Oxford County Archives: Beyond the Vault

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School Inspector William Caryle

A short summary of the career of Oxford County's most famous School Inspector, William Carlyle.

By Liz Dommasch, Archivist 

With the arrival of September and the kids back in school, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at Oxford County’s most famous School Inspector.

William Carlyle (1834-1911) was born in Cumberland, England, and immigrated with his family to Ontario, what was then known as Upper Canada, the year following the Upper Canada Rebellion and settled in Brantford. He arrived in WoodstockPortrait of William Carlyle. with his own wife and children in 1871 when he was appointed School Inspector for Oxford County. He would serve in this role for close to 40 years, until 1910, when he resigned from the position.

The father of the famous artist, Florence Carlyle, Inspector Carlyle was dedicated, some would even say driven, to improving the education system for children in Oxford County whom he believed deserved the best education possible regardless of background or ability. He produced detailed quarterly and annual reports (which the Archives have in its collection) in which he outlined the problems and failures of the education system, often using strong and opinionated language to highlight what he deemed problematic. In fact, in one report he stated that ultimately the responsibility for students’ lack of attendance lay with the parents, whom he labeled as “afflicted with evil”.

In his reports, he kept fastidious lists of such topics as building maintenance, school attendance, courses taught, and teacher performance. Carlyle was a firm believer in visiting each schoolhouse and sitting in on classes in progress. He was considered a strict taskmaster ensuring that students’ behavior was deemed appropriate and would go to great lengths to ensure that they adhere to proper etiquette and conduct. For example, with public concern about the youth of the County’s profane swearing, the School Trustees passed a resolution where swearing would be regarded as ungentlemanly conduct with the resulting punishment being expulsion from the classroom for a month!

Carlyle was also concerned with making the system accountable, whether in the training of teachers or the training of County Examiners. When he began as Inspector in 1871, one of his first criticisms pertained to the poor standard of teachers. This would ultimately lead to the establishment of Model Schools in Woodstock and Ingersoll in 1878 for Third Class Teachers to receive proper training while the First and Second Class Teachers were trained at Provincial Model and Normal Schools. Likewise, he strongly felt that the low standard for teachers was, in fact, due to the poor quality of the County Examiners appointed. This would ultimately improve with the passing of the new School Act that required Examiners to be either headmaster of grammar or high schools, graduates who had taught in a college or school for more than three years or teaches with a First Class Provincial Certificate.

William Carlyle passed away at his home in Woodstock on June 25, 1911, following a stroke. According to the Woodstock Sentinel-Review the following day, “[h]is death [would] be deeply regretted, not only in Oxford, but in the distant parts of the world to which his pupils have gone, and especially by a wide circle of friends who always found in him a ready helper and sympathizer”. In addition, Joseph Richardson submitted a letter to that same paper which stated, “[a]ny who were fortunate enough to be present during his inspection of a school could not fail to realize that he was an ideal questioner and one whose visits were always an inspiration to the teacher who desired to benefit by his visits”.

Carlyle left behind his wife Emily (who passed away a year later) and five children. Sadly, at the time of his death, his wife and daughter Florence were in England to attend the coronation of George V and his wife Mary.

Handwritten letter to the Chairman of Education of the County of Oxford from William Carlyle, I.P.S. asking for a small appropriation to enable him to visit certain schools in the United States and Canada for the purpose of gaining information on educational matters. Dated 14 June, 1882.

RG2 Series 9 #15.4: Letter to the Chairman of Education of the County of Oxford from W. Carlyle, I.P.S. asking for a small appropriation to enable him to visit certain schools in the United States and Canada for the purpose of gaining information on educational matters. – 14 June 1882

William Carlyle portrait credit:

Photograph of William Carlyle: Woodstock Sentinel-Review – 26 June 1911, front page.

Brownsville "Canadian Milk Products"

The history of powdered milk in Brownsville, Ontario.

By Liz Dommasch, Archivist

In the south portion of the County lies the village of Brownsville, named after its founder Brinton Paine Brown. Established in 1854, by 1881, the community contained a number of general stores, a carriage and wagon shop, a large sawmill, an extensive brick and tile yard, three churches, a temperance hall, two hotels, a cheese factory, as well as a large brick schoolhouse.

Bird's eye view of Brownsville, Ontario

A bird's eye view of Brownsville, Ontario - J. Gruszka PC 0022

In 1903, B.A. Gould acquired the sole rights to produced powdered milk in Canada using a new method known as the “just process”. Soon after, he established his plant at Brownsville, with the head office in Toronto. The new business was operated under the name of “Canadian Milk Products” and was operated out of the former Brownsville Cheese Factory* that Mr. Gould purchased from Ebenezer Agur (Mr. Agur was later hired to take care of the manufacturing of powdered milk at the plant).

By 1908 the company was incorporated under the name Canadian Milk Products Ltd.” which by then had acquired the rights to the “Merrell-Soule”** process for making powdered milk by a new spray process. In Canada, the first milk powder produced using this new spray process was produced in Brownsville a year later, in 1909.

A view of the Canadian Milk Products dairy factory in Brownsville, Ontario.

Brownsville, Ontario dairy factory - J. Gruszka PC 0024

As popularity for their product grew, by 1912, it became apparent that the Brownsville Plant was insufficient to meet demands and a second plant was erected in Belmont, Ontario. With the outbreak of WWI, the demand for powered milk was greatly increased, as it was sent to soldiers overseas, and another plant was opened in Burford, in 1916, and in Hickson, in 1917.

In 1928, the Borden Company bought the Canadian Milk Products Branch at Brownsville, and manufacturing was ultimately terminated there. It continued to operate as a feeder station for Borden’s Tillsonburg and Belmont plants, until 1953 when it finally closed its doors for good.

*The Brownsville Cheese Manufacturing Company obtained its charter from the government in 1867 and began operations the following year. By 1876, the company was considered the largest in the province with an annual production of 247 tons of cheese from 1320 cows. It also claimed to be the first “joint-stock” cheese company in Canada.

**Merrill-Soule was a Syracuse, New York company formed by G. Lewis Merrell and Oscar F. Soule in 1868 for canning fruit and vegetables. In 1885, the company began making its famous None Such condensed mincemeat that became an instant hit with dessert and pie makers. By the turn of the century, they developed a method for drying milk and began creating Klim (milk spelled backward) powdered milk which would eventually be sold worldwide. Merrell-Soule would be eventually bought out by the Borden Company in 1928.

Lakeside Summer Resort

Taking a look back at the history of the Lakeside Summer Resort.

By Liz Dommasch, Archivist

Located south of St. Marys and north of Embro, the first resort in Lakeside was established on the east side of the lake, in the early 1900s, on property owned by William Dalrymple. Known affectionately as Dalrymple Park, the area was known for its swimming and diving platform and for its dance pavilion. It also included a livery stable, bathhouse, boathouse, refreshment booths, and several summer cottages. Visitors would arrive by horse and buggy and then later by train to enjoy dances, horse races, sporting events, camping, fairs, and family functions. They would also come from far and wide to hear bands such as The Guy Lombardo Orchestra play; as well as to attend a large Farmers’ Picnic held on Labour Day. Sadly, by the 1930s the park would gradually fall into disuse, with sections being sold over the years. The pavilion, the final building standing, was torn down in the 1950s.

People, wagons, and other vehicles crowded around the Lakeside Summer Resort in Lakeside, Ontario.

Lakeside Resort – COA Lakeside Women’s Institute Tweedsmuir

In the 1930s John Sinkins purchased a piece of land on the south end of the lake, which would eventually be known as Lakeside Resort and included a new dance pavilion built in 1931. The new pavilion included benches around the edges and a low wooden fence around the dance floor. Couples wishing to dance would buy a five-cent ticket to enjoy three dances before the floor was cleared and another group of dancers entered. Dances were usually held on holidays over the summer and bands such as The Guy Lombardo Orchestra and the Skipper Orchestra would perform. However, by the 1960s, dances were being held every Saturday night and teen dances were held on Fridays. Visitors not only arrived for the dancing, but to enjoy activities such as swimming, fishing, boating, and even water skiing.

In the 1970s a new wood dance floor was added and by the early 1990s, a Sunday Jamboree with a roast beef dinner was introduced. New Year’s Eve dances became quite popular with a full course meal. Over the years, the resort also became a popular camping designation with playground equipment, paddleboat, and canoe rentals; as well as various events for campers held over the summer.

Today, Lakeside Resort is still operational (day use and overnight camping) and dances still continue at the pavilion known as Danceland. Dancers come from all over Ontario to enjoy live music and twirl around the dance floor.

A postcard featuring buildings at the Lakeside Summer Resort in Lakeside, Ontario.

A Drive on Lakeside Resort – Oxford Historical Society, J. Gruszka Postcard 0258

The Circus Comes to Town!

Come one, come all! The Great Forepaugh Show arrives in Woodstock on September 8, 1884.

By Liz Dommasch, ArchivistNewspaper advertisement for the Great Forepaugh Show in Woodstock for September 8, 1884 featuring a picture of a white elephant.

From the late 19th century through the first half of the 20th century, travelling circuses were a major form of spectator entertainment in the United States and Canada and attracted huge attention whenever they arrived in a city. In September 1884, the Great Forepaugh Show arrived in the City of Woodstock drawing an immense crowd wishing to see the various tents, animals and acrobatic acts.

Adam Forepaugh’s circus, known under various names, rose in prominence in the mid-1800s and was considered a rival to P.T. Barnum (though according to the Woodstock Sentinel-Review, his procession “was, perhaps, not equal to Barnum’s but it was certainly one of the finest ever seen in Canada”). His innovations included commissioning the first railroad cars for a traveling circus in 1877, the first three-ring presentation, and the first Wild West show. He was also the first circus operator to separate the menagerie from the big ring in order to attract churchgoers who might be leery of the “sinful” attractions of the circus acts, yet still desirous to see the display of exotic animals.

Forepaugh’s largest draw was the “Light of Asia”, a regular gray elephant he whitewashed and marketed as a genuine white elephant in order to compete with Barnum’s so-called cheap imitation (his white elephant was actually pink). Although the elephant was advertised to appear in Woodstock, it was surprisingly absent. Instead, spectators were greeted with a number of wild animals, never before seen in Canada, including the mandrill, which was said to be the only living specimen of the “gorilla” in captivity. Lions, tigers, dogs, monkeys, and horsesNewspaper advertisement for the Great Forepaugh Show in Woodstock for September 8, 1884. Featuring pictures of men riding bucking horses and men jumping over one another. were also included in the show.

In the ring, snake charmers performed, trapeze artists soared through the air, while acrobats formed a human pyramid, and a herd of trained elephants amazed onlookers by playing the trombone, xylophone, cymbal, drum, and organ. So-called clown elephants also delighted the crowd with their performance. There was also a “tribe” of Muslim Mamluks, Moors, and Arabians that took part in a parade of nations on Exhibition Day, which today would be considered horribly inappropriate and demeaning, but in the late 1800s would have been considered exotic and mystic and would have drawn a large crowd of onlookers.

Following the event, the Woodstock Sentinel-Review claimed that Forepaugh’s circus was one of the best that had been seen here and that “Woodstock kept up its reputation for being one of the best circus towns in Canada”. Forepaugh’s Circus continued to operate until 1889 when Adam Forepaugh sold his circus acts to James Anthony Bailey and James E. Cooper and sold his railroad cars to the Ringling Brothers. He passed away the following year.


Advertisement for the Great Forepaugh Show featuring its famous "white elephant".

Image credits:

Circus advertisements. Woodstock Sentinel-Review, 20 August 1884, pg. 8.

Light of Asia, Forepaugh’s White Elephant, ca. 1884 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adam_Forepaugh#/media/File:Light_of_Asia,_Forepaugh's_White_Elephant.png

Oxford Drive-In Theatre

Take a trip through time with Archivist Liz Dommasch as she delves into the history of the Oxford Drive-In Theatre.

By Liz Dommasch, ArchivistOxford Drive-In Theatre advertisement featuring ice cream.

One of my favourite activities growing up was heading to the drive-in. There’s something about watching a movie under the stars, enjoying some popcorn, and trying to stay up for the double and even sometimes triple feature that made it the perfect activity for a Saturday night in the summer.

Although the first drive-in was patented in the 1930s, it wasn’t until the 1950s that drive-ins really took off in popularity. In the county, the Oxford Drive-in first opened on May 3, 1950, on land purchased by Clifford Summerhayes on the 8th line (Governors Road) of West Zorra Township. The theatre included parking spaces with a ramp that enabled cars to be properly positioned facing the screen so that everyone in the car would have a clear view. Each spot also had its own speaker that could be adjusted. These speakers were originally hung from the patron’s car window. However, by the early 1990s, the Oxford Drive-in converted directly to FM radio sound which meant patrons just needed to turn on their car radio and set it to the designated station.

For those that didn’t have a car, and wished to enjoy a movie “amid Oxford’s pleasant fields”, there were comfortable seats from which they could enjoy the latest pictures in the fresh air. Movies were shown using two large projectors and a fifty feet square screen which the Woodstock Sentinel-Review claimed ensured patrons perfect vision (W-SR – May 3, 1950). The original screen was eventually blown down during a severe windstorm in the winter of 1975-1976 and was replaced by then-owner Leonard Bernstein.

Life With Father movie poster starring Irene Dunne, William Powell, and Elizabeth Taylor. Irene Dunne and William Powell are featured in the poster wearing early 1900s costumes and driving a carriage filled with people.The drive-in also included a modern refreshment stand where people could grab a snack before and during the movie. Movie snacks included traditional popcorn as well as ice cream, french fries, hamburgers, and hot dogs. It also played popular records of the time over the in-a-car speakers before the program began, which is a tradition that carries on to this day. In 1977 the playground equipment was installed and included a swing set and the Loch Ness Monster.

Sadly, as home video rentals became more readily available in the 1980s, the decline of the drive-in began across North America and the Oxford Drive-in would eventually close its doors in 2015. However, it has recently reopened and has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity. Although it was temporarily closed this year due to COVID, it is open now for those looking to capture some summertime memories under the stars!

Fun Fact: The first movie show at the Oxford Drive-in was “Life with Father” starring William Powell, Irene Dunne, and a young Elizabeth Taylor. Released in 1947, it was nominated for several Academy Awards including Best Actor in a Leading Role for William Powell. Strangely, due to a clerical error, Life with Father was not renewed for copyright and fell into the public domain in 1975.

Oxford Drive-In admission ticket from 1957.

Image Credits:

Oxford Drive-in Movie Ticket: COA33 Ingersoll Miscellaneous fonds

Life with Father Movie Poster: https://www.caftanwoman.com/2015/06/caftan-womans-choice-one-for-july-on-tcm.html

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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