Over the past month I have been trying to decide what my course project will be about, and more importantly, what I want to do with that topic. After a great deal of brainstorming and consultation with the professor I believe I have finally come to a decision. For my course project I have decided to utilize research and work I had previously done in a research project for Rural Canadian History (HIST*4620) taught by Professor Catharine Wilson. My previous project looked at a farm diary from early 1800's Canada and focused on masculinity and the establishment of an immigrant family in Canada. Specifically, this research project examined Benjamin Freure, an English immigrant, who traveled to Canada with three of his adult sons to the township of Eramosa in Wellington County, Upper Canada.[i] I thought I would take the story of immigration, settlement, and later life of the Freure family and create an online exhibit or website. This website would be similar to that of the Berlin Wall project made with Omeka that we looked at earlier in course readings.[ii] This project will utilize Benjamin Freure's personal diary that covers his journey from east England to Wellington County, Canada and his families activities and farming exploits. The diary covers the years 1836 to 1842 with varying degrees of detail but all six years are recorded without any major holes or missing sections.
In order to understand how this diary focused project could work, it is necessary to have a basic understanding of the different events and the value of this topic and its primary sources. Ben Freure’s diary has quite a bit of detail especially in the journey from England to Canada. This section alone gives excellent insight into the immigration process and experience of the time. The first section of the diary provides detailed descriptions of traveling to Canada via ship, the subsequent quarantine, and the quest to find additional transportation by both boat and wagon to Upper Canada. The first year of the diary alone gives great insight into the problems and difficult conditions immigrants faced and firsthand reactions to arriving in the new world, something that many may find interesting. Additionally, this record of Canadian immigration is only a part of the first year of Benjamin Freure’s multi-year diary and the first real chapter of the Freure story as a whole. [iii]
The core of the diary and most of the Freure family's story, however, is focused on their farming exploits.[iv] I find that the combination of Ben's diary, census data, maps, and personal accounts from historical atlases will allow me to adequately tell the story of the Freure family and their farming roots in Canada. Specifically, the Freure family has their story begin with Augustus and Felix Freure, two of Benjamin’s adult sons, working as farmhands for already established farmers in the Wellington County community. From there the Freures becomes tenant farmers renting land, eventually becoming successful landowners in Eramosa. It is from these simple beginnings that we see the Freures take on numerous jobs and roles in the community. Notably, the Freure sons are a key part of the community workforce in Eramosa, assisting in harvesting, plowing, and construction. This reputation transcends Ben's own diary as these events have been recorded in the 1906 Wellington County Atlas citing the family, especially Ben and his three sons, as being ideal settlers and outstanding pillars of the community and whose descendants inherited these traits in great degree.[v] As the diary ends, the story of the Freure family become less self-narrated and instead can be found recorded within the Women’s Institute Tweedsmuir Histories, census data, and regional histories. [vi]
I am not entirely sure where I want to end the Freure family history as there is less public documentation in the mid-20th century after R. Bruce Freure who was a member of Guelph City Council and a regional reeve in the community.[vii] Despite the lack of available documentation, when compared to that of Ben’s diary I still believe that Bruce’s life in regional politics is a good note to end on instead of ending prematurely with the conclusion of Ben’s diary. From such humble and well documented beginnings, to successful farming endeavors and even attaining public, I believe office that the story of the Freure family is one worth digitizing and sharing with a wider public. This is especially true as this story also informs the early growth of Guelph and the surrounding region from a simple settlement to a robust regional center and surrounding hinterland. Additionally, I find that this project could possibly help supplement ongoing projects by rural historians like Catharine Wilson who is trying to digitize, transcribe and make available these farm diaries and rural stories to the greater public.[viii]
Now that I have outlined a proposed topic and scope of my project, I can explain how I intend to present this information. From the various in-class presentations, readings, and lectures, I believe that an online exhibit or website would be the best way to present the Freure family story. Upon speaking with the professor, I realized that due to the lack of a large number of primary sources that would be expected of a standard exhibit, this project would not and could not be a typical online exhibit. Instead I found that the type of exhibit I will construct would be similar to that of the Berlin Wall exhibit given as an example of what possible projects and online exhibits could look like. Within this online exhibit the fall of the Berlin Wall and the events leading up to it are laid out in specific sections relating to primary sources and essays regarding specific countries in this wider narrative.[ix] This is in theory what I hope to accomplish with my project. In order to tell and depict the story of the Freure family’s journey from England to Canada and their ensuing life in Wellington County, I find that specific sections related to the different time periods or years, would be effective in organizing the content of this project. For example, all information I have relating to the Freure family before Ben and his family’s departure in 1836 would be within its own section. This section would contain maps and pictures of the area the Fruere’s came from alongside brief explanations of both England and the region they came from to give viewers a brief overview of this time and place. The organization or separation of primary sources and secondary literature or information must be made separate so that it is easy to navigate and allow readers to quickly locate items such as maps of eastern England for reference while going through the greater narrative.
The next section would be the family’s journey to Canada. It would make use of Ben’s diary and again more maps of Upper and Lower Canada so that readers can reference these visual aids while digesting the text and keeping track of Ben and his family while they immigrate. Additionally, I believe this section would expand the overall scope of the project significantly by looking more closely at interesting events of the journey such as the immigrant quarantine upon arrival.
The next section of the proposed exhibit would cover Ben and his family after they arrived in Eramosa and began farming. Again, the diary would be used as a major source of information alongside secondary sources such as historical atlas entries and secondary literature. With this section I would like to utilize the GIS tools used in the course workshop. Using these tools I would like to align old Eramosa Township maps with more modern maps in order to show exactly where the Freures were living and began to buy land.[x] This would be an excellent tool in conveying how people actually bought land and settled the regions around Guelph, something I think many people would find interesting. Additionally, this would allow readers to understand just how much time and effort was involved when Ben or any Freure descendant would travel to places like Fergus as these trips were normally made on foot. A resource such as synchronizing old and new maps brings this history to the present for a better understanding and interest.
The next and possibly final section would conclude the proposed narrative of the Freure family. It is in this section that the later success and information regarding the fate of the Freure family would be presented. This would include members of the family long after Ben’s diary, many of which lived in the twentieth century. Specifically, I hope to draw upon resources of the Women’s Institute Tweedsmuir Histories related to the extended family.[xi]
As stated above, I plan on utilizing Omeka as the primary tool in constructing this online project.[xii] It is my intention that Omeka will provide me a balanced tool kit that I can easily and effectively build a website that will fulfill its intended purpose. I have previously attempted to create simple websites from scratch using Notepad and along with the issues of debugging, I find that the basic and uninspired possibilities of my simple coding knowledge would be vastly inadequate and not something I would like to attempt. Additionally, I hope to utilize the GIS tools for this project. I believe that acquiring these skills would not only help give this project the necessary geographic context as stated above but it is also an area of knowledge and skills that I am genuinely interested in acquiring. I believe this project is not only viable, but more importantly, it is a worthwhile project to pursue both for the end result and the skills acquired in its completion.
[ii] Making The history of 1989: The fall of communism in Eastern Europe. http://chnm.gmu.edu/1989/
[iii] Benjamin, Freure. Personal Diary, (1835-1842) 4-23
[iv] Freure, 23-78
[v] Illustrated Historical Atlas of Wellington County, Ontario, Original Toronto: Historical
Atlas Pub., 1906; Reprint: Belleville, Ont: Mika Silk Screening, 1972. 90.
[vi] “History of the Freure Farm,” Wellington County Tweedsmuir Histories, Speedside Women’s Institute, Vol. 1, 52, accessed February 24, 2015.
[vii] “R. Bruce Freure,” Wellington County Tweedsmuir Histories, Riverside Women’s Institute, vol. 2, 85, accessed February 24, 2015.
[ix] Making the History of 1989: The fall of communism in Eastern Europe. http://chnm.gmu.edu/1989/
[x] Illustrated Historical Atlas of Wellington County, Ontario, Original Toronto: Historical
Atlas Pub., 1906; Reprint: Belleville, Ont: Mika Silk Screening, 1972. 44.
[xi] “History of the Freure Farm,” Wellington County Tweedsmuir Histories, Speedside Women’s Institute, Vol. 1, 52, accessed February 24, 2015.