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July 27, 2007

Postcards in Perspective


This Heritage Perspective column uses photographs to support stories almost every week.  Many of the photos are old postcards, as indicated for example by my use of North Bayite John de la Vergne's postcards in the March article about the Nugget's history.  I have been enjoying a remarkable collection of postcards that are indeed a digital virtual museum of the Nipissing and Parry Sound districts.  The site is www.vintagepostcards.org.  Click on Nipissing History and choose from the list of some 20 communities and other items.  The site has other valuable information at your fingertips. 

 The lobby of the old Queen's Hotel in North Bay at Fraser and Oak Street that burned.  VintagPpostcards.org photo.

I talked to the site's creator/owner Cathy Harned, who is married to North Bayite R.H. Stewart.  They live in the U.S. temporarily in Cathy's hometown, which makes the site from that distance all the more remarkable. 

"The website really began as a labour of love," she said. "When we came back to the United States to sell my home here prior to moving back to Canada, we were injured in an automobile accident.  My husband was homesick for Canada, and I began to write about North Bay postcards as a way to cheer him up." 

Cathy is no amateur, having a master's degree in urban and regional planning with a concentration in historic preservation; she's also a certified architectural historian.  She has worked at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. and other institutions and has experience as a newspaper reporter and as a freelance writer and photojournalist.  One of her interests is a postcard sales site where a wide variety of postcards are bought and sold.  Her vintage postcard site contains excellent written documentation along with the postcards and more is being added regularly. 

The old Gospel Hall at Fisher and McIntyre, North Bay.  VintagePostcards.org photo.

Her computer experience comes from extensive work coding website content, providing search engine optimization to clients and writing a blog on postcards at www.vintage-postcards.blogspot.com.  Cathy is always looking for more post cards and information on her current cards.  I recently put out a request in a column for information on a postcard of Mattawa priest Father Duquette.  She can be contacted at sales@vintagepostcards.org 

Interest in the website has been high.  The history pages are used to teach students about the history and built environment of Northern Ontario.  The Ontario Heritage Trust borrowed an image of the CPR train station when it recently documented the building for historic designation. 

The Open University of Milton Keynes in the United Kingdom, has used some of the website's images to teach digital photography to some if its 180,000 students, while another project is in the works with Metis Nation headquarters in Ottawa. 

Some of the Temagami images were used in a presentation this spring at the American Association of Geographers' annual meeting in San Francisco, in a segment documenting the ways in which tourists interacted with the native population in and around Temagami, and some of the website's pages are listed in the online edition of the Canadian Encyclopedia.  Postcards of the Empire Hotel's dining rooms were used by the Empire Living Centre during the recent Doors Open! heritage celebration.  The current walking tour put together by Discovery North Bay highlights the Queen's Hotel and a scarce interior view of it from the vintage postcards website, seen here. 

All of this interest in the site suits Harned just fine.  "My intention with the website is that it be primarily educational," she commented.  "I welcome inquiries from educational institutions and am always glad to assist and share images when possible.  All we ask of educational institutions and nonprofits is that we be asked in advance regarding image use, that our watermark be retained and that a link to the website be provided."  Ultimately, she'd like to see the postcard collection and the website pages donated to an educational institution such as a university, archives or museum. 

Cathy is currently looking for a postcard showing the New Ontario Brewery in North Bay and two Temagami hockey postcards: one of the outside of the arena and one of the interior with a game in progress.  Her Temagami collection is outstanding. 

She also has several mystery postcards she is looking for information on such as the Rutherglen photo and the old Gospel Hall at Fisher and McIntyre in North Bay (shown here). 

The Rutherglen photo, location is unknown.  VintagePostcards.org photo.

Cathy is making a significant contribution to our local history which I am sure is appreciated by many.  Hopefully she will return to the area and continue her good work here.  Watch for more on her site in future articles.  

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