Brandon Mayer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The history of a local community is featured in a new book which was launched on Sunday, December 5. “Bridging the Centuries: The History of Chesterville, 1988-2020” was authored by the Chesterville and District Historical Society, and was officially launched at an event held at the Chesterville Legion, with many high profile guests, including SD&G Member of Parliament and former North Dundas Mayor, Eric Duncan, in attendance. Copies of the book were sold at the event for $50 each, and they continue to be sold at Chesterville’s Scotiabank location, as well as at the Heritage Centre, until the end of the month.
The book is being marketed as a unique Christmas gift idea, with the warning that those interested in purchasing it should act fast, since it is a limited-edition item. The Times spoke with Caroline Roberts, President of the Chesterville and District Historical Society, and Gail Parker, Chair of the book project’s committee, for some background information about the book.
Caroline Roberts noted that, “This beautiful book features 200 contributions from local authors and residents, updating Chesterville’s history over the last 30 years, as well as covering some earlier stories not included in Chesterville’s former history book, “The Time that Was,” that was first printed in 1977. Many colour pictures, including aerial photographs and maps illustrating significant locations, grace the pages of this new publication.”
Gail revealed that the book doubles as a celebration of Chesterville’s 130th anniversary in 2020. The first history book about Chesterville was written in 1938, with two other books completed by the Women’s Institute in 1977 and 1987. The Historical Society took over the responsibility of exploring the town’s history in 1988. The new book focuses more on the importance of family farming in the community, and also tells many impactful stories about those who immigrated into the area from overseas.
One issue Caroline and Gail faced when trying to gather first person historical accounts, was that many of the local long term residents they spoke with couldn’t remember much about the changes to the community over time.
“When you go in and talk to Mr and Mrs so-and-so, they say, ‘well what do you want me to say?’” Gail told the Times. “We would say, ‘well, what’s life been like in the last 33 years?’” When she wouldn’t get much of an answer, Gail would help refresh their memories by mentioning significant events, such as the Ice Storm of 1998, technological changes in the hospital, and the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Caroline feels that the COVID-19 pandemic helped the book in some ways. “Something positive that came out of the whole COVID disaster was that people had time sitting at home, and once you’ve got them looking at their photos, it would inspire them to go back through their photos and their history.”
Gail relayed an astounding story told to her by one Chesterville local, who described her ancestors’ experience coming to Canada from Ireland. They came to Canada by boat and landed in Montreal, and then immediately had to find work. They found it in Lachute, Quebec, where there was a brick factory. After several years, they bought some cattle with the intention of transitioning to farming. They left Lachute and followed the river until they found a tributary, which turned out to be the Nation River, and they followed it all the way to Chesterville with the cattle.
Even the title of the book, “Bridging the Centuries”, has a double significance. It covers the historical period between the 20th and 21st centuries, which is the literal reason for the name, but it also subtly refers to the bridge in Chesterville which crosses the South Nation River. This bridge was extremely important for Chesterville’s development.
Gail and Caroline certainly did not act alone in creating the book. In addition to the contributions from countless area locals, the pair also gave enthusiastic thanks to their graphic designer, Susan Marriner, as well as Bruce and Kim Henbest, who were the book’s editors.
“When [the book] went into Gilmore Printing… there was one period that needed to be corrected!” Gail said. Caroline added, “We’re forever thankful to them for making this such a professional book.”
Those interested in buying a copy of “Bridging the Centuries: The History of Chesterville” are encouraged to do so at the Chesterville Scotiabank location, since Scotiabank will match the proceeds of the sales up to a maximum of $3,000.
For Caroline and Gail, the journey of producing the book was a lot of work, but they don’t regret it. “It’s just been wonderful dealing with this area.” Gail said. “We certainly made a lot of friends!”