Volume 96, Issue 79
Wednesday, February 19, 2003

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Talbot: the man and the myth

Exhibit: Thomas Talbot: Man and Myth
Artists: Various
Dates: Feb. 16-Apr. 27
Location: Museum London

By Beth Hunwicks
Gazette Staff

Gazette file photo
"MAYBE ONE DAY I'LL MAKE IT ON THE $5 BILL!" Thomas Talbot's life and works are currently being featured at Museum London.

Museum London is currently housing an exhibit rich in local history and legend.

As part of a celebration honouring the 200th anniversary of Talbot's settlement, the exhibit Thomas Talbot: Man and Myth pulls its visitors back into a time of growth and opportunity, when the surrounding area of London was wild and uncivilized.

The questionable reputation of the great colonizer Thomas Talbot resonates throughout the story of the founding of London and surrounding area. The exhibit explores Talbot, who is known for his rather "idiosyncratic, eccentric and authoritarian" personality. It also looks at the growth and settlement of the area, which was initiated by Talbot.

The curator of Regional History for Museum London, Michael Baker, is interested in broadening the knowledge of London's citizens by offering this historical look into London's past. While a young audience may not initially be attracted to an event such as this, Baker feels it may draw the interest of those interested in art history, Canadian history or even those who have once inquired why the historic town hall looks like a castle, or why Richmond street lies where it does.

Talbot came to southern Ontario from Ireland in 1803, and by the end of his active period in 1837, he controlled 27 townships, extending from Long Point in Norfolk County to the Detroit river.

Throughout the exhibit, many maps of the settlements are displayed. Each land plot is individually named after a specific settler. Talbot was known to have been extremely specific and even rather petty with his selection of landowners, often writing their names in pencil, which was easily erasable. Talbot gave land to those he felt were dedicated and determined enough to successfully build upon the land allotted to them.

The maps show land division, road placement and building sites, many of which still stand true today; for example, the old town hall was actually fashioned after Talbot's castle in Ireland. The map illustrations also provide valuable documentation that places certain families in various locations, which is very helpful in tracing family histories.

Many works of art are included within the exhibit by Garrison artists who were specially trained in topographical art, and produced many works showing the composition of the surrounding area. Luckily these works of art survive and show modern viewers the progression of the settlement as time progressed. In addition, a few paintings of Talbot's personal estate and images of the landscape are also included in the collection.

Some of Talbot's personal items are displayed, such as his cane, desk, chair and a map similar to the one that originally hung above his desk in his office. Talbot kept close watch on the expansion of his land and settlement, and carefully recorded any and all changes upon his maps. He would often make conditional deals with prospective settlers, one condition being that they would be given land, and in turn, they would be required to clear the land to make way for the road systems he had set out.

Today, Talbot is known for his dominant personality, open opposition to reform, insistence of loyalty and commitment from his settlers, as well as his incredible skill as a colonizer. Museum London's current show celebrates and immortalizes this diverse man and the history of London. Baker hopes that this exhibit will teach modern citizens about their interesting local history and foster a new interest in the past.


The Thomas Talbot exhibit runs until Apr. 27 in the Lawson Family Gallery at Museum London.

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2002 THE GAZETTE