Do the words “Tweedsmuir History” mean anything to you? For the vast majority of people on this planet I expect the answer is no; but to people of a certain age and a certain rural upbringing in this particular country (that is, Canada), the words conjure up vague, or perhaps not-so-vague, memories of bulky scrapbook-type books containing photographs, newspaper clippings, and other documentation of the history of whatever part of rural Canada we grew up in.
Perhaps you will not be surprised to learn that Queensborough has a Tweedsmuir History book; that’s why I’m writing on the subject tonight. (Regular readers will know that I have been devoting all my posts of the past week or so to topics related to Queensborough’s history, all in the cause of piquing your interest in Historic Queensborough Day – full details here! – which takes place this very Sunday, Sept. 7. We hope you will join us for it!)
The cross-Canada Tweedsmuir History project came about in 1940, inspired by a suggestion from Lady Tweedsmuir, the wife of Canada’s governor-general at the time (who happened to be, in non-vice-regal life, John Buchan, the author of the mystery novel The Thirty-Nine Steps). The suggestion of Lady Tweedsmuir, who was apparently an enthusiastic supporter of the Women’s Institute movement, was that W.I. branches put together histories of their particular villages and regions. (You can read an excellent summary of this, including the pertinent details on Lord and Lady Tweedsmuir, here.)
Here, in fact, is what Lady Tweedsmuir had to say about the whole thing; it’s in the opening pages of the Queensborough Tweedsmuir Book. I think her words are insightful and prescient – like, for instance, when she says “your village histories will be the basis of accurate facts much valued by historians of the future”:
And so the women of the Queensborough W.I., along with women in hamlets and villages all over the country, began compiling their local history. The Queensborough Tweedsmuir book contains a fascinating and eclectic collection of – well, as I said before, photographs, newspaper clippings, and other documentation about the history of our hamlet.
What is wholly endearing about the book is the way the lives of its compilers keep coming though in its pages. This is not a formal, starchy history book, though there is lots of irreplaceable historical information in it. Instead we get a look at Queensborough’s history as seen through the eyes of the women of the W.I., and their view was home-centred. There is even a series of articles written by members about the history of each one’s own home – some of which were very old indeed, while others were recently built bungalows. It is utterly charming.
Also mixed in with the important information about village buildings, schools and farms are lots of reports of Institute activities, including bus trips and W.I. conventions. Did I mention that it’s charming? Basically, whenever you turn a page you don’t know what might come up next.
Anyway: it is a precious piece of our local history. And the good news is that, while there is only one original Tweedsmuir History for Queensborough – which for a long time meant that, should something bad have happened to it, it would have been a catastrophic loss – the Queensborough Community Centre committee (of which Raymond and I are members) recently undertook to have copies made.
And the really good news out of that is that during Historic Queensborough Day on Sunday, at our village’s old one-room schoolhouse (now the Queensborough Community Centre), you’ll be able to leaf through one of those copies – the original is fragile – and enjoy the W.I.’s wonderful and idiosyncratic compilation of local history. And, most importantly – add to it! We’ll have giant-sized sticky notes on hand so that whenever visitors see information in the book that needs to be corrected or added to, they can set down this new information. Eventually we hope to produce a new version of the Tweedsmuir Book with all this new, corrected and updated information included.
I am pretty sure Lady Tweedsmuir would be pleased.