Saturday 22 October 2011

Prince Edward County Book Culture

Glenora Ferry Crossing on a Fall afternoon
This week I took a trip down to Prince Edward County, a beautiful peninsula located at the eastern end of Lake Ontario on the Bay of Quinte.  This area was first settled about 2000 years ago by the Point Peninsula Complex peoples, and then more recently in 1792 by European-Canadians, mostly United Empire Loyalists escaping the American Revolution.  It is a region rich in history, art, vineyards, as well as libraries and book culture.

Just across the Glenora Ferry crossing lies the town of Picton, which is currently home to a fascinating and rapidly growing project known as the Archives and Collections Society.  Founded 12 years ago in the old post office on the Main St., and dedicated primarily to maritime history and preservation,  marine research, and nautical education, this non-profit foundation boasts a collection of over a quarter million books, documents, images, charts, magazines, journals, and ship plans.  It is a collection perhaps unlike any other in the country, and it is well worth the visit whether you're just generally interested in the subject or a serious naval scholar.  The curators and librarians are friendly, knowledgeable, and helpful to all visitors, and no matter what you might be looking for, it is very likely they will have it.

Archives and Collections Society main floor
Just across the street from the Archives and Collections Society is Picton's Public Library, which also happens to be 1 of the 111 Carnegie Libraries that were built in Ontario between 1903 and 1922.  Built in 1906 for a mere $12,000, it has avoided the fate of some of the other Carnegie libraries and continues to serve its community today.  I've always liked the front entrance of this building, it somehow reminds me of every classic library I've ever seen illustrated in every book and movie.  I must admit I wouldn't mind the front of my house looking like this.

Picton also has its fair share of book stores, and I took a bit of time to wander through one of my favourite stops, Books & Company.  This great little destination combines new and used books with music and a well stocked cafe.  I never leave this place without buying something, and this time I picked up two great volumes - a memoir by James W. Gerard who served as America's ambassador to Germany during the First World War, and an evocative Cold War essay by Canada's Lieutenant General E.L.M. Burns who served as the commander of the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) during the Suez Crisis.  Both were very fairly priced and I was pleased to get them for my collection.

Picton's Carnegie  Public Library
The county also seems to be home to a rather prolific community of local authors and publishers.  For example, the venerable Museum Restoration Service has published high quality research on antique arms from its Bloomfield office for over 40 years, and is considered one of the most respected authorities on the subject in the world.  As well, there is a host of authors here writing both history and fiction, offering readers much to choose from whatever their interests might be.

One could easily spend a few days wandering through the county pursuing its extensive book culture, but unfortunately this time I was only on a day trip.  Still, I made a few notes of places I missed this time, and will be sure to get to them on the next ferry trip across the Bay of Quinte.

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