/Website collects details online of Highlands’ past
Mabel Brannigan (nee Sawyer) 94 brought in photos and information about the area's past. This photo is from S.S. No. 2 Stanhope at the head of Maple Lake. It was taken either in 1934 or 1935. Brannigan is in the photo in the back row fourth from left. /JENN WATT Staff

Website collects details online of Highlands’ past

Carol Moffatt wants to flesh out the past of Algonquin Highlands. Behind the photographs birth and death announcements are the details that bring the past to life and that’s what the long-time history buff hopes comes of the new online heritage map and family tree project.

“We can look up records and we can look up newspaper articles and we can see the tangible pieces of history in photographs or council records” said Moffatt. “We want to build the personalities around the paper. That’s why the conversations are so important.”

In the basement of the Stanhope library branch March 7 a group came together for Bring An Ancestor Day armed with photographs maps and stories that will be fed into Algonquin Highlands’ new websites.

Mabel Brannigan 94 had a Ziploc bag filled with photos from her childhood to be scanned and processed. As she chatted with a volunteer information was recorded which could provide the kind of details Moffatt said are so important.

The websites are being built in a similar fashion to the Highlands East settler project using the same company and co-ordinated by Adele Espina.

The Algonquin Highlands project which began in May of last year is funded through a $25000 New Horizons for Seniors grant. Espina’s work officially wraps up at the end of this month but she will continue work on it as a volunteer.

The expectation is that the websites will grow continually with new artifacts photographs and stories added whenever they’re found. The structure allows visitors to the website to either browse an interactive map or search for specific people or places. A wide range of media can be incorporated including audio or video.

“Like the Highlands East project we’re hoping the community will get on board. We’re starting [with] the settlers. It will keep snowballing and growing” Moffatt said.

There are parameters to who is included.

“Anybody born in 1921 or earlier their information is already a matter of public record” explained Espina. “They can be on the family tree. Anybody who’s passed away can be on the family tree. We don’t put living people on either the family tree website or the heritage map website.”

The website will include the names of settlers’ parents but will not document further back than that since tracking each family tree beyond country of origin could become unwieldy. They also will not be tracking families after they move away from the community.

However Moffatt and Espina noted that there are likely many people who live far from the Highlands who have snippets of information about ancestors that could be of use.

“What would happen 100 years ago is with photographs for example people would send their photographs photographs of their family to faraway relatives. So we may discover some photographs of our settlers are with descendants of a nephew or something in one of the American states” Espina said. “We’ve got photographs in our collection from people whose families … left in the 1880s and sent photographs back. Those are the kind of things we’re going to put online so people from away can see.”

For those who do not have high-speed internet access or who are not comfortable with sending information online volunteers can assist in capturing stories for the websites.

“Contact us through the website and Adele and the group will arrange for someone to go and interview them. We’ll get your information. We’ll happily help preserve your family’s history for posterity” said Moffatt.

The website is already populated with settlers’ stories and photographs of people and places particularly in the Stanhope region of Algonquin Highlands.

For example a particularly colourful write-up is included with the entry for James Guinn who emigrated to Canada from Ireland in 1870.

“Famous peddler and salesman Reuben ‘old sweet lips’ Haight told the story that there was a steep hill that plagued travellers on the township road near Guinn’s house” the passage reads. “To bypass it the Stanhope Council headed by Reeve Joseph Beatty made a deal for the right of way to cross Guinn’s property for $25. Jim then removed his fence and waited for payment; when none came the fence went back up. Guinn said that Reeve Joseph ‘Old Curmudgeon’ Beatty Councillor William ‘Wormy’ Cooper and Councillor ‘Limpy’ Mason could climb the hill. Shortly thereafter Jim received his $25 and the fence was taken down. (Source: Shirley Warder as told to Joyce Gibson).”

And there’s plenty more like it.

Moffatt said part of the thrill of genealogy is creating a more fulsome picture of who people were and what their lives entailed.

“One of the most interesting things that I ever learned … is that [early settler] Thomas Mason kept chickens as pets” she said. “I read it in something and then suddenly all the photographs we had … with him sitting in chairs with chickens in his lap made sense.”

Using the same software to put together the Algonquin Highlands information as that of Highlands East means if the municipalities desire at a later date the websites could be combined into one. “I think our pie in the sky hope would be that Minden Hills and Dysart would apply for this funding next and next. And then wouldn’t it be great to have a map of Haliburton County that had this number of pins on it and all this incredible information” Moffatt said.

To check out the family tree and heritage map websites go to https://heritagemapsalgonquin.com (for the map) or https://algonquinhighlands.ca/genealogy/ (for the family tree).