How A Family Project Became A Local History Book: The Story Of Springfield Farm

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When local math teacher Shelley Yearley started collecting stories and artifacts in connection with her family farm, it was simply a way to preserve the area’s history for her family.

“My grandparents still lived in the farmhouse when I was a child and so we were basically just surrounded by history,” Yearley said. “When I had my daughter, I started to realize that pieces of history were getting distributed amongst family members and would be lost.”

Yearley began to gather her collection of stories, photos and postcards and, as more and more people became interested, she decided to create and self publish a 240-page book to tell the history of the farm and the people on it. Springfield Farm 1869-2019 A Historical Perspective of the Land, the Holinshead Family and Huntsville details 160 years of the farm and the people who lived on and around it. Yearley is related to the Holinshead family, who still run the farm, on her mother’s side and grew up hearing the oral history of her family as well as the Indigenous people they interacted with at Fairy Lake.

Huntsville Wharf and the Algonquin Steamer in the early 1900s. Taken from a print of Jack Plaskett’s. Photo courtesy of Shelley Yearley

Her family told stories of the amicable relationship between her ancestors, William and Lucy Jane, and the First Nations people they encountered. But throughout her research, Yearley said she learned that those pleasant stories are only part of the complex history of the area.

“I became aware of the fact that although that may have been a harmonious relationship, the fact is, there are no First Nations peoples left in Muskoka that were indigenous to Muskoka,” she said. “They don’t have access to that land.”

Yearley also noticed a lack of written records when it came to the Indigenous history in the area, so it was important to her to include the First Nations history she was aware of in connection to the farm. She also hopes the book will provoke thought about local Indigenous history and how non-Indigenous Canadians view their relationship with First Nations people.

The book gives a sense of how lifestyles shifted over time from the mid-1800s to present day. It includes first-hand perspectives of what it was like to come to Huntsville in the early 1900s, drawn from a 1969 centennial celebration at the farm where the family collected artifacts and stories from people who had visited the property earlier in the century. Along with genealogical information for those who may be descendents of William and Lucy Jane, the book also includes photos and writing from other families.

Top: Tourists at Holinshead Beach in approximately 1906 or 1907. Photo courtesy of Shelley Yearly
Bottom: Holinshead Beach in 2018. Photo by Kelly Holinshead

“My great, great grandfather was a trustee of the school that was near the farm, so we have some really old poems and photographs from the school,” Yearley said. “People who had family members who attended the school may learn stuff about their family members or see pictures that they hadn’t seen before.”

Between the stories of early settlers and the images from around Huntsville, the book is a treasure trove for local history buffs. For Yearley and her family, growing up on the farm “was like living in a pioneer village.” 

Yearley’s family kept everything, from the fox stole worn by women generations before her to the hair clippings of her grandfather’s sister, who died at the age of two. Old plows, tractors and hay wagons sat around adorning the property. The family was completely immersed in history, always hearing stories and seeing photos gifted to her grandparents over the years.

Despite the years of stories and photos, Yearley still uncovered some unknown tales in her research for the book. Nearing the time of publication, she came across a story about her great uncle David, who was shot in the thigh in a hunting accident near the end of Limberlost Road. 

She also learned that the farm had 11 Home Children, which were poor or orphaned children sent from Britain to other countries like Canada. The children were often used for farm labour or domestic help, and while Yearley knew one of those children had worked at the farm, she was surprised to learn of 10 more.

From the Holinshead album. Photo courtesy of Shelley Yearly

Along with discovering new stories in her research, Yearley has gotten the chance to learn more through her readers.

“The fun part is that people in the community are sharing their stories back with me,” she said. “That’s the best part.”

While many people have suggested she uses the new stories to create a second edition, she said she’s happy with the project and thinks it is what it’s meant to be.

“I’ll leave it to the next generation to do the next version.”

Springfield Farm 1869-2019 A Historical Perspective of the Land, the Holinshead Family and Huntsville costs $45. Those interested in purchasing a copy can contact Shelley Yearley directly at shelley.yearley@gmail.com or at 705-787-0345. The book is also available for purchase at Springfield Farm, Muskoka Rent-All, Mid-Town Barber, the Manicure Room and the Artisan’s of Muskoka store.

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