Wednesday 18 July 2018

The Rolmonica

     This weeks featured artifact from the museums collection is the rolmonica. The rolmonica, or mouth organ, was a revolutionary musical instrument that combined the technology of a harmonica and a self playing piano. This instrument was invented by Joseph Le Roy Banks and patented in 1925. The mouth organ used dry waxed paper rolls with specific perforations representing different notes that could be heard when air passed through them. 

     To play, the user would simultaneously blow into the mouthpiece and turn the crank allowing the prepared tune to be heard. The tune could be played on both the inhale and the exhale allowing continuous playing.The user also had a diverse choice in the prepared tune as many different rolls were available; almost any popular song of the time could be found on a rolmonica roll!

     At the time, a rolmonica could be purchased with a set of four song rolls for between one and three dollars; every extra song roll cost about 50 cents. The rolmonica became a very popular household item as it was portable, relatively inexpensive, and required no musical talent to operate and enjoy!

This rolmonica was made by the Rolmonica Music Company of Baltimore, MD. The body of the instrument was made in the USA while the harmonica piece was made in Germany. It was donated to the museums collection by Mrs K. E. MacLeod of Dunvegan. 

Sunday 8 July 2018

Featured Artifact - Climbing Spurs

This weeks featured artifact is a pair of iron climbing spurs from the Museums collection.             
          Climbing spurs were most often used by 19thand 20th century loggers to scale trees. These spurs are blacksmith made and consist of one strip of folded iron and have a sharped spur at the end.

          The spurs were attached to the foot and ankle using leather straps and were often worn with high boots to protect the leg while climbing. The climbing spurs were also used in conjunction with a flip-line (loop) that is passed around the tree and attached to the climber’s belt – a safety feature that allows the climber to work freely at height and prevents the risk of falling. 

          During a logging operation, the high climbers (often the bravest men) would scale trees for ‘topping’ which is a process of cutting down the tops of trees to make for easier felling - removing the top ensured the fall to be safer and more wind resistant. To complete this, high climbers would scale a tree up to 200ft high and then cut down 75ft or more off the top. Once cut, the climber had to hold on tight because the tree would sway up to 20ft in each direction from the impact of the fall! The climber would then make their way down the tree and begin cutting the log from the bottom with the rest of their logging group. 

For a great illustration of this amazing process make sure to watch the video below!

Wednesday 4 July 2018

The McCrimmon Querns

          A quern (kwərn) is a simple hand mill used for grinding material consisting of two circular stones. The stones have notches in them for wooden handles to be placed allowing the upper stone to be rotated on the lower one. The most common use for a quern was for the grinding of grains to make flour for bread-making. This was considered a highly important tool as the daily bread of all families would depend on them. Whomever owned a pair would be highly respected in the community as most communities would only have one pair, so it was to be shared amongst everyone. As the querns became more popular implements, they would eventually be modernized to being animal powered for large quantity milling until more efficient flour mills powered by steam and wind replaced them.

          The museum has a pair of quern stones in its collection that have quite the history for a simple tool. These querns are made of a specific kind of metamorphic stone only quarried in Argyllshire, Scotland where they originated. These stones originally belonged to William Dubh Mackenzie, 5th Earl of Seaforth, and were used at his camp to provide sustenance for his regiment in the Battle of Kintail, 1715. Querns were incredibly serviceable in military campaigns as quick bread or bannock could be made on site for the men, its said that the grains could be reaped, prepared for mill, ground and baked in bannock all within a half an hour! The querns were then used by a McCrimmon in a 1719 military campaign in Strascuile, Ross-shire, having much of the same function.

      They were then passed down the McCrimmon family until they reached Catherine McCrimmon as a part of her dowry when marrying Malcolm McCuaig. The couple emigrated from Glenelg, Scotland to Glengarry County in 1802 where they used them often in their pioneering life. They later gifted the querns to their son Angus McCuaig who kept them in his possession for over 75 years. The grandnephew of McCuaig then donated them to his alma mater of Queens University for their personal museum. Today, the querns, are housed at the Glengarry Pioneer Museum thanks to the efforts of Donald Fraser, Lynn McNab, and Peter Zuuring.

          Journeying from Scotland all they way to Glengarry County, these querns definitely carry a part of very important history with them wherever they travel.