“Rainy River Valley Beginnings” may end up under quite a few Christmas trees this year.
The highly-anticipated book focusing on the pioneer photography of William Hampden Tener received an enthusiastic response during its launch Thursday evening at the Fort Frances Museum.
More than 50 district residents packed the upstairs area to get their copies of the book and meet author Merv Ahrens.
“I remember when the Fort Frances Times used to put these photos in regularly and I used to save them," Shirley Morrish said as she flipped through the pages of her copy of "Rainy River Valley Beginnings” along with her friend, Kristine Carpenter.
“We lived in La Vallee—the little village of La Vallee—and I'm looking for a picture of my old house,” she added, turning another page.
Morrish and Carpenter, who both are volunteers at the Pioneer Museum in Emo, said the book is a “wonderful” new resource.
“It's what we need, it's what we've been waiting for. Local interest,” enthused Morrish.
“It really looks good. It's going to be good reading.”
“We just like things that are old . . . we like history books,” echoed Carpenter, adding this new Tener book now can sit on the bookshelf alongside those that have been written about La Vallee, Bergland, and Stratton, among others.
“I have been long-awaiting this day,” said Wayne Barron, who noted he and his wife, Eleanor, are self-admitted history buffs.
“I'm looking forward to reading it," he added. "I know Merv has put a lot of effort into it.”
Barron recalled that when he worked at the Times, then-editor Carl Schubring published some information on Tener in the pages of the newspaper.
“So this kind of has a connection for me, from way back when,” he remarked.
Barron thinks it's important for people to be able to look back and see what the district was like 100 years “because we lose that, we lose touch with that, unless we have something physical like this to remind us.”
“It's quite amazing to see it," said Elizabeth Donaldson, who herself worked along with Joyce Witherspoon, Freeda Carmody, and Maxine Hayes on "Further Connections” in 2008.
This was a second book about the history of the Township of La Vallee, as well as Dance, following up on the La Vallee centennial committee's “Connections” from 2004.
“I knew Merv was working on this and it sounded so interesting," Donaldson said. "I could hardly wait to have it in my hands.”
Donaldson added she knew some of the pictures that would be included in Ahrens' book, but was shocked at the clarity of the images as they appear in the final product.
“It's just amazing. They're just beautiful,” she marvelled.
During Thursday's launch, Ahrens made a presentation to provide some background on Tener, as well as to explain the process of how the book came together.
Ahrens said that since he was a child, he wondered about pioneer life and how and why people came to the Rainy River Valley to settle down.
In more recent years, this curiosity led him to finding online several photos which Tener had taken here from 1898 to the 1920s, sparking the notion of putting together a book.
Going back in time, a collection of glass plate negatives bearing Tener's photos had been donated to the Times back in 1972.
The Times reproduced the photos and Schubring did a series on Tener in the newspaper.
In 1989, then Times' owner Bob Cumming sent the glass plates to the Ontario Archives in Toronto—on the condition not only that they be preserved but that a copy of the complete collection would be provided to the Fort Frances Museum for display purposes.
But the museum never received those copies, and it was time to remind the Ontario Archives about that promise.
Last year, Ahrens, museum curator Sherry George, and Times' co-owner and publisher Jim Cumming initiated communication with the Ontario Archives.
After a rather lengthy process involving conference calls, written correspondence, and legal documents, a specialist in Toronto scanned the glass plates and the museum finally received a total of 384 digital images of Tener's glass plates this past February.
Ahrens then got to work with the challenging task of selecting the photos and then sequencing them for the book, as well as gathering information to go with those images.
Museum summer student Cameron Cawston helped by “cleaning up” some of the digital images captured from damaged glass plates.
He also designed the book's cover.
Rosanne Farmer of Times Printing lent her expertise in book layout and assembly while preparing the book to go to press.
“I think the Times did an absolutely excellent job of putting it together,” said Ahrens.
“It's bound nicely, it feels good, and certainly Rosanne Farmer and Jim Cumming did an excellent job.”
After the presentation, attendees enjoyed refreshments as Ahrens signed their books.
The books are available for $25 each at the museum and Betty's.