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Waupoos vintage photo collection expands with donations

By Sharon Harrison
Heritage Week celebrations focused on old County photographs Sunday during the Waupoos Vintage Photo Show at the North Marysburgh Recreation Centre.

More than 40 attendees took a trip down memory lane as presentations featured the history of Prince Edward County places and people.

Opening remarks were delivered by North Marysburgh councillor, David Harrison, who said Heritage Week means a lot to everyone.

“When I think of heritage, I don’t think of bricks and mortar as much as I do of the social heritage side of things,” said Harrison. “It doesn’t matter what your background, your heritage contributes to your culture, and as a result, John [Lyons] has been a very solid peer in this township, documenting a lot of heritage, and we are all very proud of it.”

The annual show, which began in 2017, is created, produced, organized and hosted by Lyons, a local historian and Waupoos native.

Lyons said one of the points of the event is public education on County heritage.

“It is to remind the people whose ancestors made that heritage, and to new people, who we would like to let them know what happened,” said Lyons. “There are all kinds of fascinating stories, not just in this township, but all over the County. You would not believe some of the stuff here until you hear the stories.”

The afternoon also saw a special unveiling by Lyons and councillor Harrison of the latest framed donation by Lyons to the Waupoos Town Hall vintage photo collection.

Councillor David Harrison with John Lyons unveiling the latest framed donation to the Waupoos Town Hall vintage photo collection.

It depicts in written word the history of North Marysburgh township, as written for the Beldon’s Atlas, for Prince Edward and Hastings counties, of 1878.

Lyons said he had been trying to get this piece for quite a while, noting it did not come in this shape as he had to create it.

“It’s an item that was written in 1878, so I had to photocopy the pages, cut them and paste them, blow them up, cut and paste them again, so I could finally get them big enough to be legible and all on one page,” explained Lyons.

“This is a history of the township of North Marysburgh and it will be hung up in the town hall.”

The North Marysburgh Recreation Committee thanked Lyons for putting on the show.

“He has done such a great job putting up the historical pictures, and he’s been doing that for years and now we’ve got quite a gallery.”

The event also welcomed special guest speaker Sean Smith, who is senior archivist with the Archives of Ontario, Collections Development and Management Unit who hosted a special digital presentation focused on the Marsden Kemp collection which features 1900s-era photographs of people and places in Prince Edward County.

Smith also spoke about the Archives of Ontario is, what it does, as well as the types of materials it has, and how it acquires and sources materials, but also the focus on public engagement.

“My place at the archives is really to think about the collection, so what we don’t have, what we have, dealing with donation offers, engaging with the public, and building the collection,” said Smith.

Sean Smith

He explained the archives acquires, preserves and make available records relating to the history of the province.

The archives is free of charge to use and people don’t need permission to use any of the materials, but attribution encouraged.

“Our records come from two sources: we are legislated to be responsible for the records of the government of Ontario, that’s a big part of what we do, and is a bit part of the collection, but we also deal with private records.”

Smith noted it is the second largest archives in Canada and the largest provincial archives.

“If you take all the paper we have and stack it on top of each other, you are looking at roughly 286 CN Towers. We’ve got 6.6 million photographs, 318,000 architectural plans, over 113,000 maps, 39,000 hours of sound and moving image recordings, around 2,700 works of art, and more than 84,000 library items, among the vast collections.”

The materials at the archives have been acquired since it was established in 1903.

One specific upload that Smith spoke to in detail was the Marsden Kemp fond (or collection).

He explained how Kemp eventually made his way to Prince Edward County with his family. He died in 1943, with dementia, at the Picton Hospital.

“The origins of Marsden Kemp are really, really interesting.” Smith explained Kemp at some point in his life was an amateur photographer who lived in Kingston, but also Picton and in Rochester for a little while, and he took a lot of photographs.

“At some point in time, his material was discovered by a Picton antique dealer in the ‘60s, and there was estimated to be 4,000 to 5,000 glass plates, of which only 1,000 survived.

Glass plate negatives, of course, are fragile, he reminded.

Smith said about a thousand of the glass plate negatives came to the Archives of Ontario in the 1970s where the bulk of the collection was digitized.

“We didn’t know a heck of a lot about Marsden Kemp, but I still go back to thinking about how fascinating he is.”

Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Smith notes all of Kemp’s brothers and sisters were born in Jamaica, along with his mother and father. Kemp’s father was a plantation manager in the 1850s and 1860s.

“There’s all kinds of stuff that comes up. You are dealing with the connection to slavery, his mum had a close association with the plantation where her uncle had a number of slaves,” said Smith. “It’s especially poignant during Black History month and the connection to this person to something that was going on in the Caribbean at the time.”

Kemp and his family moved to Canada in the 1860s, although it’s unclear why they came. Smith said Marsden Kemp was pretty young, under nine years old, when he came to Canada,

Later, Kemp tried to become a piano tuner at some point.

“I don’t think it worked out, he ended up moving to Picton at some point and became a photographer and a gardener, and he never married.”

Kemp took photographs of all of eastern Ontario and “His material is just amazing to look at and I highly encourage you to spend some time in the Marsden Kemp fond.”

Smith explained that a “fond” is an archival term referring to all the records that are created automatically and organically by an individual or organization through the course of their activities. To the rest of us, “collection” works just fine.

It was an interaction with John Lyons about some of the collection that had been uploaded to the archives, as Lyons had reached out to correct some of the place names belonging to the photographs, that started the conversation and the connection.

“The value of our collection is only in how it’s used and if it’s not used, there’s no point in us doing our work,” Smith said. “The other thing that has been very awesome about doing this work is when receiving comments, it makes us reflect on what we have, and what we didn’t know we had.”

Click below for background information on the Marsden Kemp collection.

Archives of Ontario releases turn-of-the-century memories of Prince Edward County


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  1. John Lyons says:

    A perfect example of why this is important. I had never seen a photograph of my great-grandmother, Mary Lavina (Solmes) Bongard, before, until I started researching background material to accompany the donation of a large, framed, colour, aerial photograph, of the Waupoos Canning Factory, graciously provided by Mark Hepburn. As can be seen in this article, there is a 1930 group employee photograph. Imagine my surprise to see my great-grandmother identified in this photo as Mrs. John Bongard, Back Row, Far Left. To me, this is a priceless treasure! I sure the same can be said by any descendant of every other family member named in this photo, and all the other ones that are on permanent display, in ‘The Waupoos Town Hall Vintage Photo Collection’.

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