Fire Insurance Maps online

The fire insurance maps produced in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries are a valuable resource for researching the history of settlements and buildings. They show all the structures in a locality and are colour-coded and annotated to show the materials that each building was made of.

As an example, here is a detail from page 2 of the 1878 map, showing St. Michael’s church.

Detail of map showing St. Michael's church

The blue colour tells us that this building was made of stone, while the X in the bottom right corner indicates that it had a shingle roof.

The next map shows a big change in the footprint of the church and notes that it was “Under Construction” in May 1888. The replacement church was taller than the earlier one, by some ten feet. Instead of shingles, the O indicates that the roof was now made of slate.

Detail of 1888 fire insurance map showing St. Michael's church

Between one publication and another, the maps were updated with patches to show changes to buildings. You can see the corner of one such patch in the image above, while the map page below carries more than forty patches, representing alterations to buildings in residential Deseronto streets between 1893 and 1911.

1893-1911 Deseronto Fire Insurance map with patches

In the Community Archives there are six of these maps for Belleville, ranging in date from 1878 to 1957, and one for Deseronto.* They are one of our most heavily used resources and years of use have resulted in wear and tear to the maps. By photographing the maps, we can share them online and protect the originals from further damage.  You can now explore Belleville as it would have been in 1878, 1888, 1904, 1915 and 1942 and Deseronto between 1893 and 1911.

*Note that the Lennox and Addington County Museum and Archives in Napanee also holds a Deseronto fire insurance plan (from 1922).

By | July 25th, 2017|Buildings, Featured item, News|0 Comments

The Camera Never Lies…

One of the largest collections in the Community Archives is the series of negatives produced by staff members of The Intelligencer, Belleville’s daily newspaper. The negatives range in date from the 1950s to 2001 and were donated to the Hastings County Historical Society in 2008. The series is not complete, but it is extensive, and the negatives often contain images that were not published in the newspaper, making these an interesting and valuable resource.

On 25th Janaury 1960 The Intelligencer covered the closure of Belleville’s old Post Office, on the southwest corner of Pinnacle and Bridge streets. The building had opened to the public in 1883 and was being replaced by a new Federal building on the southeast corner of Pinnacle and Station streets.

The photographs used in the article correspond to a set of negatives taken on 23rd January, which we have scanned and made available through Flickr. Comparison of the negatives with the published photographs in the newspaper brought to light an interesting discrepancy. In the newspaper, we see Postmaster Albert Clare locking the doors of the old building, standing alone on the Post Office steps.

In the negatives, we discover that Albert was not standing on his own, but was accompanied by assistant postmaster, John H. Smith:

The image does not show the words ‘Post Office’ above the door. However, another negative in this group does show the text and also two white notices on the door:

In the final version the two images have been combined to create a more pleasing composition, carefully excising Mr. Smith in the process.

A reminder that even before the days of Photoshop, although the camera does not lie, a photograph most certainly can!

The old Post Office was taken down in the early 1960s and replaced by a new building for The Ontario Intelligencer. Here is the empty lot, looking north, in June 1964. The Quinte Hotel is just visible on the right of the image.

This photograph in the newspaper for 7th November 1964, taken from City Hall, shows the new building under construction, with the Quinte Hotel in the background.

CABHC: 2017-13 Newton Thompson collection

By | January 30th, 2017|Buildings, News|0 Comments

Knee-deep in records

Thurlow Town Hall

Thurlow Town Hall

As we look forward to taking up new quarters in the Belleville Public Library, we take a backward glance at the Thurlow Town Hall, home to the Hastings County Historical Society and its collections for the past 13 years.
The hall was built in 1873 as the administrative centre for the township of Thurlow, now part of the City of Belleville. Gerry Boyce has found the following snippet recording the progress of the building in the Daily Intelligencer of August 26th, 1873:

Daily Intelligencer, August 26th, 1873

Daily Intelligencer, August 26th, 1873


The Township Clerk of Thurlow writes us that the new Town Hall in that Township is rapidly approaching completion, and that the work is very substantial and neat, and gives very general satisfaction.

The shield-shaped plaque on the front of the building notes that it was built by J.A. Northcott. John Northcott was born in Lapford, Devon, England in around 1805. He was a carpenter who came to Canada in 1853 and settled in Belleville, where he entered into partnership in with fellow Devonian, Walter Alford. They worked on a number of houses and other buildings in the town up to 1876, when Northcott retired. He died on December 26th, 1881 and the Daily Intelligencer obituary noted that he

was a true type of the better order of Englishman – outspoken, independent, yet concealing a heart as tender as that of a woman under a bluff exterior, and withal as honest as the day.

Plaque on Thurlow Township Hall

Plaque on Thurlow Township Hall

With amalgamation of the City of Belleville and the Township of Thurlow on January 1st, 1998, the building became available for use as the headquarters of the Hastings County Historical Society.
A plan of the building was drawn up in October 1998 by Gerry and Susie Boyce, with the help of Carson Cross. This item has recently been donated to the Community Archives as part of the extensive Gerry Boyce fonds it carries an intriguing section labelled ‘Mystery Area’.

Mystery area

The ‘mystery area’

Gerry tells us that this area was identified by the difference in measurements between the inside and outside walls of the building. Belleville’s Mayor of the time, Mary-Anne Sills, used a hammer to open up the wall and investigate the space. Blue duct tape remains on the wall as evidence of her handiwork.
This is not the first time that the internal walls of the building have been under attack: in February 1961 the wall of the vault was broken through by burglars looking for cash in the vault. The Ontario Intelligencer reported on the crime on February 7th, with photographs of the damage caused.

Ontario Intelligencer, February 7th, 1961

Ontario Intelligencer, February 7th, 1961

Ironically, the robbers could have saved themselves some work, as the vault was not locked at the time. Nor did it contain any cash, according to the Intelligencer’s report.

Ontario Intelligencer, February 7th, 1961

Ontario Intelligencer, February 7th, 1961

From an archivist’s point of view, it soon becomes apparent that the old building is far from ideal as a store for the unique materials which have been collected over the years by the Hastings County Historical Society. Signs around the place alert the occupants to some of the hazards:
Do not attempt to climb the stairs
Frozen pipes warning
The other key problem with the building is the space available to the Community Archives: the building has no barrier-free access and the shelves are all full-to-overflowing. We are not quite as knee-deep in records as the clerk was in 1961, but it feels like it, sometimes. In September we had to empty the former Irish Hall of records when that building was sold. Our colleagues at the Lennox and Addington Museum and Archives came to the rescue, taking in over 50 boxes of material temporarily until we can move them into the new purpose-built archival storage in the Belleville Public Library.

 Lennox & Addington shelves

Records temporarily in Lennox and Addington Museum and Archives

The move will be of tremendous benefit to the collections and to those who make use of the materials. The next few months are going to be very exciting!

By | October 6th, 2015|Buildings, Move to Belleville Public Library|0 Comments

New location: floors going in

Concrete being pumped through the third-floor window of Belleville Public Library

This morning the progress on the Community Archives’ new home in Belleville Public Library became visible from the outside of the building, as concrete for the new floors was poured through the third-floor window of what will become one of three archive storage vaults.

Below is a view taken from the second floor of the library last month, looking up towards that same window. Here the new floor of the third-floor vault was still under construction. The larger of the two second-floor vaults can be seen on the left.

Interior of Belleville Public Library, showing new third floor for archives vault

It’s exciting to see the new space coming into shape. We’ll keep you updated on the project’s progress here and hope to welcome you into our new location in 2016!

By | September 9th, 2015|Buildings, Move to Belleville Public Library|0 Comments

The Hotel Quinte

In her glory days it was Belleville’s grandest hotel – host to prime ministers, foreign dignitaries, and famous people.   It remained a stately downtown presence until destroyed by fire on the night of December 20, 2012.

The Hotel Quinte, around 1908

Hotel Quinte in Belleville in 1908

The main event at the Community Archives during January 2013 has been to research the long history of the Hotel Quinte and create a public exhibit featuring some of the archival materials.  Thanks to the hard work and long hours of the dedicated volunteers,  nine panels were finished in time for the show at the Quinte Mall this past week, co-hosted with the Hastings County Historical Society.  Many thanks also to the hundreds of visitors who stopped by to look at the exhibit and share their memories.

There has been a hotel at the northeast corner of Bridge and Pinnacle Streets in Belleville since 1847, except during the periods after four disastrous fires.  The Dafoe House opened as a first class hotel in 1847, burned down in 1855, was rebuilt, and burned again on October 4, 1886.  The land was then sold to Henry Corby, who opened the Hotel Quinte on February 28, 1895.  This hotel burned down on January 5, 1907.  It “rose phoenix-like” again, larger and “more magnificent than ever” (according to newspapers of the day) and reopened on February 27, 1908.  Nearly 105 years later, the hotel lies in ruins and rubble once more, awaiting the next incarnation.

The Community Archives holds many photographs, postcards, newspaper articles, programs, and dinner menus that illustrate the different buildings (inside and out) and the grandeur of the Hotel Quinte through through its long life.

By | January 27th, 2013|Buildings|1 Comment