This weekend I attended Seminar 2004, organized by the Ontario Genealogical Society with a lot of sponsorship by the National Institute of Genealogical Studies. The conference theme was "The 3 RRRs: Resources / Research / Results." The weather was excellent, and the hotel's conference center seemed to be well managed. Everything seemed to "click." This year's event drew more than 600 attendees, and I think every one of them would agree with me that it was a success.
This three-day event was held at the DoubleTree International Plaza Hotel near Pearson International Airport in Toronto, Ontario. That is an excellent facility for an event of this type. This year's seminar included 52 presentations by 26 speakers, a large exhibitors' hall that was busy most of the time, an "Ask a Professional" event in which members of the Ontario Chapter of the Association of Professional Genealogists offered free 15-minute consultations, a photograph exhibition, and breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day.
Many of today's better-known genealogy speakers were present, including Helen Leary, who gave the featured J. Richard Houston Memorial Lecture on Friday evening plus two other presentations, Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak, Kenneth G. Aitken, Ruth Burkholder, Dr. Penelope Christensen, Afua Cooper, Gail Ferguson, J. Brian Gilchrist, Ceil Jensen, Marjorie Kohli, Rob Leverty, Jane E. MacNamara, Paul McGrath, Brenda Dougall Merriman, Sharon Murphy, Barbara Myrvold, Marie-Louise Perron, Marian Press, Geoffrey D. Rasmussen, Linda Reid, Louise St Denis, Ryan Taylor, James Thomson, and Patricia Moseley Van Skaik.
Some fellow named Dick Eastman also made some presentations, including one on the ancestors and family of Donald Duck. No, I am not exaggerating, at least not by much. Actually, the presentation featured a side-by-side comparison of five of today's top genealogy programs. I switched from program to program, showing how each accomplished certain tasks. I wanted to use the same family data in each program so that the comparisons would be consistent. Rather than using my own ancestors, I decided to use the family tree of an internationally-known movie star: Donald Duck. Luckily, the Disney Corporation has often included Donald's relatives in various comic strips over the years. These characters have been documented and catalogued by fans. (See last week's Plus Edition newsletter for details.) The combination of software and cartoon characters seemed to be well-received by the audience. I know that I enjoyed it.
The Saturday evening banquet was good for several reasons. Awards were presented and speeches were made, quite similar to other genealogy conference banquets I have attended. However, two things struck me as significantly different. The first was a talk by the Honourable Lorna Milne, Senator for Ontario in Parliament. Senator Milne is an avid genealogist, having published a book on her ancestors some years ago, before becoming involved in national politics. She has championed the release of census records in Canada, and she talked about recent progress on that front at Saturday's dinner.
The second item that I found delightful was a special speech made by William Lyon Mackenzie. Because the real William Lyon Mackenzie died in 1861, his physical presence was provided by the very much alive historical actor, Mr. David Morris. I have listened to a number of historical actors and must say that Mr. Morris is one of the best. My knowledge of Ontario history is almost non-existent. By the end of the evening, I gained an appreciation for William Lyon Mackenzie as the feisty instigator of the Rebellion of 1837. Mackenzie fought against the upper class clique known as the "Family Compact," which was in control of the government. The government of the time was corrupt with its favoritism, overspending of tax dollars, and lacked accountability to the people of Upper Canada. In response to Mackenzie's vocal outrage, a mob of opposers threw printing press into Lake Ontario in 1826. During the same raid on Mackenzie's office, his young son's skull was split open by the mob. The son recovered, and the older Mackenzie never slowed in his pursuit of truth and justice. In 1828 he was elected to the Legislative Assembly of Upper Canada but was expelled five times for libel, each time being re-elected.
In 1834 Mackenzie became the first mayor of Toronto. In 1837 he led the Upper Canada Rebellion against Sir Francis Bond Head and the Family Compact, which was quickly put down. Mackenzie escaped to the United States and set up a provisional government on Navy Island in the Niagara River. Several of the men he led in the rebellion were captured, jailed, and later hanged for treason. An amnesty allowed for Mackenzie's return to Canada in 1849, and he was a member of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada from 1851 to 1858. He died in 1861.
David Morris' recreation of the character of William Lyon Mackenzie is something that has to be seen to be appreciated. Using a Scottish brogue, he shouted, he whispered, he ranted, and he railed. In short, he was the perfect epitome of an early 1800s reform politician.
All in all, this was a great conference. Six hundred people learned about advanced genealogy techniques, purchased items from the vendors, and enjoyed good meals, and I learned about Ontario's history. I'd call that a great 3-day weekend.
Seminar 2005 will be held in Windsor, Ontario, on May 26 to 29, 2005. You might want to circle those dates on your calendar now.
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