Caesars and historical tidbits enjoyed at Pioneer Museum open house

Vivienne and Ted Eaton examined the binders of photos of barns, houses and churches which Mrs. Eaton herself had taken for the Central Manitoulin Historical Society. photo by Dorothy Glasby

by Jan McQuay

MINDEMOYA—To cap off the summer season, for three years running the Central Manitoulin Historical Society has invited people to an Open House at the Pioneer Museum in Mindemoya. The height of summer is over and families have returned home for the school year, leaving seasonal residents, locals and some travellers to enjoy the fall at a quieter pace. It’s a time for reflection.

At the Open House, it’s a time for discoveries too. How many people knew that the first contracts for winter school buses in Ontario were actually let here in Central Manitoulin in 1922 to bring students to the new Consolidated School in Mindemoya? How many have seen signature quilts from 90 years ago, or know how the ladies used these quilts to fundraise for local causes? Or which of the following foods were Canadian inventions: butter tarts, baked beans, or caesars (the drink)? 

At this year’s Open House on September 25, about 70 people were treated to such tidbits of history, displays, a slide show, family trees of local settlers, and the chance to visit the pioneer buildings on the museum grounds. The refreshments included butter tarts, virgin caesars, and Nanaimo bars. All this at no charge, but donations were much appreciated.

People had a chance to peruse books and binders with photos of barns, homes, churches and school buses in Central Manitoulin. The winter school “buses”, drawn by horses, brought the students from around the area, sometimes over unplowed roads, to the new Consolidated School in Mindemoya, built in 1921. They were the first winter school buses in Ontario. The school itself was called the Consolidated School because it drew students from three townships. Many people from Central Manitoulin have memories of that school from their childhood and teenage years.

After closing the school in the 1970s, the Municipality rented it to businesses and organizations, but it now stands empty, its fate in jeopardy. At the Open House people who want its brick walls to continue to stand were invited to sign a survey. These surveys can also be found at local businesses.

One idea is to use the building for an expanded museum. As Mary Lochead, a member of the society, recently told the municipal financial and economic development committee, the group has collected over 7,500 artifacts, a great many of which are stored upstairs at the Welcome Centre as there is only limited room to display them.

Visitors at the Open House also had a chance to peruse the Millennium books, which contain “snapshots” of the community’s families and their homes in the year 2000. Volunteer Pat Costigan pointed out that the Manitoulin Genealogy Club currently has a similar project to record the past. They are collecting biographies of local veterans. Their book Remember Me vol 1, has already been published, and they are still looking for biographical information for another volume. Families of veterans with Manitoulin or Killarney roots can check out their website.

Quilts take up a lot of space on a wall, but specially for the Open House, the walls at the Welcome Centre were decorated with several signature quilts not normally on display. Signature quilts were popular in bygone years. People paid a sum of money to have their names embroidered on the quilts, then the quilts were auctioned to raise even more money. One of the quilts on display, with the Silver Bay United Church embroidered on it, had been made by the ladies of the church in 1920-1921. Mr. Bert Davidson bought it at an auction and gave it to his niece Leona (Sloan) Brown. She passed it on to her daughter Rita who passed it on to her daughter Pat Dryden, who generously donated it to the Museum.

The summer displays, which volunteers create fresh each year, were also on display one last time before being packed away. This year the displays featured maple syrup, with objects like spiles and pails and photos of the Love family. For little girls and the young at heart, there was Lorene Martell’s collection of antique dolls, dressed in coats, dresses and costumes typical of the period, which she had expertly fashioned. Asked how long she has been collecting, repairing and making the clothes for dolls, Martell said with a laugh, “Forever!”

The annual Open House is made possible by a small number of dedicated volunteers who create this afternoon for the community. Volunteers like Pat Costigan, Norma Hughson and Kellie Hunter also devote hundreds of hours every year to collecting, preserving and displaying the artifacts of our local history, and creating books like Ethel Mulvany’s Prisoners of War Cook Book, which describes the life of this extraordinary local woman. Unlike some municipalities, Central Manitoulin doesn’t have a paid curator.

The answer to the Canadian food inventions: butter tarts and caesars are Canadian; baked beans are American. The recipe for a virgin Caesar is:

5–6 drops Worcestershire sauce

2-3 drops Tobasco sauce

1/2 oz. lemon juice

sprinkle of celery salt

Over 3 – 4 ice cubes in a 10 oz. glass, sprinkle salt and pepper to taste, then add the above ingredients. Fill the glass with Clamato juice. Stir while pouring. Serve with a celery stick. For a Manitoulin twist on the recipe, add 1 teaspoon horseradish to the mixture.