Growing up in a place like Baddeck, I became an involuntary expert on the Bell family from an early age. Alexander Graham Bell settled in Baddeck with his wife and it’s where he conducted many of his experiments with flight, but before that time, he lived in Brantford, Ontario, where his parents had moved with him from Scotland. The Bell family homestead in Brantford is now a museum, one that my sister was determined to see when she travelled to visit me in London.
I assumed it was an extension of growing up in Baddeck where the Bell history is a part of local cultural memory (like how Baddeck is an Anglicization of a Mi’kmaq word, or that nearby Kidston Island isn’t the best local swimming spot) but my sister had a secret up her sleeve: there was a piece of the Bell Homestead Museum connected to our family.
My sister is the keeper and collector of our family history, and so, after our grandmother passed away, she took charge of going through Grannie’s papers and scrapbooks and albums. In their retirement, my grandparents loved to travel across Canada. It was in one of these sets of travel photos that my sister found an awkwardly composed and dark photo of a rug on a floor, and on the next page photos of houses and a sign that clearly reads “Bell Homestead.”
The rug in my grandmother’s photo was made by my grandfather’s mother, my great-grandmother, my namesake, and my sister was determined to visit Brantford and find the rug. So we rented a car, packed a picnic, and planned a daytrip through Southern Ontario, travelling to Paris (so that we could say we’d been “London to Paris and back again”), Brantford, and Niagara Falls.
We arrived at the Bell Homestead, a combination of nerves and excitement. We sat in the car after parking in the gravel lot, asking each other questions: what if the rug wasn’t there? What if our grandparents had been mistaken? What if the employees of the museum weren’t receptive to our questions?
But we did get out of the car and we went on a tour and we asked the guide lots of questions. After the tour, we were introduced to curator Brian Wood who asked us for a few details and names before he left to inspect the two large area rugs laying on the floors of the second floor bedrooms. When he returned, it was with good news. Our great grandmother’s rug was there! He had looked at the back of each rug and on one of them was a hand stitched label saying that it was made by our g-gma in Baddeck, Nova Scotia specifically for the Bells. Once we clarified the name and yelped a little, they invited us to go back and take some photos.
And just like that, I found a little piece of my history in Southern Ontario, a place I never expected to find it.