people


One of the most prominent Mohawks associated with Deseronto was Dr Oronhyatekha (1841-1907), originally from the Six Nations Reserve near Brantford. He studied at the University of Oxford for a while and trained to become a doctor at the University of Toronto in 1867. He became involved in the Independent Order of Foresters and successfully transformed the finances of the organization. Oronhyatekha married Ellen Hill, a Mohawk from Tyendinaga Reserve. They had a house in Tyendinaga and the doctor also built properties on Foresters’ Island, which is situated in the Bay of Quinte, opposite Deseronto. These included ‘The Wigwam’, his elaborate summer residence; a hotel, and pleasure grounds. The postcard below shows the orphanage on the Island which Oronhyatekha constructed for the Foresters’ Order, and which operated from 1906 to 1907.

Imperial Order of Foresters' orphanage

Imperial Order of Foresters’ orphanage

[Postcard loaned for scanning by R.N. Goodfellow]

Oronhyatekha’s fame overshadows history’s awareness of his Mohawk colleague, Kenwendeshon, who was born in Tyendinaga on April 8th, 1855,  the son of Cornelius Maracle and Nancy Hill (a great-granddaughter of Deserontoyon). We have recently been in contact with a descendant of Kenwendeshon, who has been gathering information about his ancestor from a variety of sources, including the Kanhiote Library and the Legacy Center of Drexel University College of Medicine. He has kindly agreed to let us share the information he has obtained, to allow us cast some more light on this man, the first of the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte to graduate from a university.

Kenwendeshon (also known as John C. Maracle) trained as a physician at the Eclectic Medical College of Pennsylvania and American University of Philadelphia (which has an intriguing history of its own), graduating in  1878. One of the items in the possession of Kenwendeshon’s descendant is a 1953 letter from the London Public Library which refers to a diary entry about an incident in 1874, when Kenwendeshon helped to turn the tide of a smallpox epidemic at the Moravian Indian mission at Fairfield (Moraviantown). The date is interesting, as he would only have been 18 at the time, and presumably unqualified: perhaps his association with Oronhyatekha began before he went to Philadelphia. Oronhyatekha had moved from Tyendinaga to London to begin a new practice in 1874, so may well have met the Maracles when he had been working in this area.

UPDATE, 25 May: Professor Michelle A. Hamilton of the University of Western Ontario has informed us that the epidemic was actually in 1879 and that Kenwendeshon left his practice in Syracuse, New York when Oronhyatekha asked for his assistance. Professor Hamilton also provided us with links to a file of digitized correspondence with the Indian Branch of the Department of the Interior held at Library and Archives Canada which details the response to the epidemic. Here is an example of the correspondence: a request from the Chief of the Moravian Indians to allow Dr Oronhyatekha to establish a temporary hospital “to isolate our small pox cases we have had four deaths six other cases local physicians refuse to come on the reserve”.

Telegram from Chief Stonefish, 21 May 1879

Telegram from Chief Stonefish, 21 May, 1879

A report from Oronhyatekha in this correspondence explains the circumstances of Kenwendeshon’s appointment:

…I have also employed a young physician who was formerly a student in my office & who himself has had the small pox to proceed to the reserve and be in constant attendance and to personally supervise the disinfecting of the clothing and houses of those Indians who have had the small pox.

[Professor Hamilton is currently co-writing a biography of Dr. Oronhyatekha with Keith Jamieson. This is going to be published by Dundurn Press in 2014.]

On November 20th, 1879 Kenwendeshon married Julia Hill Thompson in London and the couple had two children: Lillian, born in London in November 1880, and John Albert (Bert), born in Roscommon, Michigan, in August 1882. A note written in 1953 by Bert (reproduced below), suggests that Kenwendeshon worked with Oronhyatekha in London and Stratford before moving to Roscommon.

Note by Bert Maracle about Dr. Kenwendeshon

Note by Bert Maracle about Dr. Kenwendeshon

According to this note, Julia died in Roscommon when Bert was 14 months old (late 1884). We have not been able to track down a death record for her, but the two children were subsequently adopted into two different families, 400 kilometers apart. Lillian went to live with her mother’s two unmarried older sisters, Caroline and Georgina, and her grandmother, Henrietta Thompson, who lived in Queen’s Avenue, London, Ontario. Her brother, Bert, went back to Tyendinaga to live with his aunt, Susan in the household of his grandfather, Cornelius.

Kenwendeshon appears to have continued to working as a doctor  in Michigan: in Roscommon and, later, in Beaverton. He died in Beaverton on September 22, 1899 at the age of 44 and was buried at Christ Church in Tyendinaga. His mentor, Oronhyatekha, died eight years later.

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Another family mystery this week, this time from across the Atlantic with a story which starts in the small Lincolnshire town of Brigg in England. The person we’re interested in is a man called Preston North, a tailor who was born there in 1859 to Frank and Jane North.

At the time of 1901 census of England, Preston North was living in three rooms in a house in Paradise Place, Brigg, with his wife, Martha (née Little) and their eight children: Caroline, Alice, Lucy, Frank, Preston, Charles, Percy and Robert. A 41-year-old tailor of the same name (and who was born in Brigg, Lincolnshire) is also listed as living in a boarding house in Pontefract, Yorkshire. The Pontefract Preston North is listed as single, rather than married. Interesting…

1901 census North family

1901 census entry for the North family (UK National Archives: RG13/3102 f.42 p.35)

By the time of the next census, in 1911, Martha is listed, still living in three rooms in Paradise Place with her six sons (Harry is the youngest, born after the 1901 census), but Preston is not at home that night and is not to be found anywhere else in England through the census records, although the fact that Martha lists herself as married rather than widowed suggests that Preston is still alive somewhere.

We don’t have access yet to the 1921 census records, so will have to wait a few years to see what they might tell us. What we do know is that Martha died in Brigg in 1924 and by 1933 Preston North was living in Deseronto. In that year he sent a postcard to his grand-daughter in England which showed the Bank of Montreal in the town (the building which is now the Town Hall).

On the postcard, Preston North noted that the bank had closed down due to lack of business (this happened in 1932 as a result of the Depression).

His great-grand-daughter also owns a letter which was written in Deseronto by North in 1939 (when he would have been eighty years old).

Letter from Preston North, 1939

Letter from Preston North, 1939

He wrote:

Deseronto
Sept 14th 1939

Dear Alice and all at home,

The war has started

I was glad to get your letter on sept 12th and I did not get any other letters you sent before Christmas. It is a fight to the finish Canada has gone to a finish no fooling this time.

Returning men are going up by the thousands and no turning back. They have got into Warsaw and the women are fighting like tigers.

I am very well but I don’t work much only at my own clothes. 3 years war if not more. Hoping to hear from you at any time. Give my best wishes to all.

From your father Preston North

Deseronto Canada xxxx Bye bye

The story in the North family in England is that Preston started another family here in Canada and never returned to England. They don’t know where or when he died, or when precisely he came to Canada.

On September 12, 1944 an old man called John North was buried in the Deseronto cemetery. Could this have been the man formerly known as Preston? (The name of the North’s second son was Preston John North, so it’s possible that his father shared his middle name as well as his first name. Or just borrowed it!)

UPDATE, January 23, 2013

Some new information about John Preston North has emerged. On June 19th, 1915 he married Chloe Anne Lalond in Kingston, Ontario. He claimed to be 42 years old (he was actually 52) and a bachelor who had been living in Kingston since 1910. This would explain his absence from the 1911 UK census. There was a family story that this man was a bigamist, and this evidence seems to confirm that this was the case. In 1916 John Preston North was living in Napanee when he signed up to join the Canadian Expeditionary Force. By this stage his real age was 57, but he claimed to have been born in 1872 and to be 44. So not only was North apparently a bigamist, but he also seems to have been a habitual liar!

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!

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