Ontario Heritage Conference Presentation, Saturday, June 4, 2011, Victoria Hall, Cobourg, Ontario

Note: This presentation was accompanied by a Power Point presentation also available on our website. 

Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today. My presentation is drawn from many places in my life. For many years, I worked as a CBC broadcaster so I know a little bit about telling stories effectively using multimedia.

For over a decade, I travelled the world documenting Canada’s relief and development projects. I used to take these epic journeys to distant places far beyond any tourist spots, get out of a plane, and step back into the 18th century where people still drive donkey carts and live in mud houses. I met some of the poorest people in the world, and if they were to wait for their governments to assist them, they’d be waiting a long time. They didn’t have any money. What they had was lots of community resolve. So they were doing all kinds of things buildings schools, health clinics, houses, wells and starting small businesses to improve their lives. I have never forgotten these remarkable people and I have borrowed from that experience witnessing the power of community resolve.

I have a great interest in local history – my “history addiction” as I call it. My interest began many years ago with my Masters of Journalism thesis on the canning industry of Prince Edward County, once the centre of the industry in Canada. I was an author in search of a subject back then, but I knew within a very few interviews with old-timers talking about the early days of the industry in their kitchens and on their verandahs, that I was sitting on a great untold story of Canada.

Finally, I have spent much of my life working with non-profit organizations as an Executive Director, board member and chair, volunteer and consultant. Over the last decade, I have worked with a volunteer board to restore a heritage property, The Glenwood Cemetery in Picton.  So I have lived the concept I am presenting to you today. And the concept is this:

Every community has its stories to tell.  These are often hidden away in the collections of museums, libraries, cemeteries and archives. But this “hidden history” can be transformed into “popular history” – goods and services that meet the worldwide consumer demand for history and heritage. In this way, history and heritage can be considered a commodity that can be mined and refined, processed and packaged, marketed, distributed and retailed just like any other product.

Heritage organizations are often considered “municipal loss leaders” for the taxpayer funding they require each year. But I believe they are storehouses of history – “history factories” – that can become “profit centres” if only we developed the untapped potential lying dormant in our communities to develop a “heritage economy.”

This presentation is focused on two aspects of heritage:

  1. PUBLIC COMMUNICATIONS and COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT on the importance of history and heritage
  2. THE MARKETPLACE for history and heritage

Most of us working with small community charities – and this is especially so with heritage organizations, museums, cemeteries, and heritage societies – are “heritage beggars” highly dependent upon dwindling grants, annual funding from municipal governments with limited funds and great demands, and the charity of our communities already supporting a great many other worthy causes.

I believe heritage is ultimately about money. And until we can find ways to finance ourselves, we will always be heritage beggars. We will watch our landmark buildings and special places disappear and be unable to intervene; our organizations will simply age and tire and fade from view in the coming decades; and we will not be a factor in shaping an alternative vision for our communities that embraces and respects the past. We will –at best – watch from the sidelines.

For all these reasons, heritage remains a last priority in most communities – an afterthought. But what if we changed our thinking? What if we did something memorable? Could we change our world? Yes, I believe so…. because that is happening in my own community of

Most of us working with small community charities – and this is especially so with heritage organizations, museums, cemeteries, and heritage societies – are “heritage beggars” highly dependent upon dwindling grants, annual funding from municipal governments with limited funds and great demands, and the charity of our communities already supporting a great many other worthy causes.

I believe heritage is ultimately about money. And until we can find ways to finance ourselves, we will always be heritage beggars. We will watch our landmark buildings and special places disappear and be unable to intervene; our organizations will simply age and tire and fade from view in the coming decades; and we will not be a factor in shaping an alternative vision for our communities that embraces and respects the past. We will –at best – watch from the sidelines.

For all these reasons, heritage remains a last priority in most communities – an afterthought. But what if we changed our thinking? What if we did something memorable? Could we change our world? Yes, I believe so…. because that is happening in my own community of Prince Edward County.

The Challenge of Heritage Properties

Glenwood Cemetery: A Case History

Some years ago I became active in the restoration of an historic cemetery, The Glenwood Cemetery, in my hometown of Picton. Glenwood is a spectacular, 62-acre Victorian cemetery located in the heart of Picton. It’s a timepiece looking just like it did when it opened in 1873. But by 2000, Glenwood was in rough shape because of:

  • 50 years of community neglect
  • Three heritage buildings needing urgent repair
  • Four kilometres of impassable roads
  • Lost records
  • Three heritage buildings needing urgent repair
  • Four kilometres of impassable roads
  • Lost records
  • Fallen monuments
  • No professional staff/equipment
  • No revenues 

Back then, Glenwood gave new meaning to the word “non-profit.”

It’s not easy to market a cemetery. But we began to look at the cemetery as a conventional business with a product line. At the worst of times, we came up with some pretty whacky ideas – “scratch and lose lottery tickets,” “two for one sales,” and “Lucky Wednesdays” just to relieve all the stress we were under. But that was the beginning of our discussions of Glenwood as a product that needed to be marketed. And in the end, we decided to market the story of Glenwood.

Communicating a Vision

We developed a small brochure to tell the story of Glenwood, its history, our vision for it, and how people could help by donating, volunteering, purchasing a plot and leaving a gift to the cemetery as part of their estate planning. The brochure cost $1,200 to print 5,000 copies. Some board members argued we couldn’t afford it. I asked for donations from the board to pay the costs, and those against the expenditure said,” I’m not going to give you any money. I’m giving my time.”

I said,” We’re not raising time tonight. We’re raising money for this brochure so we can go into the community and raise awareness and funds for the cemetery.” Some board members never did contribute and they left the organization. But we got the money. We printed our brochure. And we engaged the community by presenting it to every community group who would listen. And they did.

 Measureable Results

In 2000, Glenwood took in about $5,000 in donations from kind people who gave us money even when we didn’t ask. In 2001/2002 after our community campaign, we took in nearly

$90,000 in donations – money that we were able to match with two $75,000 grants for use for one of our projects, the restoration of the Chapel, an elegant stone building built in 1901, and a project that would take eight years and nearly $300,000 to complete.

We had increased media and public interest and an increase in ongoing donations.

We discovered we were successful because we were marketing “memories” not a cemetery. People sent letters with their donations that talked about their grandparents, their parents, and sometimes their children who were buried at Glenwood. That’s a powerful force to be harnessed. And it all started because through our public outreach campaign, Glenwood was no longer “hidden history.”

Next Steps:

We decided we needed to have people experience the cemetery to see the restorations that were taking place so we developed walking tours. Our Gallows & Graveyards Walking Tours are now in their fourth year. They are held on summer weekends with students in costumes taking visitors on tours of historic churchyards and cemeteries and into the old gaol where we tell the story of two men hanged in 1884.                 

We developed a series of fall and winter lectures series on history and heritagetopics. And we started to make new partnerships within our community.

Community Engagement:

We started with a new partnership with our municipal government who had for years paid a small $20,000 annual grant to assist in the operation of the cemetery. Despite many pleas from the cemetery over many years, the funding remained the same. We decided that we had to negotiate a new agreement that saw our local government increase their grant significantly to $45,000 annually to allow us to hire professional staff.

Since by law local governments have to take over cemeteries if they fail, our council had the choice to partner with us for part of the costs…or they could assume it all. This was not without controversy. But in the end, council reluctantly increased our grant, we hired staff, and the board was able to go back to the work boards should be doing rather than mowing grass and arranging burials.

New partnerships with other heritage organizations

Our success came at a cost to the museums as council simply “robbed Peter to pay Paul” taking money from their budget to give to us. When we found that out, we met with museum staff to explore how we might work together. Those discussions lead to the co- development of the walking tours, lecture series, and the participation of yet another heritage property in our community – The Regent Theatre, an old cinema located on Picton’s Main Street. And this partnership led to another public outreach initiative – The History Moments series.

The History Moments Series

The History Moments are two – minute video vignettes on local history themes that play before movies at The Regent, are broadcast on cable TV, distributed into area schools, libraries, museums, used in the interpretative program for the over 550,000 annual visitors to the Sandbanks Provincial Park, retailed in many County stores, and broadcast online on my company website.  Features showcase early settlement, first industries, prominent people, and significant events that have shaped the history of our community.

The History Moments are sponsored by local businesses and organizations. It’s an advertising value for them which supports a community awakening to the rich history that is all around us. And they are incredibly popular.

Measureable Results ten years later

The restoration of Glenwood is really a great heritage success story. Over the past decade we have:

  • Made major road repairs
  • Undertaken a reforestation project to replace our aging urban forest
  • Digitized our records and placed them on a website
  • Hired professional staff and purchased new equipment
  • Renewed the board
  • Attracted major donations and bequeaths
  • Developed new community partnerships for collective action
  • Preserved a community heritage property

Why does heritage matter?

I do a great deal of public speaking in communities across Eastern Ontario and I am sometimes asked why does this matter? Here’s what I say:

It matters because the future of the Past is so uncertain in most communities.

Aging Volunteer Organizations

The big question is what’s going to happen when you and I can’t do our volunteer work anymore 

I believe it’s a great folly to believe that things will always be just because they have always been. I could name you a dozen organizations on the verge of folding in Prince Edward County. They are older; they have no money; no staff; and no succession plan. They often work in isolation competing for limited resources, volunteers and event dates.

But they are also inter-connected and the failure of one can mean the failure of another. At Glenwood, we count on the annual generous donations from many of these organizations. If they fail, then perhaps we will fail. Over the next 10-15 years, many organizations will fail and fade into the past in communities across Canada – a sort of collective collapse of communities.

Municipal governments should be interested in this because the millions of dollars raised each year by volunteers in their communities – all for free – may not be there in the future. The thousands of hours donated – for free – to a wide range of community services may no longer be available.   So what’s going to happen when you and I can’t do that work anymore?

We need to think bigger. We need to act collectively to share limited resources. We need to become the sum of our parts rather than remain as isolated and largely irrelevant organizations. This is how we can renew our organizations and plan for a future time. And if not every organization can be saved, perhaps others can carry on their work. That’s why history and heritage matters.

Reaching Future Leaders

The next generation of community leaders and volunteers are students. We need to engage them in the history that is all around them. We’re tried to do this.

Teachers in Prince Edward County are using the History Moments as learning resources.

This year, students at the high school in Picton are selling the series to raise money for a trip to battlefields in Europe where Canadians fought. The Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board is sponsoring a History Moment on early education in the area.

There are 54 schools and 17,000 students in the Hastings & PEC School Board. You can see the potential of engaging schools, teachers and students in our project. That’s why heritage matters.

Our Disappearing Heritage

Last August, we tore down on a Methodist church built in 1875 located on our Main Street.

It is just down the street from the block we tore down in March last year to build a new box store. That will sit next to the mini-mall we built in the 1970s after tearing down all the gracious old homes that lined our main street.

This is a squandered inheritance. It is testament to poor planning, a lack of vision, and to mistaking progress for the same bland look that is everywhere else. If you tear down all the special places in your community, you have to wonder what’s so special about your community?  And the sad answer to that is “Nothing.”

We have had some successes in restoring heritage buildings, but the fact is we are tearing down heritage properties faster than we can restore them. I believe most communities are engaged in this battle to save open spaces, landmark properties, farmland and all the special places…and it is a battle we are losing. That’s why this matters

A Lost Business Opportunity

Finally, it matters because it is such a lost economic opportunity. If we could transform this dormant asset in our communities – our hidden history – into popular history – goods and services that meet the worldwide marketplace for history and heritage, we could develop a “heritage economy” that powers up our local economies, turns heritage organizations from municipal loss leaders into profit centres, and preserves the historical integrity of our communities 

We need to value heritage not so much as a  “warm and fuzzy” – a vague, cultural asset.  We need to consider it as an untapped commodity –“ a hidden wealth” that can drive our local economies. Heritage ultimately is about money…. and big money at that.

The Marketplace for History

History is one of the top three reasons why people travel. The History Channel links advertisers with a consumer demographic – 9.2 million boomers and their parents. Every month, 68 million people around the world Google the word “history.”

Gettysburg makes $91 million/year and has created nearly 2,500 jobs from the 1.2 million people who visit annually. Every year, they tell the same story and make $91 million dollars. So why don’t we tell our stories to the world and develop a heritage economy?

Manufacture professionally produced goods and services

We need to develop our own line of heritage products such as:

  • Specialty wines and foodstuffs
  • Videos, books, lectures, and bus, walking, and historic house tours
  • Period events (re-enactments, Picton Fair as an 1880s period fair, War of 1812 bicentennial, 400th anniversary of Champlain’s visit in 2015, and the 200th birthday of Sir John A. Macdonald in 2015)

The Macdonald Project

John A. Macdonald spent his early years in the Picton area and as a teenager, he practiced law there in the 1830s. The Macdonald Project is an initiative to erect a bronze sculpture of him in Picton during the 200th anniversary of his birth in 2015. This project and Macdonald’s birthday have the potential to be a major local, regional and national event.

The Miss Supertest Celebration – August, 6,7th, 8th 2011 

50 years ago this August, the Canadian race boat Miss Supertest captured her third – and last – victory in the Harmsworth international races held in Picton.

On August 6,7,8th we will celebrate this sports history with the launch of a Canada Post commemorative stamp honouring the boat, and a weekend of boat displays and activities.

The celebration has the possibility of being a test case for history in Prince Edward County to show the economic benefit to the community of this once-in-a- lifetime event.

Heritage Revenues

Over the past 5 years, our partnership of several community heritage organizations has evolved and a long- term plan is emerging to:

– Retail heritage products to our 700,000 annual visitors

– Use our heritage products for worldwide online Tourism Marketing

– Track retail sales with a % saved in a Heritage Fund administered by The County Community Foundation

– Our Heritage Fund is complemented by donations and bequeaths and supplemented by 1% municipal heritage fee on new development


  • To transform “the hidden wealth” of our history into a heritage economy
  • To transform heritage properties (archives, cemeteries, libraries, and museums) into profit centres
  • To create “popular history” products as tourism marketing resources
  • To create public and educational resources
  • To promote new community partnerships for greater community engagement and better use of limited resources
  • To create jobs for young people and for our trades
  • To create new revenue streams for heritage organizations
  • To assist private property owners and businesses to maintain heritage properties
  • To preserve our community history and heritage before it is lost to Time.

We’re not there yet…. but we’re working towards this and the formation of a new heritage organization tasked to take on this work – to be an umbrella group for heritage groups to work together, and to be an instrument of change. We have started in our community to “create the will” just by transforming the “hidden history” in our community into “popular history.” And we have changed our world, just a little, by forging new partnerships with heritage groups, diverse sectors like municipal government, schools, private businesses sponsoring the History Moments, crafts people making heritage materials, and retailers who sell our products. We have created public education materials to engage our community and to awaken them to the rich history that is all around us.

The third series of History Moments will be launched on Monday, July 4th at 2pm at The Regent Theatre in Picton. I invite you to attend this free public event to celebrate our local history. The series will then be featured at the first ever Picton film festival that takes place in July. This year we will be launching a series in Belleville and Hastings County in partnership with groups there.

We have also developed some media partners. If you read Watershed Magazine, a magazine distributed from Cobourg to Kingston, you will notice our featured history articles. The Miss Supertest event is featured in the latest summer edition. So we have made a small start on developing a “heritage economy” by developing a line of heritage products to retail within our community. Marketing our product lines is the next phase of the project. Along the way, our history project has fostered a critical mass for change capturing the interest of our community and directly engaging them as participants in history and heritage.

We have made History.

I will leave you with a question. Why don’t you make history in your community and create the will – a community resolve – to preserve your history and heritage before it is lost to Time?

Thank you very much.

Creating the Will – Heritage Conference in Cobourg June 3-5, 2011

Creating The Will heritage conference in Cobourg June 3-5, 2011

Creating The Will is the theme of a June heritage conference in Cobourg sponsored by Heritage Ontario and the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario. Peter Lockyer of History Lives Here Inc. will be one of the featured speakers discussing Making History: The Economics of Heritage – Municipalities, Heritage Organizations, and Communities as Stakeholders in History.

The presentation builds upon the author’s decade of experience developing strategic partnerships in his hometown of Prince Edward County to awaken the community to its rich history and the potential economic benefits of developing a heritage economy by telling old stories to new audiences.

For more information, visit the conference website at  http://www.cobourgtourism.ca/heritage.html

2011 History Moments Launch – Monday, July 4, 2011 at 2 pm

The History Moments are a series of two-minute “popular history” segments on local history themes, which play before movies at The Regent Theatre.

Twelve more vignettes on the rich history of Prince Edward County will be premiered at a free gala event open to the public. This year’s series includes stories on temperance advocate Letitia Youmans, prominent Loyalist settler Peter VanAlstine, The Quakers, Mohawk settlement on the Bay of Quinte, Sir Thomas Picton, the old Danforth Road linking York (Toronto) with Kingston, the Glenora Ferry, and others. One of our sponsors, the Black Prince Winery, will be providing complimentary wine at a reception which follows the premiere.

Please plan to attend this celebration of Prince Edward County’s history!  

A Sober Life The Life Of Temperance Pioneer Letitia Youmans April 2011

Letitia Youmans was a teacher in Burlington and Picton in the 1840s, a position that made her acutely aware of the misery of families with drunken husbands and fathers. She became a temperance advocate founding the Women’s Christian Temperance Movement in Canada in 1874. Read her life story in our article – A Sober Life – in the spring 2011 issue of Watershed Magazine. http://www.watershedmagazine.com

Hastings County Historical Society

“Making HIstory: The Economics of Heritage” at Quinte Living Centre Auditorium, 370 Front St., Belleville on Tuesday, May 17 at 7:30 PM.

Come along and bring a friend to find out more about how we can learn, enjoy and promote the of history of our area.

Launch Of The 2010 History Moments Series

Hello and welcome. My name is Peter Lockyer and I have a company named History Lives Here Inc.

History Lives Here provides a wide range of communication and multimedia services to its clients – businesses, industry associations and communities celebrating significant anniversaries. Simply put, we’re storytellers. We tell old stories to new audiences using today’s technologies.

We’re here today to launch the 2010 edition of the History Moments series. These are short video vignettes on local history themes that play before movies at The Regent, are broadcast on Cogeco Cablevision, have been distributed into area schools, libraries, archives and museums, are part of the interpretative program to the over 550,000 annual visitors to the Sandbanks Provincial Park, and are available online through the company’s website www.historyliveshere.ca

We launched the vignettes last year as part of the 225th anniversary of the Loyalist settlement of Prince Edward County – a settlement that was a defining moment in our history and the story of Canada. The History Moments series is actually part of a trio of activities by the partnering organizations – History Lives Here, the Glenwood Cemetery, the museums of Prince Edward County and the Regent Theatre – to showcase local history, to enhance public awareness of the need to preserve our heritage and heritage organizations. 

Picton Fairgrounds, circa 1918

So we have also developed our Gallows and Graveyards walking tours of Picton on summer weekends. There’s one tonight at 6:30 that starts in the parking lot of Macaulay Museum on Church St. in Picton where a costumed guide takes you over to the old courthouse and gallows to hear the story of two men hanged in 1884 for a botched robbery in Bloomfield. 

Saturday night’s tour at 6:30 begins in the restored Chapel at the Glenwood Cemetery in downtown Picton and takes you on a tour of this historic Victorian cemetery that remains a “timepiece” just as it was when it opened in 1873.

We also launched an historical lecture series this year in March with a lecture by Picton native Judge Robert Sharpe of the Ontario Court of Appeal who is completing a book on the 1884 double hanging. Judge Sharpe reviewed the case and the key question – did we hang two innocent men 126 years ago? We are now planning the next lectures in our series scheduled for the fall.

We haven’t charged any admission for this presentation today. My community partners in this history project felt pretty strongly that nobody was ever going to pay any money to hear me speak.

But I thought you might be interested to know just how this project came about and how the group of us got into the history business. I used to work with CBC Radio and Television and I liked to ask that question of people I interviewed. Why are you doing what you’re doing? It led to some pretty interesting conversations – which was good because I really wasn’t prepared to ask them anything else.

In 2000, I came home to Picton after over 30 years away. The people here seemed willing to forgive and forget. 

I got involved with the Glenwood cemetery, a beautiful 62-acre cemetery in the heart of Picton. That was a rough time for Glenwood. It has suffered 50 years of neglect and everything needed to be fixed. The place gave new meaning to the word “non-profit.”

I might not have gotten involved if I actually had realized how much work was going to be involved. In that way, it was a little bit like my first marriage. But a small group of us persevered, and we decided we needed to tell the community about the history of Glenwood, our vision for it, and how they could help.

So we wrote a little brochure,and I wrote the words History Lives Here in it. I don’t know where that came from, but I thought those three words described Glenwood so simply. I liked the phrase so much I started a company called History Lives Here to work with community heritage groups to market their history.

A decade later, Glenwood is a different place – although the restoration work is still continuing. And we here today talking about some of the historical services we have developed in partnership with other community groups like the Regent and the museums of Prince Edward County.

The 2010 History Moments series

The centerpiece of our history initiatives is the History Moments series. This year we have 12 vignettes sponsored by local businesses and community organizations.

I’d like to thank our sponsors – not just for their sponsorship dollars (although we do appreciate that) but also for their belief in what we’re doing. It’s very encouraging.

Our 2010 sponsors are:

Elizabeth Crombie of Royal LePage Realty and Shelagh Mathers of Mathers Law Office,  The Friends of the Maritime Museum, The Sandbanks Provincial Park and the Friends of the Sandbanks Park, The Waring House Inn, Claramount Inn and Spa, The Prince Edward Stewardship Council, Reynolds and Murray Chartered Accountants, Lloyd’s Heating and Cooling, The Black Prince Winery (who will be providing complimentary History Lives Here wine following our presentation), The Boulter Orange Lodge, Essroc Cement,  the Inrig Family, and The Glenwood Cemetery.


Why bother will all this old stuff from a long time ago? I’m sometimes asked that – and here’s what I say:

The Aging of Canadian Volunteer Agencies


Community and heritage organizations in small towns and big cities all across Canada are aging.

It’s just demographics really. All these organizations count heavily on volunteers to raise funds and to carry on the work they do. Their volunteer base is getting older; and they are tired -fatigued from years of fundraising and the struggle to stay open. 

It’s a great folly to think that these organizations will always be here as they are today. 

I could name you a dozen local organizations on the verge of folding unless there is a means of recruiting new volunteers within the next decade and finding new revenue streams to sustain them. This challenge to the volunteer sector won’t result in the loss of just one organization in one community. It’s going to be an unprecedented failure in communities all across Canada. And since these organizations raise millions of dollars collectively each year – at no cost to us for a wide range of worthy community causes – there will be a domino effect; a collapse of community. 

We need to renew these organizations with a new and shared vision, forge new partnerships in our communities so groups compliment rather than compete for limited funds and volunteers, and to develop new revenue streams beyond municipal funding and grant programs. That’s why it matters.

Reaching A Future Generation of Volunteers

IT MATTERS because there is a future generation of volunteers now in schools who learn about history – but it’s apparently history that happened a long time ago someplace else. I would argue that history is all around us…and it’s unfolding everyday. We’re making history today. We need to develop professional products and services that engage and excite this next generation to get involved in their communities.

A Loss of Heritage

IT MATTERS because there is a pitched battle taking place in every community in Canada at the moment. It’s the one you hardly ever read about. But it’s a battle communities are losing badly. It’s the battle over our disappearing heritage. 

In Picton this year, we lost an entire block of the downtown. We’re going to have a new mall sitting next door to the shopping mall we built in the late 1970s that knocked down some heritage houses. I used to live in one of these gracious old homes that lined our Main Street.

One block from our new shopping site is a 175 – year old former Methodist Church that is being demolished as we speak. This iconic structure is a landmark – a fixture of Main Street that will soon be gone.

It’s across from the Bank of Montreal, which sits on the front lawn of one of Prince Edward County’s most historic houses – the residence of Captain John Pepper Downes built in the 1850s. You’ll get to see that house today in one of our vignettes. The building is surrounded by a shopping mall and other more modern developments. It’s needs a lot of work and it’s up for sale. Most likely, it will be decked for more parking spaces soon.

There are more demolitions scheduled. There have been many in the past. The old law office of Sir John A. Macdonald, our most famous resident, was demolished back in the late 1950s or early 1960s. It sat on the top of the town hill. John A. is the subject of our first vignette. It’s too bad his old office is no longer here since his 200th birthday will be celebrated nationally in 2015.

It’s true we have had some restoration successes – the Glenwood Chapel, the Crystal Palace and the grandstand were saved by some dedicated volunteers when we wanted to tear those down for parking spaces; Macaulay house and church were purchased by the municipality in 1974 and continues to be restored as a museum; some enlightened development has taken place along our Main Street to build condos and trendy shops in other buildings threatened with demolition.

It’s just that we can’t restore buildings as fast as we are destroying them.

So this matters because we are losing the battle to maintain our heritage in Prince Edward County. In the great rush for “sameness” to pave over farmland and rural landscapes, to make the entranceways to our county a bland blur of pavement, box stores and shopping malls. We have to ask ourselves if we tear down all the special places in our community, then what’s so special about our community? 

On the worst of days, I’m always cheered by the fact that the pyramids are safe as long as they stay in Egypt -because in Prince Edward County we would have decked them a long time ago.

You might think I am anti-development. I’m actually not. I grew up here many years ago when this was a poor place. I think we can welcome box stores, shopping malls, and fast food places – just not at any cost. 

I believe that we need to put heritage first – and not last – on our list of priorities. If heritage guided our planning and development decisions, we could have progress while saving our heritage and maintaining “this special place.”


FINALLY IT MATTERS because the loss of our heritage is also a lost economic opportunity.

We talk a lot here about our creative economy. And indeed there are many creative people who now live here. But what if we were even more creative?

What might have happened if we had encouraged the box stores, fast food places and shopping malls to redevelop Camp Picton – our old army camp. It’s minutes from the downtown core; it has a wonderful view of the harbour; it’s not on prime farmland, and it needs development. What a shopping experience that could have been for visitors to say they shopped in stores on an old restored army camp. 

What would happen if we helped the agricultural society renew the Picton Fair, one of our featured vignettes today and an organization celebrating its 175th anniversary this year? What if we helped to transform the current fair into an 1880s period fair with displays of old farm equipment and tractors, antique shows, period meals cooked by county chefs, classes in quilt making and food preservation, exhibits drawn from our museums on The Barley Days, the canning era, a film festival of old films about Prince Edward County – there are a least 5 of them we have uncovered at the National Archives; the photographs of the County by two period photographers from the 1880s, and ‘90s, William James Topley (1845 – 1930) and Marsden Kemp, an amateur photographer who lived in Kingston and Picton up until the 1940s. This could be.

Every month there are 68 million around the world who google the word “history”. They’re looking for history. We have it.

The History Channel in the U.S. and Canada were formed to match advertisers with a consumer demographic – baby boomers and their parents who are now in the midst of the greatest wealth transfer in the history of the world. (This seems to be news to my Mom…but it’s actually happening).

Gettysburg in the United States is best known for three days of history – for a battle that took place there in the 1860s during the American Civil War. It’s worth over $90 million dollars a year to them from the 1.5 million visitors they receive annually. It’s created almost 3000 jobs.

We have a little more than three days of history. We have 226 years of Loyalist settlement.

We need to take this “hidden history” lying dormant in our archives, libraries, museums and cemeteries and transform it into “popular history” that meets the market –based demand for professionally produced products and services on heritage themes. This is the hidden wealth within our community….a renewable and sustainable resource because we will never, ever run out of history. I believe we should market it; place it on our municipal books as an asset rather than an afterthought. We should forge a new vision for our community that places history and heritage first as defining principles for our development.

Prince Edward County has around 700,000 visitors every year. What if we sold them $10 worth of heritage each year by telling them these old stories? What if the money went into a heritage fund that sustained our historic properties, helped the museums add to their collections of local materials, helped us work with property owners and developers to retain our heritage buildings because we had the money to do it?

This is why history and heritage matter – why these History Moments, our walking tours, our lecture series and a whole host of other heritage activities here matter.

I began today by saying that my company tells old stories to new audiences. Let us now tell you 12 wonderful stories about Prince Edward County. 

I don’t do this work alone. I have 14 wonderfully talented associates living in Ottawa, Toronto, Kingston, Picton and places in between. When you watch these, know that this work is also their work. And they are very, very good at what they do.

And afterwards, I hope you will join us for a reception and a glass of History Lives Here wine by our sponsor The Black Prince Winery. Thanks for coming.

Remarks by Peter Lockyer

History Lives Here Inc.

August 6, 2010

Justice Or Vengeance

George Lowder, aged 23, died first. But his fellow prisoner, Joseph Thomset, a 35-year old fisherman, struggled for a full fourteen minutes on the hangman’s noose on the early morning of June 10,1884.

Sentenced to hang at the Picton gaol for a botched robbery outside of Bloomfield that left one man murdered in December 1883, Lowder and Thomset maintained their innocence to the end. But were they innocent? Many local residents thought so and unsuccessfully petitioned the courts and Prime Minister John A. Macdonald for clemency. It remains the most celebrated court case in the history of Prince Edward County.

The fate of Lowder and Thompset hinged on the evidence of the boots they wore and the tracks in the snow that led a posse of local men to their homes.

“Well the tracks are very important because that’s how they think they got the two men who committed the crime.” says Judge Robert Sharpe, a Picton native who now serves on the Ontario Court of Appeal in Toronto. Sharpe is writing a book on the 1884 trial.

Map showing direction of footprints in the snow – courtesy of Prince Edward County Archives

“There were clearly tracks leading from the house going in the direction of West Lake and certainly tracks found around the homes of these two men. No one was actually able to trace the tracks all the way from the farmhouse to the two different homes, but they could find tracks along the way.

There was one pair of boots that had a somewhat distinctive bottom called a “patch bottom” and the people that did the tracking thought that they could tell if it was this particular pair of boots that left the tracks and that pair of boots was found in the home of one of the two men.”

And yet, there were many inconsistencies in the trial testimony that might have saved the men in another age. A local boot maker testified that the “patch bottom” boot was very popular in The County and the size – 8 1/2 -was also the most common size. Key witnesses such as Mr. and Mrs. Jones, Quaker farmers who defended their home against the robbers, were uncertain about identifying Lowder and Thompset as the men who had entered their house. Farmer Jones thought one of the men was older and had a limping gait.

Patch bottom boots as displayed at the Prince Edward County Gaol, Picton, ON

“For some reason,” says Judge Sharpe, “nothing much was made of this but it occurred to me that this might support the local feeling at the time that maybe it was the father John Lowder and not his son George who was involved in the crime because as Mr. Jones described the man running off, he said he had a kind of ungainly gait; he was running with a bit of difficulty. Now you’d think that would suggest perhaps an older man who was having a little bit of difficulty running. But somehow that issue didn’t get exploited at the trial, and there were some very fine lawyers at this trial so it’s hard to second-guess them at this distance. But it occurred to me that that was something that was potentially quite important.”

Judge Sharpe is skeptical of the conviction of George Lowder.

“We know that Joseph Thompset was in his early thirties,” he says. “He was a fisherman and he fished in partnership with George Lowder’s father, John Lowder. He lived near West Lake with his wife and one child. In the case of George Lowder, it was a family of several children. He was the second youngest and he was a mason by trade. He was much younger. He was in his early twenties. Thompset had had encounters with authorities before, and had been charged with minor offences before. Lowder had a completely clean record.”

In the charged atmosphere that swept through the County during the months following the crime, it was difficult for the two accused men to receive a fair trial. They weren’t allowed to testify in their own defence. And in the court of public opinion, they were guilty as hell.

“The atmosphere was quite amazing,” states Judge Sharpe,” because this was a huge event in the life of the town. There was a large crowd of people. The hotels were full. It was very difficult to get into the courtroom. The courtroom holds a lot of people, but there was a lineup of people who could not get in. The people in the courtroom were we know from the trial records, and from a letter from a prominent lawyer written after the trial, extremely unruly. And they would applaud every time the prosecution made a point and jeer every time the defence tried to score a point. And at a couple of points the trial judge had to clear the courtroom as he felt the crowd was so unruly and so disrespectful of the process. Clearly there were strong feelings at the time and I would say that a substantial part of this community were out for blood. They were convinced that these were the two men who had committed this crime, it was a horrific crime and they wanted blood. The mood started to shift after the verdict when some other people who were very concerned about what had happened, who had grave doubts about their guilt, tried to mobilize and they did mobilize a very long petition that was sent to cabinet, to Prime Minister Macdonald and Justice Minister Campbell to try to persuade them to commute this sentence. But they were a little too late in the case of Mr. Thompset and Mr. Lowder because they were hanged about a month after the trial.”

And so did they hang the right men back in 1884?

“There was a great deal of legal talent assembled for this trial,” Judge Sharpe says. “Judge Christopher Patterson practiced law in Picton early in his career with Philip Low and was later appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada. The crown and defence attorneys were outstanding lawyers. But in the end, it’s a very human process.”

Judge Sharpe, a member of the Ontario Court of Appeal, is the author of several books on law and legal history. Raised in Picton, he is currently completing a book on the Thomset -Lowder trial due for release in 2011.

Sharpe’s lecture reviewed the case – the crime scene and investigation of the trail of footprints in the snow that led to the two men’s houses; the evidence presented; the personalities that dominated the courtroom drama from the unruly mob who attended to the witnesses, judge, jury and lawyers; the verdict that condemned the two men to death, and the desperate effort to save the prisoners’ lives following their sentencing.