Monday, March 14, 2016

Who Is Halton?

I live in the Halton region of Ontario. It's one of the oldest counties in the province and it has quite an interesting history, at least by Canadian standards. I've been learning a lot about its history lately, because I'm working on a research project for an exhibition that will open in the autumn called Who Is Halton? about the people of the region, past and present.

We're lucky enough to have a map that dates to 1858 of the Halton region. On it is every land owner in the community in that year. There's quite literally hundreds of names, some so small and badly faded they're impossible to read. But quite a lot of them are clear, and I've been researching each name in turn and finding some incredibly interesting individuals! There's the owner of a shipyard who built ships for his brother, the captain. There's the doctor who devoted his life to helping the sick. There's the founding families of Oakville, Burlington, Georgetown and half a dozen other towns. There's just so much history here, and I think we often forget that, because Canada is so 'new', but Halton is 50 years older, and there are counties here twenty years older than that and that date back to the American War of Independence, which is the founding of America, after all, so pretty old. And there's a lot of history tied up between the two countries back then, and it's kind of interesting to see how many people settled in this region from the States, or from the UK via the States.

But I think it's the really personal stories I've been finding that are really the most interesting. There was the gentleman who's first wife died in childbirth and he remarried so his children would have a mother. And there's the guy that had two different mills burn down. And there's the Chisholm family, who is confusing enough I had to actually look up the family tree to figure out who everyone was, but it was worth it because I've been obsessed with the Erchless Estate since I was little. And I really liked learning about all the men who were the first postmasters in their respective communities and I spend a lot of time envisioning life a la Lark Rise to Candleford.

I'm having a lot of fun, anyways, researching all of this, but we've also been doing a lot of talking with people in the current community, to get their stories. It's so interesting to research these 'original inhabitants' and then contrast them with the current people who live there. I can say my own family has been here for 84 years, and I've been here for 32. That's a huge amount of history. But my favourite thing has been meeting people who have only been here a few years and finding out what brought them to Halton. Those are the truly amazing stories I'm looking forward to telling in this exhibition. Stay tuned for more!

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