Everyone thought Bruce Wilson had gone a bit crazy when he demanded the cornerstone of his high school be removed because he was convinced a time capsule was behind it. In November of 1998 they changed their minds. Two stonemasons clambered up scaffolding at the edge of Carleton Place High School and chipped out the stone inscribed with the date the school was built and the name of the chairman of the board on opening day 75 years ago.
Nestled behind it was a cement-covered dry gin bottle, uncorked and empty with the exception of a tightly rolled, lined sheet of paper. And tucked behind it sat a sealed copper box, envelope-sized in length. “I was pretty happy to see they had found them,” said Mr. Wilson, a Grade 12 student. “Everyone had thought I was kind of crazy.”
It was not as if Mr. Wilson had set out to find a capsule. It came about by accident while he was looking for material to put on the school Web site that he operates. As he was searching any archives he could find for a short history of Carleton Place High, he noticed suggestions that there was a time capsule embedded in the building when it was constructed, most probably behind the inscribed corner stone.
“The reports said there was an opening ceremony and they kept mentioning there was something behind the stone.” That was all Mr. Wilson needed and, since there were masons working at the school, he was able to persuade them to remove the inscription stone. At the very least, it would satisfy his curiosity. “We have no idea what’s inside them yet,” Mr. Wilson says, who hasn’t tried to find any students of the day because he believes they would be at least 88 years old by now.
That’s where Tim and Rosemary Campbell come in. They were contacted because they have some expertise in this area as well as great interest in anything historical About 15 years ago, they helped uncover the contents of a capsule at Carleton Place Zion Church. That treasure unveiled papers, coins and newspaper articles. “We have a background in knowing how to deal with things like this,” says Mr. Campbell who takes care of works of art at the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography in Ottawa. “What we don’t know is what, exactly, is inside and that’s a bit tricky. If you don’t know what’s there you might damage something without meaning to.” That’s why they are waiting for an expert conservator. “This is unearthing something that hasn’t seen the light of day for a long time,” says Mr. Campbell. “We want to be sure we do it right.” It’s hoped the opening will be happen before Christmas.
So what did they find?
With a small tool, conservator Bob Barclay carefully loosened the seal of a 75-year-old time capsule found last month in the bricks and mortar behind the school’s cornerstone. The only sounds in the second-floor lab came from the clicking cameras of students documenting the scene. Mr. Barclay donned rubber gloves to protect the precious time-capsule booty and pulled out the following tokens from an earlier era: copies of two newspapers, dated from May 1923; a mysterious note nibbled upon by insects; and several coins of the day.
The note, the newspapers and another note, which was tucked into a gin bottle accompanying the capsule, were all so dry and tightly folded that they could not be fully read. The documents will have to be humidified and softened before people can read them, said Mr. Barclay, who specializes in conservation of musical instruments in his work with the Canadian Conservation Society. Bruce Wilson, the Grade 12 student who discovered the capsule’s existence during a research project, said the documents will be an exciting glimpse into the social climate of the day. Students will be able to learn about the sense of community that existed 75 years ago not only at the school, but around the world. “I thought it might just be historical information about the school,” Mr. Wilson said. “We found a lot more than I thought we would.” Between handshakes and broad smiles all around the room, teachers and students said they were hoping the bug-eaten note would help them understand why, and by whom, the time capsule was put together.
The first item Mr. Barclay pulled out was a copy of the Ottawa Citizen, dated May 9,1923. “Banking system does not cater to the masses,” read one of the headlines on the three-cent newspaper. It was a headline that could have been written yesterday, exclaimed one of the teachers, referring to the antipathy surrounding current proposed bank mergers. The next item was a May 3, 1923 copy of the Central Canadian newspaper, which advertised yearly subscriptions for two dollars.
The note came out next, and Carleton Place conservator Rosemary Campbell said she suspected it was a message from the people who put the time capsule together 75 years ago. Aside from some visible typewriter ink, the note was not yet legible. Six coins were hidden amongst the capsule’s papers. There were two pennies, one from 1876 and the other from 1920, a dime from 1917, a 50 cent piece from 1909, a quarter from 1902 and a nickel from 1911. The tarnished coins had Queen Victoria’s head on one side and the year and value stamped on the other. “They’re probably not worth very much because of the condition they’re in,” said Ms. Campbell. “But the coins are rich with historic value.” Mr. Barclay said it’s rare that time capsules are as easy to open as this one and that the contents are so well-preserved. “They’re lucky it didn’t leak because it wasn’t sealed very tightly,” he said. “It survived 75 winters in a place where it should have been affected by the weather.”
Principal Don Sykes says the school will store the items in an acid-free box underneath a protective canopy over the Christmas holiday. An attempt will be made in the new year to ready the documents. Mr. Sykes says the school plans to carry on the tradition and put together a time capsule of its own, which will be hidden in the wall of the soon-to-be renovated main lobby.
The story of high schools in Carleton Place is a lengthy one with many interesting sidelights. The corner stone of the present High School (Prince of Wales High School) was laid in 1923 and under it was placed a scroll containing the following information: The High School has made many moves since it was started, about 1848, as a Grammar School. The first building used was a frame one on the Central School grounds.
- Information where you can buy all Linda Seccaspina’s books-You can also read Linda in The Townships Sun and theSherbrooke Record and and Screamin’ Mamas (USACome and visit the Lanark County Genealogical Society Facebook page– what’s there? Cool old photos–and lots of things interesting to read. Also check out The Tales of Carleton Place. Tales of Almonte and Arnprior Then and Now