Preface to the second edition


Five years after its appearance, in 2010, Southampton Vignettes was ripe for revision. I had just published Heart of the Great Lakes: Lake Huron and the Saugeen to 1850, with its exploration of history before 1850. Research for that second book uncovered much new information illuminating not only the earliest days of Southampton, when Spence and Kennedy arrived, but also life at the Saugeen River mouth before them. I saw the chance to reissue Vignettes, which had sold out in 2011.

For this updated second edition I completely rewrote the first three chapters and elsewhere included readers' corrections. Now there is more on Ojibway history, fur traders, the Métis antecedents of Aunt Annie, and the fishermen who had so much trouble making a living on Lake Huron.

These new accounts are, however, greatly abbreviated. You must see Heart of the Great Lakes to get the full story of those who came before the founders of Southampton: the lone-wolf traders, zealous missionaries and failed fishermen.

Robin Hilborn
          Southampton, Ont., Sept. 1, 2015

Preface to the first edition


Southampton Vignettes had its genesis in the columns I wrote for the Shoreline Beacon in 2008.

But why did a small-town Ontario newspaper ("Serving Saugeen Shores, Paisley, Tara and Tiverton") let an unknown writer loose on its pages in the first place?

It all began when I moved to Southampton in 1999. After a life in big cities—notably as a federal information officer in Quebec City and Montreal—I felt naturally drawn to this Lake Huron town, charmed by the fine beach, the endless blue vista over the water and the friendly streets where people say hello whether they know you or not.

In January 2005 I volunteered to work at the Bruce County Archives, where then-archivist David Sharron had me inventory the shelves in the Reading Room. Then I catalogued photographs for a while until January 2008 when archivist Ann-Marie Collins agreed I could start indexing the Weichel research material. In March, however, I had to suspend work for a year, in order to volunteer full-time with the committee organizing celebrations of Southampton's 150th anniversary.

I'd been working on the 150th since my fateful first meeting Nov. 18, 2006, when I volunteered to do the events flyer. (As is the nature of volunteer positions, I ended up first vice-president, taking on news releases, web site and more).

Signing on with the 150th meant that two years later I would find myself face-to-face with the editor of the Beacon, who had a proposition. Liz Dadson had invited the two 150th vice-presidents—Dunc McCallum and me—to her Port Elgin office on Jan. 18, 2008.

This is how the paper will cover the 150th, she told us: a weekly column, about Southampton history and news of the 150th; and in August a souvenir booklet inserted into the paper.

Liz turned to me: would I supply the stories and photos for the weekly column "Southampton Celebrates", starting next week?

I agreed. It was a good deal all around: the Beacon got a free column, and the 150th got free weekly publicity.

As long as I could turn out 500 words on a new topic each week, all would be well. The problem wasn't the topics, however; it was the 500 words. For a few weeks I sent in over 700, until Liz laid down the law. I always found more history than would shoehorn into my measly allotment, hence the advantage of this book. Here, 500 words fill but a page.

What didn't fit in the paper has made it into Vignettes. You'll find much more on furniture factories, for instance, and on Chantry Island lighthouse, Aunt Annie and Capt. Spence. And finally there is room for many photographs.

More than that, I've added six new chapters. Alexander McNabb gets the most attention, as befits the man behind the great 1854 land rush. Other new faces: weather observers Catherine McNabb and Agnes Tolmie, auctioneer Al McGuire and historian John Weichel.

And I had to write "In praise of Southampton's beach", not least because it's my favourite spot. Speaking of the beach, Ken Cassavoy makes an appearance, because even in a brief look at Southampton history we can't leave out the excavation of the General Hunter -- Ken moved to Southampton specifically to lead that archaeological project.

In writing "Southampton Celebrates" and Vignettes, I depended heavily on John Weichel's books, including Forgotten Lives and Forgotten Times. I also dug into his archived research and into works by historians Norman Robertson and John McNabb, plus other authors. See the list in "Sources".

As you'll read in chapter 21, John's technique involved reading old newspapers on microfilm. I wasn't tempted to start reading microfilm myself because I wanted to publish this book as "a brief history", not the definitive word. I could have added more and more to each chapter, but I had to draw the line somewhere.

In referring to newspaper sources, such as "a newspaper reporter visiting the scene", I'm quoting from a newspaper article I found in the Weichel research files. You'll find the original reference in the "Weichel Index", which I compiled at the Bruce County Archives.

I designed Vignettes myself, based on a two-column suggestion by graphic designer Bill Boyer. Bill also did some nice graphic work on three photos and I thank him for that.

Many photos came from the Bruce County Museum and Cultural Centre, with the kind permission of director Barbara Ribey. A big thank you, too, to archivist Ann-Marie Collins and assistant Sue Schlorff for their cheerful help.

Thanks to Patsy McArthur of the Saguingue Métis Council for illuminating Saugeen Métis history. Robert Morgan kindly allowed me to use the two columns he wrote for "Southampton Celebrates": Royal Canadian Art Pottery Company and Saugeen Mineral Water Company.

In closing, a fervent plea: that today's newspapers do more to preserve our history. Editors, look back from 50 years in the future: did you focus on the superficial, or did you print enduring reflections of our life today? Our newspapers should play their part, as do our museums, in serving posterity.

Robin Hilborn
          Southampton, Ont., June 12, 2010

Do you have more to add to this history? Write: Robin Hilborn,, Box 1203, Southampton ON N0H 2L0.

How to order

To order Southampton Vignettes, print (or copy out) the form below, fill in and mail with your cheque to:

Box 1203, Southampton ON  N0H 2L0

Please send me ___ copies of Southampton Vignettes ($25 each).

Add $8 per order for shipping.

I enclose a $_____ cheque to "Robin Hilborn".


Street address:


• Price in Canada is in Can$.   For U.S. addresses, in US$.
• We accept cheques and post office money orders.   Sorry, no credit cards (so you don't have to reveal your card number).
• No tax ... Family Helper Publishing is tax-exempt.
• Also on sale (plus tax) at the Gift Shop, Bruce County Museum, Southampton ON
• Queries:

For more information




Southampton Vignettes:
    a brief history of a
    Lake Huron town,

    2nd ed.
ISBN 978-0-9809468-8-8
134 pp., 140 illustrations,
    bibliography, index
$25, from Robin Hilborn,
    Box 1203, Southampton
    ON  N0H 2L0