New home allows historical society to offer on-going archival displays

By Willa Wick in Community, Places, Events, & History
Kim MacKenzie, left and Roy Charters relax in the “Hot Stove Lounge” at the new Harriston Historical Society headquarters.  Willa Wick photo

Kim MacKenzie, left and Roy Charters relax in the “Hot Stove Lounge” at the new Harriston Historical Society headquarters.
Willa Wick photo

If you build it they will come, and if you open it they will look inside. That was the goal when the Harriston Historical Society recently opened its doors to the public. It also opened a brand new door of opportunity to the fledgling group of 11 who have only been together a little over a year.
The travelling museum window displays, which have featured various former manufacturers and businesses in and around town, have attracted plenty of attention, and now there is a place to call home.
During the formative months of operation, the group acquired incorporated status, had the name Harriston Historical Society officially recognized, and became a non-charitable organization which can issue tax receipts for donations. With the passing of one of our founding members, Grant MacKenzie memorial donations were received. Other founding members of the group, which began work in November 2009, were Dr. Carol Homuth and Ron Leslie.
As word spread that the area now had a channel for gathering artifacts, pictures and historical documents, submissions and promises came rolling in. But what were we to do with the material we were collecting?
In February an agreement was struck with Martin Wynja, owner of a vacant building in downtown Harriston. This was a perfect piece of real estate which had been recently painted, and consisted of several rooms which provided lots of wall space.
By March the group was in high gear. Furnishings came from our own homes as well as second hand stores. Each member had his/her own area of skill so that decorating, frame making, picture hanging and display areas were soon established. The more ideas that were hatched, the more articles rolled in. We created sports displays, exhibits of Boy Scout and Girl Guide activities, centennial, plowing matches, and churches – all new in addition to mini versions of the eleven window displays that had been highlighted during the year.
On Sunday, May 1 most of the society members were present for the initial kick-off. We waited with bated breath. Would anybody come? They did, and all who checked in were more than a little impressed.
In the foyer is a round-top glass showcase which houses artifacts of a fragile nature. This glass case appears in a 1900-era enlarged photo taken from the inside of an early store. A mannequin sporting a Harriston band uniform of the 1920s recalls a time of skirts and spats, while “Byrnel” sits in the corner in his 1970s Canada Packer’s jacket and cap. Family histories have been written and over a dozen can be read from the shelves as well as searching through a myriad of scrapbooks.
Throughout the afternoon a DVD played in the background. This is a compilation of 1947 black and white scenes and people of town, plus similar color video about 25 years later. It also includes parades and special events of the l970s and ‘80s. This DVD is available for purchase.
Carol Homuth spent the winter months taking photos of every building up and down the main street and logging the pictures in a record book. This will be a great reference in future years as already six changes have occurred in just a few months.
On Tuesday, May 3 the archive building was open again from 2 – 4 p.m. and in the evening from 7 – 9. This viewing was also well attended and received the same enthusiastic reactions.
During the first Thursday operation things were a bit slack around noon. It was a nice day so volunteers Ron Leslie and Garry MacDougall sat out and steered people inside. No one turned them down, and even those who claimed they didn’t have time, did take a few moments to check out each room.
Regular hours to view the setup at 10 Elora Street are Thursdays and Saturdays 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. While this is a great home, it is only temporary. An addition and renovations are being planned for Harriston’s Carnegie Library and, when completed in 2012, it is anticipated that the Historical Society will transfer to the library and become part of a culture centre.
We commend the people of Harriston who have shared items with us. We also thank the media for coverage. Recently, in one of his daily CKNX commentaries, Campbell Cork highlighted the Canada Packers, and at the end of his story made mention that the Open house would be May 1. One fellow from Seaforth heard Campbell’s program. A light bulb went on when he heard the word ‘ice cream’ and he wrote down the date and time of the open house. Although there is an area devoted to Canada Packers, it was unfortunate for him that it paled in comparison to the five window exhibits in December. His wife however, picked up on the idea of the “travelling” window displays, and that concept is moving to Seaforth where she will try to do the same to exhibit the high school art class works. Now that’s small town community sharing
If you feel you have something of historical value and would like to donate, or loan it to the society, or provide a photo copy, please contact any member of the Acquisitions Committee: Bob Brown, 519-338-2137; Mark MacKenzie, 519-338-2641; Willa Wick, 519-338-3232; or Kim MacKenzie, 519-338-3306.