Textbooks open window to Central Lambton’s past

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Charlie Fairbank with Nicole Aszalos

The Independent

Charlie Fairbank is giving Lambton County a glimpse of life in schools when the Oil Heritage District came to life.

The Oil Springs man has donated Ontario and Canadian textbooks that have publishing dates as early as 1887. He found them in his family’s collection of hundreds of books which he is currently sorting through.

“Literature needs to be preserved,” said Fairbank when turning them over to the Lambton County Archives. “These textbooks speak of the shared experience because all students had the same textbooks.”

Many of the books have the names of generations of Fairbanks. John Henry, Charlie’s great-grandfather, was a founder of Petrolia arriving one year before it became a village in 1865.

Some of the textbooks underline how much attitudes have changed over the years. One 1928 Canadian history book speaks of Indigenous people in terms which are considered derogatory today. The same textbook talks in patriotic terms about Canada’s progress made during World War One.

Among the tomes is a 1934 textbook for Canadian agricultural high schools.
Fairbank says not only has the content of the books changed, their prices have as well with a 1910 Ontario reader priced at nine cents. By 1924, an Ontario reader had jumped to 14 cents.

Officials at the Lambton Archives were happy to receive the collection. “Often in older textbooks, we see signatures of names, doodles or notes that share more insight about the children who used them,” says Nicole Aszalos, supervisor at the archives.

“It’s a fascinating glimpse to the past,” Aszalos says.