
Be yours upon this Christmas Day,
And through the Year ne’er fade away.

The same group of records (which we’re currently in the process of cataloguing) holds another Christmas card from Evelyn, this one with a photograph of the sender on the porch of her home at 426 Thomas Street, Deseronto:

Evelyn Hall

As we work through the Hall family materials, there will no doubt be more to share with you in 2012. But for now, we leave you

With Hearty Greetings and best wishes for a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

On July 1, 1927 history was made when Canada’s first nationwide radio programme was broadcast, marking the country’s Diamond Jubilee – 60 years after Confederation. The undertaking was a huge one, involving telephone and telegraph companies and 23 different radio stations.

Events at Parliament Hill in Ottawa were transmitted live across Canada and, via short wave radio from Drummondville, Quebec, to Britain. According to the CN history of the event, “The signal in the western hemisphere was so strong that the broadcast could be heard throughout the United States, in Mexico, and even in parts of South America.” You can hear a brief extract of the broadcast on the CBC Digital Archives site.

William Kenneth Detlor (1903-1930)

The Deseronto connection with this landmark event comes in the person of William Kenneth Detlor, whose photograph we featured in an earlier blog post. Kenneth (as he was known) was born in Deseronto on January 20, 1903 and graduated from Queen’s University in Kingston in 1922 with a Bachelor of Science degree.

He went on to work for the Bell Telephone Company and it is clear that he quickly made a name for himself, as only five years after leaving university he was placed in charge of the Ottawa end of Bell’s Diamond Jubilee engineering work, with overall responsibility for the whole network, at the tender age of only 24.*

Detlor’s promising career was cut short by his untimely death from meningitis in Toronto in 1930.


*This information from an article on the Jubilee transmission in Bell’s publication The Blue Bell, Vol. 6, No. 10 (August 1927)

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!

A recent accession into the archives was this fragile photograph album, dating from the late nineteenth century. It was found in the home of the late Beatrice Boulender of Niagara Falls and was donated to the archives by her great-neice, Aaron Baptiste.

Photo album 2010.06


The album contained 32 ‘cabinet card‘ style photographs of a number of individuals and families. Many of the photos were taken in Napanee at the studio of J. S. Hulett, who was a photographer in the town for over 25 years. One of the pictures was taken in Deseronto and one in Brighton. There are a significant number of photographs that were taken in Watertown, New York and a few in Plainwell, Michigan.

The picture below shows the See family and was taken in Bathgate, North Dakota. John See was born in Ontario in 1854 to Samuel and Mary See, who had both been born in England in around 1809. Samuel was a farmer. Census records show that John was the youngest of seven children, all of whom were born in Canada except the eldest, William. This means that the family must have come to Canada between 1833, when William was born, and 1837, the year of Elizabeth’s birth. Between 1851 and 1881 the family were living in Richmond township, Lennox County (in or close to Napanee).

John and Mary See and family, c.1893


By 1861, John’s father had died and his brother-in-law, Thomas Brown, was living with the remaining members of the See family. The same family grouping is seen in 1871, by which time Thomas and Elizabeth Brown already had five children of their own.

In 1881 John was married and living with his wife, Mary, and their two eldest children, William (4) and Annie (1), still in Richmond township. In 1886 they left Canada and moved to the United States. The 1890 US census was destroyed by fire in 1921, but in 1900 the family were living in North Carlisle, Pembina, North Dakota, by which time they had  seven children: William (23), Annie (20), James (17), Thomas (13), Richard (11), Grace (8) and Allice May (2). In this photograph, the baby is probably Grace and the picture would date from around 1893.

The album clearly has a connection to the Quinte area: it seems to record images of friends, or perhaps family,  who had moved away from the immediate locale and who kept in touch by sending back their photographs. As yet, we don’t know the exact connection of the people in the album to Beatrice Boulender’s family.

All the photographs from the album are now available through our Flickr account. We’d be interested to hear from you if you have any connection with any of the families who are pictured there.

A genealogist visited the archives last week, interested in finding out more about her ancestor, a man listed in the 1881 census as of African origin, who had been born in the United States. A closer look at the whole census for Mill Point, as Deseronto was then known, using the search interface at Library and Archives Canada, shows that there were five adults in the town at that date who are identified as being of African origin: two women and three men. The three men were all born in the United States and two of the three are described as barbers. They were, in fact, the only barbers in Mill Point at that time.1

Former archivist Kenneth M. Brown found the following advertisement for John Jackson’s business in the September 2, 1881 edition of the Napanee Express:

Advertisement for Jackson's Tonsorial Parlours

In light of this discovery, I  thought it might be interesting to have an overall look at the racial origins of Mill Point (Deseronto) citizens in 1881. There were 1,670 people in the town at that time (slightly fewer than today). Here is a table breaking down the population by their reported racial origins:

Racial origin Number
Irish 542
German 343
Scottish 253
French 177
Indian 121
English 112
Dutch 41
African 10

In this next table, the places of birth of the townspeople are listed:

Place of birth Number
Ontario 1,300
Quebec 106
Ireland 99
England 71
USA 52
Scotland 25
Germany 7
Nova Scotia 4
West Indies 4
Alberta 1

We can see that by 1881, nearly 100 years after this area was first settled in any great numbers, 85% of the town’s population had been born in Canada. This was a period of industrial expansion for the Rathbun Company, whose mills and factories were attracting working men to the town. A closer look at the ethnically Irish third of the population shows how youthful the people of the town were in 1881:

Age Number
1 to 10 170
11 to 20 110
21 to 30 118
31 to 40 48
41 to 50 44
51 to 60 23
60+ 22

If we compare this age profile with information taken from the 2001 census for the town, the difference is obvious:

Profile of age groups in Deseronto, 1881 and 2001

The gender profile was also quite different from today’s. Now there is an even split between men and women in Deseronto. A sampling of the 1881 data suggests that two thirds of the population were male and only a third female back then. Those American barbers would not have been short of customers!

1 Douglas Bristol’s article, “From Outposts to Enclaves: A Social History of Black Barbers from 1750 to 1915,” Enterprise & Society 5 (2004), gives a good overview of the entrepreneurial success of black barbers.

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

Metcalfe Foods had canning factories in Deseronto from 1912, according to a Deseronto Post article published in 1948. The archives has three copies of this photograph of the staff of the firm, taken in the 1930s (either 1932 or 1938, according to notes on the photos).

Staff of Metcalfe Foods, 1930s

Staff of Metcalfe Foods, 1930s

One of the employees pictured here, Floyd Marlin, wrote down many of the names of those pictured and his list is reproduced below. If you are able to fill in any of the gaps, please post a comment or drop the Archives an email. Some of the spellings here are possibly wrong, so please let us know if you spot one that needs correcting.

Front row, left to right:
?
?
?
Pansy Lindsay
Mrs McCabe
Muriel Cole
Gerty Toppings
Mrs Ed Martin
Mrs McLaughlin
Mrs Herb Histed
Lila Histed
?
Lizzy Marlin
Mrs Wager
Mrs Harv Scriver
Mrs Norm Davis
?
?
? Smith
Marion Clause
Mrs Scyler Smith

Second row:
?
?
Ruby Maracle
Mrs Herb Maracle
Barbara Rennolds
Jean Cronk
Mrs E. [Ernie] Crisp
Bessie Young
Mrs Cat Young
Mrs Bill Miller
?
Lola Brooks
Violet Cole
Mrs Bessy O’Ray
Annie Johndrew
Meta Clause
Mrs Hoppings
Mrs De Mille
?
Susan Maracle
Audrey Maracle
?
Mrs Fred Laurence

Third row:
Mrs A. Joyce
Mrs Bill Purvis
Vera Dawson
Mrs Abe Cronk
?
Alice Leafe
Mrs Morley Gault
Mrs Arney Cole
Mrs Alport
?
Mrs Nellie Tompkins
Maude Covert
Elsie Maracle
Verda Maracle
Muriel Cole
? Gault
Lou Green

Back row:
?
Fred Powell
?
Tom Jackson
Jim Sharpe
Bert Richardson
Art Howard
Abe Cronk
Ed. Chambers
Dixie [?] Green
Jim Sager
Evert Martin
Claborn Tompkins
Norm Davis
Floyd Marlin
Walter Joyce
Jack Barber
Joe Clare
Fred Hoppings
Phil ‘Cribby’ Blake

Maude Covert, who also appears in this photograph, lived at the house we featured in an earlier post.

Maude Covert

Maude Covert

Detail of quilt made by the Steady Gleaners

Detail of quilt made by the Steady Gleaners

The photograph shows a detail of a large signature quilt (sometimes known as friendship quilts) which was made by a group called the Steady Gleaners, members of the Presbyterian Church of the Redeemer in Deseronto. The quilt bears the date of its creation: 1894. The Steady Gleaners seem to have been a fund-raising group, perhaps raising money for missionary activities. This quilt may have been made for such a purpose.

Photographs of the top and bottom halves of the quilt have been put into our Flickr collection and the names of all the women whose names are stitched onto it can be seen there. The president of the society, Mrs Robert John [Fanny Gertrude] Craig, was the wife of the Presbyterian minister of the church and the daughter of Hugo Burghardt Rathbun (1812-1886) and his wife Louise (née Storm). The signature of her daughter, Gertrude, also appears on the quilt. Mrs Craig would have been 41 when this quilt was made; her daughter was 15.

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