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Historian explores area’s lesser known treasures


by Adam Gault

Local historian Chris Carter (pictured) hosted a series of presentations at the Canadian Transportation Museum & Heritage Village last Saturday, entitled, “Hidden Gems in Essex County,” which was developed to explore some of the area’s lesser known historical attractions.

“We have a lot of neat little places out there, that you drive by all the time and don’t know what you’re driving by,” Carter explained of the meaning behind bringing attention to the area’s lesser know locales through his presentations.

One such example, is an old blacksmith shop located in the former town of Olinda, now located within the present-day boundaries of Kingsville. Here, curious explorers will find a tangible remnant of Ontario’s past in assisting escaped African American slaves as they made their way north to Canada in search of freedom.

“For example, there’s an old former blacksmith shop in Olinda, that was part of the Underground Railroad. That’s very unique because it had a basement, blacksmith shops don’t have basements, they have dirt floors,” Carter explained, noting the basement would have been used to hide the escaped slaves from being recaptured.

Carter explained he feels one of the major reasons many of these focal points of local history fly under the radar, is because not enough initiative is taken locally to promote and celebrate the history Essex County has to offer.

“I’ve been spending the best part of the last ten years promoting these places, not to destroy them, to reach out and realize what we have,” Carter said. “We had five forts here in 1812, the only one everybody can tell you about is Fort Malden. What about the other four? Don’t you want to know something about the other four forts we had here in 1812? Of course you do, but you have to know about them. We’re not telling our story.”

Carter said by recognizing the people, places, and events that came before us, we can better appreciate how we came to be in not just Essex, but Canada as a whole, when the struggles and efforts of those who came before are appreciated.

“Canada, Upper Canada, Ontario, started here. It started down here,” Carter explained of the nation’s early history. “Everything that happened in Ontario, up to confederation, started here. Not York [Toronto], we’re older than York. We’re older than [the] Niagara Falls area. We are the spot [where the country started]. The fur trade was here.”

Carter will continue to give historical presentations and tours in Essex County throughout the year.

© 2020 The Essex Free Press ltd.

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