Friday, May 29, 2015

Family History Friday: Do You Know These People?


A photo album has just been donated to the museum collection and none of them are labelled.  The only writing we can find refers to Johnny Sloan, 1887.  If you have any idea who these people are or what family they may belong to (most likely Sloan, McArthur, Allen and others), please contact us.  The photo album is full so we will be posting more photographs over the next few weeks for Family History Fridays.  
Angela Bobier 519-762-3072 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

World War Wednesdays: Music of the Second World War

Fay McKenzie dancing the jitterbug with a serviceman at the Hollywood Canteen.
     One of the most popular aspects of history (and one of my favourites) is social/cultural history because it really allows us to get a glimpse of life was like for people in the time period of study. In the case of the Second World War, this aspect is of particular interest because it was the first conflict that occurred when technological advancements allowed for the popularity of media such as radio, film and music. An especially interesting component of this is the manner in which these media were used by government organizations to influence the perspectives of the people through propagandistic means. This week's post will focus on a few major elements of music during the Second World War from the various sides of the conflict.

Popular pop trio The Andrews Sisters
     The U.S just like any other country was able to utilize the exponential growth of the technological age to compose music for various reasons.
With the war brewing through the 1940s, initiatives to help the soldiers continue fighting arose. With drafting numbers reaching close to 500,000, the Army along with other Defense institutions began to make military bands which would serve the purpose of boosting morale in the Home Front, while at the same time keeping Patriotism and Nationalism at an all-time high. The first patriotic war song of WWII in the U.S was “God Bless America” written by Irving Berlin for a World War I wartime review, but was withheld and later revised and used in World War II. There were many other popular patriotic wartime songs during this time like, “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” by Glenn Miller and “Arms for the Love of America” by once again Irving Berlin in 1941.
     After successful incorporation of music into the war efforts, more was needed in order to keep hopes alive and stable both back in the U.S and in the Home Front. Various times music was used as a tool for battle in the war, whether it was to entertain or to recuperate the soldiers during the war. More importantly was the impact that the music during the 1940s had on the people then and the effect that it continues to have now.

V-Disc 39A, "Moonlight Serenade", by Glenn Miller and His Orchestra, November 1943
     V-Disc ("V" for Victory) was a morale-boosting initiative involving the production of several series of recordings during the World War II era by special arrangement between the United States government and various private U.S. record companies. The records were produced for the use of United States military personnel overseas. Many popular singers, big bands and orchestras of the era recorded special V-Disc records.

     One of my favourite examples of American WWII music is the song "There'll Be a Hot Time in the Town of Berlin" performed by Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters in 1944. Here's a link to the song from its Decca recording:

Dame Vera Lynn
Before the war, BBC radio had had quite an elitist approach to popular music. Jazz, swing or big band music for dancing was relegated to a few late night spots. During the war, the BBC was obliged to adapt, but not without conflict. The BBC establishment reluctantly increased the amount of dance music played, but censorship was severe. The American hit "Coming in on a Wing and a Prayer" for example was censored because of its almost blasphemous mix of religious words and a foxtrot melody. BBC heads were also worried about American-style crooners undermining the virility of British men. The BBC establishment tried hard to stick to the jaunty tone which they felt had helped to win the first world war - so George Formby and Gracie Fields were very much played on the radio. Indeed, these two stars were undoubtedly more heroes to working-class people in Britain than was Winston Churchill, since they were seen to "come from the ordinary people."
     The most famous single performer was Vera Lynn who became known as "the forces' sweetheart".
She has become known for performing such songs as "(There'll be Blue Birds Over) The White Cliffs of Dover", "We'll Meet Again", and "When the Lights Go On Again".
     "We'll Meet Again" is a very powerful song which reminds us of the relationships built and torn apart during the course of the war. I've included a ling to Vera Lynn's performance of the song along with a touching video:

German composer and infamous anti-Semite Richard Wagner
     The Nazi government took a strong interest in promoting Germanic culture and music, which returned people to the folk culture of their remote ancestors, while promoting the distribution of radio to transmit propaganda. The Nazi government had an obsession with controlling culture and promoting the culture it controlled. The Nazis were determined to the concept that German Culture was the greatest in history, but as with all parts of art Hitler took an interest in suppressing the work of all those considered unfit while promoting certain composers as proper Germans. Therefore, the Government officially acknowledged certain composers as true Germans while seeking to eliminate Jazz and other styles seen as inferior.
     Even when new songs and other media were released which seemed to be free from a propagandistic message, there was still an underlying theme present which adhered to Nazi ideology. The example I've included is this catchy little clip from the 1936 film Gluckskinder with  song called "Ich wollt, ich war ein Huhn", which means "I wish I were a chicken". It's not exactly from wartime but it was released during Nazi leadership. Even if you aren't a German speaker, you can still note the traditional appearance and role of the female character. There is also a portion of the song which discussed various areas in Germany, which is in accordance with the ideas of German regionalism prevalent at the time. Here's a link:

     Overall, the music of the Second World War is one of my favourite things to study. I hope you enjoyed hearing some of the different pieces, and maybe even remember some of them!

    Thanks for reading,

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Road to Culloden a Royal Success!

It's been a busy week since our Scottish living history event, The Road to Culloden, was held on our grounds, May 16-17.  We estimate that over 400 people attended.  The weather was a bit overcast and foggy, just like an authentic day in Scotland.

Special thanks to all the re-enactors, historic vendors and their organizer, Seamus Gunn (Doug Robinson), without all of you there would be no Road to Culloden.  I am so pleased to work with our board of directors, staff and volunteers who give hours of their time and talents and the Lions Club members who ran the gate for us.  We appreciate our politicians and dignitaries for joining us and especially our visitors.  I hope I haven't forgot to thank anyone and if so it is not because you aren't appreciated.  We organize events like Culloden for your enjoyment and to share our history with you.
This was the first time I've ever had visitors come over just to thank me for hosting an event.  Clearly it is not me who is to thank, but many many people.  I thanked THEM for attending.  These ladies live in north Dunwich and were of Scottish descent.  It is obvious to me that our area was thirsting for an event of this type and I'm so grateful for all the help in making this a reality.

One of our reenactors has written about the weekend on his blog and there's lots of great photos.  Click here to read.

More photos:

We made the front page of the West Elgin Chonicle.  Photo courtesy of the West Elgin Chronicle.  That's Chris Timm, from Kitchener, as Bonnie Prince Charlie on a walk about at Backus-Page House Museum.  He changed our parlour into his bed chamber and our dining room into his Reception Room where he took oaths of loyalty from visitors and reenactors.  

To the individuals, County of Elgin, and businesses who contributed to our advertising campaign, thank you!

Discussions are already underway for the Victoria Day long weekend next year with additional timed happenings throughout and more for visitors to see and do within the 1745-1746 time period in Scotland's history that directly links to the Scottish settlers in our area.  If you have any ideas or are a piper (we need more), we'd be happy to hear from you. Contact our office 519-762-3072

Angela Bobier
Cultural Manager
Backus-Page House Museum

Monday, May 25, 2015

Memory Mondays: Lieutenant Colonel Mahlon Burwell

Lieutenant Colonel Mahlon Burwell 1783 – 1846
By Sandra Sales

“Monday, 21st May 1827. Surveyed the line towards Lake Huron, Six Miles and thirty chains – were as industrious as possible, but were not able to make our way through a cedar, Black Ash, Pine and Hemlock Swamp, in the centre of which we encamped without shelter, and it rained in the night. One of the men caught a fever to day.”
This diary entry was written by Mahlon Burwell, a man who became intimately familiar with the vast wilderness of southwestern Upper Canada in the years between 1809 and 1832. He was Deputy Surveyor of Upper Canada, laying out roadways and settlement lots, including the city of London, in deep forests, often under harsh conditions. “In most cases he went into the woods without even a tent, and when it rained the men peeled bark from the trees and made a rude shelter of it. But as the bark will not always peel, it would happen that the party had to lie down without any covering…There was no allowance of tea or coffee with the [government] rations of flour, pork and peas” (Colonel Mahlon Burwell, by Archibald Blue, director of the Bureau of Mines, Toronto, 1899)
Mahlon Burwell was “tall of stature and dignified in appearance”, (according to Edward Ermatinger, Life of Talbot).He was the son of Niagara area Loyalists from New Jersey, Adam Burwell and Sarah Vail. Despite being self-educated, Mahlon got his surveyor’s license about 1807, at age 24, and his first government commission in 1809. His instructions were to survey and lay out a road that would connect the Talbot Settlement with roads further east leading to the Niagara Region. Because of his meticulous work, Burwell was asked to continue the road west to open the area for settlement. This long route from the Niagara River to the Detroit River is what is now known as Highway 3, or the Talbot Road. By August of 1811, the road reached Howard Township in Kent County, but work had to be halted due to the War of 1812 and couldn’t be finished until November of 1816.
Ironically, the settlement roads that Burwell built facilitated the movement of the enemy through southwestern Upper Canada. Once Britain lost control of Lake Erie in September of 1813, the Americans’ plan was to destroy the settlements in southwestern Upper Canada by raiding homes, burning mills and crops, and stealing horses, thereby ruining the economy and preventing the British from getting supplies for their forces. Raids on Port Talbot were relentless. Especially targeted were Colonel Thomas Talbot, founder of the settlement, and Burwell, now Lieutenant Colonel of the 1st Regiment Middlesex Militia. In April of 1814, he wrote to Colonel Talbot, who was at Long Point at the time, urgently asking that the skiff be brought back to Port Talbot so that he could get his family to safety before he was called out. Later in the summer Burwell was taken prisoner.
“Tuesday August 16th, 1814. I was made Prisoner at my own House having just recovered in some measure from the Fever Ague. I was lying on my bed when the Indians came & made me a Prisoner, Plundered my House of everything they could carry away, & what they could not carry, destroyed. -An Indian upon being informed that I commanded Militia in this place was anxious to Tomahawk me but was prevented from doing so by Captain John Walker who commanded the expedition and also by an Indian Chief by the name of Montour who had a subordinate command. They forced me away from my family with a few other prisoners, and marched us to Point Patrick where we tarried all night. -All the Prisoners except myself were pinioned as soon as it became dark to prevent them from getting away. -I was excused on account of ill health and was allowed a Horse to ride. They lent me a Blanket to sleep on.”
He was taken to the mouth of the Thames River, from there across Lake Erie to Ohio and overland south to Camp Bull in Chillicothe, where he remained a prisoner until December 22nd. Three weeks after Burwell was taken, Port Talbot was invaded again. This time by General McArthur, accompanied by Andrew Westbrook, a Talbot Settlement traitor, with an army of more than 700. They completely plundered the village: mills, houses and barns were burned; crops and livestock were destroyed; and the stored flour was ruined. Burwell’s home, business and barns were burned. His young wife and two small children escaped and fled home to the Niagara Region. When Burwell was released “on pledge” in December of 1814, he went east into Pennsylvania then north to the south shore of Lake Erie, joining his family in Newark, now Niagara-on-the-Lake. He was 31 years of age.
Burwell and his young family returned to Port Talbot after the war. Living with them were Burwell’s parents and younger brother. They built a new house nearby in 1815, which is still standing. Here, Burwell and his wife, Sarah Haun, raised their 7 boys and 2 girls - Hercules, Isaac Brock, Alexander, Leonidas, Louise, Mary, John Walpole, Hannibal and Edward. The first two children were born during the war. Isaac Brock was named after General Isaac Brock who died just before his namesake was born. He was a toddler when the Burwell home was destroyed. Alexander died tragically at two and a half years of age when he fell into scalding water. His father tried to rescue him and was badly burnt. (note to the Surveyor General Ridout (Dec. 20th, 1817) written to explain delay in reporting a survey in Westminster.)
Though he received extensive land grants in payment for the surveying, Burwell was not content to make it his sole life’s work. In an age of patronage, he found support in Colonel Thomas Talbot, who had tremendous influence as founder of the huge tract called the Talbot Settlement. Burwell’s early commissions as Deputy Surveyor and Lieutenant Colonel were due to the favour of Talbot. Burwell was elected several times to the Legislative Assembly of Upper Canada. In 1814, he was appointed to arrest those suspected of high treason during the war. By 1828, just a few of his appointments included:  justice of the peace, by which he had control of all civil and military appointments in Middlesex; registrar of lands for Middlesex; coroner for the London District; post master and customs collector at Port Talbot. For all these positions he was remunerated. His particular interests were education, and the integrity of the magistracy. Though he was criticized for being a supporter of the establishment, he was able to act independently and made appointments of reform minded men when they seemed the best people for the job. After the Rebellion of 1837 Burwell’s influence waned and he retired in 1842.
In 1830, on one of the numerous land grants he received in lieu of cash, he laid out the plan for the village of Port Burwell on Lake Erie. Here he set up a company to develop the harbour and export timber from the area.
Mahlon and Sarah Burwell were buried in St. Stephen’s Anglican Church cemetery just across the road from their home near Port Talbot, on property that they had left for a church. Their children made lives for themselves in politics, business and farming.
Local lore remembers Mahlon Burwell as bigger than life.  One legend says Burwell brought two pear seeds back from his captivity in Ohio and they became the foundation of his orchards.

Through the War of 1812 Graveside Project, Mahlon Burwell and others will be remembered with a ceremony in St. Peter's Anglican Church Cemetery on Sunday, July 12 at 1pm during Backus-Page House Museum's Living History Weekend July 11-12, 2015

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Behind the Scenes of Beds, Baths & Beyond #3

The Outhouse

·       Outhouses, also called a privy, were located at the far end of the garden or yard.  Our replica double seat outhouse at Backus-Page House Museum is behind the house on the east side. 
Pictured is the replica outhouse at Backus-Page House Museum.  
·       Outhouses were constructed of wooden walls and a sloped roofed, usually very small in size and there was a gap in the walls at the top and bottom to allow airflow. Inside was the wooden seat which resembled a shelf.

·       Outhouses were lightweight for easy moving when the hole was full and well ventilated, usually with fragrant flowers planted around it.

·       In some areas, pig manure and soiled straw would be added to the waste piles to help break down the waste material at a quicker pace.

·       When holes filled up, the shelter would be moved to a new area on the property if the family had the space. After the new hole was dug, that soil would be used to seal and cover the old existing hole. If families did not have the luxury of moving the privy, the hole would have to be cleaned out and taken out of town and then spread over fields. This was a major problem for people living in densely populated towns, where common overflowing caused a very unpleasant odor.

·       Not until 1880’s and 1890’s did North American plumbing flourish.  Up until the 1840’s indoor plumbing could be found only in the homes of the rich and in better, upper class hotels. 

Friday, May 22, 2015

Foodie Friday: Salt Water Taffy

Salt Water Taffy
Did You Know- Salt water taffy got its name from a popular story about a candy store owner, David Bradley. David Bradley had a candy shop on the Atlantic city boardwalk. A big storm in 1883 caused the ocean water to wash out David Bradley's candy store and soaked his taffy supply. After the storm, a young girl came into his store and asked for some taffy. David jokingly offered her some "salt water taffy" and the name stuck ever since. 

Salt Water Taffy

  • 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
  • 2/3 cup white corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tbsp. cornstarch
  • 2 tsp. edible glycerin
  • 1 1/4 tsp. sea salt
  • 2 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1/4 tsp. essential oil flavouring
  • paste food colouring 
  • icing sugar
  1. In a large heavy saucepan, stir together sugar, corn syrup, water, cornstarch, glycerin and salt. Bring to boil over medium heat; cook, without stirring but brushing down the side of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in cold water, until candy thermometer reaches hard- ball stage of 260 F or when 1 tsp. hot syrup dropped into cold water forms hard ball, about 8 minutes. 
  2. Remove from heat. Stir in butter until melted; stir in flavouring and colouring. Without scraping bottom, carefully pour onto rimmed nonstick or greased baking sheet. 
  3. Let cool enough to hold indentation when pressed with finger, about 7 minutes. Using greased scraper fold taffy over itself, turning and folding until cool enough to handle.
  4. Using buttered hands, pull, fold and twist taffy until very pale (almost white), opaque, firm and more difficult to pull, about 15 minutes. 
  5. On icing-sugar- dusted surface, pull and twist into 1 inch thick rope. Using greased scissors, cut into 1 inch pieces. Wrap each piece in waxed paper, twisting ends. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

World War Wednesdays: History People Problems #2

    If I had a dollar for every time that I've heard how unemployable a history degree is, I could have it paid off already. I feel like people in this field get a really bad rap and I'd like to try to set the record straight! My goal isn't to write a big boo-hoo defense of history people, but to hopefully add some perspective to the situation and air out some of my thoughts.

     By now, I feel like I've heard all the jokes and opinions out there about how weird historians are and how irrelevant, outmoded, and useless their studies are. I even found this word online courtesy of Urban Dictionary:
one who knows much history, but only lets out small amounts to either (a) annoy people or (b) try to make themselves seem intellegent/funny/cool.
 Now, I would be lying if I said that I haven't encountered a few individuals who fit this description (and there really is nothing more annoying). But, I think it's wrong to paint all of us with the same brush, and I believe there is a good explanation for it. I feel that the root of it is that historians are extremely lucky, and take every opportunity to demonstrate this. To pursue an education in history and then assume a position in the field is to live your dream and be able to harness your passion for your career. There aren't many other fields that allow you to take what you have read about and watched all the movies and shows possible about since you were a young child and apply that knowledge to a job, with the same enthusiasm as when you first found that piece of history that triggered your passion. At the same time, though, it is unreasonable to assume that the rest of the world will share that same passion, or even be remotely interested in it. All through school, we history students see the groups of science, engineering and math students gathered together studying and discussing their class material. Unfortunately for us, we just can't do that in the same way, and I find that the subject can be very isolating at times. Since we mostly have to write long papers on a very specific topic, we are constantly faced with a major concentration of minutely specific facts over an extremely rushed and stressful period in which to organize it into an essay. This makes it difficult to share the burden and partake in a group effort. In a professional setting, the jobs can be just as specific, which leads to the realistic assumption that history jobs are limited. I think that similar to any other field, if you love it enough, you will want to pursue it as much as possible, which ultimately makes you a more qualified prospect for the jobs that do exist.
     But what about those people who decide not to make history their career, but still decide to use their free time to learn more about the past? It is absolutely possible to care about interesting events and information without making it your whole life (and without using it to annoy people). This past weekend, I had the opportunity to experience this concept while volunteering as the upstairs tour guide at the Backus-Page House's Road to Culloden event.
A group of re-enactors at the event
     Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to encounter people from across the entire spectrum of History People. I met the die-hard re-enactors who travel far and wide to camp at events and live and act completely as though it were the 18th century. I also met a number of people from the surrounding area who have an interest in history in general and wanted to support a great event without really knowing what to expect. I can say with full honesty that there was not one single person I encountered who was anything less than cheerful, enthusiastic, and happy to be there. Nobody tried to wow me with their knowledge, not one person undermined what I was telling them, and I did not have a single closed-off or unfriendly visitor. It truly did prove wrong all of the typical perceptions of people interested in history and I was so beyond happy to be a part of it. What I wish people would know about the history field is that it is made up of a group of passionate people who are determined to keep pieces of the past alive and accessible for all of us. Yes, they may seem obsessive, but it is impossible to put together such great events without the drive to make it happen and realize the dream. As long as we have History People to care, think, write, and do, history is accessible to those who are interested. To me, that's worth it.
     Thanks for reading,