September 30, 2009

A call for memories about new park site

As published in The Erin Advocate

I was reading again the series of columns published on this page by Harry Smith called "Gleanings from memories by paths of Erin". That was the title of the memoir written in the 1940s by Florence Baker, recalling what life was like in Erin village in the late 19th century.

Harry's excerpts from her writings are available on the Town website,, in the history section. As I read that elegant prose, I wondered what people will read many generations from now, when they want to know what life was like here in the 20th century.

Already it is starting to fade away. People are naturally busy with their families and jobs, so often it is only the highlights of a place that stand out in memory. As people pass away, many fine memories are lost. But when they are recorded and shared, memories build up the bonds that make a community unique.

Often the most vivid memories spring from growing up in a particular place. More people are writing memoirs now, some with the aid of fancy scrapbooking and photo software, but it is still mainly a private activity, intended to preserve memories for friends and family.

What if we could get more memories of Erin out into the public sphere, so that relative newcomers could get a better picture of what the place was like 40 or 50 years ago? How can we tap into that collective memory bank in a way that does not overwhelm readers with a huge flood of details that are difficult to absorb?

I was talking recently with Annamarie Holtom, who had been enjoying local talent at the gazebo in the new park at 109 Main Street. She was reminiscing with a friend about watching local folks perform at that same spot in the 1950s, on the stage at the old village hall. The "Erinettes" had put on "The Pirates of Penzance" and "HMS Pinafore" by Gilbert and Sullivan.

So I got to thinking about future columns. What if I could collect memories from lots of people about a specific place. It would not be an official history, but it would be interesting to read.

From time to time I will announce a local history topic and ask people to send me some memories that would be of interest to the general public. I will sort through them and choose excerpts to make into a column.

The first topic is 109 Main Street. Were you an Erinette, or did you know one? Did you attend any special public meetings there? What did the site look like? What other types of community events were held there? Did you see Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent when he visited?

I am expecting memories mainly from the 1950s and 1960s, but older ones are even better. Please include details so that readers can picture the scene, as well as your name, which I would like to include.

The Town has had many suggestions for a name for the new park at 109 Main. The new name will be announced at the Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony on Friday, November 13. I will have a column of memories ready in time to promote that event.

Just one or two paragraphs would be plenty. I cannot promise to include everything, but I will put in as much as I can. If you would like to write something a bit longer, please do – I will try to get it printed separately, like a letter to the editor. If you are already writing a memoir about Erin, or if you have ideas about future topics, please let me know.

Send memories or other messages by Friday, October 16 via email to: Or send a letter to: Phil Gravelle, RR5, Georgetown, ON, L7G 4S8 (it is in Erin).

I would also be glad to chat with people on the phone, or in person if they prefer. Call the Advocate office at 519-833-9603 if you want to leave me a phone message.