Old photos bring new life to Petrolia streetscapes

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Petrolia has become one of the first Lambton County communities to bring history alive on a new social media site.

Historypin allows viewers to find old photos and put them in context of the current streetscape of the city. It is used around the world and now Petrolia has a presence there thanks to Petrolia Heritage and the Lambton County Archives. Dave Hext and Lambton County Archivist Heather LaVallee worked together on the project.

So far, there are eight photos of Petrolia on the site. Petrolia Heritage took on the project and unveiled it to people at the Hillsdale Cemetery tour touting it as a walking tour which could be found on their smartphones.

Hext says the most interesting photo he has found is the former Iroquois Hotel. “It was where Shoppers’ Drug Mart is now. It was a 50-room hotel with luxury suites. When you think of that, it is hard to fathom the money involved. People lived there.”

Hext and LaVallee are looking for more pictures to add to the mapping system. “History has show a lot of people destroy or throw out old pictures but the old pictures of them at two or three is important because of what is in the background; the houses, the streetscapes and store fronts,” says Hext.

But LaVallee says some people are reluctant to give up their family photos. “It is their own personal family history and they want to have access to it.” Hext says he can help ease concern of losing a family photo by coming to your home and scanning them so they never leave your possession.

While he scans, LaVallee says often the story behind the photo is revealed. “The important thing is to share the photo…and share the story behind it as well. Sharing the photo is great but without the story behind it…you don’t have the context,” she says.

And that is also what she likes about the Historypin project. “The public can see the photo and ad to the history of the story,” says LaVallee.

While Hext is collecting more photos of Petrolia, Lambton County would also expand the project into other communities including Inwood, Alvinston and Brigden in the future.

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