Celebrating 30 Years of KPL’s Local History

Birthday Cake by Will Clayton

Birthday Cake – photographer Will Clayton   http://www.flickr.com/photos/spool32/

On Tuesday October 14, 2014, the Grace Schmidt Room of Local History will turn 30 years old. While not a monumental milestone, 30 years of local history preservation, research, reference and access is something to celebrate! The vision of the Library, Waterloo Historical Society and the then-named Waterloo-Wellington (now Waterloo Region) Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society helped to forge a partnership in the Grace Schmidt Room that has seen the local history and genealogy collections and services grow over the years. We have been very fortunate in having such wonderful partners and supporters in the GSR. Thank you!

If you are at the Central Library on Tuesday October 14th between 1pm and 3pm, please stop by the Grace Schmidt Room for a piece of cake.  We’d love to hear about your favourite moments and finds in the GSR.  If you can’t join us, please feel free to comment on the blog.

Cheers, Karen.

Guest Posts

Funerals, Furniture and Finds

George Rosenblatt

Studio portrait of George Rosenblatt of St. Clements. Used with permission of owner.

I am pleased to welcome Waterloo Historical Society Past-President, Marion Roes, as a guest blogger to Historically Speaking. Marion’s particular passion is the study of local undertakers.  She is the recipient of the 2014 Edna Staebler Research Fellowship at the Joseph Schneider Haus. Marion will be presenting her research findings at Schneider Haus in February 2015 during Heritage Week. I am honoured to call her a friend and colleague. Although most of our conversations end up talking about death for some strange reason…

Cheers, Karen.

Researching Waterloo Region funeral businesses and practices for the Edna Staebler Research Fellowship has led me to an unexpected business in St. Clements.  I discovered that George Rosenblatt, a furniture maker in St. Clements, was licensed by the Board of Funeral Services, Toronto, from 1914 to 1923. Nancy Maitland, archivist for the Wellesley Township Heritage and Historical Society, pointed me to photos and a contact for a Rosenblatt descendent.  Through the family member, I learned that the Rosenblatt Furniture Factory, later named Rosenblatt Artworks, was started with George’s father, John, about 1864. The business operated until 1932, when it burned down.

As the Rosenblatt records had been donated to the Grace Schmidt Room, I eagerly awaited the return of the archival collection.  Among the many photos, an Artworks catalogue, correspondence and orders in the Rosenblatt archives, I came across a 1917 Income Tax Return giving George’s occupation as “Wooden Artwork and Undertaking.” That one-line mention of George in the records has grown to several paragraphs in my research report.  If my research focus was broader than just undertaking, I could write a mini-history about a company in the rural village of St. Clements which shipped its manufactured products across Canada – and to the nearby St. Clement Roman Catholic Church.

Why did George Rosenblatt have a license? Perhaps, it was because the nearest funeral businesses in the early 1900s were in Waterloo, Elmira, Wellesley and Linwood. He did make coffins but a license wasn’t needed to do that. While I may not get all the answers that I’m seeking, I’ve been finding lots of information about local funeral businesses and practices – in the GSR, City of Cambridge Archives, Wellesley, Waterloo Region Museum Curatorial Centre, interviews and from helpful colleagues.  There just might be enough for a book!

Soldier Information Card Project

Update on the Soldier Card Project


Alvin Wilbert Gingrich

Soldier Information Card for Alvin Wilbert Gingrich of Hespeler, Ont.

As the summer reaches its midpoint, I wanted to update everyone on the Soldier Card Project. It’s been bit of a roller-coaster ride for the past 6 months with the closure, move and re-opening of the Central Library.  Although the blog has been quiet for a while, we are still plugging away on the Soldier Card Project while unpacking and shelving books and almost 50 skids of archival boxes and newspapers, answering reference questions and learning how to operate our new digital microfilm scanner in the Grace Schmidt Room.

Currently, all of the WWI cards that required transcription have been completed. Volunteers are still researching and writing biographies and it looks like this process will be ongoing for the foreseeable future. Ingrid and Meg are looking after the circulation of cards for research.

I have been working on finalizing instructions for staff to begin the upload of transcribed and researched WWI soldier cards to our online site, Our Digital World  (formerly Our Ontario.ca). As luck would have it, Our Digital World started a major software upgrade and record indexing project during the last week of July, which should finish by Wednesday this week. Once the dust has settled on the updates to the service, we’ll begin uploading the cards, transcriptions and biographies. I’ll post a link to the collection to let everyone know where they can find the records.

We are still circulating WWII soldier cards for transcription. Karen T. and Becky are looking after the circulation of these cards.  We are approaching the alphabetical midpoint of the list, but the thick letters (M, P, S, T) are on the horizon.

Another Karen, in this case, Karen S., has been rehousing the Soldier Cards in acid-free folders and boxes, carefully interleaving acid-free tissue between the cards to prevent damage.  The original cards will be kept in our Archives and access to the collection will be made via the digital images and the online collection.

There have also been a lot of work going on with the Waterloo Region Record.  I am sure that you have been reading their fascinating WWI retrospective and soldier profiles – the photos for which are coming from the collections of the Grace Schmidt Room.   It’s been an honour assisting Jeff Outhit, Luisa D’Amato and Rod Frketich at the Record with their research and photograph requests.

So onward and upward (in a software kind of way) with the Soldier Card Project! We really do appreciate all that you have been doing.  If you have a question, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Cheers, K.


Welcome Back!

GSR entrance sign

Sign at entrance of GSR

Well, it’s now official!  The renovated Central Library is re-opening on Tuesday May 27, 2014 at 9:30am. The past two weeks have been bit of a blur as we shelved and shelf-read books, microfilm and vertical files.  The GSR was the last area completed  in the renovation project so our preparation time has been compressed.  My heart-felt thanks go out to Ingrid, Anne, Valerie and the Karens (there are a few of us!) for all their hard work in getting the room ready.  It could not have been done without them.  I’ve been very fortunate to have worked with such a great group of people.

As with any renovation or move, there are bumps along the way – some shelving is on back order and our archival collections will begin their return starting in June.  We are still cleaning shelving in the Archives after the installation of drywall – but all will be ready when we begin the unpacking of the archival collection.  A new digital microfilm scanner arrived on Thursday, so we are on a bit of a learning curve and are still trying to figure out how it all works.

Basically, in terms of the collection, we’ll continue to have our Phase 2 collection in the GSR – newspapers on microfilm only, MGSR and MRARE books, all of our vertical file collection, most photographs and maps, but no archival collection.

The archival collection will return in waves over the next couple of months.  We were anticipating that the return would start earlier, but construction, movers, furniture deliveries and installation, and the closure of Ahrens Street have pushed back our timelines.  I would ask that if you are waiting to see a particular collection that you contact me in advance so I can check to see  if it has been returned.  Until all has been returned, shelved and inventoried, we won’t have ready access to the boxes, files and items that you need.

To those who have emailed or called me recently, I will be in touch shortly.  I finally have a desk, computer and phone – a new home in the GSR! I am headed out to a conference on Wednesday for a couple of days – another time wrinkle that could not be avoided.

To our Soldier Card Project volunteers, thanks for your patience and understanding! The military books will stay at Grand River Stanley Park until next week.  We’ll restart the mailing of soldier cards for transcription and research as soon as we can.

Please do drop by to say ‘hello’. We have missed everyone.

Cheers, K.



The Great Escape: A Canadian Story

Great Escape - KPL Event

An evening with Ted Barris, author of the Great Escape: a Canadian Story, on Monday May 5, 2014 at Country Hills branch, 6:30pm

As I’ve been working on the Soldier Card Project, I am continually reminded of the need for remembrance and commemoration of our military veterans and heritage.  I recently picked up Ted Barris’ book, The Great Escape: a Canadian Story and thoroughly enjoyed it. Packed with fascinating details about prisoner of war life, Barris dispels the myths of the 1963 Hollywood movie by the same name. The Great Escape from Stalag Luft III is a great Canadian story – something which Hollywood and its storytelling machine frequently overlooks (remember Ben Affleck’s movie Argo?).  Reading the book, I was constantly moved by the ingenuity, resourcefulness and courage of the Canadian airmen incarcerated at the Sagan prisoner camp and their role in planning, supporting and executing the attempted mass prison escape of 24 March 1944. The terrible retribution for the escape and the forced march of prisoners by their Gestapo captors ahead of the Soviet advance across Eastern Europe is retold through the eyes and stories of Canadian POWs by Barris in moving detail.  I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in Canada’s military history and heritage.

We are fortunate to have author, Ted Barris, join us to discuss his book in Kitchener.  I hope that you will join me on Monday May 5, 2014 at 6:30pm at the Country Hills Branch to welcome Ted and to hear about his research and the untold Canadian story of the Great Escape.  It’s a free event, but registration is required. Register online or call the Country Hills branch or InfoLink.

Cheers, Karen


Moving matters

Archives storage room

Archives storage room nearing completion.

I’m excited to update everyone that the GSR is starting to take shape in the renovated Main Library building!

Our Archives storage area is nearing completion.  We have been busy washing shelves in anticipation of the eventual return of the archival collection from off-site storage. It will be like an old friend returning home.  The collection will be returning in stages – so we may not have all archival collections back in the building when the Main Branch re-opens.  If you are looking to view an archival collection when we re-open, it would be best to email or call ahead to make sure everything that you are looking for is in-house and accessible.

The other news is that our rare book shelving has been installed and staff are beginning the process of unpacking and shelving 139 boxes of books (the bulk of our MRARE collection). It’s bit of a daunting task, but one which has been a been a good opportunity to do book record updates, mending and other housekeeping items.

The local history office and public reading rooms are still “under construction”.  We are anxiously awaiting their completion and being able to move in collections, equipment and furniture. I’ll post photos once we have possession of these areas.

While we are working on the move of the GSR, we may not be able to reply to emails and process Soldier Card Project biographies and transcriptions in a timely manner.  We ask for your patience and understanding during the upcoming month – there’s lots of work to do before the re-opening (for which there is no date yet given). We’ll try to keep cards, emails, biographies, transcriptions and replies flowing as best as we can.

I am looking forward to welcoming everyone back to the GSR – soon!

Cheers, Karen


Soldier Information Card Project

Soldier Card Project – An Update and Salute to our Volunteers

WWI Soldier Card for Denis J. Alison

World War One Soldier Information Card for Denis J. Alison

This week, the Kitchener Public Library is celebrating National Volunteer Week, April 6-12, 2014, a time to recognize and cherish Canada’s 13.3 million volunteers.    I wanted to give a shout-out to our nearly 120 Soldier Card Project volunteers, without whom this project would not be possible.

Our SIC volunteers are a truly amazing group – full of passion, enthusiasm and commitment. To date, they have completed the following:

WWI transcriptions: 2,124

WWI biographies: 115

WWII transcriptions: 577

and counting!

To our amazing volunteers, thank you!

Your stories of  connection and resourcefulness continue to enrich the project. Everyday, your endeavours bring us closer to a fuller understanding of Waterloo County’s contribution to Canada’s military actions in the world wars.

Cheers, Karen