For Kitchissippi resident David Allston, reading old newspapers is one of the best ways he can engage in his neighbourhood’s history.
Allston studies the history and founding of the area as a hobby, concentrating on the late 1800’s, a time where the neighbourhood was just developing.
“I have been interested in history since high school,” says Allston. His interest took off in grade 12, when he came up with an interesting concept: offering comprehensive histories of people’s personal homes. “I was born and raised in this area and my family goes back, actually to one of the original settlers of Mechanicsville,” he says.
“I was being hired out by people for events or for Christmas or as an anniversary gift to do the history of people’s homes,” says Allston. “Back then, that was kind of pre internet, so it limited what I could do,” he says. Allston explains that even today with the internet, information on Hintonburg and its surrounding neighbourhoods is generally hard to find.
“There is not a lot of information out there about this area. No one knows anything about what the streets were named for, the history of the landmarks,” he says. He has developed tips and tricks for finding out new information online, but most of his research comes from old issues of newspapers like The Ottawa Journal, a daily newspaper published from 1885-1980.
Allston has expanded his research from house histories to general local history. With a few books on the go, a full time job and a three year old son, his hobby can be a handful. Still, Allston manages to find time to engage the neighbourhood with his research and shares the history he finds whenever he can.
“Setting up a desk at events like WestFest and ArtsPark is cool because people walk by and look at the old photos and say ‘oh my God, I didn’t even know a train used to go down Byron’,” he says as he points to a picture in one of his many binders that have been laid out neatly on his dining room table. Some people are shocked at what they discover about their neighbourhood when they see his display. “Like, there used to be a movie theatre down there,” he says.
Allston also gathers history from the people he meets, which makes his WestFest and ArtsPark set up all the more important. “Just over time being so into the community I have collected photos and artifacts and have done interviews with people,” he says. A lot of his resources come from people’s old family photo albums and their personal stories.
“If you break Hintonburg, Wellington Village and Westboro down, they each have a distinct history,” he says.
Chances are, if you live on one of Kitchissippi’s roads, Allston probably has a story to tell about it.