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While our collection is primarily historic and genealogical we have some unique artifacts from the 19th and 20th centuries. Here are some.
Dunnville Naval Brigade Flag
In 1866, the Canadian border was threatened by invasion from the Fenian Brotherhood, an Irish-American organization dedicated to freeing Ireland from British rule. Lachlan McCallum, Stromness ship builder and entrepreneur, volunteered his 236-ton steam tug the W. T. Robb for service. He mustered, outfitted, and trained sailors, farmers, merchants, businessmen, and his own employees to serve in the “Dunnville Naval Brigade”. The Fenians crossed the border at Buffalo May 31, 1866. After defeating the Canadian volunteers at the Battle of Ridgeway, the Fenians stormed down the hill at Fort Erie where they were met by the Dunnville Naval Brigade and the Welland Canal Field Battery. When the heroes returned from repelling the Fenians at Fort Erie, the women of Dunnville presented four flags to the Brigade including a splendid Company flag of blue silk decorated with a crown, an anchor, and a maple leaf, and bearing the inscription “Fort Erie, June 2nd 1866: Dunnville Naval Brigade.” McCallum was honored with a commemorative sword by the Welland Canal Field Battery. In October 1866, almost 2,000 people gathered at Port Robinson to honour the men. Amity Lodge #32 Dunnville gave the commemorative flag and McCallum’s presentation sword to the Dunnville District Heritage Assn. for safekeeping.
Dunnville has had a library since 1854 when 130 citizens each paid $5 toward the purchase of 660 books. In 1983, the then town hall located at the corner of Chestnut and Alder Sts. was demolished to make way for the current library. When it opened in 1984, six area Women’s Institutes specially designed and created a “Community Quilt” that represented area sights. The quilt represents 400 hours of work. Many of the embroidered objects on the quilt are padded, creating a 3-dimensional effect. The 5’5” x 7’9” quilt hung in the library until early 2017 when the library was renovated. It is now among our artifacts.
Garfield Disher’s Harness-Making Tools
George Garfield Disher was born in 1917 in the former Township of Moulton. He left school early to work on the family farm, but completed grade 13 with honours. He worked at the Cowan family harness shop and eventually bought the business. Not one to be put off by new technology, he took advantage of the opportunity to move from serving horse and buggy owners to auto owners with ease. In addition to his business interests, he gave more than 50 years of service to Dunnville in various capacities, notably, serving as Mayor of Dunnville from 1949-1953. The Dunnville Chamber of Commerce named George Garfield Disher “Dunnville Citizen of the Year” in November 1997, posthumously. The DDHA is pleased to have some of Garfield Disher’s harness-making tools thanks to the generosity of Disher’s son, Frederick, a community leader in his own right who has since passed away.
Monarch Knitting Mills – 1903-1967
Located on a waterway, early Dunnville was a “mill town”--flour and grist mills, sawmills, a woolen mill. The most successful and long-lasting was the Monarch Mills founded in 1903 by Dunnville businessmen F. R. Lalor, J. A. Burns, and George Orme. Eventually, Monarch had four factories. In addition to a plant in Dunnville, there were plants in St. Thomas, St. Catharines, and Buffalo. Dunnville plant buildings took up almost an entire block--Main St. to Lock, between Cedar and Pine Sts. It had its own water tower. The smokestack in the photo is 125 feet tall. The majority of the complex was built before 1915. Monarch specialized in knitted outerwear, later branching out to other clothing. In 1918, Monarch made the first ball of hand-knitting wool produced in Canada. At its height, the company had 600 employees. All the buildings are gone now, except for the white building to the right of the smokestack, the current Optimist Hall. But the company still echoes in today’s world. Monarch knitting books are for sale on-line. And the mill buildings in St. Thomas, St. Catharines and Buffalo are still standing. A member of the Dunnville District Heritage Assn. saved one of the doors from the Lock St. entrance to the Dunnville complex. It has been preserved and has a permanent place in the Local History and Genealogy Room.
Mr. and Mrs. John Smith of Dunnville realized that their daughter, Marie Julia, had an exceptional talent, and arranged for her to study voice from her early education. Her first “professional” appearance was in 1869 at age 7. She sang at the Dunnville Train Station for the men who were sawing wood for the train. At age 17, Marie married Charles Harrison who insisted she continue her studies. When Marie’s teachers in Boston and New York felt they had done all they could, she went to France in 1897, to study under a famous singing teacher. “Madame Yulisse”, as Marie came to be known, appeared in Dunnville many times. Her usual concert fee in 1900 was $200, but her concerts were always offered free in her hometown. The Anglo-Saxon, London, England, 1902, reported that: “Her voice combines the compass of a fine contralto with a soprano, excelling in range that of the most famous soprano on record”. Marie’s voice range was four full octaves. The Montreal press called her “Canada’s Nightingale.” She also composed songs in German and English and could speak four languages. A descendant of Marie donated one of her capes to the Dunnville District Heritage Assn. The cape was made in Paris for the singer more than 100 years ago and is red wool with black embroidery and trim.