Birth of the Society
On Sept. 16, 1901, in the County Council chamber in Walkerton, Norman Robertson stood before an audience gathered from all parts of Bruce County, all deeply interested in county history. He knew the chamber well, having been county treasurer since 1887.
Mr. Robertson explained that with the support of council (a $10 grant) he had placed advertisements in local papers inviting people to this meeting, aimed at founding a society to preserve the history of the early settlement of the county, now that the pioneers were fast passing away.
Alex Shaw of Walkerton, chairman of the meeting, then spoke and emphasized how necessary it was to form the society. He said he was glad that taking part in the meeting were Chief William Bruce McGregor and interpreter Fred Lamorandière. (McGregor had been chief at Cape Croker since 1867; Lamorandière became one of Robertson's informants when he wrote The History of the County of Bruce.)
The motion to establish the "Bruce County Historical Society", with the object of promoting the study of history, especially that of the county, passed unanimously. The meeting then adopted a constitution and by-laws. Membership was set at 25 cents.
When the elections were over the president was Lt. Col. A.E. Belcher, and secretary-treasurer was Norman Robertson. Also elected were 27 vice-presidents representing townships and towns, from S. Speers of Tobermory to Peter Corrigan of Lucknow. (Belcher had been named in 1896 an honorary lieutenant colonel in the 32nd Bruce Battalion; he served as reeve of Southampton from 1894-1896 and 1898, and as Southampton's first mayor, from 1905 to 1908.)
The Society's early work involved collecting material bearing on county history, such as files of newspapers starting in the 1860s and early maps and plans of the villages. Its signal achievement was publishing Robertson's county history in 1906. After an active start it seems that interest waned and in 1915 the Society surrendered its charter and turned over a small credit balance to the Children's Aid Society.
42 years later, in 1957, 30 representatives from nine communities gathered in Southampton to revive the Bruce County Historical Society, with a mandate to "discover, collect, preserve and edit material pertaining to the history of Bruce County and its people". Bruce Krug of Chesley was elected president and Hilda Downey of Tiverton became secretary, a post she held for 15 years.
It became evident that the society's growing archives needed a permanent home, a need which was to lead to the creation of the Bruce County Archives. The BCHS archival collection was being stored in private homes and town halls. From 1965, files of documents and bound copies of county newspapers were kept on the (unheated) upper floor of the Tara Municipal Building.
When the Krug Wing of the Bruce County Museum was built in 1976 BCHS asked that three rooms be designated as a county archives. County council agreed, if the society would outfit the rooms. The project went ahead and the Society received New Horizons grants to equip the archives with furniture, filing cabinets, map cases, typewriter, photocopier and microfilm reader. This gesture by the Society enabled newly-hired museum curator Clause Breede to set up a county archives at the museum.
On Sept. 5, 1979 BCHS donated its large collection of personal and private papers, business documents, unpublished material, photographs and newspapers to the museum, as part of the county-operated archives. To help with administration, two Society members gained seats on the Museum Committee of Management.
As part of its mandate BCHS publishes historical material from Bruce County. The driving force behind the original Society, Norman Robertson, wrote the first Society book, the highly successful The History of the County of Bruce. First published in 1906, it was reprinted in 1960, 1971 and 1988, and continued to sell into the 21st century.
The first volume of county history was joined by a second. In 1967 the historical society engaged Norman McLeod of Toronto, and originally from Arran township, to write volume two. He was principal of Leaside High School in Toronto, first president of the Ontario Teachers' Federation and had a cottage in Southampton. The 477 pages of volume two appeared in 1969 and covered the period 1907 to 1968.
Also in 1967, which was Canada's centennial year, Margaret Ferris edited The Bruce County Historical Society Centennial Book of historical topics, which thereafter became the annual Yearbook sent to all members, along with a newsletter twice a year.
The first volume of county history lacked a full surname index, and in August 1979 Betty Allen and others in the Society completed the indexing of Robertson. The surname index, re-organized by John Weichel, was published in 2000.
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