Turning 100

Frank’s Jewellers and the Ellis Little History Room

There is a prevailing perception that libraries are a place for books only. Like most library customers, I’ve spent most of my years visiting WPL for the sole purpose of checking out books. It wasn’t until my teen years that I discovered that the library also has a vast collection of movies, CDs, audio books and programs. Yet the one resource that remained elusive to me over the years was the Ellis Little Local History room. The door was always open and inviting, but I didn’t have a reason to venture inside. It wasn’t until the summer of 2017 that I went in for the first time.

I’ve grown up in Waterloo with a strong connection to the King Street business community. My father was the owner of Mr. Sub for forty-one years. I spent many summers and weekends serving sandwiches and smiles to both Waterloo patrons and neighbouring business owners regularly. The King Street business community as I remember it was tight knit and familial. While we were known as the place to pick up a quick lunch, there were other businesses on King Street that were known for other things: McPhail’s for sports equipment, Tora Tattoo for piercings and tattoos, Ontario Seed for seeds (and a handful of peanuts for my dad), and Frank’s Jewellers for jewellery and gifts.

franks 001Since my dad retired in July 2016, I’ve found myself missing that connection to the Uptown Waterloo community. It wasn’t until Bob Frank, owner of Frank’s Jewellers, approached me with a local history inquiry that I found a way to reconnect with the uptown business community. How was I going to do my research? I would begin by visiting the Ellis Little Local History room.

His inquiry was simple. Bob, the third-generation owner and operator of Frank’s Jewellers on King Street, wanted to confirm that his business was indeed celebrating its 100-year anniversary in 2019. Realizing that the Ellis Little Local History Room was the best place to begin my research, I made my first visit and began exploring the shelves of Vernon business directories, local business news clippings, and archives of photo negatives to find evidence that in 1919, Bob’s grandfather, W.P. Frank, took over operations from the previous owner.

During this search, my research expanded from finding evidence to solve this important question to finding any artifacts that trace the mark Frank’s Jewellers has had on the Uptown business community for the past one hundred years. The search has been fruitful! I’ve found many old articles and pictures in the Ellis Little Local History room. I’ve found pictures that reflect the changing landscape of King Street over the years like the image above of Frank’s Jewellers from the mid-1970’s when Bob’s father was the owner.

franks 002

 I’ve also found pictures that reflect the strength and camaraderie of the Waterloo business community that traces back to July 27, 1938 when a wide landscape of Waterloo merchants gathered for a first annual picnic which Bob’s grandfather, W.P. Frank (Picture left: middle row center with striped tie) attended.

I’ve lost myself for hours poring over business directories, maps, and books that map the history of Waterloo Region by local authors. I know I’ve only scratched the surface but these discovers have allowed me to appreciate the library for another purpose: being a local history keeper. The library not only brings people together for a love of reading, but for a shared history of our community that has grown from the small farming town to a modern tech start-up city.

Another local history resource that I’ve perused is OurOntario where I’ve searched through thousands of photographs as well as digitized Waterloo Chronicle newspapers. It’s an excellent resource that saves the time and energy previously spent going through microfilm and has been a very helpful resource.

The online and offline history collection at the Waterloo Public Library has been and continues to be an excellent resource to find answers to any local history inquiries. Should you require help with more specific requests, contact Janet Seally to assist your local history missions. To see Frank’s Jeweller’s collection of historical artifacts, follow them on Instagram and/or Facebook.

It’s easy to live somewhere for your whole life without questioning where you live. You may have just moved to Waterloo two years ago. You may be a third-generation resident. It’s worth questioning and learning about the place you live in because each of us plays a part in how it became the place you inhabit today. History may be the story of our past, but it’s easy to overlook our place in the present.

— Eleni Z.

Men & Women of Our Past

Greetings from the Ellis Little Local History Room!

The Ellis Little Local History Room is located at WPL’s Main Library. The many threads of Waterloo’s history are woven together in our extensive collection of photos, documents, newspaper articles, books and more. One of the most unique and precious collections in the room is the Ellis Little Papers.

Ellis Little was a local historian and retired teacher who spent many hours at the Waterloo Public Library researching the history of Waterloo. When he passed away in 2004, all of his research papers (“The Ellis Little Papers”) were donated to the library. Often Little’s research notes were written on the backs of scrap paper, which adds an interesting flavour to the files. His papers have given many researchers (myself included) insight into those hard-to-find local history topics.

There are many intriguing files in the Ellis Little Papers, but one of the best is called Men and Women of Our Past. This file is a collection of handwritten biographies that Little wrote during his years of research. The biographies focus on people from Waterloo’s earliest days. Some cover the expected prominent figures, such as Abraham Erb who was the first permanent resident of Waterloo, but many more are about people who might sometimes be overlooked.

For example, did you know that there was a Waterloo doctor named Dr. William Sowers Bowers who married a woman named Hannah Flowers? Dr. Bowers trained at the University of North York, and had a medical practice in the house of John Hoffman on King Street South. The charming story of this rhyming family is just the beginning of what can be found in the Ellis Little Biographies.

Sometimes the biographies are only a few lines long, but no matter the length, each biography has a list of information sources at the end. The book Welcome to Waterloo by Marg Rowell, Ed Devitt and Pat McKegney must have been a favourite resource for Little as it often appears in the source section for the biographies. Little also used newspaper articles, local atlases, registries and Waterloo Historical Society articles as sources for the bios. These source lists now provide an excellent path for researchers to chase down primary documents and find even more information about the people Little wrote about.

The Ellis Little Biographies are definitely worth checking out if you want to know more about past Waterloo residents. The original paper versions are available in the Ellis Little Local History Room. With volunteer help, we are transcribing all of the Ellis Little Biographies and making them available through Our Ontario, which hosts WPL’s local history collection online. This is an ongoing digitization project but we already have 80 biographies uploaded and ready for you to enjoy.

Reading through these biographies is a great reminder that the past is made up of people who lived their daily lives and made decisions that would influence the future, just as we are doing today.

— Jenna H.