Earlier this month I had the opportunity to visit the new Lennox and Addington County Museum and Archives in Napanee. I’d been asked to do a presentation for the local historical society there, and well, who can resist an archives!
I have no ancestry in the area, and although my interests in Ontario history are broad, I can’t claim to have any current research projects from that neck of the woods.
I looked at the Archives website about a week before my trip so I could contact the staff ahead of time to let them know I was coming. (Always a good idea for a small archives.) I also asked if a tour was possible—since I’d planned to write this article.
The website noted above lists 14 finding aids for the collection. These are pdf scans of collection inventories done mainly in the late 1980s, but searchable. The inventories, in many cases, briefly describe fonds of a similar nature or creator.1 So the 14 finding aids represent a much larger number of fonds. For instance the “Municipal Records” finding aid encompasses school, jail, law enforcement, court, and assessment records, licenses, minutes, bylaws, voters lists, and public utilities—for all levels of local government—towns, townships, county, and the Midland District.2
As a sample fonds for this article, I looked at the “Private Papers” finding aid and selected the “Elsie Parks Papers”. The inventory for this fonds ran to just over two pages, and showed that the collection was divided into to six files. More about Elsie and her papers later.
The Lennox and Addington County Museum and Archives have been located in the old limestone county gaol since 1976. To celebrate the County’s sesquicentennial in 2014, a beautiful new archives wing was added, and the doors were opened last August.
Archivist Shelley Respondek was my guide. We started in the records vault where compact shelving units now allow proper storage of just about every shape and size of document and register book. Efforts are ongoing (and perhaps never-ending) to get new acquisitions housed and organized.
The reading room is bright and airy, with lots of table space and wifi. One glass wall separating the reading room from the corridor, provides a view of the museum’s limestone wall, currently with a colourful display of WWI posters. Out the windows opposite, trains go by at regular intervals.
A third long wall houses the extensive research library—local and family histories and lots of Loyalist material, as well as more than 2,000 unique family files.
These family files have been compiled over the years from researchers’ donations and correspondence with researchers. For example there are three files for “Parks” families including pedigree charts, typed biographies, and photocopies of original documents.
The fourth and final wall of the reading room houses the microfilm area—three readers/scanners and cabinets—and the archivist’s work area. There is also a card index to several local newspapers.
Back to the “Elsie Parks Papers”. The finding aid provides no biography of Elsie, but the fonds includes documents about her training and employment as a teacher in Napanee. There is much correspondence—with family members in California and St. Catharines, and a series of letters about “black Minorca chickens” with various parties in Ontario and eastern Canada.
Elsie’s files include letters, certificates, and ephemera from several generations of her family mostly from the Napanee area. There is a business journal from A.C. Parks of Hay Bay. Most material dates from the mid 19th century up to about 1930, the most recent being about 1960.
But I was really surprised and excited to find an original surveyor’s diary covering the dates April 1796 to May 1797. The diarist didn’t write his name in the book, so his identity or connection to Elsie Parks is unknown. He wasn’t working in Lennox and Addington, but in York and the Home District, east along Lake Ontario to Burlington Bay, and on the Grand River. He specifically mentions investigating locations for a bridge over the Credit River and working in the area around Castle Frank.
Now, for those not immersed in Toronto history, Castle Frank was the summer home of Upper Canada’s first Lieutenant-Governor, John Graves Simcoe and his family. Named for their young son, Francis, and sketched by Elizabeth Simcoe, its exact location on the Don River has always been a contentious matter for historians.
Perhaps there is a clue in this precious surveyor’s diary, kept safe by Napanee schoolteacher Elsie Parks during her life, and now by the Lennox and Addington Archives.
1. For an explanation of archives terminology, see The Archives of Ontario: How do I find what’s in it for me?
2. The Lennox and Addington Museum and Archives website has a good listing of holdings in its “Genealogy” section including links to other resources of interest. Some 57 fonds have also been listed on Archeion.