Confederation-era stories on display

Amberley Zavitz-Li checked out the Family Ties: Ontario Turns 150 exhibit when it was on display in the Allyn and Betty Taylor Library in the Natural Sciences Building. The exhibit features stories related to Confederation-era families and is part of the university’s Canada 150 celebrations.

Krista Habermehl // Western NewsAmberley Zavitz-Li checked out the Family Ties: Ontario Turns 150 exhibit when it was on display in the Allyn and Betty Taylor Library in the Natural Sciences Building. The exhibit features stories related to Confederation-era families and is part of the university’s Canada 150 celebrations.

Canada’s stories are what define the country – its history and diversity.

Now, thanks to the Archives of Ontario, Western students, faculty and staff can explore the stories of a handful of families from Canada’s confederation era through a travelling exhibit hosted at Western Libraries.

In honour of Canada’s sesquicentennial, the Archives of Ontario, a major resource for genealogical studies regarding Ontario families, mounted a travelling exhibit, called Family Ties: Ontario Turns 150.  The exhibit explores life 150 years ago through the stories of the Brown family of Toronto, the McCurdys of Amherstburg, the Wolvertons of Oxford County and Shingwauk families from the Sault Ste. Marie area.

The exhibit is on display in the D.B. Weldon Library through March 30. Units or departments wishing to display the exhibit can make a request through university archivist Robin Keirstead to host it in their building during the month of April.

“I saw this exhibit as an opportunity to help colleagues at the Archives of Ontario tell these stories,” said Keirstead, who requested Western have the opportunity to host the exhibit as part of the university’s Canada 150 celebrations. “Also, because it’s linked to Canada 150, it’s just another way we can bring the broader perspective of the sesquicentennial to campus. It was a nice thing to be able to piggy-back on.”

Using reproductions of images and textual records, such as letters and correspondences, the exhibit shows perspectives on life in Ontario during the late 19th Century, including how the lives of these representative families intersected with larger historical forces of the period.

George Brown, of the Brown family, was a major political figure at the time and one of the Fathers of Confederation. His family is contrasted with the McCurdys, African-American settlers who migrated to Canada prior to the American Civil War, and the Wolvertons, who took part in the American Civil War and left behind correspondence that shows the personal side to world affairs driving Confederation. Finally, the exhibit features records from the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre, which highlights the impact of residential schools on Shingwauk families.

“The Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre originated as a residential school, but today, there are archives there. With the centre there now, it’s an attempt to give back part of the history that (the Shingwauk families) lost,” said Keirstead. “I thought that was an inspired choice to include in the exhibit because it shows how archives can be used to study your family history – or recover your family history, in the case of the Shingwauk.”

Keirstead feels students would enjoy reading about the stories that have shaped Canada’s history and noted one student was inspired to start researching his own family history after seeing the exhibit.

“It’s consciousness-raising about the fact archival records show you how you can tell the story, and learn about history, and the benefit archives can have. It also gives people a feeling for the resources,” he said.

Western Libraries’ Archives and Special Collections is also involved in a number of other initiatives tied to Canada 150, including the development of a time capsule that will reside in Weldon Library for the next 50 years and an archive digitization process that has seen nearly 8,000 images from the London Free Press archive digitized. Many of the images are posted online at historypin.org.

For more information, or to host the exhibit in your space, contact Keirstead at rkeirste@uwo.ca.