Toronto history buff finds “incredible world” in negatives from an envelope marked ‘Petrolia’
When Brian MacFarlane of Toronto picked up an envelope of negatives he was curious to find out “what an incredible world there is inside.”
MacFarlane – a long-time volunteer with the Scarborough Archives – went to the Old Book and Paper Show in Toronto recently and found a vendor selling a few envelopes of old black and white negatives inexpensively. He bought them out of curiosity. “When I picked up the negatives besides being inexpensive I also saw that there was potentially a greater value, but nothing to do with money.”
Among the negatives was an envelope marked Petrolia. MacFarlane began pulling out the negatives and looking at photo after photo of young people in a downtown setting.
“A lot of history is mystery and I love that the negatives provide a good puzzle. In the past the cost of photography was prohibitive making it a hobby for just a few,” he tells The Independent.
But he needed help to fully understand the mystery. So he went to social media to find some history groups in Petrolia.
MacFarlane got to work creating images he could share using what he calls a “simple and crude way” – putting the negatives on a light table and then taking a photo with his iPad. “This method does not provide the best quality photos but rather gives some sense of what the negatives contain.”
And some of the people photographed have been identified. The young woman seen in many photos is Dorothy Allred. MacFarlane believes the images may have been taken by a friend.
In one, she pushes a butter churn down what is now Petrolia Line to the local creamery. In another, she’s at the White Rose Gas Station at the corner of Petrolia Line and Princess St. In another, she and a friend appear to be posing on a balcony at Fairbank House.
“I hope that more can be identified as they provide an opportunity for people to have a snapshot of the past and for some to catch a glimpse of townsfolk or a family member in their youth or old age from eighty and more years ago,” says MacFarlane.
The historian is pleased his find has created so much interest in Petrolia. And it has sparked an interest in him to learn more about the town.
“I hope to one day be able to visit the town (to answer) the question of who took the photos, the outside of the envelopes were simply marked ‘Petrolia.’”
You can find more the the photos here https://www.facebook.com/groups/lostlambtonfound