Friday, January 19, 2007

Dufferin History

On the way to the Dufferin museum.

VAST ONTARIO COUNTRY, criss-crossed by endless lonely roads.

After Christmas, no snow, warm breezes and temps over 10C (50F).

THE DUFFERIN COUNTY MUSEUM, built in 1994 but designed to resemble a barn and silo to blend with the surrounding farms and built with new materials.

My cousin Pierre brought me here, remembering he had mentioned it a couple of Christmasses back. He grew up in the area and has never been there himself. He is friends with both Wayne the curator and Darrel the director. Wayne wasn't there, but Darrel came down to meet us, and kindly gave us an insider's tour before letting us loose to wander about.

The interior was open to the ceiling beams, with a mezzanine on one side that houses changing exhibitions. Being so vast, the ground floor space contained a large pioneer log house with 4, yes 4, bedrooms. Three snug ones upstairs and the master bedroom downstairs with a parlour and the rest- Pierre and I went in 5 minutes before closing so I only glanced round.

Then there was a clapboard meeting hall for the Orangemen, a social organisation somewhat similar to the Rotary Club or more outgoing Masonic Lodge. The Orangemen are loyal to Protestant William III (hence the suppression of their parades in Northern Ireland).

And beside that stood a signal house. Living out in the sticks like the area was and still is even though only an hour from Toronto, if you wanted to catch the steam train, you would have to go to the signal house and hoist the flag so that it would stop for you. How quaint. It was quite snug inside, a shelter from the weather.

Around the edges of the space were glass cases with artefacts of local history that illustrate how southern Ontarians lived from the 19th century to the early show ribbons, local tailoring, dental instruments, hotel guest books and bills, undertaker's equipment, shopkeepers' signs, furniture from the prison warden's wife's name it.

In the centre was a tape outline on the floor of a First People's Longboat for school groups to get into as it is so BIG.

The mezzanine's charming wrought iron railing came from a large church that I think was destroyed in a fire, and the equally charming iron spiral staircase was once used by female prisoners to descend to the exercise yard behind the Court House, which area is now covered by new extensions and a parking lot.

THE DUFFERIN COUNTY COURTHOUSE, built in the 1890s, I think.

Dufferin county is surprisingly new. I found that in the mid-19th century, the first white child to be born there played with the children of natives, or First People.

The exhibition on the mezzanine was called Traces of our Heritage and showcased mundane and ceremonial artefacts from the local First Peoples. We had no time to return here after Darrel's tour.

Next he took us up into the silo which houses the elevator shafts and the air-conditioning and heating equipment, so as to keep the ceilings free in the main exhibition spaces. At the top of the silo is a circular viewing room giving amazing views over the fields and meadows, and also showing Airport Road stretching like a rollercoaster to a dot on the horizon. Darrel, who is actually an urban planner, has an interest in art and so is using the walls of the viewing room as a mini art gallery to show off local talent.

Finally he took us down to the basement which contains the County Archives. The highlight of the tour, in my opinion, was when he took out his keys and showed us into the off-limits storage vault, the warehouse, and the offices!

We had an excellent time looking at all the things, stuffed to the rafters. They have to turn down new donations, even, so they don't need a large acquisition budget at all! So many houses have attics full of granny's things, you see. There were turn of the century dresses, coats, shoes, handbags, biscuit tins, old municipal fire pumps, an undertaker's cart with a wicker coffin - apparently, the deceased were buried in wicker coffins because the water table is so high that when it rained, they would not float!

Dressing tables, stained glass windows, silver tea sets, carriages of all quality, size, and class; all sorts of inventive farming equipment; an Orangemen poster that was so full of symbology it would take days to decipher; and so on. I could have spent a week browsing.

He showed us his office. All the offices are stuffed with artefacts too. We saw some ongoing conservation done by a conservator who comes in once a week.

I kind of wished I could work there. Funny how the importance of London's gilded art scene fades when you are not in the midst of it. Nineteenth century barber chairs and equestrian hoof files and beaded Iroquois purses don't seem so insignificant when you're living in the middle of a province...

Something else I wanted to show you:

Orangeville has recently established a pleasant tradition of creating tree trunk art. If the family are willing to pay about $3,000, rather than completely remove old trees in the front yard, the municipal authorities leave a few feet of stump to be carved into a design.

Although...some of the humanoid faces really creeped me out at night.


I like this eagle. OK, One More!

/>I kept forgetting my camera when I drove past these, so here they are courtesy of loneprimate.

I know! Someone would actually take pics of Orangeville???

I must admit, I have spent years laughing at the expense of this small town. I remember when there were only 15,000 people living there, but it's huge now, a commuter town booming and expanding at a blinding rate and becoming one of the main towns in the county. At the outskirts are all the big new subdivisions for people who work in Toronto and make little sentimental connections to the town, but in the old part where my relatives live, it remains very much a small town. I couldn't go anywhere with my cousins without them bumping into someone they know.

Despite the fact that I have been visiting Orangeville since 1979 and yet feeling out of place as a Londoner in small town Ontario, I really really grew to appreciate the place after visiting the museum.

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Anonymous said...

The tree trunk art is really awesome! Wow!

Great pictures! I would have had a great time on that tour.

Guyana-Gyal said...

Today I was thinking about why I like reading other blogs...and this is one great reason. What a wonderful post, Olivia, you made history come alive. This is the kind of travel I like.

Guyana-Gyal said...

I've been waiting and waiting for the photos of the tree art to download.

It's been worth the wait!!! :-)

Rox said...

Very interesting. I liked the tree art, looks folksy. So are you still in CA or back already?

jia hearts o said...

nice tree art

The Moody Minstrel said...

Those are some great pics!'s so FLAT!!!!

I guess I tend to assume most of the world is mountainous like the central Oregon Coast, since that's where I was born...

Olivia said...

ML - the countryside around O'ville is really beautiful too.


Guyana-Gyal - wow, thanks ever so much!
I love history, and it does come alive for me. I like to share that and it makes me glad when my readers enjoy it too.

P.S. Thanks for your patience with the pics.


Rox - Hey, long time no see! Hehe, yes, folksy is a good description for that entire town.

I am back indeed :)


Jia - you "heart" things a lot this week!
They should do this tree thing in St John's, it would suit the prettiness of the town. Unless there aren't as many trees growing in the sea air.

Olivia said...

Minstrel - FLAT???

The place is full of rolling hills and escarpments...ok, Texas is flat. And New Mexico. Everything is relative, right? :P

Rebecca said...

Heh, looks like COlorado towns. And Wyoming.

We should carve some trees around London too!

Olivia said...

Rebecca - haha, before i read your comment on my email, the first pic came to mind, and then I just knew you would mention Colorado!

Londoners being who they are would probably find tree carvings a bit naff. Some things just don't translate across borders...

Tree Stump Carvers of the world, unite!

Prerona said...

wow! really liked these
so sweet of you to share it all so faitfully
its almost like we went there too :)

Olivia said...

Prerona - thanks! - and exactly how I wanted you to feel :)

The Moody Minstrel said...

"Naff". I've always liked that word.

"Hey, you there, guv'nor...why are you so bleedin' NAFF???!?!?"

"Because I'm one of your alien overlords."
(sound of blaster being powered up)

Olivia said...

Minstrel - "naff" didn't originally mean what it does now. It is from the underground gay language of the 60s called Polari, and (much like the military term SNAFU) is an acronym for "not available for".

(I don't remember how I know this stuff.)

Anonymous said...

i love the old white house in the background of the first tree trunk. reminds me of Madison, Indiana, where i grew up. i love old towns. didn't when i was young but have a special place in my heart for these areas now.

you have such a great way of sharing and writing. i wish for you to find a job where you can go thru old things like the artifacts that you found at the museum... i'd love to read all about it. and you know, i'd love to see that stuff. i used to spend hours shopping in old antique malls w/ my mom - looking at old dresses and such. just love doing that.

Olivia said...

Tooners - LOL I think many North American small towns are similar. Put that way, it would be hard to choose one over another.

I like old towns too! I love being charmed by their quaint streets and boulevards.

When I was in Houston I used to enjoy looking at the picturesque houses in the Museum District in the SW and the gingerbread verandahs and turrets in The Heights in the NW. Hm, I think that may be the subject of a future blog...

and of course you know that if I ever see the interesting things you have mentioned, I will do my best to share them with you.
I wish I could go to antique malls more often...

Anonymous said...

I'm here!!! I've been so busy with work and stuff (understaffed and underpaid) that I haven't any time to blog, but I just did a doozie over at drivingmissdallas! It's a photo update!