Oxford County Archives: Beyond the Vault

Archives Blog

WWI Veterans' Associations

County Archivist Liz Dommasch delves into the history of the veterans' associations created during and after the First World War in Oxford County, and some of the hardships faced by soldiers returning home.


By Liz Dommasch, County Archivist

With Archives staff working from home, it seems like an opportune time to tackle some of the backlog of unprocessed records we have in the vault. One such fonds, relates to World War One veterans and includes records of the Oxford Patriotic Association, Soldiers’ Aid Commission, Great War Veterans Association (GWVA) and the Oxford Returned Soldiers’ Association.

The Oxford Patriotic Association (OPA) was founded in 1914 to provide assistance to veterans and the families of men killed overseas. The OPA was originally called the 500 Club formed by a group of patriotic Woodstock citizens who levied upon themselves regular contributions in order to relieve hardship among the families of Woodstock men who had entered the armed services. The need for assistance became so great that the 500 Club members felt that they were no longer able to assume full financial responsibility and the Oxford County Council was approached. This resulted in the formation of the OPA, with the County, and the urban municipalities of Woodstock, Ingersoll and Tillsonburg lending their financial assistance through taxation. Its main goal was to help returned soldiers adjust to civilian life. OPA provided re-training programs for disabled soldiers, helped its members in obtaining jobs and gave financial help to men whose pensions were either overlooked by the Federal Government or were not adequate. OPA also provided moral support to many veterans who felt alienated from the rest of society.

Other organizations such as the Oxford Returned Soldiers’ Association (ORSA), Soldiers’ Aid Commission and the Great War Veterans Association (GWVA) were also established. The ORSA (established August 1916) functioned to raise funds to assist returned soldiers of Oxford County. The Soldiers Aid Commission (established 1916) was a Provincial organization that ensured employment for all veterans and assisted the dependents. The GWVA (established April 1917) was created in response to the demands of many soldiers who had returned to Canada.

The records the Archives have, include case files of veterans and family members seeking financial and vocational assistance. Many of the records are sensitive in nature and tell a sad tale of some of those in need. They also shed a light on how veterans were treated following the Great War and just how little was known about long term disabilities, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and mental health. Once such case involves Private Robert Anderson, who served with the 1st Battalion. Born in 1882 in Bolton, England, Pte. Anderson served with the Oxford Rifles Militia before enlisting in September 1914. He was shot in the temple on December 31st in Wulveringham, Belgium and was ultimately discharged from duty due to his injuries. In determining his pension and financial assistance the Pension Board declared that he was only three-eighths disabled, with his main disability being deafness, and would receive a pension of the Fourth Class ($16 a month). However, letters in his file go on to state that Pte. Anderson suffered from violent pains in the head and giddiness that required the administration of opiates to relieve the pain. It was also noted that he was affected mentally by continual suffering and that he and his family were relying on charity for existence. Unfortunately, little else is known, but from the records we do have, the Pension Board felt that his deafness still allowed him to work and refused to reassess his file in order to consider his other prevalent medical conditions. One letter did note, that he was due for a medical re-examination in the near future, and one hopes that his pension was reassessed at the time.

Pte. Anderson's Attestation Papers

Pte. Robert Anderson would be killed in a railway accident near Brantford in 1927, and was buried in Woodstock. He was 44 years old at the time.

If you are interested in learning more about the organizations formed, in the County, to assist WWI veterans or are seeking information on a particular veteran, please contact the Archives for more information. WWI personnel files are also available on the Library Archives Canada website and provide a great starting point for military research.




We Are Living in Historic Times

The Oxford County Archives is actively collecting community records related to your experience during the COVID-19 pandemic.


By Megan Lockhart, Archives Technician

I often wonder, when people live through an historic event, do they realize the full significance of the time they are living in? We tend to think of history as an event that took place a long time ago, but really, yesterday is today’s history. We are certainly living in an historic time now. As people are sharing photos, videos and stories on social media about their life during the COVID-19 pandemic, they are adding to the historical records of this global event. However, these digital records are fleeting and many may be lost to time.

Years from now, students in schools, colleges and universities will be learning about COVID-19 and an essential part of educating about the past is having students interact with and learn from primary sources. Historians also rely on these sources for their own research. This is why the Oxford County Archives, in partnership with the Woodstock Museum National Historic Site, are actively collecting stories and records from the Oxford County community related to life during COVID-19. We want to hear from you. How has your life changed during the pandemic? How have you been shopping during this time? What challenges have you faced and how are your interactions with family and friends different than they were a year ago? How did you cope with children learning from home? How have you kept yourself entertained during quarantine? Can you tell us about your experience as an essential worker? These are just some of the questions we would like to hear your answers to. Everyone has an important story to tell.

We are collecting written text, artwork, photographs, videos, oral histories, social media and digital content from community members. Help us record your history and our collective COVID-19 community experience. These records will be significant resources to future generations of historians. If you have material to share with us, contact us at: archives@oxfordcounty.ca.

We are also encouraging local students to write short journal entries about their own personal experience studying and living through COVID-19 while quarantined at home. If you are a student, have a student at home, or are a teacher with students who would be interested in participating please contact us at: archives@oxfordcounty.ca.




Paradise Pudding

Our County Archivist Liz makes a Jell-O mould recipe from 1912 which ties in to her family's historical traditions as well.


By Liz Dommasch, County Archivist

Growing up, at every family function and holiday dinner, my grandmother used to make a Jell-O mould. It always had fruit, such as strawberries, pineapple and grapes, and vegetables such as shredded carrots and cucumbers. It also sometimes had whipped cream in it, to give it a creamy mousse consistency. I always just assumed it was a generational dish that was popular when my mom was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s and my grandmother continued to make it as part of our family traditions. However, it wasn’t until I was doing some research for our online exhibit Spanish Flu: Food for Thought that I learned that the tradition of the Jell-O mould dish actually goes back as far as 1912, with the recipe for Paradise Pudding.

Now knowing some of the weird and curious concoctions that can be included in a Jell-O mould, such as cocktail wieners, stuffed olives, cottage cheese and mayonnaise, Paradise Pudding sounds like every child’s dream dessert. Not only does it have Jell-O in it as its base, but it also consists of whipped cream, mini marshmallows, maraschino cherries, almonds, macaroon cookies and for extra sweetness: MORE sugar. It also, sounded surprisingly really easy to make.

With that said, and knowing my boys have never experienced ingredients added to their Jell-O, it sounded like something I needed to try. Megan (our Archives Technician) and I had already attempted a few recipes from the exhibit and posted the results on the Archives’ Instagram page, but I thought I’d share the results of this recipe here.

Like I said, the recipe itself was pretty straightforward and most ingredient were readily available. I did have some difficulty finding macaroons, beyond the trendy French macaroons (though I don’t think that’s what the recipe had in mind in 1912), as they seemed to not be a popular cookie choice. However, after checking a few stores (keeping my social distance), I was able to find some coconut macaroons. From there it was a matter of following the instructions for the Jell-O (which included whipping it), adding in the rest of the ingredients and letting it set in a tin loaf until firm.

Overall it was surprisingly pretty good. It has a consistency of a sponge cake though creamier. My boys gave it two thumbs up, even though it had no chocolate in it and my youngest wasn’t a fan of the crunchy things in the middle (aka: the macaroons). They both enjoyed the marshmallows and were both surprised to learn that marshmallows were around over 100 years ago. The only negative I would give is, it is on the sweet side. If I were to make it again, I’d probably alter the ingredients a bit and omit the extra quarter cup of sugar the recipe called for. However, that’s more of a preference than a complaint. I think my oldest put it best: “It’s pretty good for a recipe that’s so old”. 

If you are looking to try out some century old recipes, please check out our online exhibit: Spanish Food: Food for Thought that looks at the types of meals Canadians were eating at the end of World War One and during the years of the Spanish Flu Epidemic.




Education Going Virtual

How has outreach and public programming changed at the archives since the onset of COVID-19? Find out how archives staff have adapted a popular program for a virtual platform.


By Megan Lockhart, Archives Technician

One of our most successful programs at the Oxford County Archives is “Memories From The Vault”. As the program coordinator, I deliver the program mainly to long-term care centres, retirement residences and senior centres. During my visits, I bring a box of “archival goodies” filled with interesting items and records from our collection. These include photographs, journals, newspaper articles, pamphlets, textiles, artifacts, the list goes on. Each session falls under a specific theme related to Oxford County’s cultural heritage. The themes are curated with care to ensure that they are relatable for participants, focusing on social history or places and events that people are familiar with or have lived through. Themes like “rural schools”, “early farming”, and “history of summer sports” are very popular. We share pieces from our collection during the program and often utilize archival materials kept exclusively for programming. These programming materials allow for participants to get up close and personal with the records. Sensory experiences stimulate memory, and therefore we feel it is important to allow participants to touch archival material during the program. Having a programming collection allows for this to happen, and if certain records are needed for a program theme that we do not want people to touch we make copies of these records to share instead.

Local high school photos like this one from W.C.I. are always great conversation starters.

The interactivity of the program is one aspect that I believe has led to its success and popularity. The program is designed to encourage interruptions and stimulate conversation. I did not want the program to be “us talking at them”. Instead if someone has a memory to share or simply wants to tell their own story to the group, I take a back seat and leave the floor open. The program is not just about us sharing our knowledge, but also archives staff learning from members of the community. It is a social experience for participants as well as an educational one.

Due to COVID-19, our in-person programs have had to be put on hold. With so many uncertainties surrounding when we will be given the greenlight to deliver programs face to face again, we have concocted ways to deliver our programs virtually online. I set my sights on developing video versions of our Memories From The Vault sessions. Our first video series features me dressed up in a fancy hat speaking on the history of springtime traditions like garden and tea parties, spring sports and fashion. Developing these videos provided its own challenges, having to write scripts, film myself speaking and learning the ins and outs of video editing has been quite the experience (especially with a curious cat around that likes to make cameos in the background).

The feedback from the videos has been wonderful. People enjoy seeing our staff’s faces and hearing us speak on video seems a little more personal than reading an article. We’re happy to allow people to still learn from our collections despite being closed to the public. More videos are planned for the near future. We also have our “Tip Tuesday” series which feature me talking about ways you can preserve your archives at home. In October I would like to produce another series on the darker side of Oxford’s history.

Stay tuned to our blog and Instagram page (@OxfordCountyArchives) for updates on new programs and services and check out our videos on Instagram as well!




Spanish Flu: Food for Thought

Discover the culinary history of the Spanish Flu with the Archives' new online exhibit.


By Megan Lockhart, Archives Technician

One hundred years ago, the year was 1920. When we think of the 1920s, we often think of the glamorous years portrayed on Hollywood screens. Flappers, newsboy caps, silent films, and prohibition are usually the first things that come to mind. However, people living in the year 1920 were struggling with something we are familiar with today, a global pandemic. The Spanish Flu was a flu that spread worldwide and lasted from 1918 until the end of 1920. This was during a time when the world was lacking the medical advances we have today. One-third of the world’s population ended up being infected by the end of the pandemic. Like today, quarantine measures were put in place and people began wearing masks when out in public.

Not only was there a pandemic in 1918, but there was still a war on, the First World War. Food resources such as meat, dairy, eggs, and flour were reserved for the war effort and soldiers overseas. Hoarding food was illegal. Many families had to make do without many staples in their kitchens and this led to innovative alternatives being used in recipes, and even the creation of several vegetarian and vegan recipes that are still popular to this day. As a result, the Spanish Flu years have a remarkably interesting culinary history.

A recipe for "Camouflage Roast" from our exhibit "Spanish Flu: Food for Thought"

Seeing empty grocery store shelves and some staples becoming difficult to come by now due to panic buying, it’s astonishing how similar our situation is today in some ways. Many people have begun cooking more at home and are taking up baking. What a better time than now to interact with history in your own kitchen at home? This was the inspiration behind our new exhibit: “Spanish Flu: Food for Thought”. The exhibit delves into some of the recipes that can be found in cookbooks from the late 1910s and early 1920s and shares the stories behind the culinary creations. During our research for the exhibit we were fascinated by the alternative eating habits people were taking part in, one such example is “nose to tail” eating, meaning all parts of the animal were consumed or used in some way. This is a remarkable example of food waste reduction, something we in current day society should consider more in our own lives. Nose to tail eating was not a new concept in the 1910s, traditionally indigenous people used all parts of an animal for food or other resources. 

The exhibit is interactive, with a menu listing a variety of food items from the time. Each item links to a printable recipe for people to try at home! Our archivists have already made some of the recipes at home themselves and shared our experiences on our Instagram page (@OxfordCountyArchives).

To check out the exhibit visit the “Exhibits” section of our webpage. We want you to try the recipes at home too! Let us know if you tried one and how it turned out by sharing it on Instagram and tagging us or sending us an email: archives@oxfordcounty.ca.




About this Blog

Welcome! Our blog provides a perspective on the Oxford County Archives beyond the vault and delves into the fascinating stories found within our collection. Get to know our staff, discover what we do at the archives and learn more about Oxford County's cultural heritage. Updates on our services, programs and events will also be shared right here on this blog! 

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Oxford County is taking steps to support our community's response to COVID-19 (coronavirus disease) and measures taken by Southwestern Public Health. We are monitoring our operations daily to ensure we are taking the right actions to protect our residents, employees and visitors. Get updates at www.oxfordcounty.ca/COVID-19