Oxford County Archives: Beyond the Vault

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Oxford County Courthouse and the Tale of Elvis Presley

Have you heard the tale of Elvis Presley visiting the County Courthouse?


By Liz Dommasch, ArchivistHand drawn graffiti on the unfinished walls of the Oxford County Courthouse.

Throughout human history mankind has felt the need to make their lasting mark. Prior to the creation of written language, early humans would draw images on cave walls in order to tell a story or leave a message. The ancient Greeks and Romans would write their names and protest poems on local buildings. In fact, the first known example of “modern style” graffiti can be found in the ancient Greek city of Ephesus (located in modern day Turkey). It includes a drawing of a foot, a hand, a heart and a number and is believed to be an advertisement for prostitution!

In the west end tower of the Oxford County Courthouse, in Woodstock, hundreds of signatures of former visitors cover the unfinished walls and date back as far as 1892 when the building was built. These autographs recall former prominent Oxford family names, such as Canfield and Sutherland, and include a vast register of visitors such as Ashton Brown, of Toronto (1899); William Gleason, of South Bend, Indiana; F.A. Jones of Ottawa; and Roy Batenburg of Vancouver, B.C. (2006). Ray Wilson, marked his visit by scrawling his name on the wall on the occasion of the draping of the Courthouse in memoriam for King Edward VII following his death in May 1910. This motley collection of visitors’ names make sense, as in years gone by, the Courthouse tower was visited by persons wanting to gain the highest sight-seeing spot in the city. As more names appeared, the tradition of inscribing the walls has continued right up to modern day.*Graffiti featuring an Elvis Presley signature on the unfinished attic walls in the County Courthouse. Dated September 1957.

However, there is one signature in the stairwell leading up to the tower that you wouldn’t expect. According to local folklore, Elvis Presley reportedly signed his name after being arrested for speeding and held overnight in 1957 (insert Jailhouse Rock joke here). While no one seems to know for sure if he was ever in Woodstock, Presley was in Canada in 1957 playing two shows in Toronto on April 2nd and another in Ottawa on April 3rd. He was originally scheduled to perform in Montreal, the following day, on April 4th. However, the concert was cancelled before his tour began due to civic concern and pressure from Catholic Church Officials. He would later return to Canada for one final show in Vancouver on August 31st. These dates conflict with the date noted in the stairwell that states Elvis “had left the building” in September 1957. It’s most likely that there is no truth to this local legend (as noted by the message left by another individual!). However, it’s fun to imagine that the King of Rock and Roll once paid a visit to Oxford County.

*please note that the Courthouse tower is not open to the public.

A photograph of Elvis Presley performing on stage.

Image credit: Elvis Presley: at Buffalo and Toronto: No 2. York University Libraries, Clara Thomas Archives & Special Collections, Toronto Telegram fonds, ASC00838. https://yorkspace.library.yorku.ca/xmlui/handle/10315/6630




Summer Recipes From 1910

Are you into pickling or canning? Try out these historical recipes from 1910 this summer.


By Liz Dommasch, ArchivistAdvertisement for W.A. Karn's Drug Store.

One of the best parts of living in Southern Ontario is the abundance of local produce that is available over the summer months. We were recently fortunate to receive a donation of records from the Fanshawe Pioneer Village that included a cookbook entitled “The Art of Cooking Made Easy” published by W.A. Karn, Druggist, of Woodstock around 1910. A number of editions of this cookbook were produced by Pharmacies around the area during the early 1900s. This version is a delight to read with a large number of recipes, using locally available ingredients, and advertisements related to local businesses. I thought I’d share a few such recipes below:

Spiced Peaches

Pare, and if very large, halve one peck [13-15 lbs.] fine Crawford peaches; to one pint vinegar allow three pounds white sugar, and of this make a rich syrup; drop into the syrup a small handful of broken cinnamon, a very little cloves and mace, and a few pieces of ginger root; when boiling add as many peaches as the syrup will cover, and let them simmer about ten minutes; then take out carefully with a spoon, put into jars, then cook more peaches in the same syrup; when all are cooked, make fresh syrup and pour over them in the jars.

Grape Ketchup

Three pounds grapes; one and three-quarter pounds sugar; half pint vinegar; one tablespoonful ground cinnamon; one tablespoonful ground cloves; one tablespoonful black pepper; take the grapes from the stems, bring them to a boil, strain through a colander, then add sugar, vinegar and spices; boil twenty minutes.

Canned Strawberries

Fill glass jars with free strawberries, sprinkled with sugar, allowing a little over one-quarter pound of sugar to one pound of berries; set the jars in a boiler, with a little hay laid in the bottom to prevent the jars from breaking, filled with cold water to within an inch or two of the top of the jars; let them boil fifteen minutes; then move back and wrap the hand in a towel; and take out the jars; fill the jars to the top before sealing, using one or more jars for the purpose.

Stewed Cucumbers 

Six cucumbers, one small onion, one tablespoonful of butter, one tablespoon of flour; half-pint of stock or water; salt and pepper to taste. Pare the cucumbers, cut them in quarters; remove the seeds. Put the butter in a frying pan; add to it the onion, cut in slices; fry until brown, then add the cucumbers, and fry carefully until a light golden brown; take them out with a slice; add the flour to the butter remaining in the pan; mix until smooth; add the stock; stir continually until it boils; add the salt and pepper, then the cucumbers and stew gently for twenty minutes. Serve on squares of toasted bread.

Pickled Tomatoes

Take small smooth tomatoes, not very ripe, scald them until the skin will slip off easily, and sprinkle salt over them; after they have stood twenty-four hours, drain off the juice and pour on a boiling hot pickle composed of one pound of sugar, two teaspoons of cinnamon, and two teaspoons of cloves to every quart of vinegar; drain off the liquid, scald it and pour on them again, every other day for a week; they will require no further care. This is excellent.

A postcard featuring an edited photo of a man standing next to a wagon filled with giant cucumbers.

W.A. Karn was born in West Oxford Township and began his pharmacy business in Woodstock in 1881. His store carried a large collection of drugs, patented medicines, perfumery, brushes, and other finely selected sundries. He was well known for preparing physicians’ prescriptions and family recipes including his own Karn’s Baking Powder which was popular across the province.

He served as President of the Ontario College of Pharmacy, being first elected in 1899. Locally he would serve on the Woodstock Town Council for several years and was the Chairman of the Fire, Water, and Light Committee when the Woodstock Fire Hall was built in 1899.

Image credits:

Advertisement for W.A. Karn’s Drug Store. The Art of Cooking Made Easy. Woodstock, Ontario, ca. 1910.

COA Kay McMullen Family fonds Subseries 2B: Correspondence – Postcards: Postcard depicting a farmer beside a cart of gigantic cucumbers, copyrighted 1910 by the Canadian Post Card Co., Toronto.




The Tale of Punkeydoodle's Corner

This week we delve into the quirky history of Punkeydoodle's Corner.


By Liz Dommasch, Archivist

In the northwest corner of the Oxford County, where Oxford, Perth and Waterloo Counties connect stands a little Hamlet known as Punkeydoodle’s Corner. Several stories exist explaining how this community got its fascinating name.

One story involves a Swiss settler known as John Zurbrigg, whom in the early 1800s grew fields of pumpkins. According to legend, he had a dispute with another settler by the name of Hellman. Mrs. Hellman got involved in the argument and referred to Mr. Zurbrigg as an old “Punkeydoodle”. Apparently the name stuck and his property became known as Punkeydoodle’sPunkeydoodle's Corner Canada Day celebration logo, from 1982, featuring a sketch of a cartoon bear wearing a baseball cap with a "P" on it and holding a Canadian flag. Corner.

Another story claims that John Zurbrigg was actually named “Punkeydoodle” because of his short, stout stature that resembled the vast amount of pumpkins that he grew. Again this name stuck and his land (and eventually the surrounding area) became known as Punkeydoodle’ s Corner.

Finally, and the most likely story, involves a German Innkeeper named John Zurbuchen, who used to lead his patrons in the singing of popular tavern songs including “Yankee Doodle”. As German was his first language, he often had difficulties with English and instead of singing the lyrics “Yankee Doodle went to town” he would always sing “Punkeydoodle went to town” instead. Patrons started to refer to him as Punkeydoodle and the rest is history!Newspaper article titled Celebrating Canada's birthday at Punkeydoodle's Corner. Photo features Cecil Wagler sworn in as honorary postmaster at Punkeydoodle's Corner.

Regardless of its name, the hamlet has an interesting history. It was settled on the Huron Road linking Goderich and Hamilton and was considered to be of vital importance for those that travelled along that route. By the late 1800s, the hamlet included a frame hotel, livery stable, blacksmith shop, saw mill, apple butter and cider mill, as well as a general store.

Sadly, in the 1860s the construction of the Grand trunk Railway bypassed the hamlet and soon stage coaches, and eventually even the automobile, would pass by the hamlet for the larger nearby centres of Tavistock and New Hamburg. By 1982, the hamlet had a population of only 14.

That same year, Punkeydoodle’s Corners held a large Canada birthday celebration on June 26th that included performances by the Ingersoll Pipe Band, Woodstock Choralaires and the Y-Promenaders Square Dancing Group. There was also a frog jumping contest and a number of children’s events such as a water balloon race, tug-o-war, and an obstacle course.

Yankee Doodle lyrics

Image Credit: The Kennedy Center https://www.kennedy-center.org/education/resources-for-educators/classroom-resources/media-and-interactives/media/music/story-behind-the-song/the-story-behind-the-song/yankee-doodle/




Patteson Family Photographs

Happy family memories and a tragic "accidental" death; Archives Technician Megan delves into the hidden stories within the Patteson Family Photograph fonds.


By Megan Lockhart, Archives Technician

When speaking with others about my job working in archives, a question I’m often asked is: “what’s your favourite record or collection?” This can be quite difficult to answer, picking one record as my favourite among the thousands of individual archival records I’ve handled or worked with during my career so far is like choosing between children. I appreciate specific records and collections for different reasons, and each record has its own significance or value. However; having said that, if I had to choose one type of record that I thoroughly enjoy working with, I would have to say photographs. If I narrowed this category down even further to choose my favourite photograph collection within the holdings at the Oxford County Archives, I may have to choose the Patteson family photographs fonds.

This archival collection contains around 40 glass plate negatives, and over 190 film negatives. The glass negatives contain images of the Patteson family of Eastwood, Ontario taken circa 1890 to 1894. The Patteson’s house and estate at Eastwood was located on the former Admiral Henry Vansittart property just east of Woodstock. The estate was owned by Thomas Charles Patteson (1836-1907), a lawyer, Ontario’s first Assistant Provincial Secretary, the Managing Editor and later proprietor of the Toronto newspaper the Mail, and the postmaster of Toronto in 1879. Thomas C. Patteson also owned racehorses and founded the Ontario Jockey Club. Patteson bred cattle and sheep on his farm in Eastwood, Ontario; and it appears that his family spent a few years living on the farm.

Thomas Patteson’s wife Marie Louise (née Jones), and their children Godfrey Barkworth (b. 27 October, 1867); Rose Louise (b. 18 October 1874); and Christine Millicent (Daisy) (b. circa 1877), are often the main subjects of the photographs, along with family friends, pets (such as their family dog “Muma”), and their horses. What I particularly enjoy about this specific photograph collection is the insight it provides into the family’s hobbies and interests. Rose Patteson left notes on the envelopes the negatives were stored in which sometimes described who was in the photo and who took it. A family friend, Dr. Pike, taught her how to use a camera, and she began to document her family’s activities through photography; many of the photos in the glass negative collection were taken by her. Photographs can be such important resources for social history research. The Patteson photos feature members of the family and friends taking part in recreational activities that were popular in the 1890s, including bicycle riding, golf, cricket, and canoeing. The photos also document their daily lives, Rose feeding the chickens, the family sitting and walking in the garden and the forest around their farm; Rose even took several photos of her father and Dr. Pike removing a large dead tree from their property at Christmas time.

Group of people holding cricket bats in a field at the Patteson family estate in Eastwood, Ontario. Taken in 1890s.

Group portrait with cricket bats, at the Patteson estate in Eastwood, c. 1890s. 1076ph (COA126 1.07)

Rose Patteson feeding chickens in the winter time at the Patteson farm and estate in Eastwood, Ontario.

Rose Patteson feeding chickens on the Patteson farm/estate in Eastwood, 28 March 1891. 1080ph (COA126 1.11)

Group portrait taken on the porch of the Patteson family home in Eastwood. The group is posing with bicycles.

Group portrait of Patteson family and friends with bicycles at the Patteson home in Eastwood, 14 August 1892. 1089ph (COA126 1.20)

We tend to think of photos taken in this period being “stuffy” studio portraits, with subjects standing with rigid posture, an expressionless face looking directly at the camera or slightly off to the side. But this was a period where we see more examples of people experimenting with cameras and photography at home and outdoors. This has led to some more “candid” shots. One of my favourite photographs in this collection features one of the Patteson girls, potentially "Daisy", her brother Godfrey, and Muriel Burrowes crouching in front of a water trough for livestock, as if they were going to take a drink. The girls have mischievous smiles on their faces. This photograph collection also provides a wonderful visual sample of fashion trends for the period.

A man and two women pose kneeling in front of a water trough, pretending to drink from it like livestock.

[Christine Millicent "Daisy" Patteson?], G.B.P. (Godfrey Barkworth Patteson), the Patteson's dog Muma and Muriel Burrowes, Eastwood, 8 July 1894. 1102ph (COA126 1.33)

The film negatives included within the Patteson family photograph fonds contain their own stories. These photographs mainly feature Rose’s sister Christine Millicent, better known as Daisy, her husband John H. Moss, and their son Thomas “Pat” Moss. The Moss family lived in Toronto at 105 Admiral Road during a time when many lives were affected by a global pandemic, Spanish Influenza, reminiscent of the time we are living in now. Daisy’s husband John sadly died from complications of the Spanish Flu in 1920. The negatives also contain photographs of Daisy and her young son, after her husband’s death, with family members and friends at their home in Toronto and on family vacations in places like Maine, USA, and Orillia and Muskoka, Ontario. The photographs provide a glimpse into their lives and how precious Pat was to his mother Daisy. Unfortunately, I discovered more tragedy related to this family’s story when researching their history further. Daisy’s son Pat died unexpectedly in 1936 at the age of 21 during his enrollment at Balliol College, a constituent of Oxford University in England. According to some sources it was an accident. However, sources at the Balliol College Archives state that despite being an unsolved case, his death was considered suspicious and there was a possibility he was murdered. His body was found in the early morning hours on May 15, 1936, in a burning hayrick (a stack of hay) at Ascot Park Farm near Stadhampton. An autopsy concluded that he died by asphyxiation due to the fire his body was found in. A wooden seat in the corner of the Fellows’ Garden in the Garden Quad at Balliol College is inscribed with his name.

Often, collections of photographs contain not only valuable images but hidden stories and fascinating narratives as well. Family photographs could be described as visual diaries, documenting the daily life of individuals throughout history and providing us with a glimpse into the intimate details of their lives if we examine them close enough. Having spent a significant amount of time digitizing this photograph collection and researching the family, I feel as though I have gotten to know them to some degree; but as always when conducting contextual research on a collection, there is a lot more to discover.




Exploring Archives: The Quirky, Creepy, and Mystifying - Courthouse Monkeys

Have you seen the monkeys on the Oxford County Courthouse?


By Megan Lockhart, Archives Technician

Have you spotted the monkeys in the Oxford County Courthouse Square? In this edition of “Exploring Archives: The Quirky, Creepy, and Mystifying” I’m discussing all things monkey, and focusing more on local history than the archives. The monkeys I’m referring to are not real monkeys, but ornamental ones – although, as a treat you will find a photo from our collection featuring a real monkey at the end of this article! Carved grotesque of a monkey's head on the County Courthouse.

Some of you may be familiar with the Courthouse monkeys I’m referring to, but some of you may be thinking, “What is she talking about?” The next time you are walking in the vicinity of the County Courthouse, which is located at 415 Hunter Street in Woodstock, Ontario, take a close look at the building, and you may be lucky enough to spot one of the monkey “grotesques” adorning the building.

The construction of the Oxford County Courthouse was completed in 1892 and the building was designed by architects Cuthbertson and Fowler in the Romanesque style. The Courthouse has many ornate design elements which are a feast for the eyes. One interesting feature to note are the famous (or infamous depending on who you ask) monkeys adorning the columns on each entranceway. Their little eyes peer out at passersby from the ornamentation on the columns, I’ve always felt they are somehow both creepy and cute. In the central gable on the front of the Courthouse between the two entrances a large monkey has been carved to appear as if it is grinning and climbing to the top of the building. Monkey carved into the County Courthouse stone at the top of the building. The monkey carving appears to be climbing to the top.

These features are known as “grotesques”, sculptural ornamentation that usually feature a mixture of plant, animal, and human forms. Grotesques, and the more commonly known gargoyles, often appeared as mythical creatures on buildings during the Middle Ages and were featured on churches as they were believed to ward off evil spirits. Grotesques became fashionable in architectural design in 16th-century Italy with popularity spreading throughout Europe over time.

According to various records there are 8 monkeys on the building; however, a local legend states that there are 10, one for each member of County Council. According to this legend, the architect had a falling out with Council over finances and as an act of revenge included the monkeys on the building to represent the Council. Some local stories go even further to state that he involved a local “witch” who cursed the building for him. In reality, these are just local legends and, as with most local legends, there is no documented evidence supporting these stories – but they can be fun to hear from time to time.

A female high school student stands with a monkey on her shoulder at Woodstock Collegiate Institute.

Woodstock Collegiate Institute student Barbara Brown poses with her pet monkey, 1950.  

WCI Photograph Collection.




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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