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It’s More Than Meets the Eye: Photo Manipulation and Other Phenomena

Have you ever wondered how people edited photographs historically? Our archives technician walks us through the fascinating history of photo manipulation! 

By Megan Lockhart, Archives Technician

Did you know? Photograph manipulation is technically not something new. We are in a day and age where we have to be very careful about what we read and see on the internet. Often, the information we are presented with is not 100% factual, despite sometimes being presented as such. When discussing modern photo manipulation, we are often referring to digital images being altered using photo editing software, such as “Photoshop”. We commonly refer to these edited images as being “photoshopped”. Nowadays, edited images are all around us, in advertisements, on television, in the printed and online material we read, and, perhaps the most deceptive of all, on social media. Many people use social media to present images that portray a certain ideal about their lives or the way they look, which goes much further now than just applying a “filter” to the images.

While digital image editing has really taken off in the 21st century, the manipulation of physical photographs is not a recent concept. Not very long after the invention of photography, people began finding ways to change how photographs looked. Historically, without the availability of computers and editing software, photographers would use innovative methods to alter their photos including the layering of negatives, marking up negatives using tools, purposefully damaging negatives, and using double exposure, among many other methods. We have several examples of altered photographs in our collection at the archives from massive produce being featured in photos to historical images appearing to be in colour.

One of the more commonly seen types of manipulated images we have in our holdings is “tall-tale postcards”. These postcards feature gigantic pieces of fruit or vegetables, and sometimes giant farm animals or fish. These novelty postcards became popular around the beginning of the 1900s and continued to be popular for several decades. They were used to promote rural communities and were a representation of the concept of “agricultural abundance” prevalent in the United States at the time. Photographers who created these postcards would take two prints, one for the background and another featuring a close-up of the subject matter that was going to be “enlarged”, and combine them. The close-up images would be cut out and laid over the top of the background image. The photographer would then capture the combination with a camera to create the final image. While these postcards were first produced in the U.S., the Canadian Postcard Company in Toronto, Ontario, began producing their own as well by the 1910s.

A postcard image of giant cucumber on a broken wagon with a man standing beside it. The caption reads "our cucumbers grow big".

A postcard produced by the Canadian Postcard Company in Toronto, Ontario, 1910. Caption reads: "Our cucumbers grow big".


Historically, photographs were largely produced in black and white for many years after the invention of photography. While there are examples of some processes for colour photography taking place fairly early on, it was not a commonly used process until the 1970s. But this did not stop people from finding ways to add colour to their photos. We have several examples of colourized photographs in our collections. These photos were originally black and white, with colour added to them later. Hand-coloured photographs were popular from the mid-to-late-1800s. Artists would apply watercolour paint, oil paint, dye, ink, crayon, or pastels over black and white photographs to add colour to the image and create the illusion that the photo was printed in colour. This can especially be seen with photographs taken at night, as cameras historically did not have the same flash capabilities as modern digital cameras, so photos taken at night were often much too dark. Artists would often paint over these images to define outlines and add colour and the illusion of light. One such example can be seen in a postcard below featuring the Oxford County Gaol at night.

A colourized postcard of the Oxford County Gaol at night.

A colourized postcard featuring the former Oxford County Gaol (jail) at night. [PC 64]


Postcard of a little girl holding a basket of Easter eggs. The image is colourized. The girl is wearing a mint green dress with a peach coloured ribbon.

A colourized Easter greeting card, circa the early 1900s. [COA65 24.20]


Sadly, photo manipulation was also used to scam people out of money. One infamous example in the 1860s in Boston, Massachusetts, was William Mumler, a self-proclaimed “spirit photographer” who claimed to take photographs of “ghosts” with living people who paid for her services. Mumler would have the patron pose in his studio, take their photo, and produce an image with a ghostly apparition behind or beside them. Mumler claimed that he was able to do this as his “psychic medium” powers worked through his camera. Many grieving people paid for these photos as a means to find closure or feel assured that the loved ones they had lost were happy and safe in the afterlife. Mumler was eventually arrested and charged with fraud in New York; however, the jury was not convinced by the evidence presented against him and he was acquitted. There were spirit photographers in other countries as well, such as England and France, during the mid-1800s. While we do not have any of the infamous “spirit photographs” in our holdings, we do have a number of images that appear to include strange apparitions, due to the long exposure time and the movement of subjects in the photo.

A photograph of  a group of people posing with bicycles on the property of the Patteson family in Eastwood, Ontario. One young woman in the photo is standing on the seats of two bicycles.

An example of a person being "blurred" in an old photograph, almost appearing like a ghostly apparition. This photo was taken on the estate of the Patteson family in Eastwood, Ontario. Rose Patteson is standing on the seats of two bicycles, the man on the far right is identified as Dr. Pike. 1891. [COA126 1.12, 1081ph]


Finally, to end my discussion of these “trick” photographs, I thought I would share two examples of tin types featuring some fun examples of photo manipulation.

A manipulated photograph. The head of a man from a photograph is placed on top of a sketch of a man's body in a cart being pulled by a donkey.

  A manipulated tintype photo of a man riding a a pig.

Tribute to Queen Elizabeth II

A short tribute to the life of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. 

By Megan Lockhart, Archives Technician

The Oxford County Archives is saddened to hear the news of Queen Elizabeth II’s passing today at the age of 96 and would like to take a moment to pay tribute to Her Majesty. Queen Elizabeth II was born on April 21, 1926, and succeeded to the throne on February 6, 1952, at the young age of 25, reigning for a total of 70 years, the second longest reign in the world and the longest reigning monarch in British history. Her coronation took place on June 2, 1953. The coronation took place over a year after she ascended to the throne because traditionally holding a festival or celebration such as a coronation was considered disrespectful during the period of mourning for her father, King George VI. It was the first coronation to be broadcast on television.

A coronation portrait of Queen Elizabeth II on the cover of Life Magazine. She is wearing a diamond studded crown, diamond earrings and necklace, and a blue sash. She is dressed in a white, strapless dress with a sweetheart neckline. The top of the dress is lace and the bottom appears to be organza. The dress is ball gown style with a wide skirt.


Before becoming Queen, Princess Elizabeth married her distant cousin Philip Mountbatten on November 20, 1947, at Westminster Abbey in London. They had four children in total, Charles (b. 1948, now the current King), Anne (b. 1950), Andrew (b. 1960), and Edward (b. 1964).

Queen Elizabeth II's reign was known for being long and mostly peaceful. She was the reigning monarch during a significant period of British and world history which saw the decolonization and independence of more than 20 countries that were formerly part of the British Empire. Queen Elizabeth II was also known for her efforts to "modernize" the image of the monarchy and for her investment and earnest interest in politics and government affairs. The Queen had a reputation for loving animals as well, especially Corgis, and owned more than 30 pet Corgis over her lifetime.

During her reign, the Queen made 22 official visits to Canada since 1957. In October of 1951, Princess Elizabeth (before being crowned Queen Elizabeth II), and her husband The Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip, visited Oxford County by train and made a stop at the C.N.R. station in Woodstock, Ontario, on October 14. Mayor Fred Childs greeted the royal pair, and Princess Elizabeth made an unscheduled walk along a group of over 7,000 school children. The royal train also slowed down while passing through Ingersoll, Ontario, which provided spectators with an opportunity to wave at and see the princess.

Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip standing on the back of a train during their visit to Woodstock, Ontario in 1951. Elizabeth is wearing a hat and fur coat, Philip is dressed in a suit. A Royal Canadian Mountie is standing in the foreground.

Oxford County Photograph Collection. Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip at the C.N.R. Station, Woodstock - October 1951. [767ph]

    A crowd of school children stand in waiting to greet Queen Elizabeth in Ingersoll and Woodstock, Ontario. She is walking by the crowd of children in Woodstock with Mayor Fred Childs.

London Free Press, Princess Elizabeth visiting Oxford County, October 1951. The Princess greeted a crowd of school children in Woodstock, Ontario with Mayor Fred Childs. A crowd of children in Ingersoll waited to catch a glimpse of the Princess.

  The front page of the Woodstock Sentinel-Review newspaper, June 2, 1953. "Queen Elizabeth Crowned".

Woodstock Daily Sentinel-Review, “Queen Elizabeth Crowned”, 2 June 1953, front page.


Some people may remember Queen Elizabeth passing through Woodstock, Ontario by car during another Royal visit to Canada in June of 1997. The flags were lowered on September 8, 2022, to half-mast at all Oxford County facilities to observe the death of her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. The flags will remain lowered until the day of the memorial service, which is scheduled for Monday, September 19 at Westminster Abbey.

Early School Acts and Education in the District of Brock

By Liz Dommasch, Archivist

In 1840, the two Canadas (Upper and Lower) were combined into the United Province of Canada. The Common School Act for the United Province of Canada of 1841 was passed shortly thereafter, which created for the first time, a central administrative authority, with the position of chief superintendent of education. This position was appointed by the governor to oversee the operation of elementary education in both sections of the colony. However, “this position was abolished two years later when it became apparent that the historical development of school systems in the Canadas made a single bureaucracy inoperable”. The Act also created non-denominational public schools for Upper Canada that were not oriented toward any particular religion, as well as a compulsory taxation system that introduced the levy of school taxes.

The 1841 legislation also stipulated that local property assessments should match the contributions of the colonial government, while the responsibility for raising these funds was removed from locally elected trustees and given to the elected township Board of Commissioners. In the District of Brock, the new school act was met with overall support, with many inhabitants presenting petitions to the District Council recommending that measures deemed necessary be adopted to carry out the new law, although many were quick to point out that the Law was somewhat obscure in some of its details. In the Township of Zorra, a number of the inhabitants felt that the new School Act would bring oppression and discontent and requested an amendment to protect the education of orphans and the poor, as outlined in the old school system of Upper Canada. Likewise, in the Township of East Oxford, a number of petitioners stated that they professed a religious faith differing from the majority of the Township and therefore wished to establish and maintain a common school at Eastwood while dissenting from the proceedings of the School Commissioners.

The absence of a well-developed government at the municipal level led to the repeal of the 1841 School Act in 1843 which reinstated locally elected trustees who were responsible for maintaining the schoolhouse in their section, calculating and collecting the school rate, hiring teachers, selecting textbooks and overseeing the courses of study. In addition, the position of county and district superintendents was created with the responsibility of examining and certifying all prospective teachers falling within their jurisdiction. Moreover, they were required to make annual visits to each school and submit annual reports to the colonial superintendent.

An 1842 handwritten Petition regarding a new School Act from teachers of the Brock District.

Petition of the undersigned teachers of the District of Brock re. adopting measures for carrying out the new school law as a "way to remove the evils heretofore existing and to advance the interests of education throughout the country." – 11 May 1842. [RG1 Series 6D #1.2]


In 1846 the Common School Act was passed which designated schools for teacher training and designated a superintendent for each school district who would be responsible for examining schools on an annual basis and ensuring that they met the standards for the federal grants they would be receiving. The way in which school trustees were to be elected was also detailed. It also levied a rate bill or a school tax on the parents of all children of school age. In addition, the Act recommended a series of approved textbooks and included a clause that assured “protection of children” from being required to participate in any lesson or exercise of a religious orientation that the parents found objectionable.

A handwritten 1848 Burford Petition regarding levying tax for purpose of erecting a schoolhouse.

Petition of the undersigned in School Section No. 3 of Burford re. not being able to collect the amount necessary for the erection of a schoolhouse and requesting a levy on the inhabitants for such purposes. – 4 January 1848. [RG1 Series 6D #7.1]


Throughout this time period, in the District of Brock, new School Sections and Union School Sections were formed throughout the Townships based on population and demand in each area. Ideally, it was desired to have schoolhouses built in the centre of each school section, though oftentimes this led to discontent from inhabitants that lived too far (sometimes being a distance of 3 to 5 miles) from the schoolhouse to make it advantageous for their children to attend. In these instances, many petitioned to either to be annexed to another closer school section or asked that their school section either be divided or combined with another section to form a Union School. Within these school sections, the inhabitants sometimes provided voluntary contributions for the purposes of erecting and furnishing a school house, though often times District Council was petitioned to levy a tax on the inhabitants to raise the necessary funds. Similarly, money was required to be raised in order to pay a portion of the teacher’s salary and this too was done through the levying of taxes. In some instances, a teacher was not paid, as required by the Trustees, and they too would petition the District Council for payment of their wages. For example, in 1846, the Superintendent refused to pay the order of the Trustees of Blandford School District No. 2 for payment of teacher, Joshua Hardy’s wages, which led to him petitioning Council to look into the matter. In 1849, a strange case occurred where the Trustees of Union School Section No. 3 on the Governors’ Road offered the teacher money for his salary, which he refused. He subsequently ended up having them prosecuted in the Court of Queen’s Bench for payment of his wages, amounting to seven pounds, seventeen shillings, and sixpence. The trustees, in turn, petitioned Council to levy a tax on the inhabitants of the said section, within the Township of Nissouri, in order to raise half the funds for payment.

A handwritten 1845 Petition of teacher Joshua Hardy regarding his salary.

Petition of Joshua L. Hardy re. Superintendent refusing to pay his salary as a teacher. – 7 October 1846. Note: taught in School Districts No. 2 and 3 in East Oxford and School District No. 2 in Blandford. [RG1 Series 6D #5.12]


By the 1850s, a series of acts were passed which created the foundation of the public provincial education system we see today in Ontario. In 1850, the second Common School Act was passed which allowed school tax to be levied on all property, whereas previously the tax was only collected from families with children. The Act also provided for the free admission of all children to schools. In 1871, an Act was passed that made school attendance compulsory for children between the ages of 8 and 14 and changed the name of “common schools” to “public schools”.

Notes: The precursor of the County of Oxford, The District of Brock was established in 1839 and consisted of the Townships of Blandford, Blenheim, Burford, Dereham, Nissouri, Norwich, Oakland, East Oxford, North Oxford, West Oxford, and Zorra. Following the passing of the Baldwin Act, the District of Brock was incorporated into the County of Oxford on January 1, 1850. The Municipality of Nissouri was split, with West Nissouri becoming part of Middlesex County, and in the east, Burford and Oakland Townships were removed to Brant County.

For more information on the history education in Canada please refer to: Young, L., Levin, B., & Wallin, D. (2014). Understanding Canadian schools: An Introduction to Educational Administration (5th ed.). Available at https://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~wallind/understandingcanadianschools5.html

1800s Corporal Punishment in Rural Schools

This week, our archivist delves into the history of corporal punishment in rural schools.

By Liz Dommasch, Archivist

We recently received a transfer of bound newspapers from the Toronto Reference Library which included early editions of the Oxford Star & Woodstock Advertiser (1848-1849) and Woodstock Herald & Brock District General Advertiser (1846-1847). The early newspapers provide an interesting insight into the history of the District of Brock (predecessor to Oxford County) and the international headlines worth printing at the time. Similar to the Woodstock Sentinel-Review newspapers that would print information on crimes and those that committed them, the early newspapers would do the same. On December 8, 1846, the Woodstock Herald printed a Schedule of Return of Convictions as certified by W. Lapenotiere, Clerk of the Peace for the quarter ending the previous month. Along with the typical convictions of trespassing and assault, there was one conviction that stood out. On August 17, 1846, a woman by the name of Charlotte Bodwell was charged by Robert McCue with cruelty to a child (in this case, his) in her capacity as a school teacher for which she received a fine.

A page from the Woodstock Herald newspaper featuring a Schedule of Return of Convictions.

A Schedule of Return of Convictions printed in the "Woodstock Herald" newspaper, 8 December 1846. [COA175 Woodstock Herald and Oxford Star fonds]


Searching through the newspaper further and the District of Brock records at the Archives there is no further mention of the incident, though it is interesting to imagine what occurred. Punishment in schools was quite common during the 19th Century as it was believed to help restore order, discipline the body and motivate the mind and could be inflicted on a student for a variety of reasons, such as misbehaving, rudeness, laziness, lying, and missing school without a good reason.

One of the most popular tools used for punishment was a cane made of birch wood. Boys were typically caned on their backsides whereas girls would be caned on their legs or hands. Although the teacher would usually dole out such a punishment, he or she would sometimes select an older student to cane a younger one. The theological doctrine of the time of “spare the rod” offered a power validation for such physical discipline not only at school but at home as well.

Another popular form of punishment was that of the dunce cap. Usually made of newspaper, a student would be forced to sit in a corner of the classroom, wearing the so-called cap for a period of time deemed by the teacher. The dunce cap was used mostly to humiliate "class clowns", slow learners, or any other child causing a ruckus or not paying attention and would continue to be used as a form of discipline well into the 21st century. Other forms of punishment used at the time included assigning a student “lines” to write on the chalkboard or forcing a student to write with their right hand instead of their left if they were left-handed.

An illustration of a young boy wearing a dunce cap with donkey ears and bells attached. A female teacher is holding a boy and appears to be chiding him. A poster above the boy's head reads: "Dunce's Corner: The cap of a fool fits the head of a dunce."

Illustration from a children’s book showing a “dunce” wearing a fool’s cap with a bell and donkey ears. "Nursery Novelties for Little Masters and Misses", 1820


Although we do not know what crime Charlotte committed, we know from the records we do have that she taught in Dereham Township in School District No. 13 and was considered a duly qualified teacher according to the report made by the Trustees for 1846. Whatever occurred did not warrant her dismissal and, in fact, she continued to be employed by the School District until her wedding in 1848.

A School Trustees Report including names of parents and how many children they have. Names include: Wesley Stover, Roswell Rement, William Atwood, Dered[?] [Prich?], Robert Meue, James Mitchel, Lewes Jacques, John Gregg, George Mahood.

School Trustees Report including the names of parents and the number of children they have, 1 January 1847


At the time, Charlotte taught 29 students (33 children in total in the district), in a one-room schoolhouse, ranging in age from five to sixteen years. Many were siblings and came from well-known local families. Charlotte would have been required to not only organize lessons in reading, writing, arithmetic, spelling, and geography for a variety of ages and abilities; but would have been responsible for cleaning the building and ensuring the wood stove remained lit, amongst other duties. It’s also possible that Charlotte hadn’t received professional teacher training (Normal Schools for training teachers did not open until the late 1840s and early 1850s in large urban centres) and would have relied on a combination of high school work and a couple of months of basic training to prepare her for life in the classroom.

Charlotte Matilda Bodwell was born in Mt. Elgin in 1825 to James Bodwell Jr. and Abigail (nee) Vining. One of ten children, Charlotte, as well as her younger brother Ebenezer, were employed for some time as teachers in Dereham Township. In 1848, she married Wright Barker and moved to a farm outside Tillsonburg. She would pass away in Tillsonburg on January 25, 1906.

A receipt for Charlotte Bodwell's pay. Reads: "Received from London Superintendent of Common Schools for the District of Brock, the sum of four pounds, seventeen shillings and six pence currency in payment of and order on him by the Trustees of Schools section No. 9 in the Township of Dereham in my favour. Dated the first day of December 1847 and paid this tenth day of December 1847. Signed Charlotte M. Bodwell."

A receipt for the salary payment of Charlotte Bodwell, December 1847.

Surviving the American Civil War & A Smallpox Epidemic: The Remarkable Life of Dr. Henry Adams of Embro

A biography on Dr. Henry Adams of Embro, who survived both fighting in the American Civil War, and a smallpox epidemic in East and West Zorra.

By Liz Dommasch, ArchivistA black and white portrait of Dr. Henry Adams, his face is covered in a thick beard and he is wearing a suit,

Born on Prince Edward Island on May 25, 1835, Dr. Adams would later move to Port Hope, Ontario, with his family, where they resided for five years. From there, the family went to Huron County where his father was employed as a minister.

Dr. Adams graduated with a degree in medicine from the University of Pennsylvania and served in the American Civil War as a physician. Unfortunately, nothing is known of his military career, including which side he served on, though the assumption would be that he signed up in Pennsylvania and thus served with the Union Army.

Following the war, Dr. Adams settled in Embro, Ontario where he became an early prominent citizen in the village. He not only served as the local doctor but also owned one of the village’s two newspapers: “The Planet”, which would later become the “Embro Courier”. He was also credited with having inaugurated the Embro apple evaporator while operating a vinegar factory in the village and held controlling interest in the Karn Piano and Organ Company in Woodstock. Similarly, he was also a heavy stockholder in a bicycle business and afterward an automobile business, both being located in Woodstock. He also owned a 400-acre farm near Woodstock, as well as another farm in the Chatham District, and operated a drug store in the front of his building on Commissioners Street.

During his tenure as a doctor, he is credited with almost single-handedly fighting an epidemic of smallpox that was raging through East and West Zorra during the late 1800s. In doing so, he acted as not only a doctor but also nurse and undertaker, as it is said that he hauled caskets to the Embro log cemetery using chains attached to his wagon. In an interview with the “Woodstock Sentinel-Review”, dated November 21, 1930, Dr. Adam recalls the fact that he was shunned for a long period during the outbreak as many were afraid of catching the disease. In a further article printed following his death, the newspaper noted that when vaccination became a method of prevention, Dr. Adams was quite furious with the reluctance of people to be treated.

Dr. Adams was also heavily involved in local politics. He served on Embro Council and acted as Reeve in 1880, 1881, and 1896. He served for many years as the Medical Health Officer for both Embro and the Township of West Zorra and was eventually removed from the role by the Village Council in 1924, due to his advanced age (90 years).

A bylaw, number 400, for the village of Embro, removing Dr. Henry Adams from his role as Medical Health Officer due to his advanced age.

Embro By-law No. 400 re. removing Dr. Adams as Medical Officer of Health due to his advanced age. – 10 March 1894.


On the social front, he is credited with having brought to Embro the Masonic and Oddfellows Lodges, was active in the sporting affairs of the community, and even took part in amateur theatre, taking the part of Mordecai in the play “Queen Esther” which was said to be a phenomenal success.

Dr. Henry Adams passed away on May 22, 1933, at the age of 98, at his daughter’s home in Toronto. He is buried in Embro.

A portrait of Dr. Henry Adams from the newspaper.

Dr. Henry Adams. "Woodstock Sentinel-Review". – 21 November 1930.

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Welcome! Our blog provides a perspective on the Oxford County Archives beyond the vault and delves into the fascinating stories found within our collection. Get to know our staff, discover what we do at the archives and learn more about Oxford County's cultural heritage. Updates on our services, programs and events will also be shared right here on this blog! 

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