Brock Library expands local history collections

The Brock Library’s Archives and Special Collections is a growing treasure trove of materials that provide insights into historic events and figures. Several acquisitions were added in 2023 and are now available to Brock students, researchers and the Niagara community.

Among the latest additions are handwritten letters by a British foot soldier detailing the rebellions in Upper and Lower Canada, a poster of a famous tightrope walker crossing Niagara Falls in 1877 and records of a St. Catharines family that has been in the region for more than 175 years.

“In a broad view, we acquired 32 diverse collections of materials ranging from archival records, books, photographs, newspapers and other materials that represent Niagara and Canadian history as well as other themes,” says Head of Archives and Special Collections David Sharron.

An illustrated colour poster of Maria Spelterini performing various feats on a tightrope including sitting, pushing a wheelbarrow, and walking with buckets on her feet.

Maria Spelterini was the first woman to cross the Niagara River on a tightrope and often performed various feats including sitting, pushing a wheelbarrow and walking with buckets on her feet. This colour poster from approximately 1877 can be viewed by appointment in Brock Library’s Archives and Special Collections.

Brock is the new home of the Campbell Family Fonds collection, which contains personal and business records dating from 1797 to 1973. Thanks to the generous donation of Andy Campbell, great grandson of John S. Campbell and Elizabeth Oille, the records of a family deeply rooted in St. Catharines’ history is being preserved for future generations.

Campbell’s ancestors include some of the city’s most prominent citizens, including Dr. Lucius Oille, who was elected as St. Catharines second mayor in 1878, served as first chairman of the waterworks and was a major contributor to the railway. Another of Campbell’s ancestors was John S. Campbell, a judge who served as mayor in 1908 and 1909 and as the first chairman of St. Catharines Public Utilities in 1914.

“Being born and raised in St. Catharines certainly gives me a connection to our community,” Campbell says. “However, becoming aware of my family’s historical involvement, contributions and impact on the city beyond my father’s leadership role with the Welland Canal and my grandfather’s involvement with the Lincoln and Welland Regiment has been enlightening.”

Local military history is the focus of another of the collections added by the Brock Library in 2023 when it acquired seven letters written by Duncan Campbell, who is not related to Andy Campbell, a soldier assigned to the 83rd (County of Dublin) Regiment of Foot.

While many archival collections feature documents created by high-ranking officials, these letters provide insight into the experiences of a lower-ranking officer. Addressed to his family in Scotland, the letters detail the soldier’s battles in Lower Canada and travels to rebel hotspots from 1837 to 1838.

“These letters are historically significant because they provide raw, unfiltered information about what was happening at the time,” says Brock Archives Processing Specialist Chantal Cameron.

Six of the seven letters provide examples of cross writing — when an author writes a letter from left to right and then rotates the page 90 degrees to write over the existing text.

“This was common practice at the time,” says Cameron. “Postage was expensive, and often paper and writing supplies were not readily available.”

Other notable collections added in 2023 include an unpublished report manuscript titled Remarks etc. on the Navigation of the Lakes Erie, St. Clair, Huron and Ontario by Henry Kent, a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy who wrote a Great Lakes navigation guidebook shortly after the War of 1812, and the Sherman Zavitz fonds, a personal collection of his writings as the official historian for the City of Niagara Falls from 1994 to 2019.

Aids for Duncan Campbell’s letters the Campbell Family Fonds and other materials are available on Brock University’s Archives and Special Collections website.

For access to the physical collections, please email to schedule an appointment before visiting.

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