Postcard from Port Glasgow, Ontario

Postcard from Port Glasgow, Ontario
Port Glasgow

Beach at Port Glasgow — Photo Credit: P. Dumas

Port Glasgow is a village on the coast of Lake Erie, about 75km southeast of London, Ontario. It was settled by Scottish immigrants to Upper Canada around 1818. Erosion eventually destroyed the original harbour. The port itself now features the Port Glasgow Yacht Club and marina, a small lighthouse, sandy beach, and a walking trail through the forest along the water’s edge. Continue reading

Scots in Canada: The Gilchrist-Shearer Letters

The Scottish people have a long history of migration and as a result many Canadians have Scottish roots.

I think there’s a tendency to lump all 18th and 19th century immigrants to Canada and the United States together and think of them as poor, desperate, unskilled workers, in some cases the victims of industrialisation, crop failure, land clearances, etc., and who by leaving for a new country would be abandoning everything and everyone they once knew, never to be heard from again. Continue reading

Viewing Canada Live & Online, Pt. 3 — Ontario

Viewing Canada Live & Online, Pt. 3 — Ontario

Parliament Hill, Ottawa

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There has been a webcam aimed at Parliament Hill since 1995 (Find out more in this article from the CBC)! This webcam, mounted on the Birks Building on Sparks Street in Ottawa, shows views of Centre Block, the impressive Peace Tower, and the Centennial Flame (at the centre bottom of the screen) in the grounds of the Parliament Buildings. The flame has been burning since Centennial Year (1967).

The webcam requires refreshing of the page, but it’s a great view of the beautiful building that was rebuilt in 1917 following a massive fire. Continue reading

The Struggles of Searching for Loyalist Records

The Struggles of Searching for Loyalist Records

Recently I’ve been looking into some Loyalist records from early Canada. Thanks to government-funded digitisation programmes such as Héritage and the work of Library and Archives Canada, many sets of records once only available in the British Library or on 1960s-era microfilm at select national libraries are now online and free to access.

The digitised, handwritten documents found in such collections as the Upper Canada Land Petitions and the Haldimand Papers (two sets I’ve used quite a bit) also serve as excellent reminders that just because a source has been put up online does not mean that it will be easy to search through, read, or use. Even databases with an integrated online search application can give difficult or incomplete results due to many different factors. First, searches are often limited to name and location: content or subject is left out. This is promising for family history and genealogy research, but what if I want to know about early settlers to a specific region or find examples of cultural interactions between different groups? I’d have to go through page by page. The search engine (and, in some ways, the presentation of the collection) has therefore been aimed at genealogists rather than historians.

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Excerpt from the Petition of Jacob Anguish to Lieut. Col. Peyster of Niagara, dated 4 August 1784. The Haldimand Papers, H-1448, 399 (pp. 419-21), Images 335-7.

The search results may also be affected by the quality of penmanship and the skill of the archivist. Continue reading

Sources 101: The Canadian County Atlas Digital Project

Sources 101: The Canadian County Atlas Digital Project

This post is the first in what we plan to be an on-going series on sources for primary source research on the web. I’ve decided to begin with a favourite of mine, and also one of the more difficult to navigate: The Canadian County Atlas Digital Project.

History:

Between 1998 and 2001, 43 county atlases were digitised by researchers, librarians, curators, and students at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. They digitised the pages of atlases found in McGill’s Rare Books and Special Collections and recorded the names and properties on the atlases in a simple, searchable online database.

What you’ll find:

The database contains scanned copies of the atlases as well as the names of individual land and business owners. It also provides a brief overview of the origins of the atlases and title page information for every atlas included in the project.

How to use it:

I found it somewhat challenging to navigate the website and discover the full extent of the information contained within the database. The Home Page, In Search of Your Canadian Past: The Canadian County Atlas Digital Project, gives your four options to choose from: Project Overview (background information on the origins and methodology of the digitisation project); County Atlases (information on the creation of the 19th century atlases); Search; and Project Credits (a list of the people involved in making the database).

Search gives you two main options: People and Maps. It also includes two new options not found on the home page: FAQ and Abbreviations (useful for interpreting the search results). By clicking on People, you can search by one or more of the following terms: Last Name, County, Township, Town, Birthplace, and Occupation, and whether to restrict your results to an exact match for the last name and to only results with an attached image. By clicking on Maps, you are taken to an interactive map of southern and central Ontario. Click on a county to bring up an interactive map of the county, in which you can find more details maps of individual townships, or choose from a drop-down list of counties, townships, and towns.

Research potential:

The Canadian County Atlas Digital Project is an excellent resource for individuals interested in researching their family history. If you had a male land-owning ancestor living in Ontario between 1874 and 1881, it is worth making a quick search of their last name to see if they are on there. Prominent individuals also paid to have biographical information, business information, and portraits of themselves or their homes included in the atlas, and so it could also provide information on prominent individuals in their communities. The descendants of Loyalists (of particular interest to those of conducting research on British and American colonial history!) can also be found throughout the atlases.

Reflections:

The database clearly shows its age, but the information and images contained within make it worth struggling with the minimal options, buttons, and lack of menus. The search function is fairly straightforward and gives you detailed information (where possible) and results that link directly to a close-up image of their property on the relevant page of the atlas, as well as a zoomed-out image in which to situate the search results.