Terrible, yet too fascinating to look away

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Disasters are so terrible and yet, so fascinating. Many people think the 1970s were the start of disaster movies as so many are still remembered: the Towering Inferno; the Poseidon Adventure; Airport and Earthquake. But mankind’s fascination with any kind of disasters goes back much further than that. In fact the first disaster film made was a silent movie called Fire! in 1901 and a movie about the Titanic in 1912!

But here in Tilsonburg, we can go back further than that. Granted the medium for the stories was not moving pictures, instead we used still pictures and newspapers.

Our equivalent to the Towering Inferno would have been the Block Inferno in 1903 when every building but one burned up, in the full block radius of Broadway (east side) from Brock E., to Ridout E., to Harvey and to Brock E back to Broadway. The only building that didn’t go was today’s Escapes on Broadway and Brock E. That was a mega disaster for a little town.

Tillsonburg has had its share of disasters, everything from epidemics of Typhus, Diphtheria, and smallpox to floods which emptied two of our lakes and divided our town into two inaccessible parts!

That was when Lake Lisgar and Lake Joseph burst their dams in the spring 1937. You didn’t know about Lake Joseph? Well, the Otter Creek was damned up by the Tillsons to run their milling empire. Remains of E.D. Tillson’s Imperial Dam can still be seen today as you come down Graveyard Hill, on Simcoe St., in the ravine very close to the HWY 19 south cut off. When that dam went so too did the bridge and everything down to Pt. Burwell!

Tillsonburg has even had a plane wreck and a couple of train wrecks! I must admit, I don’t think we have had the equivalent to the Poseidon Adventure. Even when we had the two lakes, I don’t recall any terrible big boating accidents, although know there were more than a few drownings in the lakes over the centuries.

I don’t think we ever had an earthquake, tornado or hurricane.

Fortunately none of our disasters have been ‘the big one.’ None were on the scale of the disaster movies, but for a small town, they were perhaps equivalently disastrous. You can learn all about our fires and floods, train and plane wrecks and other disasters in Tillsonburg at the Tillsonburg Library, January 16th at 7 p.m. I will be presenting, Fires and Floods, Disasters of Tillsonburg, in a power point presentation with mega pictures.

It is actually part one of three in a series I am doing for the library that do not require registration. The second is Tombstone Tales: Four Families in the Pioneer Graveyard on Feb 20th at 7 p.m.

For so many decades the names of 90% of the people buried in our old graveyard have been lost. Who were the people who settled in and around our town over 133 years ago? Were they all ‘just farmers?’ What did they do and how did they die? Of the 110 tombstones (or pieces of tombstones) I will bring you the stories of four families.

Like Frank Hopkins, killed in a pre-election riot and the Rutherford Family, members of whom were known to the rich and famous in England, toured the Caribbean in the early 1800s with a theatrical group and came to Canada, where several drowned and one pioneered the land our soccer club is on.

The third in the series is on March 13th, also at 7 p.m. on a topic loved by most: pirates. Harr Matey, Here There Be Pirates be a tall tale of those rascally rogues who sailed the high seas! Did ye know there be pirates from the dawn of time? Where there be water… there be pirates. Ye scallywags may have heard of some of these dastardly killers, like Blackbeard and Calico Jack, but be ye aware of the lady pirates? Harr… they sent many man to feed the fish and were feared by those that lived!

Now pirates be scurvy dogs, murderers and thieves, what plunder and pillage, where ‘er they be. So why does we like ‘em? Tell me not that ye don’t for I have seen ye sigh before the names of some, like Captain Blood and Captain Jack Sparrow. But remember, there be also bilge rats like Barbarossa and Captain Hook!

Avast! Be ye a youngin, sea dog or old salt, it would be time to haul up your anchor and trim yer sails, over to the library. Throw on your pirate togs and perchance afterward, some might even go to splice the main brace! If ye have any questions ye can call the library at 519-842-5571 or visit its website:




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