Common Room reopens as the Welch Family Room
By Sue Tiffin
“Thank you for joining us today, and I’m very excited to say, for the first time, to welcome you all to the Welch Family Room,” said Emily Stonehouse, Economic Development, Destination and Marketing Officer, and Supervisor of the Minden Hills Cultural Centre.
And so the space so often referred to as simply the Common Room was officially named.
The room located between the Minden library branch and the cultural centre, which includes the Agnes Jamieson Gallery, Nature’s Place and the Minden Museum and Heritage Village is used for community events including children’s programming, workshops and meetings.
A contest to name the Common Room, first built as the town’s library in the 1980s, was launched at the beginning of the year hoping “for a name that captures the essence, culture and heritage of this community we call home; whether that be a person, a place, or an event,” according to the contest entry form.
“The judges did not have an easy choice, but from what I understand, deciding on the Welch Family Room simply felt right,” said Stonehouse, after announcing the name at an event held June 29. She noted that when Agnes Jamieson Gallery curator Laurie Carmount learned of the name chosen from submissions from the public that included two related to the Welch Family, she was reminded of a John Welch and Sons original sign that had been donated to the museum in the 1980s.
“Considering a large portion of our museum collection was donated by the Welch Family, and the majority of our Andre Lapine painting acquisitions were a direct result of Welch family involvement, we believed it would be fitting to use the actual historical family sign to welcome visitors to the space, and offer a tangible glimpse of history, thanks to the magnifying glass the Welch family has provided into our past, and our heritage,” said Stonehouse.
Mary Hamilton submitted the entry for the Welch Family. Her brother, who submitted an entry for Francis “Frank” Welch, was also in attendance for the naming ceremony.
Judges were Jack Brezina, Jim Mitchell and Pam Smith. The following short-list of entries feature those entries that honoured people. Additionally, “Rose Room,” honouring Minden’s connection to roses, was submitted by James Thomson and is available to read at the Welch Family Room.
Short list of entries:
The Annie Gainer Commons
Entry by Jaime Bilodeau and Margaret Graham
Annie Gainer, the daughter of Robert and Elisa Gainer and the eldest of 10 children was a local music teacher but also served as one of Minden’s first librarians, for more than 19 years.
“The Common Room has been a lot of things throughout the years but if you ask anyone who has been here for any time they will refer to it as the ‘Old Library,’” reads the entry. “It may not have had all the things the library has now, but I assure you it was just as important then as the current library is now.”
“That being said,” the entry continued, “Minden Hills has always paid homage to our past, while looking ahead to the future. This is the reason we feel the Common Room deserves a name that reflects our past and those who helped shape our future. And in the meantime, perhaps casts some light onto those lesser-known individuals, integral to our development as a community.”
The submission noted that the word ‘the’ could be omitted from the entry, as using it exceeded the three-word limit, “but in the library world ‘the’ often doesn’t count.”
Benjamin E. Sawyer Room
Entry by James Sawyer
Benjamin E. Sawyer, according to the entry, built the first hotel in Minden in 1863 while his son James “Jim” Sawyer, “was one of the foremost experts of Algonquin Park – initially trapping and fur trading; authorities could never catch him so they made him one of the first park rangers in Algonquin Park since he knew it better than anyone. It is rumoured that his traps are still infamously hidden in the park.” Benjamin “Long-Ben” Sawyer, so nicknamed for his height, was Benjamin’s grandson and Jim’s son, and was reeve of Stanhope for 15 years, responsible for financing and building the first telephone system in Haliburton County.
“The Sawyer family has a long heritage in the Minden-Haliburton-Algonquin Park area; always introducing progressive change and often being the first to act,” reads the entry. “Minden has reinvented itself several times due to fires, fights, and tragedy – it is a place that many Canadians have roots and if it weren’t for the incredible effort of documenting our past and sharing these stories, much of it would be lost in time.”
The entrant, James Sawyer, said he had been studying family genealogy over the past few years.
“Like Minden, the Sawyers are not perfect and the several rejuvenating opportunities have allowed for new beginnings and triumphs,” he wrote.
Harry Cowan Room
Entry by Matt Wesley
Harry was born in Carnarvon in 1912, and skipped high school to help his family. When his mother died in childbirth in 1928, he helped raise eight younger siblings, working in lumber camps in the winter to help at home. He was part of the road gang building Highway 35 during the Depression, earning $4.50 a month, before joining Hewitt Transport, working long hours to pick up mail and provisions from the train for area residents. In 1941, he joined the army, serving in Europe until 1945. He worked for the LCBO from 1952 for more than 25 years.
“Christmas Eve of 1960 found him on the roof of the old Dollo’s building with a fire hose, fighting the fire that destroyed a good chunk of his beloved community before other crews could get there,” reads the entry. “He got off the roof before it caved in.”
Harry volunteered for the Rotary Club, the Legion Branch 129, and as a coach at first for school teams and then for the Minden Monarchs, who went to a provincial championship under his guidance. He was known for ensuring his players wouldn’t go without if they couldn’t afford equipment.
“There are many in the community who had a set of skates, or baseball glove provided by Harry,” reads the entry. “If he could help or make a difference, he did. Expecting nothing back.”
Harry was a bachelor when he died age 54.
“...His last gift to the community was leaving the majority of his life savings to the Minden Hospital,” reads the entry. “It helped build the new hospital that stands there today. Harry’s life spanned a great deal of change in the community, born on a subsistence farm nor long removed from the wilderness, into the modern era. The entire time spent serving his friends, family and neighbours until the end.”
Francis “Frank” Welch Room
Entry by John Welch
Frank Welch was the great-grandson of Samuel and Elizabeth Welch, who settled in the Minden area from England in 1874, and the son of John Welch, who owned a blacksmith and cabinet-making shop that evolved into making coffins. Frank lived from 1904 to 1973. He graduated in 1931 from the Ontario school of embalming, becoming a licensed funeral director. When John died in 1937, Frank took over the John Welch & Son funeral business, hosting funerals in his living room on the Welch homestead, which was located where the Gordon A. Monk Funeral Home is today. An invoice from 1942 shows the cost of a funeral including casket, embalming, funeral coach, funeral notice, service and flowers totalled $143.
Frank was the reeve of Minden from 1939 to 1946, the first president of the Canadian Red Cross, Minden Branch, and a municipal councillor at the time of his death in 1973.
“Frank was an avid art collector and became very good friends with Andre Lapine,” reads the entry. “Andre spent many nights at the Welch home after his painting trips to the Minden area. After Andre’s wife’s death in 1941, Frank and Lapine made an agreement that Lapine could stay at the Welch home for the rest of his life, in exchange Lapine would leave all his paintings to Frank.”
“Their friendship has a memorable ending that is a showcase in the community,” reads the entry. “Frank Welch bequeathed all 45 of Lapine’s paintings to the Town of Minden, and in 1981, due to the efforts of Agnes Jamieson, an art gallery named after her was opened in Minden. The gallery is now home to about 150 Lapine paintings, one of, if not, the biggest collection of his works anywhere.”
Joseph Burns Room
Entry by Deloris Bailey
(From “In Quest of Yesterday,” by Nila Reynolds)
The son of one of Minden’s original settlers, Joseph Burns was born in Minden in 1868. As a young child, “Joe” was blinded in an accident, and so attended the School for the Blind in Brantford, where he learned how to read braille.
“With its help he was able to study and educate his already keen mind far beyond the scope of many who enjoyed the use of two eyes,” reads the entry. “In his position, a less courageous man might have accepted help in rearing his family. Instead, Joe cultivated his small farm, located near the present Minden Hydro Office, until his market garden became the envy of agricultural enthusiasts throughout the whole area. In his leisure, he skillfully weaved all manner of boxes and baskets. Joe Burns’ weaving captured prizes at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto.”
Joe served on the Minden school board, and sat for five years on the township council.
“In Minden’s old town hall, his silver tongued oratory was sometimes the deciding factor in many of the heated political squabbles which from time to time erupted to disturb the peaceful tenor of life in the village,” reads the entry.
Joseph Burns was also a poet. His recruiting poem, “Ye Men of Haliburton,” was known by veterans during World War I.
“Reading a few of the memorable lines composed by Mr. Burns surviving in family scrapbooks and yellowing Minden Echos, one is best able to gauge the magnitude of the loss to posterity caused by the 1942 fire which destroyed the Echo’s files,” reads the entry. “Until his death in 1954, Joseph H. Burns had been a continuous contributor to the Minden Echo’s Poet’s Corner.”
Welch Family Room
Entry by Mary Hamilton
Entry reprinted in full
“John Welch was born January 18, 1856 in Dorsetshire, England. He immigrated to Canada in 1874 with his parents Samuel and Elizabeth (Betsy) Welch and his siblings. John married Elizabeth Epton on Nov.5, 1878. Together they had 14 children. They built the Welch house in the late 1800s which is the home of the Monk-Gray family.
John was a tradesman and blacksmith and became Minden’s first undertaker. He had a blacksmith shop next to his home. He made wooden caskets for the Black Diphtheria Plague in 1886. John spent his time making fire irons, ice tongs, wagons, sleighs, and cutters. He made cant hooks and boom chains for the logging industry. Shoeing horses and oxen and repairing equipment comprised the bulk of his blacksmith trade. As well, he filled large orders of lumbering tools for Rathburns and the Gull River Company.
John Welch brought the Guy Fawkes ritual to Minden from England. An effigy of Guy Fawkes was stuffed with straw, soaked in kerosene with a pound of gunpowder buried in the middle. On the evening of Nov. 5, a torchlight procession passed through the downtown as the replica was carried to the middle of main street and set on fire. This custom lasted from 1878 to 1935.
John and Elizabeth were active members of St. Paul’s Anglican church where two stained glass windows hang in the church in memory of them. He also belonged to the masonic lodge.
Their children were also successful. Walter was postmaster in Minden. Alice was the head nurse of the Red Cross Hospital in Bracebridge. William was a farmer. Louise owned the Minden Echo newspaper. Ethel worked at the post office. John worked on the Alaska Highway and later at the stone crushing company in Kirkfield. His house to this day remains near St. Paul’s Anglican church. Harry was a blacksmith and worked with his father. William ran the boat to Gull Lake delivering groceries for his brother’s store. Samuel had Welch’s General Store where the Village Green is today. Francis (Frank) was owner and operator of John Welch and Son Funeral Home where Monk Funeral Home is today. He was clerk/treasurer of the County of Haliburton. He served as reeve of Anson, Hinden and Minden.
Frank rented space to renowned artist Andre Lapine and received from the artist more than 40 paintings. He donated the paintings to the municipality on the condition the council erect a building for them. Dr. Agnes Jamieson, a close friend, headed a committee and our gallery was built.
The Welch family contributed to the museum with many artifacts. My great grandfather’s tools were on display at the Founding Family Day, July 30, 2016. The Welch family has deep roots in Minden and many descendants still live in Minden. The Welch family has contributed to the essence, culture and heritage of this community that is our home, Minden. I suggest we have the Common Room renamed Welch Common Room.”