Earlier this week, I was given a wonderful treasure. It is an old leather-bound photo album filled with an assortment of 19th-century cabinet cards and tintypes, two memorial cards, one obituary and a whole lot of mystery.
As many of you know, this is precisely the kind of project I love to sink my teeth into. It is a puzzle, a deep dive into local history and a chance to put my detective hat on for a little while.
As usual, my aim is to find out as much as I can about the people once attached to these antique pieces of ephemera, and then send the goods away to a family member who likely never knew the memorabilia existed in the first place. It is very rewarding; I can tell you.
My first project was a classic case of beginner’s luck. That particular collection was conveniently stuffed full of names, dates, addresses and snippets of family life. I was beyond happy to mail away a biscuit tin of vintage postcards to an excited family historian in another city.
Easy-peasy — let’s do that again. Project No. 2 brought me back down to earth. What looked simple at the outset turned into a near-impossible task. All hope is not yet lost, but the item in question still resides with me today, patiently waiting to go home. Anyone have a Robert Graham in their family tree?
And here I am, at it again. You are welcome to play along if you like. Perhaps you know something I have not yet discovered.
This album is most definitely a Barrie-centred photo album. No question about that. Ninety per cent of the photographs in it are of high quality and were produced by Barrie’s leading photographic artists of the time, as is evident by their embossed names and logos.
The kicker is this album was found in the attic of a house near Detroit, Mich., more than 20 years ago. Someone who lived in Michigan, likely during the late 1800s, had close ties to Barrie. But who?
The pieces in the album offer few hints. Yes, we know who took the pictures, but there is little to suggest who the subjects of the photographs may have been.
Of the few names offered in the album, only one so far has a tangible connection to Barrie. The obituary card inside is that of Hector McQuarry, a blacksmith who had lived on the corner of Clapperton and McDonald streets until his death in July 1901.
McQuarry’s newspaper obituary tells us the deceased was born in King Township about 1835 and had made his way to Barrie by 1867. He had been married to Melinda Jane Myers, of Innisfil Township, and was father to a large family.
Did a McQuarry family member travel to Michigan? Quite possibly. There was a great deal of come and go between Ontario and Michigan in that era. People went where the work took them. In fact, one of Hector’s grandsons, Vernon Joseph McQuarry, went to Detroit in 1926 to work as a carpenter for the Grace Hospital there.
More clues come out of the two memorial cards. John Nugent and his wife, Margaret Ryan, lived most of their lives in the community of Alpena in northern Michigan. John worked in one of the many sawmill operations once located in that vicinity.
Margaret Nugent was a native of Michigan, but her husband, John, was reportedly born about 1835 in Canada. It is not yet known to whom he was born, nor where he was born. He had been in Alpena since about 1870, it is known, and he may be the missing link. It was not uncommon for someone employed in Canada’s vast lumber industry to find themselves migrating to Michigan to carry on in that same line of work.
Then there is the adorable photograph of baby Orville Crawford Young. This little tyke was born in Clarinda, Iowa, in 1900 and then spent most of his life in Kansas. Why would someone send his baby picture to Michigan or to Barrie?
As Sherlock Holmes said, “Come, Watson, come. The game is afoot.”
Each week, the Barrie Historical Archive provides BarrieToday readers with a glimpse of the city’s past. This unique column features photos and stories from years gone by and is sure to appeal to the historian in each of us.