Peel’s shared archival legacy

“Grandson, you can never hope to understand your world until you’ve understood the past.” Time Masters #1 (volume 2), DC Comics, 1990

To know the past…

As an archivist (and comic book lover!), I support the argument above that an understanding of the past is absolutely essential to understand the often complex ways in which prior events, forces, and ideas have shaped the present. By our very nature, archives (and the archival records that we hold) play a pivotal role in helping researchers uncover and map these historical complexities, so as to better understand the modern world and how it came to be.

However, it is interesting to consider that archival records themselves have their own fascinating, and at times complicated, histories as records. I contend that the context of creation and use of any given record, how it made its way into the Archives, and the often related connections it may share with other records, are all valuable details to ponder when conducting research.

An interesting group of records from the 1950s. Who actually created and/or used these files? Why were they created? Might they share connections with other files, series, or fonds, and what might those relations (if extant) tell us about the wider context of the records and their creator?

It is also interesting to consider that records are not necessarily merely passive elements documenting a given story. Rather, they sometimes are themselves the story, depending on one’s perspective. For as archival practitioner and theorist Geoffrey Yeo has noted: “Record-making, of course, is not merely a matter of documenting or recording activities or events external to the recording process. Records perform activities. The making of a record is itself an activity and an event.”[1]   

Record-making in Peel over time

Peel has existed as a named municipal entity, in one form or another, since 1852. During its long history it has been home to the modern day municipalities of Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon (forming as they do the Region of Peel, 1974-present), but also their municipal forbearers, being a range of townships, villages, and towns that at one time or another made up the former County of Peel (1852-1973). 

The composition of Peel, being a long-standing geopolitical administrative arrangement, has had an interesting and noticeable effect on the documentary heritage of the area. In short, there is a high level of interconnectedness between and among many of the groups of archival records in our care, both those created and collected by the local area governments, but also those created and collected by organizations, groups, and private citizens who have lived, worked in, or had an impact on the Peel area.

These interconnections are perhaps not surprising, given the often-shifting municipal borders within the historic Peel area, familial ties existing across internal township lines, the operation of historic and long-serving businesses and organizations with a Peel County/Region mandate or focus, and the shared participation in large scale municipal projects (such as waterworks).

A small sampling of material relating to “Peel” focused organizations or initiatives over the years

Peel’s archival legacies – connections across space and time 

The level of interconnection between many of the records in our care demonstrates that the documentary heritage of the Peel area is more than the sum of its constituent parts, especially when the various record fonds and collections are arranged and described in relation to one another as part of a centralized Regional Archival program.

The remainder of this post shall explore some of my favourite records embodying this cross-Peel connection phenomena.

The Township of Toronto bench mark book photographs and the associated map index

One of my favourite groups of records is a series of 285 photographs created by Toronto Township planning department staff as part of their “bench mark book,” found within the Township of Toronto fonds (a municipal predecessor of the City of Mississauga).  Each photo documents the location of small metal plaques known as “bench marks” positioned throughout the township. The bench marks, which were located on various buildings and structures, were used by planning staff to assist in situating other municipal projects.

However, the descriptions provided for each photograph were not user-friendly, and left much room for interpretation given the changed landscape of Mississauga over the past 66 years.

A Peel record connection to the rescue!

A few years ago we came across a file in the County of Peel fonds entitled “Bench Marks, cartographic, Toronto Township.” Among other things, the file contained two oversized maps which act as a confirmed geographical index for all of the 285 photographs, allowing staff and researchers to pinpoint, with accuracy, where every bench mark photograph was taken.

It is likely that Township staff forwarded the maps to their counterparts at the County, with the Township copies ultimately not surviving. But luckily for staff and researchers, the photographs and maps have now been happily (and usefully!) reunited.

City of Brampton road and culvert inspection reports

Those interested in historic culvert and railway crossings in the Brampton area would not be blamed for thinking that records speaking to their interest should be found among the archival records of the City of Brampton. And while there would indeed be some relevant material in the City of Brampton fonds, the single best source on this subject is found among the records of the Region of Peel!

Between 1974 and 1977 it appears as if a firm undertook an inventory and inspection of culverts throughout the Brampton area for the city. At some point thereafter, the city transferred these reports to the Region either for safekeeping or perhaps as reference material for related road projects of mutual interest. And at some point thereafter the records were transferred to the Regional Archives given their archival value. Either way, I am just very happy to have such a neat group of records available for users in the archives, notwithstanding the route they took to come into archival care.

Here are some examples of the reports, complete with their amazing accompanying photographs, not only of the culvert in question, but often the related roadways as well!

Tax assessment rolls for historic townships now forming part of a modern Peel municipality

Assessment rolls are records created and maintained by the municipality for property taxation calculation purposes – assessors travelled throughout the area recording the names of local property owners and tenants, as well as the current value of their land and buildings.

But what happens when those municipalities have their borders or very composition changed? As I mentioned earlier, the modern day municipal borders within Peel do not necessarily reflect historic ones. For example, property researchers in the Churchville area of the City of Brampton may be interested to learn that their land is actually legally defined as being tied to lots surveyed as part of the former Township of Toronto (given that the northern border of the modern City of Mississauga is not a straight line along Steeles as one might expect).

Similarly, researchers living in parts of the Malton neighbourhood of Mississauga would discover that their deeds link to lands in the Township of Toronto Gore and/or the Township of Toronto, because portions of Malton were contested between those former municipalities for some time prior to 1952.

The pink triangle was annexed by the Township of Toronto in 1952 at the expense of the Township of Toronto Gore. Today this land is part of eastern Mississauga.

And finally, the southern portion of the Town of Caledon was at one time better known as the north half of the historic Township of Chinguacousy. The modern border is, more or less, Mayfield Road, with some deviation in the Snelgrove area.

The yellow area represents the former Township of Chinguacousy area. Please note the red lines which represent the modern day municipal borders.

My point here is that the modern municipalities that make up Peel are themselves a result of amalgamations of former municipalities whose historic borders and responsibilities do not necessarily clearly align or map onto modern day borders. Thus, researching a modern “Brampton” or “Caledon” property or related issue may require an examination of assessment rolls and other records tied to former area municipalities, including the Township of Albion, Chinguacousy, and/or Toronto Gore. Thankfully, all of these separate (but related!) fonds are housed here in the Peel Archives.

Historic conservation and reforestation efforts throughout the Peel area

Patrons interested in historic reforestation efforts in Mississauga, Brampton and/or Caledon, would be best served by records kept by the County of Peel (the Region of Peel’s predecessor). The County’s Reforestation Committee tabled numerous reports, many of which provide insight into reforestation and conservation efforts, topics not necessarily covered in detail in the various lower-tier municipal fonds.

Here are some examples of Peel’s reforestation reports:

The larger image above is but the first page of a fulsome 1940 report on reforestation and conservation in Peel and can be downloaded here: Report of Preliminary Conservation and Reforestation Survey of Peel County, 1940 (Jan-Mar), County of Peel fonds. For more on the natural history of the Peel area please check out this post.

Newspaper photo morgues and print runs

The Peel area has been well served by local newspapers over the years, including the Streetsville Review, the Mississauga News, the Brampton Conservator/Guardian, the Bolton/Caledon Enterprise, the Peel Gazette, and others. Newsprint copies of such papers and their associated photo/negative morgues are invaluable assets when researching Peel’s past.

However, one should not necessarily allow newspaper titles to blind one to their true geographic scope!  This is especially true with regard to the Brampton Times/Conservator and the Peel Gazette, which saw themselves as “County papers,” i.e. papers covering the entire Peel area, despite being headquartered in Brampton (incidentally the historic and modern Peel capital).

As a result, researchers interested in Mississauga or Caledon projects will often express surprise when we sit them down in front of the Brampton Conservator newspaper, and even more shock when all sorts of relevant articles start to appear!

The extensive research files of Peel’s unofficial historian, Wm. Perkins Bull

Probably the best single example of Peel’s archival crosslink phenomena has to be the extensive research files of Peel’s unofficial historian, Wm. Perkins Bull.

A lawyer and businessman, William Perkins Bull (1870-1948) was also a passionate and dedicated amateur historian. Starting in 1931, he and his extensive hired staff set out to document every facet of the County of Peel’s history. They travelled up and down the concession lines in all of the former townships, calling at homes, copying records, searching old photo albums, and interviewing residents. Bull also visited various archives and libraries, and corresponded with government agencies, professors, and subject experts.

His numerous books, unfinished manuscripts, and extensive raw research files reside with us and constitute an absolute treasure trove of information, of great use to genealogists, archeologists, academics, scholars, heritage planners, journalists, and any other researcher interested in the rich histories of the area.

Perkins Bull asking questions of a Peel resident, 1930s
The Perkins Bull Historical Series (published books)

The subjects covered in the fonds are wide-ranging, including such topics as natural history, the military, politics, immigration, Indigenous peoples, sports, religion, industry, temperance, and much more! The key point is that among any given subject file, researchers will be faced with a creator that was not necessarily concerned with hewing strictly to Peel’s then internal boundaries! Instead, they will often find a range of collected and collated material documenting large swathes of the Peel area in relation to the given subject, from the southern tip of what is now Mississauga to the northern end of what is now Caledon, and everything in between.

The above images are a selection from a single file of graphic material pertaining to assorted Peel area buildings and structures. This one file covers all the area townships, as well as the more specific communities of Erindale, Malton, Port Credit, Churchville, Grahamsville, Mono Road, Eldorado, Meadowvale, Snelgrove [Edmonton], and Castlemore/Claireville.

Given the extent of the mingling and cross-connections between and among the files and series in the fonds, there is no way to easily sever out or fully isolate material according to geographic demarcation. It is a true “Peel area” fonds, and a truly invaluable resource to those interested in the rich histories of Mississauga, Brampton, and Caledon as well as the former County of Peel.

The prolific photographic output of news photographer Russell Cooper

Russell (“Russ”) King Cooper was born in Brampton on January 18th, 1926, son of James Edward Cooper and Edith Hewetson. Cooper attended Brampton High School; Pickering College; and studied engineering at the University of Toronto.

From the late 1940s through the 1960s Cooper worked as a free-lance journalist and photographer for the Brampton Conservator, The Telegram (Toronto) and The Toronto Star. He also acted as a Peel County Constable and an OPP accident photographer. As a result, he spent a great deal of time snapping photographs up and down assorted township concession roads in Peel and beyond.

He was also active with various local groups/organizations, including the Peel Memorial Hospital Board of Governors, the Board of Governors of the Credit Valley School of Nursing, the Brampton Recreation Commission, the Grace United Church Sunday School, the Historical Records Advisory Board of the Credit Valley Conservation Authority, and the Peel County Historical Society.

The Russell Cooper fonds consists of records created and/or accumulated by Cooper, many the product of his photojournalism career, as well as others tied to his involvement in assorted community organizations.

The most referenced and utilized series by far are his thousands of photonegatives, because they offer up fantastic documentation of events and locales across Peel in the late 1940s and 1950s. For example, Cooper is our go-to source whenever we have any questions about the state or condition of specific area roads, because he documented a great many accident scenes, taking not only shots of the vehicles involved, but also the surrounding area.

Here is a small complilation of entries from the Cooper photonegative index, demonstrating the Peel breadth of the material:

And finally, here are a few of my favourite photographic treasures found in the Cooper negatives:

Summing up, the record groupings discussed above represent but a handful of the records in our care, and I hope they serve to illustrate the utility as well as the elegance of the Peel archival program, given that it seamlessly allows these myriad connections to be identified and utilized.

As a Peel archivist, I am grateful that I am afforded the honour of being responsible for the identification, preservation, and provision of access to the richly interwoven documentary heritage of the Peel area.

I hope that this admittedly esoteric post has helped to demonstrate the value of the at times intricately linked records in the Region of Peel Archives’ care, and the often fun and informative ways that they speak to and inform each other across space and time. 

By Kyle Neill, Senior Archivist


[1] Geoffrey Yeo, “Record-making and record-keeping in early societies,” 2021, pg. xi

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s