The Gleaner
Arts & LifeHistory

Hemmingford Archives exhibit commemorates the ice storm of 1998

Who can forget those ominous sounds? The crackling branches of trees coated with ice, crashing to the ground; the never-ending hum of generators; the roar of chain saws. Most of the Chateauguay Valley remembers, all too well, the devastating storm that left some communities without power for 30 days. The ice storm, also known to many as The Storm of the Century, took place 25 years ago this year.

“We are not celebrating it, but commemorating it,” states Myrna Paquette, the secretary at the Hemmingford Archives. She was speaking of the exhibit on the ice storm of 1998 that took place on January 7 and 8 at the Archives building.

 

 

Woman standing next to table display of booklets and other information papers.
The booklet commemorating the ice storm of 1998 is proudly displayed at the exhibit<br >PHOTO Yvonne Lewis Langlois

 

The idea for the exhibit was brought to the table two years ago by board member Gerard Laberge, but COVID delayed work on the project. It took nine months to gather most of the information which came mostly from the organization’s own files. A committee was assembled to start the project and it met once a month until the project’s completion.

Although January 7 was a damp day, there was a steady stream of visitors to the exhibit. A video with various clips of the ice storm played on a large screen in the background while people chatted over cake and refreshments and shared stories of their experiences. Panels displaying photos were made by Dan Mark who is also the webmaster for the Archives.

A booklet documenting some daily happenings that took place throughout the storm was also available during the exhibit. “Some people volunteered to put their experiences down on paper,” says Micheal Krohn, president of Archives Hemmingford.

The group

Archives Hemmingford was founded by Betty McKay Mackenzie who started researching her own family in the 1980s. On her travels she came across many artifacts and documents on Hemmingford. “She started collecting it all and storing it her basement in Saint-Lambert,” said Paquette. As the collection grew, it was moved to the town hall and then to Hemmingford Elementary School. “We all had some stuff that we stored at home,” says Paquette. “We basically grew out of that space,” adds Krohn.

 

Exterior shot of old red brick church with new adjacent out building.
The Hemmingford Archives building sits next to St Andrews Presbyterian Church<br >PHOTO Yvonne Lewis Langlois

 

With the congregation of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian dwindling, the hall adjacent to the church was donated to the Archives. Grants and fundraising enabled renovations to the hall and it officially opened in 2018. “The community has been quite generous in helping us do what we have done here,” says Krohn.

St. Andrew’s was built in 1872 and has been ravaged by fire twice. When the church itself was offered to the Hemmingford Archives, the group took a year to study the situation and looked over many scenarios. The building needs major renovations, but the consensus is that the group will be able to access enough grant money and funds for the work. It took possession of the church last August.

The renovation project is extensive. At the present time the group is waiting on a quote for architectural drawings. There will be three phases to the renovation. In phase one, the plans must be drawn up and the basement needs work as it has a dirt floor. Phase two deals with the structure itself; the brickwork must be repointed, and the heating system and bathrooms also require attention. Krohn explains that the third phase will include work on the actual interior to get the museum space set up. The hope is that when the renovation is finished and the museum is established, it will seat 100 or so people.

After the renovations are complete, the Archives group is planning on hosting travelling exhibits. “Once you have the space, you can actually entertain the option to bring exhibits to the community,” says Krohn. “It will give people in the area not just the local history, but we can bring in stuff that’s relevant to the area,” he says. “We will also have the opportunity of collaborating with other historical groups,” adds Paquette.

 

Woman standing in room with antique painting, images and other paraphernalia.
Myrna Paquette stands beside the restored portrait of MP Julius Scriver The painting was donated by great great great grandson Dr Charles Scriver PHOTO Yvonne Lewis Langlois

 

The group would also like people to be able to come and do serious research within the new space. At present there is an archaeological program with which people can conduct searches using a family name or the lot number; that program required ten years of scanning and inputting documents. Students often visit to do research for postgraduate studies from the University of Montreal, Université du Québec a Montréal (UQAM), and McGill University. If the Hemmingford Archives doesn’t have what people need, the organization can point them in the right direction as it is well-connected to other historical societies.

The present trend towards DNA testing means that there is an influx of people researching their ancestry. “During COVID we had a couple of people, one from the U.S. and one from Montreal, who came to us because their DNA came up that they were illegitimate and found that their biological father was from this region – not the same father in both cases,” laughs Paquette.

The Archives has little space in its present home to accept many donations. “A house gets sold. They look up in the attic. We get a box of documents, pictures, photographs, and deeds,” says Krohn. People bring in all sorts of articles, from powder kegs to telephone switchboards. “There are people waiting for us to open a place,” says Paquette. She is looking forward to the new space in the renovated church. “We can do anything in that church,” she says longingly.

If quantities permit, the ice storm commemoration book will continue to be available at the Hemmingford Archives. The group always welcomes donations and volunteers. For more information, visit at archives.hemmingford.org.

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