Oxford County Archives: Beyond the Vault

Archives Blog

Conservation of the Forests of Ontario

Celebrating the history of forest conservation in Ontario and Oxford County.

By Liz Dommasch, Archivist

In honour of Earth Day (April 22nd) I thought I would share the following correspondence Oxford County Council sent to the Ontario Legislative Assembly in 1873:

To the Honourable the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Ontario in Parliament Assemble.

The Memorial of the Municipal Council of the Corporation of the County of Oxford humble showeth:

That among the most enlightened nations of Europe, the conservation of their forests has been carefully maintained by wise and wholesome laws to the manifest benefit of their climatic conditions, as well as their agricultural mechanical and general economic interests:

That the destruction of the forests over a wide extent of the central and northern portions of this Continent has been, and continues to be so rapid extensive and indiscriminate as seriously to create alarm in the minds of thoughtful men, on account of the consequent deterioration of climate, and its attendant injurious effect upon so important a national interest as agriculture; also on account of the rapid increase in price, and at no remote period the scarcity of many economic enterprises of importance:

And whereas, the Legislature of States of the neighbouring Republic have already passed laws with reference to the conservation of forests, and of planting of forest trees, and it is desirable that this Province should pursue a similar course of action.

Your memorialist therefore pray that you will take this matter into serious consideration, and enact such laws as in your wisdom seem calculated to arrest and prevent the evils complained of in their memorial.

And your memorialists shall be duty bound,

Ever pray,




County Clerk

County Council Chamber,

Woodstock, January 31st, 1873A map of Algonquin National Park.

Although the County sent their memorial in 1873, the Ontario parks system didn’t begin until 1893 with the creation of Algonquin Park, which was originally designed to protect loggers’ interests from settlement. In 1914 the Parks Act was passed that set aside land not suitable for agriculture or settlement, though by 1954, there were only eight provincial parks in existence (Algonquin, Quetico, Long Point, Rondeau, Presqu’ile, Ipperwash, Lake Superior, and what is now known as Sleeping Giant). That same year, the management and creation of provincial parks came under the Department of Lands and Forests. They formed a Division of Parks that herald a new and aggressive program to create more parks, primarily along the Great Lakes and northern tourism highways. By 1960, the Province had a total of 72 provincial parks and as of 2001 that number had jumped to 280, with 9 million visitors annually visiting. These parks now encompass 7.1 million hectares, which is about 9 percent of the province’s area.

In Oxford County, there are a number of tracts set aside for preservation and conservation purposes. One such area, is the W. Leslie Dickson Arboretum located between Woodstock and Innerkip which was the product of a group called “The Men of Trees” and named after former County Warden, Les Dickson, who was committed to woodlot management and the preservation of native Canadian trees. The arboretum includes many species of Carolinian trees and well over 150 native trees and shrubs have been labeled.

County Warden Leslie Dickson portrait

Portrait of Oxford County Warden W. Leslie Dickson, 1973

Beginning in 1970, Earth Day is an international event celebrated around the world to pledge support for environmental protection. This year’s theme is “Restore our Earth” and focuses on ways that we can restore the world’s ecosystems and forests, conserve and rebuild soils, improve farming practices, restore wildlife populations and rid the world’s oceans of plastics. This April 22nd, I hope you have an opportunity to visit some of the nature tracts and conservation areas in the County and surrounding areas and are able to reflect on ways that we can all protect our planet.

Image credit: 1893 Survey of Park Lands prepared by the Department of Crown Lands and Resources. This image is available from the Archives of Ontario under the item reference code RG 1, B-43-06.

A Day as an Archives Technician

Find out what a typical day looks like for our Archives Technician.

By Megan Lockhart, Archives Technician

I’m Megan, the Archives Technician at the Oxford County Archives. I’ve held my role at the Archives for three years, and I’m a self-professed history geek with a professional background in museums, archives, and education. I wear many hats in my role as the Archives Technician (figurative hats, I typically don’t wear hats at work). I work alongside the County Archivist and help with the day to day operations of the Archives. A typical day at my job looks different depending on the day or week.

We are currently working from home in response to COVID-19, but normally when I am in the office I start off my day checking emails for research requests or program bookings. Despite working from home, archives staff are still responding to research inquiries remotely, check out our website for more information on how to get in contact with us while we are temporarily closed to the public. I also help with responding to research requests from walk-in patrons throughout the day (when we are open) but we prefer researchers make an appointment with us so we have enough time to pull and prepare the records and information they are looking for.

Responding to research inquiries can sometimes take up a large part of my day, depending on the amount of information the researchers are looking for, but I take on many other tasks as well. I aid the Archivist in archival record acquisition, and arrange and describe records in collections and fonds. This process includes creating finding aids for the collections, descriptive inventories, and contributing the descriptions to the online archival database Archeion. As I process a collection, I also make note of the condition of the records. If records within a collection are in need of basic conservation work, such as cleaning or repair, I will apply the required conservation work to the records first before I have completely processed them and placed them in storage. If records are in need of more advanced conservation, they are typically set aside in our conservation lab to be further assessed by the Archivist, sometimes we may consult a conservator who specializes in specific types of conservation – such as art conservators or book binders.

Outside of research, and arrangement and description of records, I work on the coordination of our digital engagement, public outreach and educational programming. Public outreach and community engagement is essential for archives and other heritage institutions. We work to raise awareness of the importance of historical records and narratives, and promote our archival holdings to the public. We also provide educational services to the local community and work to interpret our community’s heritage. I work to promote our archival holdings and local heritage through social media (follow us on Instagram: @OxfordCountyArchives), and YouTube videos. I help design and promote our public exhibitions, online exhibits, and maintain and update our website. I also develop and coordinate public and educational programming including virtual and in-person workshops and presentations, school programming, and programming for long-term care centres and other community groups. Part of my role within digital engagement is the digitization of our archival collections. I often spend time scanning and making digital copies of our document and photograph collections for preservation purposes, and to expand the accessibility of our records by making them available online.

As you can probably tell, my position and role at the Archives cannot easily be summed up by one or two tasks. Working in archives, and the heritage/cultural field in general, provides a wide range of experiences and is a dynamic work environment. For more information on the Oxford County Archives visit our website.

The Role of an Archivist

County Archivist Liz breaks down her role as Archivist and clears up some misconceptions about the field!

By Liz Dommasch, County Archivist

I can say without a doubt, I absolutely love my job! However, often when I tell people I’m an archivist, it’s met with a blank stare. In one case, I had someone ask me if I dug up artefacts for a living (archaeologist) and my predecessor once had someone ask her if she set things on fire (arsonist)! However, most times people equate it to working in a library or museum, which in some ways it is. An archives contains primary source historical records, which can be paper based (such as letters, diaries, and photographs), audio/video formats (such as film, discs, and tapes), and now even digital content (such as emails and even web pages). These records often relate to an individual, business, or organization and helps tell their story or function over time.

Similar to an archaeologist, my job is to dig through the records in order to find information for researchers and the general public. It’s also my job to arrange and describe the records and/or collections (in the archives we refer to a collection as a fonds) that are transferred or donated to the archives so that they are accessible to those wishing to access them. In doing so, it’s my responsibility to ensure that those records are stored safely, using acid free materials, and to complete any conservation/preservation work required on them. One of the most satisfying tasks I perform at the archives is assisting the public with their research requests and helping to preserve their own family’s history and records through conservation work.

I’m also extremely fortunate to get the opportunity to be creative by formulating physical exhibits at the archives and the County’s Administration building as well as expanding the type and amount of online content we produce on our website and social media platforms. It’s always exciting to see the public interacting with our online exhibits, programmes, and activity pages and we love receiving feedback from those using our services!

Often times I’m asked how I ended up working in the archival field. As someone who always has had a passion for history I completed my undergraduate degree in history prior to receiving my masters in library information science. I was lucky enough to start working at the Oxford County Archives, back in 2003, covering a mat leave and have been here ever since! The County has such a rich and fascinating history and I love being able to share it with others.

Exploring Archives: The Quirky, Creepy, and Mystifying - County Council's Barbershop Quartet

Oxford County Council's lesser known barbershop quartet history.

By Megan Lockhart, Archives Technician

Did you know? Oxford County Council once formed an award winning barbershop quartet. This is a lesser known story that is part of our County Council’s history, but it’s a gem. In the fall of 1950, Oxford County Council received a challenge from the Waterloo Council and the South Waterloo Agricultural Society to take part in a barbershop quartet contest at the Galt Fair. County Warden Robert Rudy accepted the challenge. Reeve Roland B. Fry was appointed as trainer for the quartet. Reeve Clarence Stover, Reeve Alster Clarke, Reeve Arthur Maedel and Fry all began training in secret. However, it was said the sound of the reeves singing could be heard in strange places throughout the County and people began to wonder what the Council was up to.The rose bowl trophy, won by Oxford County Council for their barbershop quartet.

After all their hard work, the Oxford County barbershop quartet won the title of best barbershop quartet in six counties, receiving the Rose Bowl Trophy. Dr. Bell, founder of the Leslie Bell Singers of Toronto, was quoted as saying that it was not the best singing he had heard but it was the singing of the people, by the people, and he thought Canada needed more of it.

Oxford County Council had hopes of keeping the title and trophy the following year. However, only Reeve Stover remained on Council. The hunt began for new talent. Reeve Ollen Carter, Reeve Murray Logan and Reeve Thomas Pellow joined to form the new quartet. Once again, they were victorious in the competition. The competition in 1951 was the last and Oxford County still holds the trophy to this day.

So where did barbershop quartets originate from? There isn’t a clear answer but some research into the topic has been undertaken by academics. Barbershop quartet singing is believed to have originated in the United States of America. It is believed that the concept may come from a time when barbershops established social and musical centres for men. However, the roots of barbershop harmony music have been traced to African-American cultural tradition. Jazz archivist Lynn Abbott found evidence that barbershop quartets were prevalent in African-American culture in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and was influential in the development of jazz music. Abbott and other historians have found through their research that during the 1880s and 1890s, the Black community harmonized the popular songs of the day, along with various spiritual and folk songs. The harmonies were improvised according to African-American musical practice and history. White professional quartets picked up the sound and altered it by adding some of their own musical traditions. These quartets brought the barbershop harmonies into recording studios, and the sounds became quite popular. Black quartets were not provided with the same recording opportunities and mass distribution that the white artists were provided.

Oxford County Council members posing with the Rose Bowl trophy.

Oxford County Council barbershop quartet members posing with the Rose Bowl trophy, 1951


Barbershop Harmony Society. “A Rich African-American Tradition”. https://www.barbershop.org/about/history-of-barbershop/roots-of-barbershop-harmony

Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Barbershop quartet singing”. https://www.britannica.com/art/soca-music

McIntyre and his Windmills

James McIntyre, Oxford County's "Cheese Poet".

By Liz Dommasch, County Archivist

James McIntyre was a Scottish poet who immigrated to Canada in 1851. He would eventually settle in Ingersoll, Ontario where he worked as a cabinet-maker, a furniture and coffin dealer, as well as an undertaker on King Street. He was also a driving A sketch portrait of poet James McIntyreforce for the first public library in town and a passionate writer of poetry that highlighted rural life and the natural beauty of the outdoors. Although criticized for his lack of literary skills, he is often referred to as the Cheese Poet, as cheese was a recurring theme in many of his poems.

I’m sure James would be surprised yet delighted to see that his following poem, has taken on a whole new meaning across Oxford County’s dairy landscape:

‘Tis charming for to view windmill,

Picturesque in vale or hill,

Forcing up a sparkling rill

And cows enjoy with right good will

Clear water brewed in nature’s still,

And of it they do drink their fill.

No wonder they can make with ease

In Oxford world renowned cheese,

For cows enjoy the clear pure stream

With rich, sweet grass makes best of cream.

Cow, you must treat her as a queen,

When grass is dry cut her feed green,

Its benefits will quick be seen

For she is a grand milk machine;

The system it is called soiling,

But it repays for extra toiling.

For those interested in reading more of McIntyre’s works, the Oxford County Library has a few of books available for loan: https://www.ocl.net/

Poem Credit: McIntyre’s Poems. Ingersoll: The Chronicle, 1889.

About this Blog

Welcome! Our blog provides a perspective on the Oxford County Archives beyond the vault and delves into the fascinating stories found within our collection. Get to know our staff, discover what we do at the archives and learn more about Oxford County's cultural heritage. Updates on our services, programs and events will also be shared right here on this blog! 

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Oxford County is taking steps to support our community's response to COVID-19 (coronavirus disease) and measures taken by Southwestern Public Health. We are monitoring our operations daily to ensure we are taking the right actions to protect our residents, employees and visitors. Get updates at www.oxfordcounty.ca/COVID-19