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Article posted: Jan. 04, 2001

Grey County (Ontario) Archives
By: Ryan Taylor, Biography and Archived Articles

Grey County Ontario recently opened a new archives.

The archives functions in cooperation with the Grey-Owen Sound Museum, but for the moment has a rural setting. In the future, both the museum and archives will have a new facility in Owen Sound itself. Archivist Paul White showed me around the building. Because of its official status as a county archives, it holds the municipal records for the various townships and villages within Grey.

It also has Tweedsmuir Histories for 36 Women's Institutes from the area. The Tweedsmuirs are manuscript local histories compiled by members of the WI about their own farms, families, villages and businesses. They are often detailed accounts which include materials not seen elsewhere. The Grey County Archives has been made custodian of these invaluable documents and currently has an exhibition of the Tweedsmuirs and other WI artifacts loaned by the Owen Sound Museum. Among them is a quilt embroidered with the names of all the WI members in the county in 1963-64. There are 1700 names.

As I pointed out, that quilt is now a genealogical resource.

The archives' success is assured. Local reaction can be gauged from the steady stream of donations from Grey county families, more than White expected. He is gladdened by the response. He was especially excited by the gift of the manuscript of Richard Rorke's Forty Years in the Forest. This is a pioneer memoir of Collingwood and Tecumseth townships, first published more than a century ago. It is still available in a new edition from the archives.

Rorke's great-great-granddaughter, Phyllis Armstrong, brought the carefully preserved manuscript to the archives and it will now rest there for posterity.

Most documents offered to the archives are less famous but equally welcome. Even gifts of individual postcards, letters or business ledgers would find a home there. Many people do not realize that these records can be valuable tools for historical researchers in the future, and their offerings to archives benefit many people whom they will never see.

Another gift was the library of Mildred Young Hubbert, local historian of Grey and the Hudson's Bay area (an interesting combination). The archives' reading room is also named for Hubbert.

The archives has a reference library of local and social history materials, but many of Hubbert's books concern early Ontario education and may not be suitable for the archives' permanent collection. For the moment they are housed where the public can browse among the old textbooks.

The municipal records begin in 1850 and include council minutes for the county and townships, registration books of births, deaths and marriages, and also 125 years of original Durham newspapers. There are many maps and plans also, but they are not yet organized. Much of the work arranging the archives is done by trained volunteers.

The archives makes room for a small display of materials from the Owen Sound Museum. Currently this includes a manual coffee grinder. White says that early settlers in Grey lacked a proper grist mill for grinding wheat into flour, and farmers insisted that their wives use the tiny coffee grinders instead. A whole day of grinding yielded only enough flour for one loaf of bread.

White and his assistant Karin Foster welcome visitors to the Grey County Archives Monday to Friday 8:30 to 4:30 and Saturday 8:30 to 1:00. Admission is $4, $2 for students. Look at its website at The mailing address is Box 1389, Durham NOG 1R0, telephone 519-369-3245, fax 519-369-6547.

The archives is located on Baptist Church Road (Grey Road #4) near the intersection with concession 4, not far from Priceville. Their website has a clear map showing how to get there.

Christmas Memories

Why is it that Christmas memories always seem to happen at night?

After all, the really big memories should feature Christmas morning, right? Sunlight reflected off the snowdrifts outside the picture window, filling the room with a golden glow while we unwrap our presents and eat iced sugar cookies off the tree.

But my childhood Christmas memories all seem to have a night setting.

There are glimpses of the old one-room school where I started my education, and where we staged the Sunday School Christmas concerts. We would get inside quickly because it was so cold, and then put on home-made costumes ready for whatever play or recitation we were performing.

The bright lights of the stage contrasted with the pitch darkness outside, visible through the unshaded windows of the schoolroom.

On Christmas Eve, long after sunset and once again in the black and cold, our family, my parents, brother, sister and I, would pile into the 1957 Dodge with the fins and the chrome and the acqua stripe along the side, and drive the few blocks to the house where the other Taylors lived.

Uncle Bill and Aunt Phyllis had four daughters, and when we arrived, perhaps at eleven or later, they would be madly wrapping gifts. No matter how late or what the circumstances they would be wrapping. We would all laugh about it.

And then they would stop and there would be coffee (or tea? Aunt Phyllis is a tea drinker) and huge trays of beautiful holiday treats. While other people made good food, Aunt Phyllis is an artist. Her shortbread cookies were pink and green, shaped like stars with silver balls in the center. No one's cookies looked like hers.

And the Christmas cake, two kinds, dark and light. Her mother, Grandma Hansel, had made two kinds and so did she. I remember her talking about her mother's cakes on one of those nights, not long after Grandma Hansel had died. Aunt Phyllis' light cake had a pattern of nuts and cherries on top which glistened in the light. It almost seemed a shame to cut it, but only almost. We could not resist a taste.

One year my cousin Janet was finally old enough to stay up with her parents until we arrived. The two of us were great friends and having her there was very exciting for me too. She now says that those late-night visits are among her most cherished Christmas memories.

I cannot remember being tired although it was so late and we had done so much that day. The excitement of anticipating Christmas morning should have made my eyes heavy too, but I don't think it did.

But why should such a simple occasion have mattered so much to us? We saw the Taylors every week, we could have eaten cookies and sat at Aunt Phyllis' table at any time.

It was a magic combination of the special night and the unusual time for a visit. There were the once-a-year treats. The people were ones that we loved to be with. And, as the years went on, each added to the others, reinforcing the tradition that made this visit stand out from any other.

Perhaps that was it. A simple occasion, repeated year after year, and always happily, takes on a glow. Janet and I, and the others too, will always remember those nights in a special way.

The memories of even simple occasions can be part of the pageant of our family history, and should not be left out when we write and tell our stories. May you enjoy the memories of Christmas past over the next couple of weeks, and have fun creating some new ones.

Ryan's Heritage Notebook:

Inventors In Your Family's Past?
I suppose few of us think we have inventors in the family, but if you suspect you do, Gordon C. Phillips' little known book Index of Inventors and Inventions for Canadian Patents, 1824 to 1892 (1983) will be useful.

The index is very basic, giving people's names and the numbers of their patents, but with supplemental indexes for place names and types of patents. Perhaps you are connected with the person who invented a means of using steam to convert peat to coal. This book had a limited circulation, but you can probably find it in a large library.

Anglican Diocese of Ottawa
Anglo-Celtic Roots, the journal of the British-Irish Family History Society of Greater Ottawa published a useful list of the Anglican parishes in the diocese of Ottawa with the diocesan holdings of registers for each parish. It is the kind of list which should be tucked in a file for future reference if you had relatives in that part of the country. It is in the Fall 2000 edition of the journal.

Tracing Your Saskatchewan Ancestors?
The Saskatchewan Genealogical Society has issued a guide to genealogical reources in that province, Tracing Your Saskatchewan Ancestors: A Guide to the Records and How to Use Them, edited by Laura M. Hanowski. Hanowski is the SGS librarian and a shining authority on research methods and Saskatchewan research. She discusses the huge cemetery and residents indexes available through the SGS library as well as sources in national and provincial archives. Chris Gebhard of the Saskatchewan archives says, "Whether one is a novice or veteran, the book will prove to be an indispensable reference tool." I have not seen the handbook yet, but when my copy comes I know I'll be consulting it often.

Controversy Over
There has been some controversy recently about a website called If you go to the home page, there are dazzling flashing lights and promises of access to many databases, for a one-time fee of US$49.95.

The controversy is around the fact that it seems the FamilyDiscovery's many links (new links added all the time) are free resources which anyone could access without paying anyone a fee. It is suggested that you go to Cyndi's List, which has thousands of links similar to those on FamilyDiscovery, but which is free at You can spend your fifty dollars on some other tools which will advance your research.

Books By Ryan Taylor

Across The Waters, Ontario Immigrants Experiences 1820 - 1850 - by Frances Hoffman & Ryan Taylor, 1999. Riveting first-hand accounts of the immigration and settlement experience, taken from the diaries and letters of 150 immigrants.

Routes To Roots, The Best of Ryan Taylor's columns from the Kitchener Waterloo Record, by Ryan Taylor 1997

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Norway Bay United & Anglican Cemetery
(Pontiac County, Quebec)

The Merivale Cemeteries
(Protestant - Ottawa area)