Oxford County Archives: Beyond the Vault

Archives Blog

A Day as an Archives Technician

Find out what a typical day looks like for our Archives Technician.

By Megan Lockhart, Archives Technician

I’m Megan, the Archives Technician at the Oxford County Archives. I’ve held my role at the Archives for three years, and I’m a self-professed history geek with a professional background in museums, archives, and education. I wear many hats in my role as the Archives Technician (figurative hats, I typically don’t wear hats at work). I work alongside the County Archivist and help with the day to day operations of the Archives. A typical day at my job looks different depending on the day or week.

We are currently working from home in response to COVID-19, but normally when I am in the office I start off my day checking emails for research requests or program bookings. Despite working from home, archives staff are still responding to research inquiries remotely, check out our website for more information on how to get in contact with us while we are temporarily closed to the public. I also help with responding to research requests from walk-in patrons throughout the day (when we are open) but we prefer researchers make an appointment with us so we have enough time to pull and prepare the records and information they are looking for.

Responding to research inquiries can sometimes take up a large part of my day, depending on the amount of information the researchers are looking for, but I take on many other tasks as well. I aid the Archivist in archival record acquisition, and arrange and describe records in collections and fonds. This process includes creating finding aids for the collections, descriptive inventories, and contributing the descriptions to the online archival database Archeion. As I process a collection, I also make note of the condition of the records. If records within a collection are in need of basic conservation work, such as cleaning or repair, I will apply the required conservation work to the records first before I have completely processed them and placed them in storage. If records are in need of more advanced conservation, they are typically set aside in our conservation lab to be further assessed by the Archivist, sometimes we may consult a conservator who specializes in specific types of conservation – such as art conservators or book binders.

Outside of research, and arrangement and description of records, I work on the coordination of our digital engagement, public outreach and educational programming. Public outreach and community engagement is essential for archives and other heritage institutions. We work to raise awareness of the importance of historical records and narratives, and promote our archival holdings to the public. We also provide educational services to the local community and work to interpret our community’s heritage. I work to promote our archival holdings and local heritage through social media (follow us on Instagram: @OxfordCountyArchives), and YouTube videos. I help design and promote our public exhibitions, online exhibits, and maintain and update our website. I also develop and coordinate public and educational programming including virtual and in-person workshops and presentations, school programming, and programming for long-term care centres and other community groups. Part of my role within digital engagement is the digitization of our archival collections. I often spend time scanning and making digital copies of our document and photograph collections for preservation purposes, and to expand the accessibility of our records by making them available online.

As you can probably tell, my position and role at the Archives cannot easily be summed up by one or two tasks. Working in archives, and the heritage/cultural field in general, provides a wide range of experiences and is a dynamic work environment. For more information on the Oxford County Archives visit our website.

The Role of an Archivist

County Archivist Liz breaks down her role as Archivist and clears up some misconceptions about the field!

By Liz Dommasch, County Archivist

I can say without a doubt, I absolutely love my job! However, often when I tell people I’m an archivist, it’s met with a blank stare. In one case, I had someone ask me if I dug up artefacts for a living (archaeologist) and my predecessor once had someone ask her if she set things on fire (arsonist)! However, most times people equate it to working in a library or museum, which in some ways it is. An archives contains primary source historical records, which can be paper based (such as letters, diaries, and photographs), audio/video formats (such as film, discs, and tapes), and now even digital content (such as emails and even web pages). These records often relate to an individual, business, or organization and helps tell their story or function over time.

Similar to an archaeologist, my job is to dig through the records in order to find information for researchers and the general public. It’s also my job to arrange and describe the records and/or collections (in the archives we refer to a collection as a fonds) that are transferred or donated to the archives so that they are accessible to those wishing to access them. In doing so, it’s my responsibility to ensure that those records are stored safely, using acid free materials, and to complete any conservation/preservation work required on them. One of the most satisfying tasks I perform at the archives is assisting the public with their research requests and helping to preserve their own family’s history and records through conservation work.

I’m also extremely fortunate to get the opportunity to be creative by formulating physical exhibits at the archives and the County’s Administration building as well as expanding the type and amount of online content we produce on our website and social media platforms. It’s always exciting to see the public interacting with our online exhibits, programmes, and activity pages and we love receiving feedback from those using our services!

Often times I’m asked how I ended up working in the archival field. As someone who always has had a passion for history I completed my undergraduate degree in history prior to receiving my masters in library information science. I was lucky enough to start working at the Oxford County Archives, back in 2003, covering a mat leave and have been here ever since! The County has such a rich and fascinating history and I love being able to share it with others.

Exploring Archives: The Quirky, Creepy, and Mystifying - County Council's Barbershop Quartet

Oxford County Council's lesser known barbershop quartet history.

By Megan Lockhart, Archives Technician

Did you know? Oxford County Council once formed an award winning barbershop quartet. This is a lesser known story that is part of our County Council’s history, but it’s a gem. In the fall of 1950, Oxford County Council received a challenge from the Waterloo Council and the South Waterloo Agricultural Society to take part in a barbershop quartet contest at the Galt Fair. County Warden Robert Rudy accepted the challenge. Reeve Roland B. Fry was appointed as trainer for the quartet. Reeve Clarence Stover, Reeve Alster Clarke, Reeve Arthur Maedel and Fry all began training in secret. However, it was said the sound of the reeves singing could be heard in strange places throughout the County and people began to wonder what the Council was up to.The rose bowl trophy, won by Oxford County Council for their barbershop quartet.

After all their hard work, the Oxford County barbershop quartet won the title of best barbershop quartet in six counties, receiving the Rose Bowl Trophy. Dr. Bell, founder of the Leslie Bell Singers of Toronto, was quoted as saying that it was not the best singing he had heard but it was the singing of the people, by the people, and he thought Canada needed more of it.

Oxford County Council had hopes of keeping the title and trophy the following year. However, only Reeve Stover remained on Council. The hunt began for new talent. Reeve Ollen Carter, Reeve Murray Logan and Reeve Thomas Pellow joined to form the new quartet. Once again, they were victorious in the competition. The competition in 1951 was the last and Oxford County still holds the trophy to this day.

So where did barbershop quartets originate from? There isn’t a clear answer but some research into the topic has been undertaken by academics. Barbershop quartet singing is believed to have originated in the United States of America. It is believed that the concept may come from a time when barbershops established social and musical centres for men. However, the roots of barbershop harmony music have been traced to African-American cultural tradition. Jazz archivist Lynn Abbott found evidence that barbershop quartets were prevalent in African-American culture in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and was influential in the development of jazz music. Abbott and other historians have found through their research that during the 1880s and 1890s, the Black community harmonized the popular songs of the day, along with various spiritual and folk songs. The harmonies were improvised according to African-American musical practice and history. White professional quartets picked up the sound and altered it by adding some of their own musical traditions. These quartets brought the barbershop harmonies into recording studios, and the sounds became quite popular. Black quartets were not provided with the same recording opportunities and mass distribution that the white artists were provided.

Oxford County Council members posing with the Rose Bowl trophy.

Oxford County Council barbershop quartet members posing with the Rose Bowl trophy, 1951


Barbershop Harmony Society. “A Rich African-American Tradition”. https://www.barbershop.org/about/history-of-barbershop/roots-of-barbershop-harmony

Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Barbershop quartet singing”. https://www.britannica.com/art/soca-music

McIntyre and his Windmills

James McIntyre, Oxford County's "Cheese Poet".

By Liz Dommasch, County Archivist

James McIntyre was a Scottish poet who immigrated to Canada in 1851. He would eventually settle in Ingersoll, Ontario where he worked as a cabinet-maker, a furniture and coffin dealer, as well as an undertaker on King Street. He was also a driving A sketch portrait of poet James McIntyreforce for the first public library in town and a passionate writer of poetry that highlighted rural life and the natural beauty of the outdoors. Although criticized for his lack of literary skills, he is often referred to as the Cheese Poet, as cheese was a recurring theme in many of his poems.

I’m sure James would be surprised yet delighted to see that his following poem, has taken on a whole new meaning across Oxford County’s dairy landscape:

‘Tis charming for to view windmill,

Picturesque in vale or hill,

Forcing up a sparkling rill

And cows enjoy with right good will

Clear water brewed in nature’s still,

And of it they do drink their fill.

No wonder they can make with ease

In Oxford world renowned cheese,

For cows enjoy the clear pure stream

With rich, sweet grass makes best of cream.

Cow, you must treat her as a queen,

When grass is dry cut her feed green,

Its benefits will quick be seen

For she is a grand milk machine;

The system it is called soiling,

But it repays for extra toiling.

For those interested in reading more of McIntyre’s works, the Oxford County Library has a few of books available for loan: https://www.ocl.net/

Poem Credit: McIntyre’s Poems. Ingersoll: The Chronicle, 1889.

Morality and Bowling

Bowling wasn't always considered a fun, family friendly activity or sport. Read on to find out how society has changed its views on bowling morality since the mid-1800s.

By Liz Dommasch, County Archivist

During the early 1800s bowling became a widely popular activity in North America, thanks mostly due to European immigrants that brought variations of the game over with them. The modern form of bowling derives mainly from the German game of Kegelspiel or kegeling, which used nine pins set in a diamond formation.

Although bowling is now seen as a wholesome family activity, by the mid to late 1800s, bowling was often associated with alcohol consumption, gambling and prostitution. In fact, the sport caused such a moral panic that many local governments enacted legislation to ensure licensing of establishments and to regulate proper conduct. In some cities, nine-pin bowling was outright banned, as it was seen as destructing the publics’ work ethic and was said to be connected with organized crime. Tenpin bowling is fabled to have been invented in order meet the letter of laws enacted, though I haven’t been able to discover how an extra bowling pin improved public morals!

Harper's Weekly cover from 1860 featuring people bowling.

Harper's Weekly Cover - 1860

In December 1859, Oxford County Council passed its own By-law for licensing and regulating Bowling Alley, kept for amusement, profit or hire. The By-law stated that:

  1. The sum of twenty dollars shall be paid for a License to keep a Bowling Alley, and the same shall expire on the last day of A By-law from the County of Oxford related to appointing an inspector of bowling alleys.February, in each, and every year.
  2. The Treasurer of this County is hereby authorized and required upon payment of the aforesaid sum, of twenty dollars, to issue such license.
  3. That every keeper of a Bowling Alley, shall to the best of his ability suppress and prevent all disorderly conduct, such as quarrelling, fighting, gambling, using profane or obscene language in or about his premises, and shall not allow any person under the age of twenty-one years, to play in such Bowling Alley, without the express consent of his parents or guardians in writing.
  4. That every keeper of a Bowling Alley, shall be required to give security , themselves in the sum of fifty pounds, and two sufficient securities, each in the sum of twenty-five pound for the due performance of their conditions.
  5. That any person keeping a Bowling Alley contrary to the provisions and requirements of this By-law, shall upon conviction before one or more of her Majesty’s Justices of the Peace, in and for the said County, be liable to a fine, imprisonment, or both as in his or their discretion, may be in accordance with the Summary Punishment Act of this Province.

The first Inspector of Bowling Alleys for the County was James Izard, in 1861, who was also the first Inspector of Weights of Measures. By 1862, Council began to receive a number of petitions from the public complaining about Mr. Izard’s character and “methods” of inspection. On such petition state that he was “an intemperate man… that not only attempts to perform the duties of his office while intoxicated, but does not scruple to charge and receive… unlawful fees for doing so.” Another petition related the story of Mr. Izard entering the store belonging to Harvey Whitington where he not only inspected the weights and measures, but also informed the store owned that he had to “inspect” his liquors as well!

Not surprisingly, for someone meant to ensure the letter of law was being upheld, Mr. Izard did not last long in either position!

About this Blog

Welcome! Our blog provides a perspective on the Oxford County Archives beyond the vault and delves into the fascinating stories found within our collection. Get to know our staff, discover what we do at the archives and learn more about Oxford County's cultural heritage. Updates on our services, programs and events will also be shared right here on this blog! 

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Oxford County is taking steps to support our community's response to COVID-19 (coronavirus disease) and measures taken by Southwestern Public Health. We are monitoring our operations daily to ensure we are taking the right actions to protect our residents, employees and visitors. Get updates at www.oxfordcounty.ca/COVID-19