Oxford County Archives: Beyond the Vault

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An Otterville Sensation: The Mysterious Death of Henry Vansickle

Was hotel-keeper Henry Vansickle murdered? Read on to learn about the mysterious death of Henry Vansickle which caused a sinister stir in the small village of Otterville in the 1880s.

By Liz Dommasch, Archivist

Ethel [Amy or Ann] Lister and Henry Vansickle married on March 3, 1880, and settled in the Village of Otterville where Henry operated a hotel. In the course of his business, Vansickle engaged the services of a bartender named Robert Pearce. According to the Woodstock Sentinel-Review, “[h]e was a young man, possessing a good figure, pleasant manners and rather taking in appearance”. He had also apparently “acquired such intimacy with the young wife that they indulged in buggy rides and similar amusements together”. All went along merrily enough, until the evening of November 19, 1883, when HenryNewspaper article from the Woodstock Sentinel-Review about the investigation into Henry Vansickle's death. Vansickle took suddenly ill and died the same evening.

Now although there were initially suspicions of foul play, nothing was heard of the matter until the following year when interest in the case was revived through a conversation held by a young man named James Donaldson with Mr. Alexander McFarlane, Reeve of North Oxford Township. The result of this conservation led Nathan Vansickle, the brother of the deceased, to proceed to Woodstock to lay information before G.C. Field, Police Magistrate. Upon the authority of this, a warrant was issued for the arrest of Pearce and Mrs. Vansickle, and this was placed in the hands of Constable Tisdale, of Otterville, for execution.

However, while this was unfolding another event had occurred. It seems that “Pearce had continued his attention to the widow with such acceptance” that the two were wed in Woodstock by Rev. W. Williams on May 13, 1884. They had only arrived in Otterville in order to depart on the bridal tour when their honeymoon was abruptly halted and they were arrested by Constable Tisdale. They were subsequently brought to Woodstock and placed in the County Gaol until evidence could be provided before the Magistrate.

According to James Donaldson, who was once a boarder at the hotel, Mr. Vansickle was perfectly well the day of his death when he left at noon, but when he arrived home for tea at 6 o’clock he was informed by Mrs. Vansickle that her husband was unwell. Donaldson helped Pearce and Mrs. Vansickle put Mr. Vansickle to bed and claimed that the man was purplish in the face, his lips and his tongue were swollen as he could not speak. He noted that Vansickle motioned he wanted a drink and Pearce went downstairs and returned with a glass of whiskey, which he refused to drink. Mrs. Vansickle returned with a glass of water, which her husband ultimately drank.

Now the story, as written in the newspaper at the time, gets a bit muddled and sinister as Donaldson notes that on the day of Vansickle’s death, Vansickle and Pearce had gotten into a fight. He also noted that a few nights before his death, Vansickle and his wife had a spat, which apparently led Pearce to say that “the old man is a nuisance”. He also claimed that Pearce previously tried to coax him into going to Norwich or Simcoe to buy croton oil which they could give Vansickle, which he refused to do. Finally, he also claimed that he had seen Mr. Pearce on another previous occasion place a mixture in Vansickle’s drink. Finally, to add to further suspicion, a local rumour started that claimed some substance which the deceased vomited before his death, “was thrown out on the street, and in turn, a dog which partook of some of it died from the effect.”

A return of prisoners list from the Oxford County jail, dated April 1, 1884 to June 30, 1884. Robert Pearce and Ethel Pearce are listed for the charges of murder.

Return of Prisoners list from the Oxford County Gaol (jail) for April 1 to June 30, 1884. Robert Pearce and Ethel Pearce are listed for the charge of murder.

On May 24, 1884, Mr. and Mrs. Pearce (former Mrs. Vansickle) were up before the Police Magistrate, charged with having poisoned Harry Vansickle. Dr. Collver testified to having attended Vansickle a little over a month before his death, giving the symptoms of his case. He had an acute attack of chronic inflammation of the larynx, with ulceration and it was of his opinion that Vansickle died from a spasm of the glottis at the opening of the larynx. Dr. Beard was called to the stand, and he agreed that death might have readily resulted by what Dr. Collver supposed, though he had never treated or seen the deceased. Ultimately, it was felt that traces of poison, other than arsenical, could not be detected at this late date and the prisoners were discharged.

Following the case, Mr. and Mrs. Peace left Canada and settled in Michigan. Little is known of their lives there, though according to documents found on Ancestry, they had two children. In 1902, Ethel appeared to have filed for divorce, due to extreme cruelty. However, at the time of her death on January 13, 1908, they were still listed as married.

Image credits:

Woodstock Sentinel-Review news article. – 23 May 1884.

Return of Prisoners list from April 1st, 1884 to June 30th, 1884. RG2 Series 6A Box 1 #34.8.

Thanksgiving Pies

Squash, apple, pumpkin, pecan...take your pick of these historical pie recipes from the 1910s, 20s, and 60s to try this Thanksgiving. 

By Liz Dommasch, Archivist 

Let’s be honest, the best part of any Thanksgiving dinner is the dessert! Archives staff thought it might be fun to dig through our cookbook collections and pull a number of recipes to help celebrate the holiday:

Pastry – Moffatts Cookbook (1926)

3 cups flour

1 egg

1 cup of Lard

¼ teaspoon of Baking Powder

A pinch of salt

Before putting on the top crust of apple pie add several small bits of butter. It improves the flavor. In making pie crust roll dough on one side only.

Apple Pie – The Art of Cooking Made Easy (ca. 1910)

This pie as usually made is very unsatisfactory, but with a little care, it may be made a dessert of rare excellence. The apples, which should be of good texture and fine flavor, should be pared and quartered – not sliced; then, if the apples are large, divide each quarter into three parts; if small, into two parts. Having lined the pie plate with a good crust, arrange the apples in it in an orderly and compact manner, making the centre a little higher than the sides. If a large pie is desired, mix a tablespoonful of flour with a cup nearly full of sugar, a few gratings of nutmeg and lemon, and a half teaspoonful of cinnamon, or any preferred flavoring, and sprinkle this mixture over the apples. Now add four tablespoons of water, and put on the top crust. With the edges of the under the crust, pinch the top one upon it, and prick the top several times with a fork, or slash it in the centre. Bake nearly an hour in a moderate oven. This pie is best the day it is baked. A small pie will, of course, require less seasoning.

Apple Custard Pie – Woodstock Cook Book (1917)

Peel and slice 1 large apple to each pie to cover the crust nicely, beat 1 egg, 1 cup sugar 1 cup sweet milk together, flavor with vanilla; pour this over the top of the apples and bake well.

Pumpkin Pie – Woodstock Cook Book (1917)

1 quart of strained pumpkin, 1 pint of milk, 1 teaspoon salt, 2 tablespoons flour, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1 teaspoon allspice, 3 eggs, 2 cups sugar.

Eggless Pumpkin Pie – Five Roses Cookbook (1915)

Cook pumpkin or squash tender. Rub through a fine sieve and measure off 3 cups. Over it grate half a nutmeg or its equivalent of orange peel. Add 1 ½ cups white coffee sugar. Moisten 4 heaping teaspoons cornstarch in ½ cup sweet milk and add to the pumpkin. Melt 1 tablespoon butter, add a little salt and stir into the pumpkin. Now add 3 3 full pints of sweet milk. Stir well and pour the mixture into crusts. Bake in a hot oven until slightly browned on top. When cold, spread the top of one or two with tart jelly, and note the improvement. The custard in these pies will not leave the crust at the edge, nor will any water gather on top when allowed to stand a few hours, as is often the case with those made in the usual manner with eggs.

Squash Pie – The Boston Cooking School Cook Book (1928)

1 cup squash, steamed and strained

1 cup heavy cream

1 cup sugar

3 eggs, slightly beaten

4 tablespoons brandy

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon nutmeg

¾ teaspoon ginger

¾ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon mace

Line a deep pie plate with puff paste. Brush over paste with white of egg slightly beaten, and sprinkle with stale bread crumbs; fill, and back in a moderate oven. Serve warm.

Pecan Pie – CKOX Party Line: Hints and Recipes for the Homemaker Vol. 3 (1965)

3 large eggs, slightly beaten

1 cup corn syrup

1/8 tsp. salt

1 scant cup of white sugar

2/3 cup pecans

1 tsp. vanilla

Mix all ingredients, leaving the nuts until last. Pour into an unbaked pie shell. Bake at 450° for 10 minutes, then reduce oven heat to 350° for 30 minutes. Test when the pie is done, by inserting the blade of a silver knife into centre. When it comes out clean, the pie is finished.

***Note: The recipes that call for sweet milk, are referring to just plain old milk.

Group of people looking at a display of large vegetable and fruits inside a building at the Woodstock Fair.

Image credit:

COA123 1.168 Crowds viewing fruits and vegetables on display at Woodstock Fair. – [late 1940s – early 1950s]. – Negative: b/w; 10.5 x 8 cm.

The Woodstock Sanitarium

The history of baths and healing - the Woodstock Sanitarium's "full system of Turkish, Russian, electric, and medicated baths".

By Liz Dommasch, ArchivistA newspaper advertisement for the Woodstock Sanitarium, also known as "the medical home for a limited number of invalids". Located on the corner of Perry and Simcoe streets near the O'Neill House.

While searching through newspaper microfilm the other week, I came across a large advertisement for the Woodstock Sanitarium in 1883. Located on the corner of Perry and Simcoe Streets, and operated by L.H. Swan, M.D., the Woodstock Sanitarium contained a full system of Turkish, Russian, electric, and medical baths for residents and the general public (the Sanitarium was open to the public Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday).

The Turkish baths consisted of a full suite of rooms as well as a combination of hot and cold water baths, with massage or friction. At the time it was believed that soaking in a Turkish bath could treat all sorts of ailments from gout, rheumatism, paralysis, and dropsy to chronic bronchitis and even diseases of the kidney and liver. The advertisement event boasted that a nurse from one of the best English infirmaries and an experienced man to take charge of the baths had been secured.

Electric baths were a medical treatment from the 1800s in which a high-voltage electrical apparatus was used for electrifying patients by causing an electric charge to build up in their bodies. The electric bathWoodstock Sanitarium newspaper article featuring a sketch of the house it was located in. treatment was considered painless, but it caused the patient to become warm and sweaty, and the heart rate to increase. It was believed to cure a wide variety of diseases and prolong life. By the turn of the century, the procedure lost much of its medical credibility and was considered a remedy practiced mostly by “quacks” and “charlatans”. However, in 1883, such practices were considered useful “when there is a condition of torpidity (listlessness), congestion, or blood poisoning”.

Alongside the Turkish and electric baths, the Sanitarium provided inhalation and antiseptic air for throat and lung diseases as well as a dietary menu “arranged with a view to health more than pleasure”.

Little is known about the success of the Woodstock Sanitarium, though sadly Dr. L.H. Swan was killed in the St. George train disaster in 1889 (see our blog post for further information on the train disaster) and it is assumed the Sanitarium closed its doors following his death.

Imaged credits:

Woodstock Sentinel-Review, 1883.

Ingersoll Cream Cheese Co.

A brief history of the Ingersoll Cream Cheese Company and some recipes to try at home!

By Liz Dommasch, Archivist

Oxford County has always prided itself on its cheese production and Ingersoll and area has always been known for its quality cheese. Ingersoll Cream Cheese was developed in 1907 and was wrapped in tin foil and parchment paper and sold in four and eight oz. cartons with the slogan “Spreads like Butter”. This cheese became quite popular with the public, and in 1926, the Ingersoll Cream Cheese Co. Ltd. was organized with the plant moving to the northwest corner of Victoria and Thames Street. In addition to Ingersoll Cream Cheese, the company also produced Ingersoll Loaf Cheese, Ingersoll Malted Cheese, Ingersoll Pimento Cheese, and Old Oxford Cheese, just to name a few. The company also created and distributed a number of promotional materials, over the years, which included a variety of recipes:

Ingersoll Rideau Hot SandwichesAn advertisement for Ingersoll Cream Cheese Company featuring a map of Oxford County with images of cows, farms, trees, and buildings printed on it. Text reads: "Oxford County, Ontario, Canada. Home of Ingersoll Cheese".

1 cake Ingersoll Rideau Cheese

1 egg well beaten

1 tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce

¼ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon mustard

Strips of Bacon

Cream the cheese, add the egg and seasoning, and spread the bread, which should be cut about a half-inch thick. Place a slice of bacon on each slice and bake a few minutes in a very hot oven till the bacon is done. Serve with a green salad.

Cheese Pudding

1 package Ingersoll Cream Cheese

2 slices bread ½ inch thick

Speck cayenne pepper

Speck ground mustard

ButterA photo of cows standing along a riverbank with a picture of a brick of cheese in the bottom right corner. Text over the image includes: "Ingersoll Recipe Book" and "Ingersoll Cream Cheese, spreads like butter."

¼ teaspoon salt

2 cups milk

2 eggs

Break cheese into small pieces with a fork. Butter the bread. Place one slice of bread in a buttered baking dish. Cover with pieces of cheese. Place the second slice over this. Make a custard of the other ingredients in the following way: - Beat eggs slightly, and add mustard mixed well. Cover bread with custard mixture. Let stand 20 minutes. Surround the dish with water and bake in a moderate oven for about 40 minutes, or until a straw comes out clean. Serve at once. Spiced plums, black or red currant jelly, or jam are good accompaniments.

Ingersoll Sauce (to glamorize simple dishes!)

For about 2 cups of sauce: Mix 4 tablespoons flour with 1 teaspoon salt, pinch mustard, few grains of pepper; blend into 3 tablespoons melted butter. Stir in slowly 2 cups hot milk; stir and cook till smoothly thickened. Add 1 to 2 cups shredded Ingersoll Baby Cheese, Rideau, Malted or Creamy Pimento Cheese. Heat until cheese melts.

Serve it on fish or chicken or vegetable loaf, steamed fish, egg dishes, all vegetables – it transforms them!

Although operational in Ingersoll for most of the 21st Century, the plant would eventually be purchased by Agropur in 1991 and subsequently sold to Dairyworld in 1997. They would ultimately move operations to Western Canada, thereby closing the Ingersoll Company.

For a detailed timeline of the history of the company, please visit the Oxford County Library’s website:


An advertisement for Rideau Spread Cheese featuring a boy in a suit eating a cheese spread sandwich. Text reads: Another Ingersoll product. So easy to serve. Sold only in 1/2 pound packages, both plain and pimento. The Ingersoll Cream Cheese Co. Limited, Ingersoll, Canada.

Image credits:

Oxford County Archives COA33 Ingersoll Miscellaneous fonds

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.

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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