Children in the Huron Jail

May 18th is International Museum Day! Museums and historic sites across the world are opening their doors for free today. For those whom cannot visit the Huron Historic Gaol in person, Student Museum Assistant Jacob Smith delves into the building’s past to reveal how some of Huron’s youngest prisoners ended up behind bars. 

During its operation [1841-1972], hundreds of children were arrested and sent to the Huron Jail. Their crimes ranged from arson and theft to drunkenness and vagrancy. The most common crime that children committed was theft. In total, thefts made up over half of all youth charges between 1841 and 1911. In total, children under the age of 18 made up 7% of the gaol population during that time.*

 
Occasionally, young people were sent to gaol for serious crimes. In 1870, William Mercer, age 17, was brought to the Huron Gaol and charged with murder. He was sentenced to die and was to be hanged on December 29, 1870. Thankfully for Mercer, his sentence was reduced to life in prison and was sent to a penitentiary. This is an example of an extreme crime for a young offender.

On many occasions, children were sent to gaol because they were petty thieves. Many young people who were committed for these types of crimes would only spend a few days in gaol. If the crime was more severe, children would be transferred from the gaol to a reformatory, usually for three to five years.

The youngest inmates that were charged with a crime were both seven years old. The first, Thomas McGinn, was charged in 1888 for larceny. He was discharged five days later and was sentenced to five years in a reformatory. The second, John Scott, was charged in 1900 for truancy; he was discharged the next day.

First floor cell block at the Huron Historic Gaol.

Unfortunately, some children were brought into gaol with their families because they were homeless or destitute. An example of this was in 1858, when Margaret Bird, age 8, Marion Bird, 6, and Jane Bird, 2, spent 25 days in gaol with a woman committed for ‘destitution’ (presumably their mother). Some children were also brought to the Huron Jail because their parents committed a crime and they had nowhere else to go while their parents were incarcerated. Samuel Worms, age 7, was sent to gaol with his parents because they were charged with fraud in 1865. He spent one day in the Gaol.

When reading through the Gaol’s registry, it is clear that times have certainly changed for young offenders. Most of the crimes committed by the young prisoners of the past would not receive as serious punishments today.

Here are some examples of their crimes in newspapers from around Huron County:

Richard Cain, 16, spent two days in jail.
The Huron Signal, 1896-09-17, pg 5.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Philip Butler, 15, spent eleven days in the Huron Jail.
The Exeter Advocate, 1901-08-29, pg 4.

Sources came from the Gaol’s 1841-1911 registry and Huron County’s digitized newspapers.

*Dates for which the gaol registry is available & transcribed. There were young people in the Huron jail throughout its history, into the twentieth century. 

The Gathering Place, Part 4: The Opening of the Presumably Absent Meeting Place

Guest blogger and local Wingham artist Becca Marshall finishes her series on the museum as ‘gathering place’ with a behind the scenes look at her exhibit on display now at Brock University. 

After a long year of photographing, developing, printing, and researching, we have finally made it to the finish line. As such, the end of my project was marked with a gallery exhibition of the photographs I took throughout the year accompanied by text and installation pieces on April 13th at the Marilynn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts in St. Catharines, ON. I thought I would include some photos and descriptions of the pieces below for those who wish to see the end result, or, if you are in the area you can go to the gallery and see the installation in person (On display Tuesday-Saturday from 1-5 pm until May 5th).

A couple of photos from the installation process.

Over the course of a couple of days and with the assistance of Matthew Tegal and Marcie Bronson from Rodman Hall, and Professor Amy Friend and Lesley Bell from Brock University, we were able to set up and install the show.

Step Lightly (2017) Pigment print on luster paper and graphite This is the beginning piece of the exhibition. The photo features the train of Jean (Scott) Taylor’s wedding dress and is accompanied by personal writing in graphite directly on the wall next to the image so that it can only be seen up close. A smaller image is hidden to the side of the text of an old bottle of Potassium Chlorate medication.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shelf Life (2017) Assortment of boxes This piece takes up the span of the long wall. The eclectic boxes are a stand in for the discovery process that a person experiences in the museum. Visitors are encouraged to take their time opening the boxes and looking for things that might have been left behind.

Pulling Threads (2017) Pigment print on luster paper, graphite, and archival tissue paper This piece consists of the large format print of the child’s sewing machine from the museum coupled with a collage of tissue paper with fragmented writing. Beneath these sheets are more hidden photos. The viewer either has to lift the pages up to view the smaller pieces, or they might catch a glimpse when someone walks by and the breeze lifts up the pages for a few moments, exposing the photos underneath.

 

 

 

 

 

Twelve Parts Fragile (2017) Pigment print on cotton rag paper The final piece of the show is a series of artifact photographs presented side by side so that they read like a sentence. This piece ties together the nature of the museum- the bringing together of like and unlike things to share their stories.

 


In many ways, I still cannot believe that this project is over. It was the experience of a lifetime and I am so grateful to the incredible staff at the museum who so generously gave their time and resources to help me better understand the nature of collections, curation, and our relationship to artifact display.

Additionally, without the support of my supervising instructors, Professor Amy
Friend and Dr. Keri Cronin, along with the advice and aid of Matthew Tegal, Marcie Bronson, and Lesley Bell, this project would never have gotten off the ground. Their constant support was of the utmost value. Overall, I learned so much about the silent conversations and nuances that inform our interactions with artifacts from the past – and I am so grateful for those of you who followed
me along on this journey.

The Meeting Place Part 3: Interviews with Museum Staff

Over the course of the past several months that I’ve spent photographing artifacts at the museum, I’ve been lucky to get the perspectives of several different Huron County Museum staff members to see how they encounter objects and their narratives. Below are a selection of responses from interviews with Curator Elizabeth French-Gibson, Archivist Jenna Leifso, Registrar Patti Lamb, and Museum Technician Heidi Zoethout.

Do you have a favourite artifact/archival document at the museum (either on display or in storage)? If so, could you describe why?

Jenna Leifso (Archivist): I really enjoy the photograph collection and couldn’t pick just one photo because every time I catalogue a new collection or look through the photos I find something that delights me. The facial expressions, the clothes, and the hair are all really incredible.

Elizabeth French-Gibson (Curator): My favourite artifacts are the textiles, primarily the clothing. I look at each piece and wonder about the person who wore it – why did they have it & why did they save it? I am curious to know what other clothes they had and wore out, had and ruined or simply had and didn’t think were significant enough to save. We have many pieces in the collection that are the fancy dress, wedding attire, baby clothing, etc. that are beautiful and special but what about the everyday? What did they chose to simply wear and what to wear out?

Patti Lamb (Registrar): So many of our artifacts tell really cool stories, it’s hard to pick out just one. But my favourite artifact has to be Tiger Dunlop’s silver cup with the gold sovereign in it. We just received it a few months ago. It is so incredible to me to be able to hold in my hands the same silver cup that Tiger Dunlop drank from…someone that was so significant politically to Goderich, the county, our county and the world. The cup was willed to his sister in his quirky will.

Beaded necklace: 1957.10.3. Photo from Huron County Museum’s catalogue.

Heidi Zoethout (Museum Technician): I have a few favourites, right now the top of the list is the carved beaded necklace. The detail in the larger beads is amazing. I did not realize that some beads are carved fruit pits. Something that is normally discarded that can be made into something so beautiful.

Close-up of carved bead.

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What is your perception of artifacts? What place and value do you think they have in society to-day?

Jenna Leifso (Archivist): I think I may have a different perception of artifacts than most people. Growing up, my family always went to museums and historical villages. I think it’s cool to see how we have evolved and how we are always trying to constantly improve.

Elizabeth French-Gibson (Curator): I think that artifacts provide us with a tangible connection with the past. It is necessary to have all types of artifacts available to the public in order to have a better view of the past. It would be easy to change the story, or overlook the mundane if the true pieces were not there. Each artifact has the ability to tell a story but the storyteller must be open to what it is truly saying.

Patti Lamb (Registrar): The artifacts create ties with the past and gives history a visual component. In such a disposable world in which we live, I think it’s important to be able to physically see and possibly touch items from the past.

Heidi Zoethout (Museum Technician): Some people look at an artifact and imagine who would have used it and create a scene in their mind. When I am working with an artifact, I think about the work and thought that went into its creation. Some designs have not changed much over time while others can be seen evolving through the collection we have.Through artifacts we are able to see how our thoughts and values have changed over time as a society and where they have not. It is a common refrain when staff are moving large objects that “they don’t make them like that anymore”. From the materials used, the amount of material used and the details that have gone into producing the product. An example of this is a bicycle that I was preparing for exhibit. It had many grease fittings which we no longer require on bicycles and the rims were made from wood. The wood had been lacquered and pin striping had been applied. When I finished working with the bicycle I came to appreciate it as work of art rather than a mode of transportation.

What would your dream project be? (e.g curating a certain type of exhibition, working with a certain set of artifacts, researching a particular area, etc.)

Jenna Leifso (Archivist): One of my dream projects would be exploring how Huron County residents acquired their clothes. I think there is a misconception that rural citizens were out of fashion and that everything was homemade, drab and boring. It would be interesting to have an exhibit that looks at the clothing factories that used to be here, mail order catalogues like Eatons and Simpsons, and how residents were influenced by fashions overseas. I would use photographs, newspaper advertisements, local directories, maps, correspondence, diary entries, and of course, clothes that are in the collection to research and create this exhibit.
Elizabeth French-Gibson (Curator): I would like to be able to spend more time on research for the Gaol. I think there are resources out there that we have not found yet and the resources that we have that have not been given the focus yet. It would be interesting for me to be able to learn more about the circumstances and lives of the people who spent time in our Gaol, as well as the functions and habits of the Gaol itself.

Patti Lamb (Registrar): My dream project would be anything related to glass or to be able to spend a greater amount of time on the Huron Pottery exhibit and the archeological collection.

Heidi Zoethout (Museum Technician): Currently my dream project would be organizing offsite storage so we could have tours available to the public. There are many details and much work required to make that possible.

Overall, throughout this project one of the most valuable experiences has been hearing the varying perspectives on museums, exhibit design, and artifacts, from such a knowledgeable and unique staff. The differing responses speak to how each of us experiences artifacts and their narratives differently according to our own lived experiences.

The artistic exhibition of photographs taken during this project will be on display in St. Catharines at the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts from April 11th – May 5th with an opening reception to be held on April 13th from 5-7pm.

The Mystery of the 4th Toe on the Left Foot

The list of women from Huron County who served as nursing sisters in the First World War is now up to 50 names!  This list includes women who served with the Canadian Army Medical Corps (CAMC), American Army Medical Corps, Red Cross, and Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service. As more records become available online, we are finding out more about what their lives were like before, during, and after the war.

It can be difficult to find out what happened to a nurse after the war ended for many different reasons. Many women married and changed their name, some moved across the country or the United States, and a lot of records still aren’t available due to privacy legislation. Due to limited resources, it can be very difficult track people down and verify their identity.

One such woman is Mary Agatha Bell, who was born, according to her Attestation Papers, on November 5, 1879 in St. Augustine but lived in Blyth, Ontario. Mary enlisted on April 3, 1917 in London, Ontario, left Canada on May 20, 1917, and arrived in England on May 30, 1917. While overseas, Mary mainly served with the 7th Canadian General Hospital in France. She also did temporary duties with the 6th and 8th Canadian General Hospitals. After the war ended, Mary sailed back to Canada in July 1919 on the S.S. Olympic.

U.S., Border Crossings from Canada to U.S. – Ancestry.ca

It was difficult to track down what happened to Mary Agatha Bell after the war. On October 11, 1925, a birth registration* was issued to a Mary Bridget Bell born on November 5, 1874 in St. Augustine, Ontario. Records show that this Mary Bridget Bell moved to the state of New York on October 22, 1925. A border crossing document from August 1945 states that Mary’s address was 11 Hows Avenue, New Rochelle, New York, where she worked as a registered nurse. The document also states that she is missing the fourth toe on her left foot.

New York, Naturalization Records – Ancestry.ca

This last piece of information was critical in definitively proving that Mary Agatha Bell (born in 1879) is the same person as Mary Bridget Bell (born 1874). According to her service file, Mary starting experiencing problems with her left foot in France, 1918. Notes in her file refer to her problem as a “contracted toe”. The 4th toe on her left foot was eventually amputated when she returned to Toronto in 1919 at St. Andrews Hospital.

It appears that Mary lied about her birth year on her Attestation Paper. This was not uncommon among women enlisting as nursing sisters in WWI. Mary would have been a much more appealing candidate at age 38 than her real age of 43. Why she decided to change her middle name from Agatha to Bridget still remains a mystery…

 

*Birth registrations were often issued to adults who didn’t have birth certificates

Old News is Good News: All About ‘Project Silas’

What discoveries await you in Huron’s newly digitized historical newspapers? Special Project Coordinator Jeremy Dechert introduces Project Silas! Stay tuned for more updates, search tips and highlights.

From The Brussels Post, Nov. 18, 1898.

The Huron County Library, in partnership with the Huron County Museum, has been digitizing, OCRing (optical character recognition technology which reads and transcribes images) and publishing historical newspapers from communities across Huron County. Codenamed Project Silas, this initiative is aimed at assisting both academic and casual researchers in their quest for knowledge of Huron County’s past. Local newspapers are robust sources of historical information due to their consistent and specific reporting on particular persons, events, and places. Digitizing newspapers which were previously on microfilm and allowing them to be text searchable further democratizes public information and saves researchers countless hours of work and frustration by making multiple papers available from the comfort of your own home.

Cultural Services staff at the County of Huron have worked diligently to both build the project structure and process and post newspapers from the towns and villages of Blyth, Exeter, Goderich, and Wingham so far. I took over the project at the beginning of this month, and have recently added papers from Brussels to the website. Papers from Clinton and Seaforth are soon to follow. By the end of 2017 we hope to have additional papers from Zurich, Gorrie, Wroxeter, and Goderich on the website as well.

 

Stay up-to-date on the progress of Project Silas by…

Visit our website: http://www.huroncountymuseum.ca/digitized-newspapers/

Liking our Facebook page Huron County Museum

Following us on Twitter @hcmuseum