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SUBJECT: SWGC: Corner Brook businessman donates valuable historical documents to Grenfell College
DATE: Feb. 28, 2006

“It wasn’t an easy decision, but it was the right one.”

That’s Corner Brook businessman Andy Thorne’s take on his recent donation of historical material to Ferriss Hodgett Library at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College. Mr. Thorne knew he had a piece of the region’s history in his possession – it was just a matter of letting go.

Among the donated items that Mr. Thorne were the original “Minutes of the Bay of Islands Board of Trade,” dated 1912-1926, and an original copy of the board’s “Constitution and By-Laws,” printed in 1914 by his maternal grandfather, Mr. A.L. Barrett.

Mr. Thorne’s neighbour happens to be Dr. James Greenlee, professor of history at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College. Mr. Thorne suggested that Dr. Greenlee transcribe the documents’ contents for use by his students in local history projects. On viewing the documents, Dr. Greenlee encouraged Mr. Thorne to donate the originals to Ferriss Hodgett Library at Memorial University’s west coast campus, where they would be archived.

“They had special significance to me – the minutes make several mentions of both of my grandfathers, A.L. Barrett and J.T. Thorne,” said Mr. Thorne. “I knew that unless these documents were properly preserved, that this history would be lost forever.

“It was hard to let go of the books because I was concerned as to how the material would be secured. In the end, I realized the documents belonged to the community at large and that the college had the means to preserve the originals and make copies for distribution to interested parties,” he added.

Elizabeth Behrens, senior librarian at Ferriss Hodgett Library, was pleased Mr. Thorne made this decision.

“It is a real treasure for us in terms of primary material, which will be of particular interest to students of historical studies,” she said.

Mr. Thorne added that the material should also be of interest to local, provincial and federal politicians, bureaucrats and business people.

“There are conditions that existed back in the board’s day, that still exist today,” Thorne said, making reference to minute excerpts pertaining to problems with communication, the Gulf ferry service, highways, local community roads, marine transportation links with Canada (a different country at that time) and the ongoing dealings with St. John’s on local issues. “More importantly, the minutes give the reader a glimpse into the past, with an exact record of the lives and times of the people of Corner Brook and surrounding areas.”

In addition to the Chamber of Commerce materials, the library also accepted three books of poetry by Mr. Thorne’s great aunt, Ena Constance Barrett (1893-1967) – a first and second edition of Lilts of Newfoundland (1929 and 1931) and Mayflowers and Roses – A Bouquet of Verse (1946). Mrs. Barrett was born in England and came to Curling, Newfoundland, as a war bride in 1920. Her poetry was inspired by the rugged beauty of the west coast and the people who lived here.

Mr. Thorne also donated a 1952 edition of the Who’s Who of Newfoundland, and the 1912 original edition of The Sinking of the Titanic and Great Sea Disasters.

He encourages everyone to go through their basements and attics to see what historic properties they might find.

“Today, now that Corner Brook is celebrating its 50th anniversary, people have to realize that this area has a much greater history than what is presently known,” he said. “So many estates are settled and valuable items – books, postcards, autograph books, business correspondence – are destroyed or moved from the area, losing their historical significance. All of us should look at recovering our local history.”

While not all items may be accepted by curators, he said, it is important to let the archivist and historians determine what their historical significance may be, with the possibility of having them archived in a secure setting like Ferriss Hodgett Library.

“There must be a wealth of material that people are holding onto as mementos of our forbearers, or the material is just buried in obscurity,” said Mr. Thorne. “I certainly hope that someone else is inspired to look for and make available these local historical items. I like the thought that others now and after I’m gone will have the opportunity to read what I held dear for so long.”

Cutline: Ferriss Hodgett librarian Elizabeth Behrens reviews documents donated by Corner Brook businessman Andy Thorne, right. Photo by Pamela Gill

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