Local history buffs from left Carol Simmons Adele Espina and Cecil Ryall sit around a laptop computer on April 9 at the Gooderham public library branch looking at the recently launched website Settlers of Highlands East. The website includes photos and information on the founders of the area. Another site was also simultaneously launched that maps cultural sites and veterans of the First and Second World Wars. /JENN WATT Staff

History goes online in Highlands East

By Jenn Watt

April 19 2016

History is a resource more fragile than most; it must be captured quickly and accurately from those who lived it or it can be lost forever.

It’s a struggle known well by area historical societies which is why they are so inspired by a new project that is documenting and mapping the settlers and veterans of Highlands East.

“The bad part about history is every day it dies. It’s a terrible way to talk but the resources we have today if we don’t do something with them they’re not available tomorrow and can never be replaced” said Cecil Ryall the councillor representing the Gooderham area and a member of the Gooderham Historical Group.

To capture the stories and memories before they are gone Highlands East’s four historical groups came together to apply for a New Horizons for Seniors grant which they received about a year ago.

The $25000 sum allowed them to compile information into two websites which document cultural sites veterans and settlers of the area.

Information from history books such as Monmouth Township 1881-1981 and A Journey Through Glamorgan’s Past were inputted as well as information from the 1901 census.

It took co-ordinator Adele Espina about a year to gather process and input all of the information.

“What it does for the public in Highlands East is it gives them what essentially is a virtual museum. As long as you’ve got access to the Internet you can see a history of the municipality and you can contribute remotely as well” said Espina.

For those comfortable with the Internet the sites are easy to navigate. Go to settlers.highlandseast.ca and click on “surnames” and there you have a listing of all the familiar families that founded Tory Hill Gooderham Highland Grove Wilberforce and points in between.

Click on the surname and you pull up the individuals in the families their marriages deaths and births and sometimes even photos.

“What we’re finding back at the turn of the century when we’re putting in all these names of people who were living here in 1901 is shortly thereafter they started marrying each other” said Espina.

Families coming from all over the world ending up in Highlands East started to socialize with each other. And a community of intertwining families emerged.

“In those days you didn’t go to Toronto to find a spouse you found a spouse in your local church or a young girl might go and work at someone else’s house as a kitchen maid and marry one of the sons” Espina said.

Because the website is about the settlers of the region they are only documenting those who were born in 1921 or before.

Members of each of the four groups –  Wilberforce Heritage Guild Schoolhouse Historical Society Gooderham Historical Group and Bark Lake Cultural Developments –  have been trained on the websites.

Most of the grant was used to allow these groups to purchase equipment to continue documenting the area’s history including scanners cameras and computers.

Carol Simmons of the Irondale area group Bark Lake Cultural Developments said having these sites available draws attention to the role her area played in the formation of Highlands East.

“It literally puts Irondale on the map” she said.

Besides the settlers site there is a sister site culturalmaps.highlandseast.ca which includes information garnered from the cultural planning process done by the municipality in 2015.

Veterans of the First and Second World Wars are listed with a corresponding map of where they lived at the time and some of them also have links to their service file documents photographs and other information. When applicable they are also linked back to the settlers page.

If it sounds confusing Espina and the local historical groups want to make it easy for you. They are holding introductory sessions at the Highland Grove library branch on Saturday April 23 from noon to 3 p.m. and at the Cardiff library branch on Saturday April 30 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Additionally members of each of the historical groups have been trained on the site.

Espina would like members of the community to engage with the sites and improve them by offering photos documents and other information that would help fill out the story.

She estimates the settlers page is only about a quarter complete.

“We’ve got 3000 people right now in the database but there’s so much more … there’s no end to families and family trees” she said.

You can easily contact the volunteers responsible for the site by emailing culturalmaps@highlandseast.ca for the cultural mapping page or familytree@highlandseast.ca to contribute to the settlers page.