| History of the Society
Several events at the close of the 1890s fueled the desire for a local historical society. Prince Albert had visited just a few years before. In 1897, the 1669 camp site of the area's first white explorers was discovered near Port Dover. Mastodon remains were discovered at Marburg. Just months after that E. A. Owen published his book Pioneer Settlers of The Long Pont Settlement in 1898.
In Feburary 1900 the Norfolk Historical Society officially held its inaugural meeting at the Courthouse in Simcoe. Norfolk County Judge James Robb was installed as its first president; J. J. Wadsworth was chosen secretary.
Others attending included former Simcoe Reformer newspaper publisher Henry Smith Johnson, teacher H. N. Courtlandt, school principal J. D. Christie, Wray Lemon, lawyer Francis Reid, Anglican minister R. Hicks and Presbyterian minister W. J. Dey. The heroine of Long Point, Abigail Becker, joined later that year. Today the Society boasts several of her heirlooms in its artifacts collection. Municipal government provided a $25 grant, and the NHS joined the Ontario Historical Society.
Early Society meetings consisted of members presenting papers on local history of their particular interest. These documents were the first placed in NHS archives -- at that time just a collection of files, kept by volunteer curator Henry Smith Johnson.
Without adequate funding and a permanent home for its collections, the Society fell dormant for several years before and during the First World War. Norfolk native and public school inspector H. Frank Cook revived the Society in 1915, oversaw the Society's purchase of the French explorers' 1669 camp site and the erection of a cross marking the spot in 1922. But the Society fell dormant again.
Curator Henry Smith Johnson and local artist W. Edgar Cantelon revived the Society again in 1927, in the basement of Simcoe Public Library. Today, Cantelon's paintings are the backbone of the Society's art collection. The following year, another local artist, Eva Brook Donly promised to leave her historical house in downtown Simcoe as a museum of history and art -- which she did in 1941. That provided the Society with a permanent home, and our efforts have been based there for last half century.
In 1967 a centenial wing was added to the rear of Museum, more than doubling the size of the facility and providing environmentally controlled archives and reading room, a much needed meeting room and activity centre, a gallery for permanent exhibits, storage space, offices and washrooms.
This introduction to the Society's history is based on an exerpt from the booklet
An Outline of the 75 Year History of the Norfolk Historical Society 1900-1975
by Bruce M. Pearce and Mrs. Dorothy A. Packard, published by the NHS in 1975.
This booklet is still in print and available from the NHS. To order, visit our Gift Shoppe.