It was a full house at Deseronto Public Library this afternoon, as author Frances Itani launched her new novel, Tell, to an appreciative audience of more than fifty people.

Frances Itani talking to a full house at Deseronto Public Library

Tell is a follow-on story to Deafening, the author’s first novel, which was published in 2003. Like Deafening, Tell is based in Deseronto, and it follows the story of four of the characters from the first book. It is set in the period immediately following the end of the First World War. Frances made excellent use of the archives here in Deseronto in her research for the book and we were delighted to host her first stop on the promotional tour.

Frances Itani signing copies of 'Tell'

And we are pleased to report that every copy of Tell was snapped up by the audience!

Queen's WWI - MacTavish, Roswell Murray

Roswell Murray MacTavish – image courtesy of Queen’s University Archives

Roswell ‘Ross’ Murray MacTavish was born on September 22, 1888 in St. George, Ontario, the son of William MacTavish and Margaret (née McKay). His father was the Presbyterian minister of Deseronto between 1895 and 1905 and Ross attended both the Deseronto Public School and Deseronto High School.

He studied at Queen’s University, getting his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1907 and a Bachelor of Divinity degree in 1913. He had obtained a travelling scholarship and was in England at the outbreak of World War I. On this date in 1914 he enlisted as a trooper in the 2nd King Edward’s Horse regiment. He obtained a commission as a second lieutenant in the 2nd Battalion of the South Staffordshire Regiment on March 13th, 1915.

MacTavish was the first person with a Deseronto connection to join the armed forces in the First World War. He rose to the rank of Captain and was awarded the Military Cross on January 1, 1919.

MacTavish continued to serve in France after the war, working at the headquarters of the 6th Infantry Brigade. He died of influenza in the No. 3 Canadian Stationary Hospital at Arques on February 6, 1919 and was buried in the Longuenesse Souvenir Cemetery, Saint-Omer.

Ross MacTavish’s younger brother, Wilfrid, named his son (born in Saskatchewan in 1919) Roswell Murray. Roswell Murray MacTavish junior joined the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War as a flying officer and was killed when his Hurricane aircraft crashed in Scotland on March 18th, 1944. He was buried in Ayr cemetery.

Tell by Frances ItaniThe Deseronto Public Library and Deseronto Archives are delighted to announce that they will be hosting the launch of Frances Itani’s new novel, Tell on Thursday, August 28th at 1pm in the Deseronto Public Library.

Tell follows on from the author’s first novel, Deafening, which was partly set in Deseronto. It picks up on four of the minor characters from Deafening and follows their stories in Deseronto after the First World War.

After a reading from the novel, books will be available for signing by the author. Refreshments will be served.

Armies of Europe at a glance

Armies of Europe at a glance from the The Sun, New York, August 2nd, 1914: Russia, Germany, Austria, France, Italy, England, Serbia

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the declaration of war by Great Britain on Germany in response to the German invasion of Belgium on that day. At 11pm Greenwich Mean Time that evening (6pm Eastern Standard Time), Britain and its Dominions (including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India and South Africa) were officially at war. You can hear about people’s memories of their reactions to the declaration in this podcast from the Imperial War Museum.

During the next four years we will be marking the 100th anniversaries of local events in relation to the war on this blog. We plan to commemorate the enlistment and conscription of individual Deseronto and Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory men, women, and boys, their deaths in action and from disease, as well as events associated with the local Royal Flying Corps/Royal Air Force pilot training establishments at Camps Rathbun and Mohawk, which operated between 1917 and 1918.

Our aim is to use archival materials from Deseronto and from around the world to demonstrate the local effects of a global war.

If you have photographs, or letters, or family stories about the First World War in Deseronto and the surrounding area, we’d love to share them here as part of this project: you can email us at deseronto.archives@gmail.com.

Estella Burkett was a teacher at the Deseronto Public School. She was born in Maynooth, Ontario in 1913 to Agnes Shields and Patrick Burkett. The picture below shows her with her class of children in 1949, outside the old Public School building. Estella retired in 1974 and lived in Belleville until her death in 2010 at the age of 97.

2010.27(6)

Estella did a considerable amount of travelling in her vacations and she donated some of her photographic materials and notes about her excursions to the Deseronto Archives in 2004. These materials include some photographs taken on a trip to Berlin in 1955, ten years after the end of World War II and six years before the city was divided by the construction of the Berlin Wall. Estella took photographs of the monuments her tour group visited, including this image of a statue of Joseph Stalin, which was removed in 1961 and melted down.

Statue of Stalin

She also photographed the Brandenburg Gate, which would be isolated by the Berlin Wall six years later and impassable until the Wall’s destruction in 1989. The damage caused to the Gate during the Second World War is visible in this image.

Brandenburg Gate 1955

These photos are good examples of the way that small local collections can be unexpected sources of information about entirely different parts of the world. It’s not until we dig into the boxes and do the work of describing the materials, that it becomes possible for everyone else to see what is in them.

The north-south streets at the eastern end of Deseronto are numbered, like those in many North American towns. We have First Street, Second Street, Fourth Street and Fifth Street, but Third Street is nowhere to be seen.

Numbered streets on map of Deseronto from Bing

Well, that’s actually not quite true: you can see it in the Archives.

Here is a detail of a plan of the town made in about 1895:

Third StreetYou can see Third Street in the middle of the map and there’s also a Sixth Street on the far left. As you can see, Third Street was never a very long road, stretching only from Main Street down to the flour mill on Water Street.

On this day in 1896 (the Victoria Day holiday), most of this side of town went up in flames, destroying docks and many buildings. Newspapers across North America reported on the fire. This clipping is from the May 27th 1896 edition of the Daily Public Ledger of Maysville, Kentucky:

Daily Public Ledger report on Deseronto fire of 25 May 1896

Fire destroyed two-thirds of the east end of the town of Deseronto, Ont., and nearly a hundred families are homeless. The Rathbun Co.’s big flour mill, storehouse and elevator, the shingle and lumber docks, the Roman Catholic church and about one hundred dwelling houses were burned. Most of the houses were occupied by workmen. The total loss will exceed $300,000.

The original Roman Catholic Church of St. Vincent de Paul stood on the north side of Dundas Street in this part of Deseronto. The church had been built in 1883 at a cost of over $4,000. Herbert A. Osborne took this photograph of it in around 1895:

St. Vincent de Paul church, c.1895

When the church was rebuilt, it was located further west; still on the north side of Dundas Street but away from the more industrial areas of the town. It was completed in November 1896.

Unlike the church, it appears that Third Street was never rebuilt after the fire. By the time the map below was made for the Canadian Northern Ontario Railway in 1912, the road  had vanished.

Detail of 1912 map of the Canadian Northern Ontario Railway

A neat example of history affecting geography!

August 4th 2014 will mark the 100th anniversary of Canada’s entry into the First World War. Organizations and communities around the world are marking this occasion by examining the effect the war had on their local area. We’ll be doing this in Deseronto, too.

In the Archives we started by researching the 34 names of the First World War casualties named on the town’s war memorial. In the process we found out some interesting facts about the monument itself.

 

War memorial in Deseronto, April 2014

The memorial, which stands on the South side of Main Street, opposite Rathbun Park, was unveiled in a ceremony on Labour Day (September 3rd) 1923. The event was attended by many of the townspeople, as the photograph below (one of several taken on the day) shows. A piece of land forty feet square was purchased by the Town of Deseronto from the Rathbun Company for the monument’s site, at a cost of $100.

Unveiling ceremony for the Deseronto war memorial

The memorial itself was donated to the town by a former Deseronto resident named Thomas Carson Brown. Thomas was born on 21 April 1870, the son of Thomas Brown and Emily Varty and one of 10 children. His mother died in childbirth in Lennox and Addington County (where the family had a farm)when Thomas was seven years old and by 1881 the family had moved to Mill Point (Deseronto). In the 1891 census, when he was 21, Thomas’s trade is given as bricklayer. His father died just six weeks after the census was taken.

It was through the bricklaying trade that Thomas C. Brown would go on to earn his fortune in New York State, where his firm constructed a number of public buildings, including the Plattsburgh Normal School, pictured here, and a large section of the Clinton Correctional Facility at Dannemora.

Plattsburgh Normal School

Brown went on to serve as a Senator in the New York Senate between 1925 and 1930, where he took a keen interest in prison reform issues. He clearly never forgot his home town of Deseronto, as the generous gift of a war memorial demonstrates. It is not just a war memorial, however, as Thomas C. Brown ensured that his parents and five of his sisters (Jane, Ida, Etta, Emma and Annie) were also commemorated on the structure, as you can see in this detail.

Detail of war memorial

Thomas himself died on May 24th, 1952 at his home at 1174 Lowell Road, Schenectady, New York: you can read his obituary in the Schenectady Gazette (PDF made available through the Fulton History site).

Over the next four years we will be marking the 100th anniversaries of local people’s involvement in the First World War here on the blog. There are a lot of stories to be told and we are always keen to hear new ones, so if you have any local World War One information which you would like to share with the world, please let us know!

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