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Century-old photographs digitized by Saint John’s Loyalist House

Saint John Loyalist House museum makes historical discoveries
The COVID-19 shutdown has provided a unique opportunity at Saint John’s historic Loyalist House. Instead of entertaining history buffs, staff at the museum have been busy making interesting discoveries. Travis Fortnum has the story.

About 100 century-old photographs found inside Saint John’s historic Loyalist House are being digitized and shared online.

After sitting in storage for a decade, a collection of dry plate negatives gives a rare glimpse at Victorian life in the city.

“They’re family photos,” says Misty McKinney, an anthropology and history student at UNB Fredericton.

“Typically we see the Victorian in a very stern setting where they’re seated properly in studio, it’s a very professional portrait.”

“These are essentially the first family photos that you’ll see,” says McKinney.

“It really gives an insight into the Victorian family as not just a stern portrait.”

Submitted by New Brunswick Historical Society
Submitted by New Brunswick Historical Society
Submitted by New Brunswick Historical Society
Submitted by New Brunswick Historical Society

McKinney is working through the stack of glass negatives — digitizing and developing them — with the ultimate goal of identifying some of the people photographed.

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Along with a handful of other summer students, McKinney has made the most of the downtime at the museum.

Earlier this summer the team went through three trunks, found to contain antique clothing.

Three trunks of antique textiles were found in the Loyalist House this summer.
Three trunks of antique textiles were found in the Loyalist House this summer. Travis Fortnum / Global News

“Since coronavirus, we’ve actually been able to sit down and get a lot of the projects out of the way,” says McKinney.

Museums and other businesses that rely on tourism have been hit particularly hard by pandemic shutdowns.

Read more: Fredericton Regional Museum offers research material for a Black history curriculum

New Brunswick Historical Society Treasurer Greg Marquis says Loyalist House should make it through.

“We had a fairly good year last year,” he says, “so we’re living off the fat of that.”

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Marquis says the work that the team has been able to get done has been an upside to the situation.

Submitted by New Brunswick Historical Society
Submitted by New Brunswick Historical Society
Submitted by New Brunswick Historical Society
Submitted by New Brunswick Historical Society

“Even before the pandemic we had a list of research topics that we were never quite able to get to,” he says.

“So the pandemic, on that level, is a blessing in disguise.”

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With a batch of the digitized photographs already posted to the Loyalist House Facebook page, McKinney says residents have already reached out about possible connections.

“That could be the last living evidence of their existence,” she says.

“To preserve that is so important.”

BLM New Brunswick and the Fredericton Regional Museum join forces to deliver black history curriculum to public schools
BLM New Brunswick and the Fredericton Regional Museum join forces to deliver black history curriculum to public schools