Looking back through time - Glimpses of the Past with Karen Webster
For more than mere glimpses of the past, one should consider the Blyth Repository of History (BRH). This amazing collection was the brainchild of Brock and the late Janis Vodden. Around 1994, Janis started a simple list of the names of families who once lived in Blyth and area. From here, she added details about those families and sought input from various sources. The Voddens’ efforts have grown to be a massive collection that fills hundreds of binders of information.
The collection is divided into two sub-sections: surnames and general. In surnames, there is information on over 1,200 different family names. Because some family names denote one or more separate families, it is likely that well over 2,000 families are represented. The general section mostly references Blyth and area institutions such as churches, schools, cemeteries, businesses and organizations. As well, information on surrounding communities can be found in this section.
In 2019, the repository came under the leadership of a board of directors, namely David Sparling, Brock Vodden, Keith Roulston, Deb Sholdice, Cheryl Cronin and myself.
There are many interesting and varied requests for information received at the repository, some through the webpage, some by phone or mail and as well as some by in-person visits. Let’s look at a sample of the research projects that have been undertaken recently by the volunteer researchers.
A Wingham collector of milk bottles was interested in finding the origin of one marked “Waymouth Dairy Blyth”. It was ascertained that Harry Waymouth operated a dairy and delivered milk from his farm on the eastern outskirts of Blyth in the 1920s and 1930s. Research into the Waymouth file led to interviewing Harry’s daughter, Doris, who confirmed details about the dairy. Ironically, within a few weeks of this investigation, another request was made about the Waymouth family, this time from a lady in the Windsor area. Not only will she be coming to Blyth to view the Waymouth information in the repository in the spring, but she will also be meeting Harry’s daughter, a relative who was previously unknown to her.
Often, in addition to sharing information with people, the repository receives new items to add to the collection, as was the case with a member of the Gardner family who not only sought information but was also able to share some of his research.
Some requests are for information about families that once lived in the vicinity, but since moved on, such as the Cullen family that went to New Zealand. Even though this family left Morris Township over 100 years ago, information on the Cullens can be found in the repository.
One of the most intriguing searches came from an employee of the Kinze equipment manufacturing company from Iowa. His interest centred on the 1951 patent of Blyth businessman Russell Dougherty for a rutabaga seeder. A photo in the repository’s collection led to the discovery of one of these planters still in existence in our area. It appears that the Kinze company and another company are involved in court cases over the legality of certain patents. It will be interesting to see if information from the repository will carry any weight in those deliberations.
Requests for information are sometimes relayed to BRH from other Huron County sources. That was the case when a researcher from the Groesbeek Canadian War cemetery in the Netherlands appealed to the Huron County Historical Society for information on Robert (Bert) James Elliott, who died serving his country in 1944. While very little was found in the repository files about Bert, the obituary of his mother named his siblings with their married names. One name was recognized as the parent of a friend of a BRH researcher. This family was contacted and they did have a photo to send to Holland. Ironically, the cemetery was able to give this Canadian family information that they did not have, as their uncle had not been spoken about very much by his siblings.
The Groesbeek cemetery honours the soldiers interred there by a Faces to Graves project whereby laminated photos are placed beside the gravestones of the fallen men. As well, the cemetery has documented the early life, training and military experiences of these soldiers. It is heartwarming to know that our Canadian soldiers rest in a beautiful place with well-tended flowerbeds. The web address for this cemetery is www.facestograves.nl.
Locally, some research about the Blyth Memorial Hall was conducted in response to a project of the national Women’s Institute (WI) to highlight the theme “Extraordinary Achievement comes from Ordinary People”. The Walton WI chose the Blyth Memorial Hall because of the institute’s involvement in the massive fundraising campaign conducted around 1920. Truly, the Blyth Memorial Hall was and continues to be an “extraordinary achievement”.
Whatever the request, the researchers at the Blyth Repository of History are willing to delve into the collection. As well, the repository actively seeks family histories and photos to augment its files. To help finance the maintenance of the collection, a giant used book sale is planned for June 3-5 at Blyth Lions Park.
For more glimpses of the past, one can visit the Blyth Repository of History which is located at 405 Queen Street in Blyth as well as find it on the web at https://blythrepositoryofhistory.ca.