Share Your Family Story – South Frontenac Museum

Published by Iris Russak

The most recent stop on our Tour of Kingston Museums was the South Frontenac Museum in Hartington. For those of you not familiar with the location, you will find the museum next to the Hartington branch of the public library on Road 38, just up from Harrowsmith. It is a short 20 minute drive up from Gardiners Road – taking you from big box shopping straight into the countryside of South Frontenac Township – the former Portland Township.


Not being from Kingston (or even Canada) myself, I learned that before the most recent amalgamation of townships in 1998, Frontenac County was comprised of eighteen townships, of which Portland Township was one. ‘From all the evidence, settlement in Portland was a generation later than the water townships, and very slow. By 1819 there were only … a total population of 99. Land records suggest only 11 lots were settled. To attract settlers, land had been given away up to 1826, mostly to citizens of the United States who were willing to swear allegiance to the Crown.’


I found very useful information in the KFPL Kingston Digital Archives and above cited information comes from the wonderful book ‘Portland – My Home’ by William J. Patterson, which is available at the museum, through Amazon and there is also a copy available at the Kingston Frontenac Public Library.

The move to conserve South Frontenac history sprang up originally in Verona by 7 founding members, 3 of them are still in involved in museums today. The Portland District and Area Heritage Society has been formed roughly 15 years ago to preserve local history and through fund raising has been able to move the South Frontenac Museum into it’s current space in 2016. It is located in the former Hartington School House, built in 1903. Members rallied to conserve the rapidly decaying building and with the support of local tradespeople, were able to update it to it’s current condition.

One of many wonderful family quilts on display
Credit: Susanna Gordon

The museum displays an estimated 1000 artifacts. I was impressed by the generous donation of a large number of wonderful, handmade family quilts. Family heirlooms, photographs, books, everyday objects in the collection have been donated over the years by local families.

There are also many farm and trade tools as well as several artifacts dedicated to local members of the 146th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, the army raised by Canada for service overseas in the First World War. It was based in Kingston and began recruiting in late 1915 in Kingston and the surrounding districts. There is an ongoing history project based locally out of Verona regarding WWI and this battalion.

The unique experience at the South Frontenac Museum is the fact that all artifacts have been donated by residents of South Frontenac Township. Local families have stayed true to the area for many generations, younger people who leave to pursue professional opportunities elsewhere often return to raise their children here. This is an area where the group of volunteers currently looking after the museum would like to grow. It will be a wonderful opportunity to learn more of these families – the Asselstines, Trousdales, Orsers, Meeks, Leonards, Martins and others are all welcome to share their histories with volunteers of the Historic Society! This will contribute wonderfully to the artifacts that are on display.

In order to proceed with this project, an ‘Oral History Workshop’ was be offered on June 12, 2018 at the Community Room at the Sydenham Library. The workshop was presented by Laura Murray, an English professor at Queen’s University, who has led Oral History collection for several other local projects and is also working with the Schools Museum in Barriefield. This workshop was directed to the people who will do the collection, rather than those providing the oral histories.

Apart from possibilities for sharing family history that contributes to painting a picture of local history, there are many other exciting opportunities coming up to share skills and strengths with the South Frontenac Museum. The museum is ready to embark on a quest to count, sort, photograph, organize and catalog the artifacts they have in their collection. This will include transcribing some of the archival documents, improving the on-line presence, developing more exhibits, increasing the collection of relevant artifacts as well as acquiring and sharing greater curatorial skill within the group of volunteers. No skill or contribution is too small – many daunting jobs can be broken down into smaller tasks that are not as intimidating.


Regular hours until Labour day are Mon, Wed & Sat 1-4. A good opportunity to see where you can lend your support in growing and organizing a wonderful collection of local history!

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