The Value of Family Papers

This morning a number of us met with two sisters who had contacted us because their family had lived in Grandview from the early days. Their grandfather was Dr. Thomas Agnew who practised at First and Commercial Drive from 1916 to his death in 1948, and their uncle was Dr. Glen Agnew who joined his father’s practice in 1945.  He moved his office to the then-new Toban Building at Commercial & Broadway in 1950. They had several other relatives who were prominent in Grandview over the years.

In the course of our conversations we managed to link their family to many other families in the neighbourhood. Bruce Macdonald has called Grandview an Edwardian Village and the linking of families and friends that we heard about this morning was certainly like putting together the social archaeology of a village.

We had a wonderful time as they regaled us with stories and showed us dozens of old photographs and albums and magazines. As time permits, and with their permission, we will be publishing some of the photos and telling their tales. They have, they said, boxes of personal material, letters and photographs stored in their attics and were pleasantly surprised about how excited we were with the material we saw.

For social historians of any period, the personal books, diaries, letters and photographs are foundational to our understanding.  We can read newspapers and City reports, but they only tell a small part of the story.  The real understanding comes from seeing what the people themselves thought and saw.  It is a true joy to realize that this kind of material is still available.  That made this morning very special.