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Historic Sarnia-Lambton photos turn up in Toronto

Published on

Cathy Dobson

A fascinating collection of historic photos taken in Sarnia and Petrolia has fallen into the possession of a Scarborough history buff who wants to know more about them.

Brian MacFarlane was at Toronto’s Old Book and Paper Show in November when he came across a vendor with three unmarked envelopes containing dozens of old negatives.

He was immediately intrigued.

“Negatives are unusual to find at the show. As soon as I saw them, I thought they could be something interesting,” he said.

Since modern viewfinders are too small for historical negatives, MacFarlane used a light table to illuminate the images and took photos of them with his iPad. He calls it an unrefined way to create positive images but it worked well.

“I knew nothing about Petrolia or Sarnia before this and I’ve never been there,” said MacFarlane. “But I’m fascinated by the people and places in these photos and I want to know more about them.”

He estimates the photos were taken between 1920 and 1960.

Families and travellers at the Sarnia train station.

The three envelopes containing about 100 negatives cost him $26, a steal for a man who likes a good mystery. The first envelope was marked “Petrolia” and the only other information suggesting its origin was a sales slip inside from Attic Books on Dundas Street in London.

MacFarlane volunteers at the Scarborough Archives where he accessed school yearbooks from Petrolia to successfully identify Dorothy Aldred posing in one of the photos sometime in the 1940s.

The second envelope contains an older group of negatives probably from the 1920s that MacFarlane believes are of Aldred’s mother and family based on the women’s physical similarities.

An unidentified woman at the Sarnia train station.

Many of the photos are candid shots of daily life, streetscapes and identifiable buildings.
In an attempt to learn more details, he began posting the photos on a Facebook page he randomly discovered called “Lost Lambton, Found!”

The response over the past week has shed a lot of light on the locations and people in the pictures, he said.

This week, he began posting photos from the third envelope that is full of negatives depicting families and travellers at the Sarnia train station, probably from the late 40s or 50s, judging by the clothing. There are also numerous photos of the aftermath of the 1953 tornado that swept through central Sarnia and caused catastrophic damage.

Aftermath of the 1953 tornado that swept through central Sarnia.
Aftermath of the 1953 tornado that swept through central Sarnia and caused catastrophic damage.
Aftermath of the 1953 tornado that swept through central Sarnia and caused catastrophic damage.

Sarnia historian John Rochon says he’s seen many photos taken after the tornado but never these ones.

“These are great photos and it’s wonderful that someone has found them and shared them with the community,” Rochon said.

MacFarlane said he is excited to uncover photographs that were otherwise “buried.”

“You never know where your family photos are going to end up once you’re gone,” he said.
”Ultimately families disappear and then their photos end up in shows or in landfills,” agreed Rochon.

Women strolling through the aftermath of the 1953 tornado in Sarnia.
Women chatting at the Sarnia Train Station.

“My hope is that one day Sarnia will have a museum so these kinds of things will have a home.”

The negatives MacFarlane found have inspired him to visit Sarnia-Lambton one of these days.

“I’d like to find a place where the photos can be left when I’m gone,” he said.
To see many of MacFarlane’s Petrolia and Sarnia photos, visit Lost Lambton, Found! on Facebook.

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