How our historians preserve our history

Wardsville, ON: Recently a civil servant working for the Municipality of Southwest Middlesex approached Ken Willis, member of the Glencoe & District Historical Society, with questions about the history of Little Kin Park in Wardsville.  Ken spent a few hours consulting local records and submitted an intriguing historical report to the Municipality of Southwest Middlesex.  

Where were these records and how was it they even existed?  Ken Willis was appointed the Official Historian of Wardsville in the late 1970s by Wardsville Village Council.  With the formation of Southwest Middlesex in 2001, the new amalgamated council reconfirmed Ken as Wardsville Historian. Years later, he is still acting in that capacity.  Ken has filled a museum with artifacts, curates the Wardsville Archives, and is the authority on village history.

With little effort Ken was able to access the Vestry Minute Book of St. James Anglican Church 1933-1946.  The Wardsville Archives had this document because years ago, a stranger approached Ken at the Wardsville Post Office, and said “Here, take this, I understand you are the local historian.  You should have this.”  

But there was more.  Ken quickly accessed the relevant deeds from the wall of filing cabinets filled with land deeds at The Archives in Glencoe.  Their existence is another tale of local people making sure the land registry records for this part of the County were never thrown out after they were digitized.  

The Glencoe & District Historical Society is urging businesses, non profit organizations, and residents to think about their legacies.  What records are being preserved to ensure that future generations never forget those who went before?   

Ken Beecroft, President, Glencoe & District Historical Society explains that “many businesses and community organizations have faded away from memory, but their history won’t be forgotten because people took the time to store their records safely. Recently, concerned members of Glencoe Skating Club, Mayhew’s Clothing Store, Tender Tootsies ‘slipper factory’, Trinity United Church (Glencoe) , and Glencoe Masonic Lodge donated their records to The Archives which is managed by members of the Glencoe & District Historical Society. 

“The organizations have folded but their stories live on.  But what about our municipal records?  What about the County of Middlesex records?  What if the loyal volunteers at our local Archives start to falter?” Ken asks.

Historical records are an important community asset.  As we plan for new infrastructure to serve generations to come, planners and elected officials need a thorough understanding of local history.  

Indigenous Peoples’ history is critical. Marilyn McCallum, a volunteer with the Appin Museum and The Archives, has been noting references to Indigenous Peoples’ history when researching local history but sources are sparse.  Facts about land use pre-colonization need to be checked out with Indigenous People historians who have access to the oral histories passed down through the generations.   

Cemeteries of Southwest Middlesex can be viewed at  

The Need for a County Archives

County of Middlesex: Unlike other Counties in Ontario that have established archives (Lambton, Kent, Elgin, Oxford, Norfolk, Perth, Huron), Middlesex County has no such thing.  In February 2020, representatives of historical societies and interested citizens met to gauge the interest in establishing a Middlesex County Archives. These aging keepers of history were frightened about the potential loss of local history.  The group worried about what would happen to their precious historical documents due to aging volunteers and lack of funds.

The Committee to Establish a Middlesex County Archives (CEMCA) was born. After two meetings, COVID-19 prevented formal meetings but planning continued.  In February 2021 virtual meetings commenced via Zoom. 

The first concern was municipal records. County and Municipal governments are legally mandated to store public records for historical, governance, and legal use.  The Ontario Municipal Act (2001, S.O. 2001. C. 25 Section 254) states that municipal offices must preserve certain documents. They must be publicly accessible and available in a timely manner. 

From a survey of Middlesex County Mayors and Administrators, it was learned that municipal records are stored in a variety of locations.  Some are stored on-site, others are stored off-site which makes accessibility and environmental control more difficult.   To be environmentally safe, records need to be kept in conditions with controlled temperature, humidity and ultraviolet light protection. 

Next concern: the records of local historical societies, private collections, the papers of famous people, family treasures, the records of non-profit organizations and countless other precious documents.  Even small local archives such as the wonderful collections of the Glencoe & District Historical Society are at risk.  They have a modern building and active volunteers preserving the growing collection but the Society could fail — just as so many other local organizations have shut down, before and during the pandemic. 

In June 2021, CEMCA developed a series of “Facts Sheets” that were sent weekly to County and Municipal Councillors and Administrative Staff. Information included: Municipal Act and Responsibilities; What is an Archives?; How Will the Municipality and Clerks Benefit; Where Are the Records Now?; Who Would Use the Middlesex County Archives; Resources Required; Challenges and Opportunities. See  or email

Committee representatives from each municipality are contacting their councillors and making presentations to their local councils. On September 28, 2021, CEMCA will formally ask the County Council to establish a Middlesex County Archives.

Who benefits from a County Archives? future generations!!  Not to mention students, scholars, educators, genealogists, family historians, tourists, municipal clerks, town planners, developers, lawyers, architects, and heritage advocates.

Video featuring Ken Beecroft, Ina Nelms, and Harold Carruthers, members of the Glencoe & District Historical Society,  speak about the need for a County of Middlesex archive to ensure our critical paper and digital records are preserved for the use of future generations.

Southwest Middlesex has a duty to save records  

Once they’re gone, they’re gone.  

Let us lose nothing of the past, it is only with the past that one builds the future. Anatole France