Faith

I will start with the disclaimer that I was raised an atheist. I have faith, in my own way, and a set of guiding principles by which to live, similar to the religious guideline of ‘do unto others’. But I do not believe.

I’m fairly certain. I remember being six or seven and having a conversation with my mother, who is herself rather anti-theist, and essentially told me to figure it out for myself. I remember a half-hour session of philosophical introversion after which I had conclusively decided that God does not exist.

That said I have always been stunned by faith. Not always in a positive way, but always with a sense of wonder at how something that means so little to me could mean so much to another human being.

I was given an assignment to create a short documentary about someone working in the area. I started with a list of people whose professions I might find interesting. A nurse, an undertaker, a tattoo artist. Then I suddenly had an idea: find a church leader. It could have been the idea of being inside a church. As a woman of Jewish ancestry growing up in Canada, churches have always been an inaccessible mystery.

The first time I spoke to Rev. Miriam Uhrstrom of the Victoria Avenue Baptist Church was on the phone. She sounded pleasant and enthusiastic and invited me to lunch. “The women’s group meets Tuesday at ten, and we have lunch. You should come!” Meals are a very important part of the community because they bring people together, make them feel like a family. Every time I visited the church a meal was served in the lower level, always prepared by the people in attendance, and cleared away by them, too.

I have an interest in the lives of women who work in a predominantly male profession. They are feminists to me. Not activists, just women who don’t allow their gender to get in the way of their lives. I told Rev. Uhrstrom this and she looked uncomfortable. “I’m not a feminist,” she refuted. Funny, that label holds so much stigma.

It seems Rev. Uhrstrom was predestined to become a minister. She comes from a Christian family, her father was a minister. She related to me a moment from her youth looking up at the sky and asking God to show her the way, and that was the moment she decided to lead the life she has. She has wanted to be a musician, a teacher, a leader. All part of her job as head of the congregation at the Victoria Avenue Baptist Church.

It was surprising to meet such an intelligent, pragmatic woman who had dedicated her life to the church. I had attached a certain image of naiveté to religion in general and Christianity in particular. Just as Rev. Uhrstrom had reacted to the label of feminist so had I reacted to the concept of faith. But Rev. Uhrstrom was raised Christian. I was raised atheist.

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Keeping History Alive

Officially designated the Heritage Advisor for the Hastings County Historical Society, Gerry Boyce is consulted by everyone from book researchers to engineers to archaeologists about the history of the county.

On October 1st, 1957 Boyce, newly married and starting a teaching position in Belleville, answered an ad in the Belleville Intelligencer by attending a meeting at City Hall. The woman who wrote the notice, a columnist at the Intelligencer, wanted to start a historical society in Hastings county. Boyce volunteered to handle public relations for the newly formed society. His zeal for history and his connections soon earned him the title of president. Fifty two years later he’s the key to the county’s history.

Orland French, President of the Hastings County Historical Society, calls Boyce “Mr. History.”

“He  is the authority on any history that happened in the Belleville area,” says French, “he’s got a very sharp mind and he knows information. He’s got it all sorted out.”

And he does have it all sorted out. Boyce has been director of the archives for the historical society for a long time. Before the archives had an official home, they were kept in a linen closet at Boyce’s old apartment.

The archives have moved around a lot. They got a new home in a registry office on Church Street in Belleville, a building that no longer exists, in 1961 or 62. In 1973 the archives moved to the Glanmore National Historical building but the sheer weight of the books and documents had started to damage the ceiling of the building. In 1983 the archives moved to an empty infirmary and then an empty residence in the Sir James Whitney school for the deaf.

In 1999 the archives began their move to their current location at the old Thurlow town hall just north of Belleville.

” I would call it, until recently, state of the art 19th century. No telephone. The person who does the index cards for our pictures uses a typewriter.” Boyce describes the archives in their current state.

Next year they will move again to their permanent home at the newly purchased archives building on Church Street in Belleville. An archivist is being hired to store and preserve the archives in a more modern fashion. Boyce will be involved in that move as well.

The historical society isn’t the only way Boyce has been keeping history alive. In his thirty two years as a teacher Boyce taught in five high schools. He served as advisor to the board of education where he introduced a course on local history. And students remembered him.

“I got talking to somebody… I mentioned that I was with the historical society and she said, ‘oh, you know Gerry? He was my teacher.’ she really respected him.” French says.

Boyce recalls one of the first things that got him interested in history.

“My uncle in Napanee, back in the 40s, was involved with the Lennox and Addington Historical Society. One day he took me up to see the collections that were stored over top of the library on the main street. I remember going in and here was this neat looking machine gun from WWI, captured from the Germans. And I thought, ‘wow, that’s a neat piece of equipment!'”

Boyce has written several books including Belleville, a Popular History, which came out last year.

A moment of kite flying.

On the set time of May 2nd, 2010 at 11:00am Eastern Standard Time the New York Times photo blog asked people from around the world to make one photograph to submit for a project called A Moment in time.

The concept is not new. The Times’ editors acknowledged this. Their intention was not to invent but simply preserve this piece of history, a time when more people than ever have cameras that can make lasting photos.

Since I had decided to participate in this event, I made sure I was ready to do something interesting when 11:00 rolled around. I found an event north of Toronto at the Kortright Centre for Conservation. The first weekend in May just happened to be the Toronto Kite Flyers’ annual meeting at Kortright.

Almost late, I managed to make it into the field at exactly 10:58 and began to photograph. Most of my photos were generic landscape shots. I had no time to plan and I tripped on my biggest fault, which is getting rushed and forgetting to plan.

At 11:02 I found the photograph I wanted to submit. A young Sheikh boy in an orange turban had decided to separate from the crowd on the kite flying field . He was running up and down a dandelion-covered hill, trying to make his kite fly.

I chatted with the kite flyers and discovered that the core members of the organization were pretty extreme enthusiasts. One pointed to a huge, multicoloured frog that was beginning to float up. “That one’s handmade,” he said flippantly, then waved at the decorated sky around it. “So are those.”