First Look at the archives

IROQUOIS – History has finally found a home as the Dundas County Archives were officially dedicated Sun., Nov. 4.

The culmination of the co-operative project between North and South Dundas is a landmark achievement for both municipalities as they finally have an amalgamated location to store important historical documents, records, newspapers and artifacts of the county.

For a number of years people lamented the fact that there wasn’t a cohesive plan to store, preserve and allow access to significant local history. But both South Dundas Mayor Evonne Delegarde and North Dundas Mayor Eric Duncan pointed out that agreement between the municipalities was the key ingredient to solving long-standing issues that prevented a plan from becoming a reality.

The Dundas County Archives were officially dedicated Sun., Nov. 4 in Iroquois. Pictured at left are Stormont, Dundas and South Glengarry MP Guy Lauzon (left), South Dundas Mayor Evonne Delegarde, South Dundas clerk Brenda Brunt, archivist Susan Peters, North Dundas clerk Jo-Anne McCaslin, North Dundas Mayor Eric Duncan and Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry MPP Jim McDonell.

“Eric and I had this in our minds four years ago and we thought it was high time that a lot of the history gets preserved and that we have an actual physical location where we can have the artifacts deposited. This has been on our plate for the last couple of years, We’ve really been researching to find a location, which was the challenge we had,” said Delegarde.

“The line I use, probably too much, is how do we get to yes? We know we need to do this. We know there are financial issues. We know there are organization issues, process and governance issues, but we worked through those,” added Duncan. “We’re all history lovers and passionate about that. When you have that, the whole mentality [becomes] ‘we’re not going to stop this, how do we get to yes and how do we resolve some of these questions that have always been outstanding that never allowed it to get done?’”

The Dundas County Archives will share space at 5 College St. in Iroquois with the St. Lawrence Medical Clinic – formerly home of St. Cecilia Catholic School. The discovery of the space was a serendipitous event as the building is owned by South Dundas and the medical clinic didn’t need the entire building.

“It’s working out to be a perfect spot. Everything is accessible, everything is ready to go, and there was very little that had to be invested in preparing the location,” said Delegarde.

Timing as well as a sense of urgency were imperative according to Duncan.

“The longer we wait, the more we talk about why we can’t do it or the barriers to it, the more history we lose. People pass away that have knowledge in their mind or have records that their children go in to clean their house and they just say, ‘oh what’s this paper’ and they throw it out in an effort to just close an estate,” he said.

The Dundas County Archives were modelled after the Glengarry Archives, which was also a co-operative effort between the north and south municipalities and has been operating for more than five years.

Peters conducted private tours, which included a taste of some of the many artifacts which will be on display.

“We were able to look at their model and see how successful it was, and how they were able to build relationships with different groups and organizations and people that had records,” said Duncan.

The dedication ceremony was held at the Iroquois Civic Centre to accommodate the large number of interested people and various displays complete with historically significant documents and artifacts provided by local historian Jim Jordan, the St. Lawrence Branch of United Empire Loyalists’ Association of Canada (UELAC), the Chesterville and District Historical Society, the Historical Society of South Dundas and Friends of Forward House among others.

Council members from both municipalities along with Stormont, Dundas and South Glengarry MP Guy Lauzon and MPP Jim McDonell all attended the event.

Lauzon praised the endeavour for preserving history that isn’t always readily available in text books.

“There’s nothing in our history books about British Home Children,” he said. “But they built Canada. They went to war for us and they did a whole bunch of wonderful things, and so much of that we don’t have the history. We don’t have a recording of that. So what you are doing here is so, so important and I encourage you to keep up the good work.”

Two special plaques were also presented and will be installed permanently in the archives building. One was to acknowledge the work of the St. Lawrence Branch of the UELAC and was presented to president Lorraine Reoch. The other was presented to Larry Empey and will be dedicated to the Lynne Cook Research Room.

Reoch, who knew Cook for more than 10 years, spoke of her invaluable contribution.

“Her insight so many years ago, has left us with a wonderful legacy which, with care, will serve the generations to come,” she said.

Susan Peters, lead archivist with Dundas County Archives, spoke about what they hope to achieve and what information they will continue to focus on as they build the collection.

Stormont, Dundas and South Glengarry MP Guy Lauzon paused to take a closer look at one of the many historic displays. Schoch Photos

“The idea of an archive is to provide a safe space where people can access their records, both municipally and personal records. We will have a lot of family history material there. We’re also collecting anything that has to do with businesses, large farm groups, fairgrounds, sports organizations all pertaining to North or South Dundas,” she said.

Although the archive doesn’t have a website as “we’re not there yet”, according to Peters, they do plan to have one when they officially open, but for now, people can follow the progress through the official Facebook page.

The momentous occasion left many history lovers with much to celebrate and proved what a co-operative effort between municipalities can achieve. The committee members equally represent the two municipalities and costs will be equally shared as well.

For Delegarde, the new institution is hopefully the beginning of a new chapter in the preservation of local history.

“I do want to start to volunteer there myself because I think it’s so very interesting. I’d like to see more on the McIntosh Apple because I grew up down the road just a mile from the McIntosh Apple. That’s where my childhood home was,” she said adding, “This is the jumpstart for bigger and better things.”