Local author taps into Brock archives to trace Pelham’s history

When local author Graham Segger began a quest to trace the history of “Upper Fonthill,” he knew just where to start.

The Pelham resident reached out to Brock Library’s Archives and Special Collections and began digging through a treasure trove of local history.

It was while tracing the land ownership of his own property that the concept of a book, which looks at Fonthill from its glacial beginning through to recent residential developments, began to take shape.

“What initially brought me to Brock was the archives. Specifically, very important historical records called land record copy books,” says Segger. “These long-hand, copies of legal documents drawn up by the registrar allowed me to examine property instruments and information as far back as 1798.”

A woman stands in front of a row of historical books in a back room of the Brock University Archives and Special Collections.

Edie Williams, Brock Library Archives and Special Collections Archives Processing Specialist, stands with Town of Pelham land record copy books used to research Graham Segger’s new book.

Also helpful were finding aids — carefully compiled documents that enable researchers to explore specific collections of records more easily within an archive.

Discovering more than just microfilm and digitized scans, Segger quickly learned that through Brock, he had access to open-source maps, data and geographic information systems and staff and faculty expertise.

“Journeying into the history of an area enables me to meet new people and deepen my sense of connection to a community,” he says. “For me, this project has demonstrated the huge value of living so close to an excellent academic institution like Brock.”

Segger first visited Brock Library’s Archives and Special Collections in September 2021 as places were beginning to reopen to the public following the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As Graham was diving deep into the land record copy books, it made us curious,” says David Sharron, Head of Archives and Special Collections. “When he told us about his project, we were able to point him to other helpful resources in our collection, in the Map, Data and GIS Library, and at other institutions throughout the Niagara area. That is how really good historical research is done — good networking and leaving no stone unturned.”

Reaching out to Brock faculty and The Pelham Historical Society, Segger received feedback that helped clarify historical details of various chapters, including scientific understandings of glacial environments, land surveying and early land transfers.

“Projects like Graham’s are important bridges between academic and public history, especially when it comes to local history,” says Michelle Vosburgh, an Instructor for Brock’s Departments of Canadian Studies and History and an Archivist for L.R. Wilson Heritage Research Archives in Port Colborne.

A close up image of the cover of the book, The Land at the Crest of the Hill: Clues to Niagara History from Upper Fonthill.

The book, The Land at the Crest of the Hill: Clues to Niagara History from Upper Fonthill, traces the history of Upper Fonthill from glacial beginnings through to recent residential developments.

Vosburgh, who has conducted research on the Crown Lands department in pre-Confederation Ontario, also reviewed Segger’s manuscript, as did Professor of Kinesiology Anna Lathrop and several members of The Pelham Historical Society. Professor of Earth Sciences John Menzies also contributed to the book, providing valuable expertise related to the geologic history of the area.

For more information on Segger’s book, The Land at the Crest of the Hill: Clues to Niagara History from Upper Fonthill, visit The Pelham Historical Society website. Proceeds support the Lathrop Nature Preserve in Pelham.

For a comprehensive list of Brock faculty, staff and alumni who contributed to Segger’s book, please visit the Brock University Library website.

More Information about Brock Library resources is available on the Archives and Special Collections and the Map, Data and GIS Library websites.

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