By Jenna Cocullo, Local Journalism Initiative
A former Chatham-Kent resident is adding another chapter to the municipality’s overall history.
Earlier this month, Julie Magerka officially released a book entitled Memories of Merlin after finding very little research on the community in the local libraries.
“It’s about the history of the village of Merlin told through the stories of people who lived there through the past,” Magerka said.
The book traces individual stories of people who lived in the village up to the 1960s. Magerka said this is only Volume One.
“When I first started doing research a few years ago on Merlin and I went to the Chatham library and the Tilbury library and places like that, I said ‘What have you got on Merlin?’ Turns out, not much,” Magerka said.
Magerka was born and raised in Merlin until she moved to study at the University of Toronto. She eventually became an English teacher and now lives in Belle River where she teaches computer classes. However, she continues to volunteer with the Merlin Seniors’ Club where she writes a historical column for the village’s newsletter.
Through her research, she managed to write enough historical pieces, a monthly article over the course of three years, to compile the stories into a book.
“It’s not a chronological history per se. It’s based in stories about people who were business people or people who had some recognition or some significance within the village and shaped the development of that community,” she said.
The book tells the tales of a shoemaker and what prompted him to come to Merlin at the turn of the 20th Century, a bandit named Archie who robbed a family friend’s store, and it highlights a time when Merlin was an up-and-coming town.
“It was quite a lively, really active, busy place with lots of merchants and lots of people. And you know Friday night, Saturday night, you’d be in town and there’d be like cars everywhere, people everywhere,” she said.
But decline happened after the 1960s and 1970s, according to Magerka, when people got more wealth and took their shopping dollars to larger city centres.
“Businesses started to decline and go away. We go there now and it’s just a shadow of what it used to be. It’s just a shadow and I thought, a lot of people who don’t know, including myself,” she said.
Memories of Merlin books are being sold through the Seniors’ Club with all proceeds going to the organization. Copies have also been given to the local libraries.
“So I think it makes the history available to a lot more people and especially in the future,” Magerka said. “If somebody says, ‘I want to know about my family, I know they started in Merlin, but I live in Calgary, and I know nothing,’ there’ll be a book that will help them.”