Rathbun family


In the summer of 1907 Harold McMurrich Rathburn took a trip across Canada from Deseronto to Edmonton. He took his camera with him and Deseronto Archives holds the negatives that Harold made. Luckily, the negatives were kept in two albums which were indexed by their owner, giving us useful information about the subjects of each shot. His journey took him first by steamer from Owen Sound to Port Arthur (now Thunder Bay). Below is the view of the American Soo Canal that he shot from the deck of the Canadian Pacific Railway’s steamship Alberta near Sault Ste. Marie.

"Entering American Soo Canal"

"Entering American Soo Canal"

Harold and his companion, Harry Jones, seem to have made some business-related visits while in Port Arthur. The picture below shows them standing with another man in front of an elevator which belonged to the Canadian Northern Railway. At this time, the Rathbun Company ran the Bay of Quinte Railway in Deseronto and surrounding areas, so this visit might have been related to the company’s railway interests.

"Harry & H.M.R. at C.N.R. [Canadian Northern Railway] Elevator"

"Harry & H.M.R. at C.N.R. Elevator"


The two men continued their journey on the Canadian Northern Railway which had reached Edmonton two years previously. Harold took photographs of a number of buildings in Winnipeg and Edmonton and also several snapshots at Warman Junction in Saskatchewan, including this charming photograph of a group of men watching a boy with a gopher.

"Boy with gophir"

"Boy with gophir at Warman Jct."

We are gradually digitizing all of the Harold M. Rathbun negatives and many of them are now available on our Flickr pages.

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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.

A mention in the Napanee Standard of April 7, 1881, led former Deseronto archivist, Ken Brown, on a detective trail to hunt down a published description of ‘Deseronto and its industries’. The article in question appeared in the journal Lumber World, published in Buffalo, New York, in 1881. This publication proved difficult to find, but eventually we established that the Hagley Library in Wilmington, Delaware, held a copy (call number: TS800.L98). This library specialises in collecting the records of American enterprise (and is based on the site of the original DuPont gunpowder factory). The library’s head of imprints, Max Moeller, was incredibly helpful and has furnished the Archives with a digital version of the article.

The article runs to seven pages and is handsomely illustrated with etchings of some of the principal industrial buildings of the town: the saw mill, sash and door factory, flour mill, cedar mill and steamboat wharf. The text is fulsome (verging on the sycophantic) in its praise of the Rathbun company. Here are a few extracts:

The original saw mill has given place to one of immense proportions; extensive machine and blacksmith shops; sash and door factories; cedar mills; flour mills; lines of steam and sailing vessels; commodious and extensive warehouses and docks have been called into being, and, so great has become the importance of Deseronto as a shipping centre, the United States government has established there a Consular Agency. [p.32]

The total number of vessels which sailed from Mill Point (Deseronto) loaded by or for the firm alone, during the season of navigation beginning March 31, 1880 and ending November 20, 1880, was 509, of which 300 cleared for United States, and 209 for Canada ports. This does not include passenger steamers. During the season of navigation it is not an unusual sight to see from fifteen to seventeen vessels loading at the Deseronto docks simultaneously. [p.35]

The firm of H. B. Rathbun & Son is too well known and stands too high in the commercial world, to require commendation at our hands, yet our acknowledgement of an appreciation of the numerous courtesies extended, upon occasions when we have visited their establishments will not be inappropriate. Mr E. W. Rathbun, upon whom has devolved, in a great measure, the direction and management of the vast interests of the firm, has repeatedly demonstrated that courteous demeanor is not incompatible with careful watchfulness and prudence in business affairs, and were we to hazard a guess as to the prime cause of the magical success which has crowned the business career of this firm, we should attribute it in a large degree to the courteous and affable manner in which everyone who has dealings with them is treated. [pp.36-37]

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.

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