Blyth BIA, RTO4 plaque plans rolling out - May 16, 2019
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
Blyth’s David Sparling is in the midst of rolling out a new plaque program he hopes will educate and fascinate visitors to Blyth, telling of the village’s rich history.
The project dates back to a grant the village received from Regional Tourism Organization 4 (RTO4), but required further time for historical research and manufacturing. The first plaques have now been erected with more to come in the next few weeks.
Sparling worked with local historians Brock Vodden and his late wife Janis to uncover little-known or long-forgotten events in Blyth’s history for the plaques in the hopes of inspiring not only visitors, but residents who want to learn more about their home community.
Among the first plaques to be erected are those on the Blyth Printing building and on the Dinsley Street side of the new Orr Insurance office to coincide with the large, historic map of Blyth.
It is perhaps fitting that Blyth Printing was among the first to have a plaque, as it was Ken Whitmore and Steve Dawe at the renowned printing shop who produced the plaques for the project.
Sparling said that even through his own research for the project, alongside his son Reece, who is conducting historic bike tours through his business Blyth Bike Tours, he learned a lot about the village he’s lived in all his life.
One of the most interesting aspects of the research, Sparling said, has turned into a side project that’s not dissimilar from the plaque project: the great fires of 1900-1901. Sparling hopes to produce a second series of red plaques throughout the village to denote where buildings once stood until they burned down during that 24-month period.
During that time, there was an arsonist on the loose and in those two years, Sparling said, over 30 buildings were intentionally burned down. The arsonist was never caught.
Sparling said that could add a whole new aspect to tourism in Blyth, spreading information about those great fires.
For the first series of plaques, however, they tell the stories of everything from Blyth’s previous abundance of grocery stores (over a dozen at once at one point in history) to the great bicycle race that wasn’t and many more.
To make sure that the new plaques could be enjoyed by all, he worked with local accessibility consultant Julie Sawchuk to ensure that those of all abilities and sight levels would be able to read the plaques comfortably, which Sparling said was an important aspect of the project.
As plaques are erected and more are added over time, Sparling said he hopes to have the plaques numbered, so people can walk the trail and read all of the plaques. He also hopes to chronicle the plaques and what they denote, either online or in a travel pamphlet to encourage visitors to try and see as many as they can during their time in Blyth.