The Bishop Farrell Library & Archives has a collection of old photographs taken in the 19th century and presented in 1867 to Fr. Peter Crinnon who later became Bishop of Hamilton. Many of the subjects are unidentified and the library is reaching out for help. Photos courtesy Bishop Farrell Library & Archives

The people puzzle

By  Dominy Williams, Diocese of Hamilton
  • April 13, 2019

During the year of Canada’s confederation 152 years ago, the seeds of a mystery were planted in the Diocese of Hamilton. Now archivists are trying to solve the puzzle — and they need your help. The story begins with Bishop Peter Crinnon, who served from 1874 to 1882 as the second bishop of Hamilton. A few years ago, a photo album he once owned was found among the remnants of an abandoned library housed in the basement of the Cathedral Basilica of Christ the King.

The album was just one item amid a mess of books and periodicals that were handed over to staff at the Bishop Farrell Library & Archives to sort through. In the end, among all the material, the album was deemed the only item of historical significance. It dates to 1867, as indicated in an inscription on the end page that reads, “Presented to Very Rev. Dean Crinnon, J.A. Kelly, O.S.D. London Sept 1867.”

In disrepair and requiring conservation work, the album was entrusted to the care of an expert conservator, Jennifer Robertson of Book and Paper Conservation Services of London, Ont. The binding and pages were grimy with surface dirt. The leather on the cover was beginning to wear at the corners and edges, in addition to splitting at the joints. The spine was broken and the clasps were tarnished. But most of the photographs were in fair condition with only some chemical deterioration. She returned the album to the diocese repaired and cleaned, with all of the photographs documented in digital format.

The album contains 91 photographs in a format called carte-de-visite, a popular format in the second half of the 19th century that involved adhering photographs to card stock. They were an inexpensive option for portrait photography and were often traded or exchanged as gifts. The popularity of cartede-visite was at its height in the 1860s, the time when the photo album was gifted to Bishop Crinnon.

The album predates his time as the Bishop of the Diocese of Hamilton. It was given to him while he was a priest in the Diocese of London, where he served for 16 years.

The first step in researching the album was to try to identify the individuals in the photographs. There are some immediately recognizable faces, such as Fr. Edward Gordon, the first Vicar General for the Hamilton diocese from 1856 to 1862. Other prominent clergy include Archbishop Ignace Bourget, Bishop of Montreal from 1840 to 1876 and Fr. Jean-Mathieu Soulerin, founding Superior of St. Michael’s College and Superior General of the Basilian Fathers in Canada from 1865 to 1879.

There are political figures such as Sir John A. Macdonald, first prime minister of Canada, and Lord William Ewart Gladstone, four-time prime minister of Great Britain. In addition, royalty is present with the inclusion of Queen Victoria and King Edward VII.

But many figures remain unknown. This is where you come in. To help fill in the blanks, the Bishop Farrell Library & Archives is reaching out for information.

All 91 images are online for review and input. Interested in testing your knowledge of prominent 19th century figures? View the images (bflhamiltondiocese.wordpress.com) and contact the library if you can help solve the mystery of the unidentified figures.

Digging into history with projects like the Bishop Crinnon album is just one small part of what happens at the Bishop Farrell Library & Archives. It celebrates the rich history of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Hamilton by providing a connection to the past, preserving the diocese’s present heritage and creating a foundation for the future.

The first Catholic library in the City of Hamilton was opened in 1858, two years after the establishment of the Diocese of Hamilton. The library was located in the chapel of St. Mary Church. It housed 265 books and was open to individuals in the surrounding area. A diocesan library has continued to exist ever since.

On Sept. 30, 2013, the Feast of St. Jerome, patron saint of libraries, the diocese’s current Library and Archives facility was opened at 698 King St. West on the beautiful grounds of the Cathedral Basilica of Christ the King.

The facility is named for Bishop John Farrell, the first Bishop of the Diocese of Hamilton who served from 1856 to 1873. Bishop Farrell was dedicated to supporting Catholic education. By the end of his tenure, 26 Catholic schools were established in the diocese.

It is in the spirit of Bishop Farrell’s commitment to fostering Catholic knowledge that the Library & Archives works to promote a greater understanding of our faith and history.

The library collection provides easy access to 9,000 items including titles on marriage, scripture, prayer, social awareness and vocations. Materials can be used for parish programming, group sharing, youth ministry and catechesis, or for personal enrichment. An eBook collection provides 24/7 access to resources and can be used by anyone regardless of location. Titles can be searched and borrowed via our website: hamiltondiocesebfl.overdrive.com/.

Getting started is as simple as signing up for a library account. The library is open to all!

The archival records at the Bishop Farrell Library & Archives present a history of the Catholic Church in Ontario and an account of the people in the region. In addition to preserving and providing access to the diocese’s documentary heritage, work in the archives includes researching elements of our past. The probe related to the Bishop Crinnon album is just one of those exciting projects.

The library is also home to a Heritage Edition of The Saint John’s Bible, a hand-written and illuminated work of art. The Saint John’s Bible was commissioned by St. John’s Abbey and University in Collegeville, Minn., in collaboration with renowned British calligrapher Donald Jackson. It is the first handcrafted Bible of its scale to be commissioned by a Benedictine abbey in more than 500 years.

The Heritage Edition of The Saint John’s Bible is a fine-art reproduction comprising all of the illuminations and text of the original.

Themes of transformation, justice for God’s people and hospitality are emphasized in text and imagery throughout The Saint’s John’s Bible. It is both a modern-day statement and an invitation to connect with artistic and spiritual traditions.

As part of library programming, The Saint John’s Bible can be brought to parishes, schools and ecumenical events as a component in a wide selection of programming, including talks on the meaning and making of The Saint John’s Bible, calligraphy workshops, and Visio Divina prayer sessions.

The library is open to the public Monday through Friday from 1-4:30 p.m. The archives are open by appointment.

Visit online (https://hamiltondiocese.com/chancellor/library) to search for resources, book The Saint John’s Bible, learn more about our services, and to help solve the mystery of Bishop Crinnon’s photo album.

(Dominy Williams is the Director of Library &Archives for the Diocese of Hamilton.)


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Support The Catholic Register

Unlike many other news websites, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our site. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.