21 February 2013

Celebrating Heritage Week in Belleville

The Historical Society has had a long association with Heritage Belleville and its predecessor, the Local Architectural Conservation Advisory Committee (LACAC).  We maintain a strong interest in the preservation of Belleville's historical buildings, as evident in the large contingent of our members present at Heritage Belleville’s annual open house at the City Hall council chambers on Tuesday, February 21, in celebration of Heritage Week.

Mayor Neil Ellis presented the best wishes of Council and remarked on the full house of attendees.  Councillor Garnet Thompson also attended.  

The new posters on the history of the Hotel Quinte produced jointly by the Society and the Community Archives were on display, as well as building research material by Lois Foster.  Two of the speakers were well known members of the society, local author and historian Gerry Boyce and film-maker Doug Knutson.
Gerry Boyce

After a few words from Heritage Belleville Committee Chair Stanley Jones and Vice-Chair Jeremy Davis, and a presentation about Belleville’s heritage buildings by Janna Munkittrick-Colton, Gerry Boyce distributed photo souvenirs and spoke on seven interesting buildings that Belleville has “lost.” 

The buildings were: the original Albert College located on College Street dating from 1857, built by the local Episcopal Methodists as a training centre for Methodist ministers; the Congregational Church on Hotel Street (now Victoria Avenue) c 1855, which became the Reformed Episcopal Church and then the Moose Hall before demolition; the Intell/Cablevue Building (remembered by many people in the audience), demolished in 1990; the school house south of Market Square in the 1850s; Belleville Grammar School on the BCI site ca. 1860; the Hastings County Museum, located in the former Hastings County Land Registry Office and demolished after Glanmore opened in 1973; and the Point Anne cement works, which were featured in a tour in 1987.
Doug Knutson

Doug Knutson showed excerpts from a movie that he had made with John Lowry about BCI (Belleville Collegiate Institute and Vocational School), built 1927-1928 on land that had been set aside for the purpose of public education in the town’s original plot survey of 1816.  
Doug described the history of the film in a moving introduction: John had the idea of making a movie before the school was closed, as demolition seemed imminent.  So we shot it on June 17, 1997 - the last day it was officially a school.  The narrator, Eugene Lang, was incredible - he was there on the opening day and the closing day and knew everything that had happened in between!  He also knew every inch of the school.  Despite him being in his 80's, we could hardly keep up with him!

That day was also a spur-of-the moment open house - lots of people were roaming through the building.  The overall feeling was, “We can't let this go without a fight.”  I think that was the day the grassroots organization to save the building took root. When 2003 came up and I edited the video for the 75th anniversary (the year before the building was finally demolished) it was a big hit!”

The video is now an invaluable historical record of what we have lost.

Right, members of the Heritage Belleville Committee. Colin Rushlow, Vern Whalen, Janna Munkittrick-Colton, Michael Rush, Greg Pinchin (Staff Liaison) Stanley Jones, Robert Johnston and Jeremy Davis.

Pictures Nick White, story - collaborative effort.

20 February 2013

The Mary Aylward Question

Paul Kirby, author of Mary Aylward, first in a series of Hastings County books, left folks who braved the wind and ice to attend last Thursday's Hastings County Historical Society meeting, scratching their heads over a number of challenging questions.

Was Mary Aylward guilty?
Should her husband have been brought to trial?
What part did religious intolerance play?
Did Mary suffer from post-partum depression?
Were the couple tried in the public press rather than the courts?
What motivated crowds to gather for public hangings?
Would we do so today - how thin is the veneer of civilization?

And...why did the chicken cross the road?
Paul Kirby flanked by Donna Fano and Orland French
Most people are familiar with some aspects of the tragic human story which took place in Hastings County in 1862. Mary Aylward and her husband Richard, Irish refugees of the potato famine, who had  suffered so much on the coffin ships before finally settling on their unforgiving north Hastings land grant near today's Maynooth. The couple was accused of the murder of their Scots neighbour Munroe in a disagreement over a chicken they were suspected of killing. As so often happens, distrust led to disagreement which erupted into violence, resulting in the couple's vilification, imprisonment, trial and death. Hundreds of signatures begging the Governor General for clemency were ineffective.

Kirby painted a vivid picture of the public hanging, which brought a crowd of five to six thousand people to the area around the old court house (this in a town of half that number) to view the spectacle. The young woman dressed in white, her husband beside her, prayers with Reverend Mr. Brennan, and their death struggles before thousands of curious impassive spectators, all painted a chilling picture. Was justice done? The issue remained in the public eye and in the press for a long time.

Thanks to Paul Kirby, the story of the Aylwards is once again in our hearts and minds.