Oxford County Archives: Beyond the Vault

Archives Blog

Andrew Gatzka - Plattsville Businessman

A short biography on Plattsville businessman Andrew Gatzka, and the mystery of his missing son.


By Liz Dommasch, Archivist

Andrew Gatzka was born in Oppel, Prussia on October 28, 1826, and immigrated to Canada in 1856. He would settle near Washington in Blenheim Township and work at his trade, shoemaking, with F.R. Motherall, before settling in Plattsville, a couple of years later, where he set up his business for himself.

Map of Plattsville, Ontario

Map of Plattsville, Ontario. From the "Historical Atlas of Oxford County", 1876, pg. 57.

Along with his shoemaking business, he established a livery stable where he prospered eventually being awarded the contract for carrying mail between Washington and Bright. This business would later be known as Gatzka and Son. He would operate the shoe business as well as his livery business, with his sons Charles and Edward, on the south side of Albert Street.

A view of the building in downtown Plattsville, Ontario, circa early 1900s.

A postcard featuring Plattsville, Ontario. From the Oxford Historical Society postcard collection. [J. Gruszka postcard 0358]

A member of the Evangelical Church in Plattsville, Andrew Gatzka would pass away on December 10, 1900, following complications of diseases. According to the Woodstock Sentinel-Review, Mr. Gatzka was “a model man and by industry and frugality amassed a competency. He was honored and well respected by all who knew him.” Buried at the Plattsville Cemetery,A newspaper article with an obituary for Andrew Gatzka. Headline reads: "Mrs. Gatzka is Dead. And his son hasn't been heard from. Anxiety grows greater." Andrew Gatzka left behind seven grown children, and his wife, Susannah. Interestingly enough, at the time of his death, his son Henry had been mysteriously missing for several months. An employee of the National Express Company in Buffalo, N.Y., he had disappeared after a trip home. The newspaper at the time noted that the family hoped that if he was really alive and well and in a position to communicate with friends and relatives he would put in an appearance. However, this was sadly not the case, and no further trace of him can be found in the records available at the archives and online.

By 1900, the village of Plattsville was thriving with a population of 900 people. The Village, the largest in Blenheim Township, contained several large Mills, a large Cabinet Factory, originated operated by Noah Fries & Co in 1856; a woolen factory, established in 1862 by James Crosbie; and a Carriage and Wagon Factory established in 1865 by Thomas Seaman. There were also three churches; three hotels; a school, as well as a number of stores along Albert Street including Albert Smart’s bicycle shop, a confectionary shop owned by Mrs. McGraw, William Fenn’s meat market, and Motherall’s Jewelry Store and Barber Shop.




In the Moment: Capturing Daily Life in Photos


By Megan Lockhart, Archives Technician

“Everyone line up, stand up straight…okay big smiles now. One, two, three, cheese!” Does this sound familiar? Most of us are used to standing perfectly still with a big smile on our faces for photos. Nowadays, photos are even more staged for posting on social media. The perfect angle, the perfect lighting, the perfect backdrop. Sometimes photos are even staged to look candid when they really aren’t. This need to capture idealism in our photos is somewhat similar to the studio portraits from the earlier days of photography. Scenic backdrops, perfect posture, immaculate outfits, flattering angles, and carefully chosen props; studio portraits from the late 1800s and early 1900s were usually designed to portray an ideal image of a person or group of people. Perhaps the subject wanted to emit a masculine vibe or have the appearance of an intellectual, or maybe look wealthier than they actually were. While these photos are fascinating to look at, they don’t quite capture the true essence of daily life.

At the archives, we’re fortunate to have a variety of photographs in our collection that capture more “candid” or unplanned moments. These photos provide us with a peek into the more natural moments of daily life and human interactions. These images contain important social history information and capture the goings-on within the lives of Oxford County residents in different time periods throughout history. They are also just fun to look at!

Check out some of our “in the moment” photos below from our archival holdings. For more photos like these, check out our Instagram page at https://www.instagram.com/oxfordcountyarchives/?hl=en.

Dr. Pike and Thomas Patteson cutting a tree on the Patteson property in Eastwood. One of the men is standing on top of the cut tree with an axe. The ground is covered in snow.

Dr. Pike and Thomas Charles Patteson cutting a tree, Eastwood, 25 December 1892 (1091ph. COA126 1.22)

Two men use a plow to clear deep snow from a road.

Norwich Townline Road snow clearing (43ph)

A man paints a boy's face with a group of other boys surrounding them and watching.

Ron Ludwig getting his face painted at the YMCA's Glen Fisher's Camp (COA123 1-102)

A group of students running out of a school building.

Students streaming out of school - possibly former Ingersoll District Collegiate Institute building (COA123 1-264)

A woman lawn bowling with a smile on her face. A woman is standing off to the side watching her along with two boys in the background.

Woman lawn bowling. (COA123 1-328)

Two women looking at an exhibit prepared by the Ontario Hospital. (COA123 2-127)

A young man sits on farm equipment in a field while older men around him watch.

Coaching Day at Ed Eddy's Farm - October 1959. (COA154)

Two men in uniform stand in front of and point at a vehicle traffic control board at the Woodstock Advanced Driving and Maintenance School.

Examining the vehicle traffic control board at the Woodstock Advanced Driving and Maintenance School - circa 1940 - 1943. (COA93)

People gather in a large group beside a train, waiting to board.

Port Dover excursion train at Norwich Junction, 1917.




The Plattsville Arenas

A history of the arenas in Plattsville, Ontario.


By Liz Dommasch, Archivist

As it’s that time of year, I thought it might be fun to take a look back at winter sports in the Village of Plattsville and specifically the evolution of the community hockey and curling rinks.

Although the Plattsville Curling Club has been in existence since 1867, it wasn’t until 1888 that the Plattsville Rink Company was formed for the purposes of building and operating a skating and curling rink in the village. Formed by James L. Brown, Physician; George Sauer, Bookkeeper; William M. Veitch, Merchant; Robert J. Neal, Merchant; James Baird, Cabinet Maker; George H. Milne, Painter; John Quandt, Turner; and Ralph Marshall, Miller; the Plattsville Rink Company oversaw the first rink that was built by George Young for the price of $1,709.00.

A photo of the members of the Plattsville Hockey Club wearing their hockey jerseys and holding hockey sticks.

A photo of the Plattsville Hockey Club, circa 1907.

Situated on Douro Street, south of the lawn bowling green, this rink consisted of four sheets of curling ice which could be boarded in to make a hockey rink in the centre when needed. This arena was operational for 59 years until it was destroyed by fire in the winter of 1947. An open-air rink was then maintained in the park for the balance of the winter until a new arena could be completed the following year.

Plattsville Skating Rink Co. declaration, 5 March 1888.

A photograph of the Plattsville arena.

The skating rink in Plattsville, Ontario

In 1948 a new arena was built on the northeast corner of Mill and Platt Streets that consisted of a fir frame, covered with galvanized iron, and seating on two sides with a standing room at the back end. The hockey dressing rooms were located in the basement while the skaters’ change rooms were on both sides of the main entrance. A large club room was located on the second floor and had a large glass-enclosed spectator’s room where the public could view the ice surface. The curling section of the new arena consisted of two artificial ice curling sheets with a large club room and adjoining kitchen.

In 1966 artificial ice was installed on the skating surface and a year later a concrete trap rock floor was added. This allowed for ice skating and hockey during the fall until early spring and then roller skating for the rest of the year. By the 1970s, the arena was ordered closed for not meeting government structural standards and construction began on a new arena with an expanded ice surface. Located on the same site as the former arena, the contract was awarded to XDG Construction from Kitchener. Interestingly, the former arena was demolished, at no cost, by a group of Mennonites from Elmira, in return for the materials from the old structure.

In recent years, an 11,485 square foot, design-built project was completed which overhauled the existing arena and curling club. Completed by Ball Construction, this project saw a new addition being built which involved a reconfiguration and renovation of the Plattsville Curling Club and includes a new refrigeration plant.

Fun Fact: hockey has been a popular sport in the Village of Plattsville since the late 1800s. In 1904 and 1907, the Plattsville Hockey Club were O.W.H.A. champions.




Princeton School Fire

In January 1949, a destructive blaze gutted the Princeton Continuation School.


By Liz Dommasch, Archivist

Plans began in March 1894 to build the new Union School at Princeton which would combine the School Sections No. 3 Burford and No. 21 Blenheim. Located at the east end of Elgin Street, the school was modeled after the school in St. George with double red brick walls, a large chimney, two furnaces, and a slate roof. A bell, purchased from Duncan K. Fair, was hung in the belfry located at the front of the building. Built by Clarkson Brothers the school also consisted of two large classrooms upstairs and two recreation rooms downstairs. Completed at the cost of approximately $6,000, classes were moved to the new school in February 1895.

In January 1912, the school became a continuation school with George L. Brackenburg, as principal and senior teacher, while Myrtle Edminston and Marie Stales were hired as elementary school teachers. Two years later, a fourth room was required for teaching when the Continuation School hired a second teacher, M.D. McDonald. The Continuation School used the upstairs rooms to teach grades eight to twelve, while the public school used the downstairs rooms. In 1930, under Principal E.L. Crossley, the two schools were separated, with grades one to eight being taught downstairs.

On the evening of January 12, 1949, a fire, which was believed to have originated in the basement, gutted the recently renovated 70-year-old structure. The fire was first noticed by School Trustee Charles Austin, about 6:45 pm, who notified the Princeton Fire Department. Sadly, it was soon discovered that the local chemical fire truck wasn’t working and fire departments from both Woodstock and Paris were contacted and quickly responded to the scene.

Three young boys holding a sign that reads “Danger Keep Back” in front of the Princeton Continuation School following a fire that destroyed the building.

Three young boys holding a sign that reads “danger keep back” in front of the Princeton Continuation School following a fire that destroyed the building. – 12 January 1949. COA123 3-122

The volunteer bucket brigade headed by Fire Chief Roy Carson led hundreds of district residents in a gallant but losing battle to save the building. The Woodstock Sentinel-Review reported that eight or ten milk trucks were kept busy from the time of the outbreak to around 10 o’clock carrying water in milk cans to the fire engines, which poured hundreds of gallons on the blaze. Although the building was ultimately destroyed, they were able to keep the fire from spreading despite high winds.

Men posing around the Princeton fire truck.

Men on Princeton fire truck. – [before January 1950]. COA123 4-21

Temporary teaching quarters were found in the Memorial Library, I.O.O.F. Hall, Anglican Parish Hall and the United Church Basement to house the 128 pupils that attended the school at the time. On September 1, 1949, the high school pupils were sent by bus to Woodstock and the new modern Princeton School was used solely for elementary students.

Cars parked in front of the ruins of the Princeton School after it was destroyed by fire.

Two cars parked in front of the Princeton Continuation School following a fire that destroyed the building. – 12 January 1949. COA123 3-125




A Year in Review: 2021 at the Oxford County Archives


By Megan Lockhart, Archives Technician

We’ve reached the end of another year at the Oxford County Archives. We find ourselves still in the midst of a pandemic, but we have experienced some return to normalcy this year. We thought we would provide an overview of what we accomplished at the archives this year, including exciting news and updates.

After being closed to the public for over a year, we were thrilled to be able to reopen in August of this past year. We are currently open by appointment only Monday to Wednesday, from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. (but will temporarily be closed for the holidays from December 24 to January 2). If you would like to book a research appointment at the archives please contact us at least 48 hours in advance. Despite being closed for a year, we received a steady stream of archival record donations from the community, and our staff has been busy processing our backlog of donations. Thank you to the Oxford County community and beyond for continuing to support our goals of preserving and making accessible Oxford County’s archival heritage for future generations.

This past spring we started an exciting new venture by creating “Pioneer Kits” for spring break. The kits included crafts, educational resources, recipes, and activities for children, youth, and families to purchase and enjoy for the week off school. The kits provided interactive lessons on pioneer life in Oxford County and Ontario while also providing some much-needed entertainment! We also encouraged families to check out our online game “Pioneer Life in Oxford County”. Stay tuned for similar educational programs for 2022.

In April, the archives took part in the Oxford County Library’s virtual “Local History Day” and provided a video that examined the history of photography, including tips and guidelines for dating your historical family photographs. Our staff also provided information on preserving photographs at home. The video is available on the OCL’s YouTube channel.An image showing a collage of old Christmas photos from the Woodstock Sentinel-Review newspaper. Children decorating trees, children talking to Santa, officer workers standing beside a Christmas tree, and a boy and a girl looking up at a fireplace with stockings hanging. The text reads: "Celebrate a retro Christmas with the archives."

Throughout the year, we added more resources to our printable activities page. This page contains educational colouring pages, activity sheets, word games, craft instructions, recipes, and more related to local history and holidays. We recently added a variety of “retro Christmas” activity pages to our “Christmas in the County” webpage focusing on the historical traditions, songs, recipes, and pop culture of the holiday season from the 1930s to 1980s. We have also added a large amount of research and archival resources to our website, which has increased the accessibility of some of our records. These resources and records include vital stats, military records, school records, voters’ lists, House of Refuge and County Gaol (jail) records, municipal records, and more. Check out our “online resources” page online for more information.

During the pandemic, our staff began the digitization of our immense collection of Woodstock Sentinel-Review negatives. The images that have been digitized thus far have all dated from circa 1930s to 1950s and feature local events, residents, and locations, many of which currently remain unidentified. Identifying the content of these images will be an important future project as the collection contains a wealth of important social history information. Over 2,000 negatives from this collection have been digitized to date.

Three twin boys holding stocking out to Santa Claus.

A photograph from the archives' collection of Woodstock Sentinel-Review negatives. Unidentified triplets are holding stockings out for Santa Claus. COA123 3-133

A significant, ongoing project at the archives is the collection of archival material related to COVID-19. We want to capture this event as we live through it, so these materials will be available for future generations as one day it will be considered historically significant. If you would like to contribute stories, photos, videos, documents, artwork, and more related to your pandemic experience please contact us.

A journal containing the words "Help write COVID-19 history: contact the archives to learn more." A hand is writing in the journal. Beside the journal is an image of nurses in uniform holding flowers for their graduation ceremony from the Woodstock Nursing School, circa 1920.

We look forward to the exciting new projects that next year brings. Have a happy, healthy, and safe holiday season!




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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COVID-19: Oxford County follows guidance from Southwestern Public Health and the Government of Ontario. See updates on our programs and services at www.oxfordcounty.ca/COVID-19