Prominent People- The Runner-Ups
Written by Emma Craig, Public Engagement Assistant
When planning Glanmore’s pop-up exhibit “Celebrating Our City,” in preparation for the Belleville 200/Canada 150 celebrations, we felt that we should highlight figures from Belleville that were significant to our local and national history. It was upon researching this that the staff discovered just how many interesting and important people there were! With only a few spots to fill for the exhibits, some figures had to be cut from the line-up. Fortunately, cyber-space does not have space restraints, so we present some other figures that were important to Belleville’s and Canada’s history but not featured in the exhibit!
George Benjamin (1799-1864)
Originally from England and having travelled around North America, George Benjamin settled in Belleville and was a local school teacher for some time. He then went on to found The Intelligencer newspaper in 1834, which is one of the four oldest papers in Ontario. While the paper was strictly conservative based, Benjamin was a controversial writer as he was not afraid to engage in quarrels through his writing.
As well as the newspaper, Benjamin was involved in a lot of local and national politics. He was among the first city council members and was a Warden for the County from 1846-1849, 1851-1856, and 1859-1861. Benjamin also has the distinction of being the first Jewish Member of Parliament. His role in the community was far stretching, as he became connected to many aspects of Belleville’s early development as a city.
Henry Corby (1807-1881)
Henry Corby and his family settled in Belleville and established one of the earliest bakeries in the area in 1838. They also established a grist and distillery in 1857, located where Corbyville is today. Following these pursuits in industry, Corby became involved in local politics and eventually became the mayor of Belleville from 1867-1868. Mayor Corby was in office when Belleville celebrated Canadian Confederation on July 1st, 1867. He read out the proclamation about the formation of the Dominion of Canada, which included the provinces Ontario, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Quebec.
The Corby Family purchased an old bank that they remodelled into the Corby Public Library before presenting it to the City of Belleville in 1908. This library was a major part of the community until its closure in 2006. As well, the Corby Rose Garden was part of the Corby estate before they donated it to the city to be used as a public park in 1905. The legacy of Henry Corby and his family shows the devotion they had to the city and its development.
Oronhyatekha/ Peter Martin (1841-1907)
Oronhyateka (Peter Martin was his baptismal name) was a member of the Six Nations of the Grand River, a group of First Nations living near Brantford. He travelled to the United States for his education from 1855-1856 before returning back to his community. He was noticed by Prince Edward, Prince of Wales, during his visit to Canada and stop at the Mohawk community in 1860. The Prince, obviously impressed by Oronhyateka, invited him to come to England to study. He took up this offer and studied at Oxford University to become a physician.
Following the end of his studies, Oronhyateka went back to Canada and settled in Frankford to begin his practice. In 1872, he was appointed by John A. Macdonald to be the consulting physician for the Mohawk people in Deseronto and helped many in the area. Oronhyateka also helped to organize the Hasting County Medical Association and became its first secretary. He stands as a notable figure in our region’s history with particular significance to the history of medicine and the history of the Mohawk people.
Samuel Thomas Greene (1845-1890)
Samuel Thomas Greene, born in Maine in 1845, was born deaf. He grew up in the American deaf school system and his experiences inspired him to teach other hearing-impaired individuals. After graduating from a deaf college, he moved to Canada to teach, settling in Belleville. He became a teacher at the Provincial Institution for Education and Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb in Belleville, a school that later became Sir James Whitney School for the Deaf. Out of the three teachers, Greene was the only one that was hearing impaired, making him the first deaf teacher to teach the hearing-impaired in Ontario.
Greene was remembered as a good teacher who had a good relationship with all of his students. His book, The Proper Method of Teaching New Pupils, details his teaching methods and beliefs. Greene was also a member and president of the Ontario Deaf-Mute Association from 1886-1888. Greene’s marker in the Belleville Cemetery spells out his name in sign language. He represents a unique individual who excelled in teaching his pupils and helping the hearing-impaired community.
Leona Riggs (1903-1994)
Originally from Indianapolis, Indiana, Leona Riggs was born into a family of musicians, with both her parents being accomplished pianists and her mother being a voice teacher. When her parents moved to Belleville in the 1920’s to take over her late grandfather’s business, Riggs went on to become a Broadway performer. She performed in such shows as The Vagabond King and Golden Dawn, earning much acclaim.
The Great Depression had an effect on her career and Riggs retired from performing and moved to Belleville. She taught voice and piano lessons and became a driving force in the creation of the Community Concerts Association, supporting many aspects of the arts in Belleville. Her presence in Belleville and her dedication to the performing arts allowed our arts community to flourish through her donations and time.
Curious as to which people made the cut? Look out for our travelling exhibit this summer and learn more about our city’s history!