Saturday 27 August 2016

Oliver Hamelin (1902-1984)

Oliver Hamelin was born in St. Raphael’s in 1902. He had learned the skills of blacksmithing from his father who was also a blacksmith on the 9th concession in Lancaster, Ontario, just east of the Glen Nevis side road. Hamelin and his wife moved to the village of Apple Hill around 1912 where he purchased his first ever blacksmith shop. 

Oliver Hamelin shod horses, built and repaired sleighs and wagons and installed steel tires on wagons and steel runners on sleighs. He also made handles for various types of farm tools and kitchen tools for the home. In his later and more experienced years, he made fireplace tool sets. Although Hamelin and his wife never had children, he loved children and they were always welcomed in his shop. His shop also became the social gathering place for the elderly men and women of the village. Oliver Hamelin was known to be an avid storyteller and was a favourite interview source for historians.  

Hamelin was the last operating blacksmith shop in the Glengarry County and among the last blacksmith shop in Canada. Hamelin was active in the same shop for 53 years. He passed away in the last week of June in 1984 at the age of 82. His shop is now located here in the village of Dunvegan at the Glengarry Pioneer Museum, where his shop continues to tell the story of the life of a blacksmith.   

Tuesday 23 August 2016

James T. Munro, MD

                                                     James T. Munro, MD

                One of Maxville’s first doctors was Dr. James T. Munro, a man known for exceptional medical and surgical skill, who, at one point served the five counties of Eastern Ontario.

                Dr. Munro was born in Nairn, Scotland on July 5th, 1843. At the age of ten he accompanied his father, a Mission preacher with the Church of Scotland to Canada. Soon after, his mother and four sisters followed and the family settled in Moose Creek, Roxbourgh Township. As a youth, he attended Hawkesbury Grammar School. Once he finished that he taught at a school between Vankleek Hill and Hawkesbury. Though a long and treacherous thirty mile hike back home to Moose Creek, it was not uncommon for Munro to make the journey on weekends in order to see his family.

After deciding that education was perhaps not for him, Munro enrolled into McGill University in Montreal, Quebec. In 1872, he graduated in Medicine and returned back home to Glengarry. His first practice was located in Dominionville until 1888, when he moved his already successful office north to the larger town of Maxville, where it thrived. Dr. Munro was soon serving the five counties of Eastern Ontario, an extremely large area for only one man. During his time, Dr. Munro served countless residents of Maxville and the surrounding communities, soon being recognized as a gifted physician with a charismatic and sympathetic bedside manner. Dr. Munro retired from medicine in 1910.
As well as being a physician and surgeon, Dr. Munro was a Fenian raid veteran from his younger days. He was interested in the Pacific coast, making no less then twenty-eight trips to California and other Western states. At one point, in California he owned a large orange grove. Dr. Munro was also a deeply religious man and an original member of the United Church of Maxville.

On December 9th, 1928 Dr. Munro passed away, leaving his Maxville practice to his son, Dr. J. Howard Munro. On July 23rd, 1934, his wife of fifty-four years, Christina Robertson followed. Munro was known as a kind and just doctor, a pioneer in rural Glengarry medicine. He was one of the first doctors to begin practicing in the area and stayed in the village of Maxville for his entire life. As Maxville wraps up their 125th birthday celebrations, the villagers can only express gratitude for these early people who helped to build Maxville into what it is today.

Photo from GPM collection, artifact 2013-005-001

Thursday 18 August 2016

Reverend Charles W. Gordon

Reverend Charles W. Gordon

                Reverend Charles W. Gordon can be considered one of Maxville’s greatest legends for his role as a founding father of early literature in Canada. Under the pen name of “Ralph Connor”, Gordon wrote more than forty books throughout his lifetime.

                Charles W. Gordon was born September 13th, 1860 to Rev. Daniel Gordon and his wife Mary Robertson in St. Elmo Ontario (North of Maxville). Rev. Daniel Gordon was a missionary with the Free Church of Scotland and was responsible for the creation of the current brick ‘Gordon Free Church’. Charles Gordon resided in Glengarry County until the age of ten when his family moved to Harrington in Oxford County, Ontario where his father took up residence within another parish. Gordon then went on to study at the University of Toronto in Toronto, Ontario and graduated Knox College with distinction in 1886. He followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming an ordained Presbyterian minister in 1890.

                After graduation, he moved to Alberta and served many communities around the area of Calgary. He then continued on to a parish in Winnipeg, Manitoba where he remained for the next forty years. In 1915, at the beginning of the Second World War, Gordon became Chaplin of the Cameron Highlanders Battalion. In 1916 he was made a senior Chaplin in the Canadian Forces. Afterwards he became a strong advocate of the union of the Presbyterian, Methodist and Congregational Churches in Canada and a moderator in 1921 Presbyterian General Assembly.

                Though devoted to his faith, Charles Gordon was also an extremely gifted writer. Unfortunately, in the 1890s it was improper for a Presbyterian Minister to pen fiction, thus he decided to publish his works under a pseudonym. At first, he signed his name ‘Cannor’ which was derived from the first syllables of ‘Canadian’ and ‘NorthWest’. A telegraph operator misspelled the name to ‘Connor’ and his editor added Ralph. Thus, Ralph Connor was born. Under this alias, the reverend wrote 43 books, including Black Rock (1898), The Prospectorand The Sky Pilot (1899), which sold over a million copies. Gordon also wrote extensively about his childhood in Glengarry, an incredible feat considering his limited time spent in the county. The Man from Glengarry (1901), The Girl from Glengarry (1933), Glengarry School Days (1902) and Torches through the Bush (1934) are all set in Glengarry and based on its people and culture.

                Gordon’s final book, his personal autobiography was written in his last year, 1937 and was published posthumously after his death October 31st 1937. When Gordon passed away, Canada’s literary world had lost a great icon—he was the first Canadian to become a millionaire through writing and helped to carve out Canada’s early literary landscape. Though Reverend Charles Gordon had left St. Elmo, Glengarry County at a young age, his story proves that no matter where you go, a little piece of Glengarry will always remain with you.
Reverend Charles W. Gordon


Tuesday 16 August 2016

The O'Hamelin Blacksmith Shop

Our Blacksmith Shop is believed to be our oldest building on site, dating from around 1800. It was operated by Hamelin in the nearby village of Apple Hill from about 1930 until approximately 1982. The ancient shop is a fascinating place, but you almost need Oliver Hamelin to show you around and demonstrate the way they used to use the various tools and pieces of equipment. This particular blacksmith shop shoed horses, made tools, repaired farm implements, sleighs and carriages, and often served as a veterinarian as well.

The Historical Move 

A decision was made by the Glengarry Historical Society to have the blacksmith shop moved to the village of Dunvegan. The Oliver Hamelin Blacksmith Shop was then relocated to the museum in 2000 from Apple Hill and has seen more visitors than it ever had when located in its original location. According to Douglas A. Fales, “Oliver Hamelin would never have envisioned his shop becoming a tourist attraction and on museum grounds.” Chiseled on the side of the Blacksmith Shop are numerals on each log so that the task of dismantling, relocating and reassembling the building was easier for Peter Steiche, Kent MacSweyn, Blair Williams and many other helpful volunteers. According to the volunteers, most of the cedar logs were still solid; however some logs were rotten and decayed. The original roof also collapsed during the relocation of the shop from Apple Hill to Dunvegan and was replaced with a new one.

The Anatomy of his Shop

“What seems a state of disorder in busy work areas can be misleading. Disorganization is one thing, but an “organized jumble” is quite another!”  - Oliver Hamelin 

Saturday 6 August 2016

The Village Blacksmith by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was born February 27th, 1807 in Portland, Maine, U.S and died at the age of 75 on March 24th, 1882 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S.  He was known for being an American poet and educator. In 1841, he wrote this poem called “The Village Blacksmith”

Under a spreading chestnut-tree
The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
With large and sinewy hands,
And the muscles of his brawny arms
Are strong as iron bands.

His hair is crisp, and black, and long;
His face is like the tan;
His brow is wet with honest sweat,
He earns whate'er he can,
And looks the whole world in the face,
For he owes not any man.

Week in, week out, from morn till night,
You can hear his bellows blow;
You can hear him swing his heavy sledge,
With measured beat and slow,        
Like a sexton ringing the village bell,
When the evening sun is low.

And children coming home from school
Look in at the open door;
They love to see the flaming forge,
And hear the bellows roar,
And catch the burning sparks that fly
Like chaff from a threshing-floor.

He goes on Sunday to the church,
And sits among his boys;
He hears the parson pray and preach,
He hears his daughter's voice
Singing in the village choir,
And it makes his heart rejoice.

It sounds to him like her mother's voice,
Singing in Paradise!
He needs must think of her once more,
How in the grave she lies;
And with his hard, rough hand he wipes
A tear out of his eyes.

Onward through life he goes;
Each morning sees some task begin,
Each evening sees it close;
Something attempted, something done,
Has earned a night's repose.

Thanks, thanks to thee, my worthy friend,
For the lesson thou hast taught!
Thus at the flaming forge of life
Our fortunes must be wrought;
Thus on its sounding anvil shaped
Each burning deed and thought.

Monday 1 August 2016

The History of the Maxville Fire Department

Maxville's current volunteer fire department has grown exponentially from when it began in 1903.  The town's now sophisticated force had modest beginnings using primitive fire-fighting techniques. Fearing large scale fires, which would have had the ability to cripple the relatively new village, town council approved the purchase of forty eight pails and three fire axes. In 1917, a Fire Marshall, Lorne McLean, was chosen and a fire brigade of volunteers was formed in Maxville, headed by Chief Duncan Kippen. These volunteers would have been responsible for fighting one of the largest fires to ever threaten Maxville, on May 8th 1921. In the end, the fire had destroyed two general stores, the hydro-electric station, the King George Hotel, the Maxville public hall, a restaurant and many personal residences. The damage exceeded $500,000 (which is approximately 6 millionin today’s dollars!) In 1925, after this mammoth inferno, the volunteers were given permission to rent their first fire hall for $25 dollars a year. At the same time, other fire-fighting equipment was purchased, including two axles and four wheels to carry a pump, a thirty-two foot ladder and a second pump which was stored offsite. At this time, it was decide that Maxville would have two fire brigades—one on either side of the railway tracks. Once again, on April 25th 1935, Maxville fire volunteers were needed when another large scale blaze broke out in the storage area of the Smillie and McDirmand general store, which rapidly spread to several residences and caused extensive damage to the Presbyterian Church. In 1940, for a third time, Maxville volunteers were called to another large scale fire which destroyed several buildings. In 1948 town council approved $8000 over ten years to be used on purchasing newer fire-fighting equipment and compensating volunteers. Until 1963 when a phone system was adopted, firefighters were alerted by a large siren which was set up in the center of the village and loud enough for all volunteers to hear whenever they were needed. This communication was updated to pagers in 1986, a system that is still in use today. Over the years, the Maxville Volunteer Fire Department has purchased many pieces firefighting machinery in order to better fight fires in Maxville and the surrounding area. As well, in May of 1958 the department was moved to their current location. Today the Maxville Fire Department is still reliant on volunteers who not only fight fires and respond to local emergencies but are also extremely active in the community. We thank our all of our Maxville Fire Department volunteers!
A view of Maxville after the 1921 fire. Borrowed from the webpage of the Township of North Glengarry.