You begin by acknowledging the work of several generations of men and women who have gone before you and made your task easier. For more than a century, Richmond Hill has been blessed with residents who took a keen interest in researching, preserving, and writing its history. William Harrison, a prominent saddler, harnessmaker and public-spirited citizen, began the process in the later years of the nineteenth century by writing a series of articles on local history for The Liberal.
Harrison's pioneering efforts have been augmented and extended by others through the twentieth century - archaeological excavations by both amateur and professional scientists; the "Tweedsmuir History of Richmond Hill" prepared by the Women's Institute in the 1950s; Mary Dawson's columns in The Liberal during the 1960s; Patricia Hart's work in developing the local history collection of the Richmond Hill Public Library; countless hours of research by Helen Schwab, Norman Stephenson, and others in that library collection; historical booklets prepared by Helmut Haessler and Dennis DesRivieres; and the ongoing work of the Local Architectural Conservation Advisory Committee (LACAC) and the Richmond Hill Historical Society.
Drawing on this earlier work and on these local resources, you attempt to identify significant themes in the town's development. What has attracted people to the Richmond Hill area for the past 10,000 years? Who were the earliest native Indian and European settlers? How did a village nucleus develop? How did Richmond Hill move from pioneer settlement to thriving commercial village? What provided the basis for the community's impressive growth in the twentieth century? What problems have residents faced, and what solutions have they proposed?
At the same time, you try to set local developments in the larger context of provincial, national, and even international events. How important historically are Richmond Hill's road and rail links with other communities? Did the Rebellion of 1837 affect Richmond Hill differently than other communities? Was this a typical or atypical Ontario village during the long reign of Queen Victoria? How did the First World War affect the men - and women - of Richmond Hill?
As parameters and priorities shift, so does the writing of history change. Half a century ago, this book would have focused exclusively on the area of the original village of the 1870s and its modest boundary extensions through to the Second World War. But regional government and major boundary changes of the 1970s created a much larger town, and it is that larger territory that must now be included in any history of Richmond Hill.
At the same time, local history must address the concerns being debated in the broader community of professional historians. Many of those concerns focus on the neglect of minority groups in traditional historical writing. So this book examines the early Indian occupation of Richmond Hill in the centuries before the arrival of the Europeans. And it contrasts the largely silent role of nineteenth-century women with their more prominent role in twentieth-century public affairs.
You continue to draw on the work of others, and acknowledge their assistance, since this book has very much been a co-operative venture. My thanks to Janet Fayle and Mary-Lou Griffin for sharing their knowledge and insights of Richmond Hill history with me; to Janet Fayle, as well, for her original research and work on the book's many appendices; to Ronald Williamson and Martin Cooper of Archaeological Services Inc. for assistance with Chapter Two; to Roger Carlsen for additional photography, Janet Allin for maps and drawings, and Richmond Lloyd for music transcription; to Kathryn Dean, Canada's award-winning editor-of-the-year, for her superb editing; and to Brant Cowie of ArtPlus for designing the finished book.
The Central Branch Library on Wright Street provided working space for this project. My thanks to Central Branch head Mary Jane Celsie and her staff for ensuring a most comfortable and hospitable atmosphere for research. And to Brian Bell, special projects librarian for the Richmond Hill Public Library system, who has been indispensable in the book's preparation.
Very special thanks to Mary Lloyd, head of the Canadian/Local History Department of the Richmond Hill Public Library system, a fount of information and advice, who always responded to my innumerable requests for materials and information with unfailing speed and courtesy. And to John Irwin, who co-ordinated the project, and who magically made everything fall into place.
I am grateful to the Richmond Hill Public Library Board through its chairman, Doreen Murphy, and its chief executive officer, Jane Horrocks, for entrusting this book to me. Writing a community history is a task that entails significant responsibilities to both past and future generations. This was a task made fascinating by Richmond Hill's rich past and made easier by Richmond Hill's helpful contemporary residents.
Copyright © Richmond Hill Public Library Board, 1991