Williams family donates artifacts to local museum

Duane Hicks

The family of one of Fort Frances’ early mayors and businessmen, Herbert Williams, donated some pieces of local history to the Fort Frances Museum this week in the form of several artifacts and compilations regarding his colourful life.
Graham Williams, who was born and raised in Fort Frances but now resides in Perth, Ont., stopped by the museum to meet with curator Pam Cain and deliver the items, which include a stone pipe and stone club, as well as two spiral-bound volumes recounting his grandfather’s life and writings, and a third regarding Herbert’s brother, Jabez Williams.
One of the those volumes is entitled, “A Snapshot of the Life and Times of Herbert Williams,” which covers his time as post factor for the Hudson Bay Company, his relocation to Fort Frances in the mid-1890s, his business career (such as the general store, H. Williams and Company Limited), his contentious relationship with E.W. Backus, his terms as mayor (1907-1910 and 1917-18), and many other achievements, such as him being one of the founders of the Mechanics Institute (which later evolved into the public library).
Another volume of clippings includes Williams’ stories while he was pro-term editor with the Fort Frances Times in 1934, which had been forced into bankruptcy at the time.
Herbert Williams also wrote and published a series of articles relating to his life on Lac La Pluie in the 1880s. These included a five-part series called “My First Bear Hunt.”
“It puts you in the sleigh, it tells you how to feed the dogs, how to cook bannock, right down to the point where they were on Lake of the Woods to give the Indians treaty money, how they packed the furs—it took two years to get them to England,” noted Graham Williams, adding other such stories in the volume include “Christmas in 1882 in Rat Portage (Kenora).”
Williams said he put together the history of his grandfather’s life in about eight months, and spent a year-and-half to compile information about Jabez Williams.
He chuckled that what he’s put together is not “What Auntie Jesse says,” or “What Aunt Myrtle remembers,” but documented history drawn from newspapers, Hudson Bay Company records, and the like.
The public is encouraged to drop by the Fort Frances Museum and read about Herbert Williams, said Graham Williams, noting, “You don’t have to be a Williams to enjoy it.”
“There’s a lot of history there,” he added, pointing out readers will notice personalities of the era and get a flavour for what life was like here in the early part of the 1900s.
For her part, Cain said the stone pipe and club, and the documents, are a most welcome addition to the museum’s collection.
“I would like to sort of develop some of the exhibitions around Herbert Williams—just the idea of a guy who came here working for the Hudson Bay Company and then ends up becoming a prominent businessman and establishing himself as mayor and playing a large role in the community,” she explained.
“To get artifacts that are from somebody who was involved in the community early on certainly adds to the collection,” Cain added, noting the Williams family previously donated a Hudson Bay Company trade journal for Lac La Pluie to the local museum, and also has given artifacts to the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.
“These artifacts sort of show the involvement of Herb and the Hudson Bay Company with the First Nations’ people as far as trade goes,” said Cain.
“My understanding is the club is a plains artifact, so it shows how vast some of the trade networks and the relationships were,” she remarked.