Former Brock prof had passion for correcting history

Former Brock Prof. Alun Hughes died last week after a lengthy illness.

Former Brock Prof. Alun Hughes died last week after a lengthy illness.

Alun Hughes had a knack for setting the historical record straight.

Take Laura Secord traipsing across the Niagara countryside with a cow in tow to warn the British of a pending American attack during the War of 1812. Or her navigating a swamp to arrive at DeCew House in 1813.

They were good stories but probably just that, Hughes would argue.

He also sought to find out where Sir Isaac Brock was really shot, the true story of the Battle of Beaverdams and to provide some real perspective on St. Catharines’ Power Glen neighbourhood.

Hughes, a retired Brock University geography professor who garnered a reputation for separating historical fact from fiction died last week after a lengthy illness. He was 71.

“He corrected history,” said Loris Gasparotto, cartographer in the Geography Department.

And he did it with his publication Looking Back… with Alun Hughes, a Historical Society of St. Catharines newsletter that Gasparotto helped him lay out, even after Hughes retired in 2012.

“He loved history. I think he loved writing articles about Thorold and Niagara more than writing about cartography,” Gasparotto said.

Hughes’s passion for the past wasn’t lost on the Niagara community.

He was a regular go-to guy for local media requiring context for historical stories. Earlier this year, he was awarded a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medial for his historical writings and the City of Thorold named Hughes its honorary civic historian as a result.

Still, Hughes was a geography professor first, arriving to teach at Brock in 1969 after working as a cartographic editor in London, U.K. Hughes taught cartography, surveying, remote sensing and GIS for 42 years at Brock and also co-founded and coached the University’s rugby club.

Among his other passions, Hughes was heavily involved in promoting and teaching Welsh in North America. He was recognized in 1989 for his contributions to keeping the language alive when he was inducted into the highest rank of the Gorsedd of Bards, a society of poets, writers, musicians, artists and others who have made a significant contribution to Wales, its language and culture.

Gasparotto recalled Hughes as a friend and colleague who was strong-willed, a stickler for grammar, but with whom he could joke easily.

“When he had a cause, he was like a badger,” Gasparotto recalled. “He kept going until it happened. And he supported his colleagues.”

About 20 years ago, Hughes started to turn his attention to correcting history. As the person helping to put together Hughes’s Looking Back newsletters, Gasparotto said he developed a deep appreciation for what the former professor was doing.

“I really enjoyed his work at the end. I have all of them and I think ‘My God, someone should publish this in a book or a faculty member should pick it up,” Gasparotto said. “I have a folder of unfinished articles and I look at it and get a little teary eyed.

“We lost someone, that’s for sure.”

Visitation for Hughes will be held Tuesday from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. at Haine Funeral Home and Chapel 26 Ormond St. South in Thorold. A funeral service Wednesday will be held at Silver Spire United Church, 366 St. Paul St., St. Catharines at 11 a.m.

In lieu of flowers, Hughes’s family would appreciate contributions to a fund established in his honour with Brock’s Special Collections and Archives for the acquisition of materials relating to the history of the Niagara Peninsula. Donations can be directed to the Brock University library.

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