By Rori Bennett – Junior Reporter
Wallaceburg’s history as ‘Glasstown’ was commemorated on Saturday afternoon with new displays added at the Wallaceburg and District Museum.
Over 200 people attended a reception, which unveiled a stained glass piece created by Wallaceburg resident Brenda Henry. The piece symbolized the beginning and end of the glass-making industry and the reception honoured past workers and the factories’ influence on Wallaceburg.
“They decided that they wanted a historical piece, one to commemorate Wallaceburg,” Henry, owner of Dragonfly Stained Glass, told the Sydenham Current.
“So they took a poll, and of course, other topics came up, like the Baldoon mystery, the black goose, the brass factories… but overwhelmingly the glass factory was chosen. As soon as we had decided on a piece for the glass factories, my vision was a big silhouette of a glass blower. A glass blower signifies the beginning of glass work here in Wallaceburg.”
Henry said when the glass factory closed in 1999, the two most iconic buildings that everybody remembers were the Batch Tower and the Green House.
“Those two buildings are the first things that everyone talks about and I realized that they had to be part of it as well, representing the end,” Henry said.
“This piece was something I was tasked with and I really wanted to make sure that it really captured the history of the glass factories and that it honoured all of the past workers. They gave their lives to these factories and this was such a huge part of Wallaceburg, so it was very important for me to represent this well.”
The glass factory in Wallaceburg played a huge role in the economic development of the town.
The factory opened its doors in 1894 and closed for the last time on May 31, 1999.
The original name of the factory was Sydenham Glass and later became Dominion Glass, Diamond D Glass and was Libbey Glass when it closed.
At it’s peak the glass factory employed over 1,400 workers. Some people worked in the automatic department and others in the design department.
When the factory was closed there were approximately 500 employees who lost their jobs.
The factory shut down because the U.S. parent company of Libbey Glass transferred operations to Ohio and Mexico.
Glass making was Wallaceburg’s major industry for over a century, which accounted for the town being known as ‘Canada’s Glasstown’.
“We wanted to unveil this new piece, kind of to show that history isn’t still,” Matthew Weickert, curator of the Wallaceburg and District Museum told the Sydenham Current.
“We wanted to include something that is bright and colorful, but also that is specific to the glass factory, which is why we chose stained glass. We found a local artist who works very well with stained glass and that’s why we wanted to pursue this further.”
Weickert added: “The Museum wanted to show that it wasn’t just an industry or a factory. It is an art form, it was people’s livelihood, it was a community. It was a big part of what our display is. We can have all of the display boards and all of the pictures, but it doesn’t always show the feeling that you get behind it. Whereas, we felt the stained glass encapsulating ‘Glasstown,’ in a piece of art, kind of gives it more emotion than just text on the wall.”
Photos from workers in the glass factories can be found in the art gallery as a temporary display.
All other new displays, as well as the stained glass piece is permanent at the museum, and can be viewed during business hours.
Henry’s work with stained glass will be featured in the Museum’s art gallery on March 27.