The American philosopher, George Santayana, famously wrote that those who didn’t remember history were doomed to repeat it. The quote serves to inspire Valley resident Jon Vine, who devotes his time searching for and amassing historical artifacts. A mechanic by day, the Huntingdon native has been reading about the early nineteenth century for years, and collecting vestiges from that period – most notably items related to the War of 1812, an event solidly entrenched in local lore.
A contributor and sometime speaker for the Chateauguay Valley Historical Society, Vine first began immersing himself in military history upon coming across handwritten letters from 1812 among his grandfather’s personal belongings. The discovery sparked him to research his family’s genealogy and learn of its own military past and connection to the conflict. His curiosity lit, Vine began asking questions, while deferring to historical articles and maps. He also began to read and collect numerous books on the matter, and travelled to every historic site from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Nottawasaga Bay in Ontario to deepen both his understanding of the war and his family’s place in it.
Eventually an assortment of artifacts grew out of his odyssey, including an array of tokens and relics from the early nineteenth century. Describing his collection, Vine says, “A few pieces have come from within the family. Most were acquired throughout my travels – There is much to be found on the Niagara peninsula – and, of course, just regular flea markets. Some people just do not realize what they have or cannot be bothered with preserving history.”
Included in his travels were stops at local battle sites in Lacolle, Odelltown, and Allan’s Corners, the location of the Battle of the Chateauguay, which provided him with a direct link to moments in time that steered the course of Canada’s history. In October of 1813, American troops left Chateaugay, New York on their way to help overtake Montreal. Marching through Hinchinbrooke and Huntingdon, the 4000-man battalion would see defeat at the hands of the 1500-strong British Army along the Chateauguay River northeast of Ormstown.
Upon its hasty retreat, the American Army is said to have left traces of its passage. Armed with a keen eye, a metal detector, and a wealth of information from knowledgeable residents, Vine is always on the lookout for local remnants, ruins, and graves. He also maintains the mausoleum of S.J. Hingston in Elgin.
Adjutant Samuel James Hingston of the British Army’s 100th Regiment of Foot in the war received a land grant in Elgin for services rendered, and was eventually buried on his property with full military honours. As Vine says, “We figured out the lot number in Elgin and proceeded to drive there and found the burial site for the veteran. It was in awful shape, overgrown with brush and small trees. A few weeks later we returned and cleaned it up. I was able to contact a Hingston family tree author in England who put me in contact with two great-great grandsons. Both were in their mid-eighties and asked if I could look after it, as they no longer travel. The current property owner also is aware of my presence and gave me his blessing to keep it maintained.”
In an effort to inform and enlighten new generations of locals, Vine has been generous with his collected items, loaning some to the local MRC for display as well as to events presented by the Chateauguay Valley Historical Society (CVHS) with whom he has a longstanding relationship. When asked what he feels will become of his collection he says, “I would hope what I’ve amassed, including my research papers and books, would find a home with a group such as the CVHS. I also believe that a local museum space would be beneficial for future generations to appreciate and learn from, and [I] would be happy to contribute to it. There would be no point having all of this work sit in my basement.”
For the moment, Vine fully intends to remain active in his passion for learning, discovering, and sharing his findings about the war. Among the keepsakes in his home is a print which deftly captures his philosophy on the matter; it says, “The past is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but the present is a gift.”