One of the highlights of the Friends of the Museum's gala last Thursday evening was news that “Rainy River Valley Beginnings”—the new book featuring select photos by pioneer photographer William Hampden Tener—will be out soon.
The book, researched and edited by local historian Merv Ahrens after the Tener collection of photos was re-acquired from the Ontario Archives earlier this year, currently is at the printers and will be available in the next couple of weeks.
Ahrens told the Times he is looking forward to getting the book out so district residents can enjoy it.
“Considerable interest has been expressed in the photos and upcoming book,” he noted.
“The 'Canada 150' celebration has triggered a general public interest in looking back into the history of our own communities.”
Ahrens said the book offers a representative sample of Tener's glass plate negatives (photos) of pioneer life in Rainy River Valley.
“The biggest challenge in putting the book together was sequencing the images,” he explained.
All of the photos in the book were created from Tener's collection in the Ontario Archives, Ahrens added, noting numerous other prints in district museums have been attributed to Tener but their source could not be validated.
“I enjoyed sleuthing through the images while looking for clues that would help identify the places and people,” Ahrens said of the process.
"I was amazed by Tener's interest, persistence, and abilities to capture various events and groups for those photo moments that have been digitally repatriated to our district.
“I also enjoyed meeting several seniors who personally knew Tener,” added Ahrens.
“Thanks to everyone who helped me and the Fort Frances Museum acquire, fund, and research this 'Canada 150' photo book project.”
Rosanne Farmer of Times Printing lent her expertise in book layout and assembly while preparing the book to go to press.
Museum summer student Cameron Cawston, meanwhile, helped with photographs and putting together the book's cover image.
Those who wish to reserve a copy can stop by the museum or give it a call at 274-7891. They cost $25 each.
Those not reserved will be sold at various district locations.
A special guest on hand for the gala was Garry Domres, whose grandmother's sister, Rhoda Ladder, was married to William Tener, making him Tener's great-nephew.
Domres, who grew up locally but now lives in Sarnia, Ont., said he's looking forward to the book coming out.
“I think it's a great idea,” he remarked as he flipped through the pages of the preview copy that was available for patrons to peruse.
Domres said he is among those who eagerly have been anticipating the release of the book since he first heard of it earlier this year.
“I find it very fascinating,” he enthused.
"The history of Rainy River District is very interesting, especially when you go back and learn about the homesteaders who came here and the steamships and how these people were given 160 acres from the government.
“The Homestead Act opened this area in the early 1900s," Domres added. "These people came from England with very little resources and carved out a place for themselves in the woods.”
Domres said anyone interested in the early history of Rainy River District should find “Rainy River Valley Beginnings" fascinating, just as they did with "Connections,” referring to the 2004 book about the history of the Township of La Vallee as well as Dance.
“There's a lot of people, especially in the rural area—and even in town here—that have that 'Connections' book," he reasoned, noting, as an interesting aside, that he found his copy of "Connections” in Pryor, Okla. of all places.
Aside from buying the book, Ahrens said digital copies of Tener's photos also are available at the Fort Frances Museum for viewing.
These digital files can be enlarged easily, allowing for the further study of small details not readily distinguished in the published prints, he added.
Museum curator Sherry George, meanwhile, shared a few words about the year ahead for the museum during Thursday night's gala, noting truth and reconciliation will be a major theme.
“As museums are cultural institutions, we have a responsibility to teach this truth that most of us are only just beginning to know,” said George.
“So how do we move forward on a very sensitive and emotional topic? I admit to having a little bit of fear,” she added.
"Am I up to this challenge? Will the museum invite censure should we stumble? And we will stumble.
“Will I be understanding enough to those who have lived this and are still living this? And yet we must be,” stressed George.
“As it's been said many times, this is not just a First Nations' issue; this is a concern for all Canadians,” she noted.
“We must find a way forward.”
The museum is planning an exhibit in 2018 on the residential schools, and also is working with Shaun Loney and Rainy River First Nations on the history of native people in this area.
It welcomes the community support on these, said George.