I wanted to learn more about the history of the Thousand Islands and, fortunately, in 1975 I was told about Pearl Davis, whose father, Frank Eames had been Gananoque’s ‘’town historian”.
A week later I was sitting in Pearl’s Gananoque sun porch and looking at the most amazing pile of books, papers and manuscripts – all about the Thousand Islands. Pearl and I had an exciting day – with her showing me the material and I asking the questions. Who was Frank Eames? When did he have time to do all of this writing? Where is the material now? … The list of questions was long.
It was almost Labor Day, 1975, and we had to move back to Montreal for the school year. Over the winter I corresponded with Pearl and she kindly sent an envelope full of notes about her father. When spring came we arrived back at the River to find a large ‘For Sale’ sign on her front lawn. I called the real estate agent and learned that Pearl had suffered a severe stroke, was in hospital, and her family was selling the house and contents.
I gave my name and phone number saying I would be interested in purchasing as much of the library as possible. The next day I met a family member and we settled on a price for the wooden box filled with papers. (The books were sent to the Gananoque Library and they have “minded” them since). Throughout that summer I read the material and was moved by the notes I found tucked into many envelopes: “Mrs. Smith you will be interested in this..” “Material is meant for S. Smith to use in her book”… I knew then that Pearl wanted me to have many more pieces of history. I am honoured to have the material and to help preserve the memory of her father, Frank Eames.
I only have a couple of photographs of Frank and Libby Eames but I have a number of finely written notes with the family’s history.
Frank Eames was born in Chichester, Sussex England - January 29th, 1870,. He attended Binstead’s Boarding School – a girl’s school - where he was asked to join the choir as an Alto. “I assisted a Miss Penfold, one of Mrs. Binstead’s teachers and when the school moved to Selsey I was asked to go there and I took class for pay thus receiving some advanced education.”
In 1889 Frank came to Canada on the sailing ship “Lake Ontario” of the Beaver Line. Upon arriving in Kingston he was met by his uncle Charles Wolfe and joined the “Army Service”. His uncle, also in the service, was stationed on Cedar Island in the Cathcart Tower.
In 1890 Frank met his wife, Margaret Elizabeth (Libby) Stone Wood, and they married. By that time Frank had also been stationed to caring for the Cathcart Tower. In fact, Pearl, their first child was born a year later on the island. It was then that Frank and his wife decided that the harsh life of living on the island in the winter was far too difficult for the young family.
By 1893 he moved his family to the Adirondack Region where he worked in the lumber and railroad industries. It was there that he became intrigued with the Iroquoian language and spent many hours writing about the native Americans he lived with and worked beside. In 1898 he returned to his wife’s home in Gananoque and began working in a local mill.
His working career was, like his writing…. Was Eclectic!. I learned from his notes that in: “1903 studied the Technology of the Electrodepositing of metals with the International Correspondence School.”
He became an “Electroplater and Galvanizer”. He served as Gananoque’s Tax Collector and was appointed Justice of the Peace. In summer of 1916, he and his son-in-law, Bert Davis were the proprietors of the Tremont Island Hotel. These WWI war years would not have been an easy time to attract tourists to the region.
From 1930 – 1950 he and his wife were the caretakers and lived year-round on Forsyth Island, near Gananoque,while his daughter Pearl and her husband, Bert Davis, lived at the head of Hay Island where they took care of the Lewis family’s property (Now the Russell compound) Many of the notes found in the wooden trunk were from Frank to Pearl letting her know that all was well.
It was his list of memberships, and writings, that take prominence in his many notebooks - Pearl recorded over 100 major works including published books, monographs, journals, and material submitted to major museums and university libraries. He also recorded his memberships in historical associations and learned societies.
He often wrote poetry or fiction under pseudonyms. The Gananoque Reporter became a partner by devoting several full-page spreads with his historical writings. The Reporter also printed several of his monographs. After each publication he would send complimentary copies to university and libraries in major cities in Canada and the United States.
One of his greatest joys was finding reference materials. Many of his purchases were from The Old Author’s Farm, a book shop in Morrisburg, Ontario. Eames was not wealthy so each purchase was treasured. His books were covered with cellophane and to the dismay of university libraries, he freely annotated in each one. He and Pearl also clipped newspapers and kept scrapbooks with historical material. As paper and writing supplies were costly, many notes were written on envelopes, flyers and any piece of mail that came to their island homes. In total there were more than 300 books in his library inventory.
Not being officially associated with the academic world, Frank Eames would be called an “amateur historian” which is why his role is not well recognized. Some of his writings are difficult to read, often using ornate language, but the material is like gold. Even today as I read through my Eames Collection, I am touched by his philosophy, his passion for life-long learning and his true dedication to recording our Thousand Islands history.
Thank you sir for your hard work and thank you Pearl for preserving these treasures. Thank you very much.
By Susan W. Smith, email@example.com
Over the winter, the Eames material will be shared in TI Life under the section: THE PLACE: History.