Catalog view is the alternative 2D representation of our 3D virtual art space. This page is friendly to assistive technologies and does not include decorative elements used in the 3D gallery.
The rust in the furrow 2022 is a virtual re-creation of a 2013 locative and sculptural media project that recounts the story of a mysterious visitor's interactions with residents of the buildings now located on the site of the Markham Museum.
Taking the form of a museum audio guide, video documentary and sculptural "artifacts", this project integrates past and present facts and fictions, destabilizing and re-imagining history. Here, the actual and the virtual have become entangled, distorting spatial and temporal perception.
The narrative that binds these elements together emerged through a fusion of historical research conducted in the archives of the Markham Museum and personal testimony provided by current Markham residents. It is both a response to, and reflection of, the Archive and the practice of remembering history through the inclusion of some objects at the expense of forgetting history through the exclusion of others.
Formal qualities of museum presentation are employed as a counterpoint to the increasingly unreliable facts presented within the narrative. Even as artifice of the narrative crumbles around the participant, these formal qualities (mobile app, museum display cases, an authoritative audio guide voice, etc.) reassure them that the present moment corresponds to a past experience. This tension between form and content is echoed not only in the Markham Museum (heritage village vs. constructed history) but the city of Markham itself (homogenous suburb vs. diverse city).
Through this process of exploration, synthesis and inquisition, this project aims to re-contextualize both the Museum itself and present-day Markham, as well as foster the expansion of possibilities for the Markham of the future.
3D re-creation of the grounds of the Markham Museum.
This project takes the form of an official museum exhibit that includes eight sculptural artifacts displayed inside museum vitrines and dispersed across the grounds.
Visitors are encouraged to explore the grounds and learn about the story of Markham's first Chinese resident through the accompanying museum audio guide.
Also included is an introductory video documentary that provides context for the museum exhibit.
In the summer of last year, staff at the Markham Museum made a remarkable discovery. This discovery led to groundbreaking research that uncovered the extraordinary story of Markham’s first Chinese resident. The story begins at the Strickler House, a two-story wooden frame building, built between 1851 and 1861 and originally occupied by Daniel Strickler, a local pump maker, and his family. At one time, this house had a rear addition. However, when the house was initially restored in 1981 for inclusion in the museum collection, the rear addition was taken down and the rear wall of the house was sealed up. In June 2012, museum staff undertook the restoration of the rear wall of the house after it received water damage during a particularly bad storm. During the restoration, a peculiar object was discovered embedded down between the foundation and the eastern wall of the structure. Wrapped inside a burlap sack was an Edison cylinder record and a handwritten letter. The cylinder record - an early form of recorded music etched onto a wax cylinder and played back on an Edison phonograph – featured a song in Cantonese recorded in 1902. The letter, written in English and dated July 1903, read: Lee, I do not take defeat lightly. However, as I am a man of my word, here is the phonograph and cylinder as promised. I am also willing to part with other cylinders if you are willing to show me more of this game you call Way Chee. I have also enquired with my supplier on your behalf about cylinders made of different material. They say that new indestructible cylinders shall be available shortly, however, they are made of some sort of plastic. They have not heard of cylinders made of wood, steel or any other material you mentioned. It was a pleasure playing with you. If you ever wish to sit down for a rematch, I’d be more than willing to oblige. Regards, William Fleming The author of the letter, William Fleming, was well known to museum historians. A former schoolteacher, Fleming owned and operated a piano, organ and sewing machine shop in Markham from 1887 to 1905, when he died of an intestinal disorder. However, the person to whom the letter was addressed presented a bit of a mystery. Who was Lee? And what was his or her relationship to William Fleming? Intrigued by this strange letter and artifact, museum historians undertook research to determine the identity of this person. Two clues helped guide the research. The first was the cylinder record itself. It featured a rare, early recording of a Cantonese song performed and recorded in San Francisco in 1902. The second was Fleming’s reference to Way Chee - the Chinese name for the board game known today as “Go”. These two clues seemed to indicate that this person known only as “Lee” had an interest in, and knowledge of, Chinese culture. The letter also refers to a defeat of some sort. Given the fact that letter indicates that Fleming was giving a record and phonograph to Lee as a result of this defeat, it was determined that these two individuals had made a wager on the outcome of some sort of game or match. It is known that William Fleming was an outstanding checkers player, having held the title of Canadian Checkers champion from 1868 to 1890. This fact, paired with the reference to the Chinese board game Go, seemed to confirm that Lee had indeed won a cylinder record and phonograph from William Fleming over a game of checkers. A search through the assessment roll confirmed that two individuals with the name of Lee resided in Markham Village in 1903. Lee William Bennett was a Presbyterian farmer who immigrated to Markham township from Scotland in 1901. He bought land on Lot 3, Concession 11, Markham Village. Given his background, it is doubtful he is the Lee to whom the Fleming letter is addressed. The other Lee turns up in the 1903 assessment roll is Sam Lee, a 28 year old man who owned and operated the Chinese laundry located on Main Street in Markham Township. Given the Cantonese Edison cylinder and the reference to the Chinese board game go in the letter, it was determined that the letter, cylinder and presumably a phonograph, were given to Sam Lee in 1903. This discovery was exceptional. What we know of the experiences of Chinese immigrants in the early 1900s, particularly those who owned and operated Chinese laundries, are stories of prejudice and discrimination. The revelation that a Chinese immigrant in Markham Village in 1903 had not only socialized with other villagers, but had wagered on and won a game of checkers with the former Canadian checkers champion, was remarkable. Until the discovery of the Fleming letter and Edison cylinder, little was know about Sam Lee. The only written record of the existence of Lee is in the memoirs of Fred Dixon, a man who grew up in Markham in the early 1900s. In his memoirs, “Fun Was Where We Made It: 1900-1915”, Dixon includes an anecdote about the Chinese man who ran the laundry across the street from pharmacy where Dixon worked: “In the basement under the Drug Store, we operated three incubators, and, after an incubator had been started, my job in about four days was to candle the eggs, to see if they were fertile. The eggs which would not hatch after three or four days of warmth were beginning to get a little high, but, across the street from the store was a Chinese laundry, and the Chinaman liked these eggs. At incubator time, he was never hungry. Well, everyone to his taste!” By cross-referencing assessment rolls, tax records, immigration and employment records and a number of personal letters, diaries and notes, museum researchers have been able to trace the Sam Lee, who owned and operated the Chinese laundry in Markham village in 1903, to Lee Sing Won, a Chinese man who immigrated to Canada in 1882. According to government records, Lee Sing Won was born in 1862 in the British colony of Hong Kong, He was the first son of Lee Chan Won, a watch repairman employed by George Falconer & Company jewelers. According to school records, Lee was amongst the first Chinese to study at St. Paul’s College, one of the earliest Anglo-Chinese schools in the world. From the diary of George Falconer, the British man who owned and operated the jewelers that employed Lee’s father, it was determined that Lee was expected to follow in his father’s footsteps as a watch repairman. However, against his father’s wishes, Lee continued his education at Victoria College, the first government school set up in Hong Kong. It is likely that it was at Victoria College that Lee learned how to read, write and speak English. School records indicate that he showed a particular proficiency in physics and engineering. Following school, Lee once again defied his father’s wishes. In December of 1881, the Lian Chang Company presented him an offer that Lee would not pass up. Lian Chang was recruiting labourers to build a railway in Canada. In addition to labourers, they needed someone to work as the assistant to Andrew Onderdonk, the contractor in charge of building the railway through the most treacherous parts of Western Canada. The assistant had to be fluent in both English and Chinese, as they would act as a liaison between Onderdonk and the head Chinese foremen. Perhaps drawn to the allure of an overseas adventure, Lee immediately signed up. He lied to his parents, telling them he had received a 3 month contract to work abroad and promising he would join the family business when he got back. By January of 1882, Lee was on a boat and headed to Canada. According to the letters and diaries of Andrew Onderdonk, Lee proved himself a quick learner and invaluable employee. So invaluable, in fact, that Lee continued to work for Onderdonk after the completion of the tracks from Port Moody to Savona, following him to South America, the United States and eventually, eastern Canada on a number of engineering contracts. It is thought that it was through Onderdonk that Lee met Christopher Topper, the railway foreman who was hired to supervise the upgrade of the tracks on the Ontario & Quebec mainline from Leaside to Havelock. For unknown reasons, Topper managed to hire Lee away from Onderdonk. It is believed that after travelling the world with Onderdonk, Lee began to miss his family and agreed to work for Topper because he offered him more money with which to pay the head tax that would be imposed on each family member if Lee were to bring his family over to Canada. However, once arriving in Markham Village in 1900, Topper learned that the track replacement wouldn’t begin until 1908. He was forced to lay off his crew, including Lee. Jobless and with dwindling resources, it is believed that Lee moved to nearby Markham village and used what money he had left to lease a storefront located at 115 Main Street, Markham Village, where he opened up a laundry. Lee operated the laundry until 1909, after which point his name disappears from the assessment roll. It is not known what happened to Lee after this year, as there is no record of where he went. Lee’s story would have ended there had it not been for the discovery of an artifact during the recent installation of underground services as part of the Main Street Markham Reconstruction project. Last fall, workers installing a new storm sewer and water main on Main Street unearthed an old railway spike buried in the ground in front of 115 Main Street, the former site of Lee’s Chinese laundry. Shortly after it was discovered, the museum was contacted and the railway spike was added to the museum collection. During the cataloging process, museum staff noted strange markings or grooves, seemingly cut directly into the surface of the spike. In an effort to understand these markings, the museum contacted an archeologist to analyze the artifact. An analysis of this artifact led to the most extraordinary archeological discovery in the history of York Region. Please join us on an audio tour to learn more about this discovery.
The first artifact we studied was the railway spike unearthed in the ground in front of the former site of the Lee Chinese laundry. The spike was traced back to 1908, when the tracks of the O&Q mainline were upgraded from 65 pound tracks to 72 pound tracks. Christopher Topper, the railway foreman who was responsible for bringing Lee to Markham Village in 1900, supervised this work. The railway spike would have been used to secure rails and base plates to railroad ties in the track. However, what set this spike apart were the strange markings covering its surface. Our initial examination of these markings concluded that they were precisely inscribed grooves of varying depths circling the entire surface of the railway spike. The grooves were so finely cut and so equally spaced that mechanical means must have been used to create them. Using state of the art laser analysis, my team and I analyzed the spike. To our amazement, we recovered an audio recording embedded within the grooves. Due to the rough nature of the recording media and the imperfect method by which it was created, the recording had to be thoroughly enhanced and clarified using a variety of advanced acoustic enhancement algorithms. However, after much work, we managed to restore the recording to its original state.
My name is Dr. Spencer Addison. I’m a professor of archeology at the University of Western Ontario. I specialize in a branch of archeology known as archeo-‐acoustics, which concerns itself with the acoustic properties of archeological sites and artifacts. After the discovery of the Lee railway spike, the Markham Museum contacted me to examine a number of the artifacts in their collection bearing similar markings. In the spring of 2013, my research team and I conducted advanced, experimental acoustic analysis of these artifacts. The results of this analysis led to an extraordinary discovery. It is my pleasure to present to you our findings. Please walk to the Locust Hill Train Station to begin our tour.
While our team was busy analyzing the railway spike, museum staff discovered similar markings on another artifact in the museum’s archives. An old drill stem, donated to the museum in 1985, appeared to have markings consistent with those found on the railway spike. This drill stem was part of a drilling rig found on the grounds of the old Ratcliff sawmill. This rig was used to drill six artesian wells in 1904 to supplement the natural water flow that powered the mill. An analysis of the drill stem recovered another field recording, likely recorded at the site of the sawmill itself. Museum historians conducted research to uncover the connection between these two objects. The only connection that could be made was found in the accounting records of the sawmill. A reference to a payment of $5 to one “Sam Lee” appears in the summer of 1904, which indicates that Lee may have assisted in the drilling of the wells. This research suggests that Lee had contact with both objects. Please walk to the Cedar Grove Blacksmith Shop to continue the tour.
The discovery of these audio recordings embedded within the railway spike and drill stem prompted my research team and I to delve into the museum’s collection, searching for other artifacts onto which Lee may have embedded audio recordings. Never before had such early field recordings been discovered recorded onto media other than wax cylinders. After an exhaustive search, we discovered six objects bearing the same telltale markings. The first of such objects was a blacksmith’s chisel, donated to the museum along with the blacksmith shop in 1977. The recording embedded within the blacksmith’s chisel, much like those on the railway spike and drill stem, features what seems to be a field recording. In addition to the sounds of the wind blowing through leaves, the recording captures the sound of a train passing in the distance. Given the proximity of Clendenan’s blacksmith shop to the O&Q mainline, it is likely that this recording captured the ambience of the original location of the blacksmith shop. While we could find no direct link between Lee and Art Clendenan, the blacksmith who worked in the shop from 1896 to 1957, there was a possible reference to Lee in a letter Clendenan wrote to his grandmother in 1901. In the letter, Clendenan writes of his new apprentice. He calls him “eager” and “quick to learn”, however, he is concerned because this new apprentice seems more interested in “drawing fancy designs than shoeing horses.” Please walk to the Ninth Line Church to continue our tour.
While it is impossible to know how Lee created such high quality recordings using such crude media, we speculate that he used his access at the blacksmith shop, in conjunction with the phonograph he won from Fleming, to create the recordings. The next object in which Lee embedded a recording demonstrates just how inventive Lee became in his choice of media. In 1903, Reverend W. H. Wallace, pastor of the Ninth Line Church, had the fences surrounding the church repaired. While it is not known who conducted the repairs, the appearance of our telltale markings on one of the fence posts suggests that it was Lee. This recording contains no definite features that situate the site where the recording was created. However, given the pattern established in the other recordings discovered by our research team, it is safe to assume that the recording captures the sounds of the rural churchyard in which the Ninth Line Church was situated. Please walk to the Koch House to continue the tour.
The next object in which we discovered an audio recording is the stovepipe found on the wood stove in the Koch House. We have been unable to find any direct link between Lee and Joseph Koch, who resided in this house with his family. However, we do know that Koch purchased a new pipe for his wood stove in 1905, which coincides with the years that Lee resided in Markham Village. Despite our best efforts, this recording seems to contain distortion that manifests itself as a loud, distinct whooshing and a very faint hum. This distortion is likely due to the build-‐up of excessive amounts of soot. As a result, we were unable to provide a clean version of this recording. Please walk to the Wilson Variety Hall to continue the tour.
Edmund Wilson took over the Wilson Variety Hall from his father in 1889 and renamed it E.H. Wilson and Co. The store offered fancy goods as well as a millinery and dressmaking service. While we could find no direct link between Lee and Wilson, the store itself was located in the village on Main Street, only a block away from the site of the Lee Chinese laundry. From what we know of village life at the time, it is highly likely that these two men knew each other quite well. Objects such as the stovepipe, the fence post and the drill stem onto which Lee inscribed his recordings indicate that he not only ran the laundry, but also operated a successful business creating small items and tools as well as offering his services as a skilled handyman. Therefore, it is not surprising, that the next object in which we discovered a embedded audio recording was a wooden hat block originally owned by the Wilsons. Donated to the museum in 1995, the hat block would have been used by the milliner in the process of making hats. This recording is the first one we analyzed that seemed to feature human voices. Given that the Wilson Variety Hall was located in the centre of the village, it is not surprising that Lee’s recording would have picked up some of the local action on Main Street. Please walk to the Hoover house to continue the tour.
The artifact into which our next recording was embedded was a table leg found inside the Hoover house. In the years that Lee was present in Markham village, the Hoover house was mostly vacant, only being used by the Hoover family to store smoked hams. What is strange about this object is that it was previously thought to have been made by Abraham Hoover, who was also a local handyman. Hoover is known to have owned a turning lathe and records indicate that he made table legs for a number of Markham residents. Yet this particular leg stands out because it is marked by the same grooves that appear on the other objects into which Lee had embedded recordings. The recording itself is the only other recording that features human voices. One can clearly hear a number of people in the background. The other prominent feature is the baying of a goat. Given these sounds, we have concluded that the recording was captured on the grounds of the Hoover family farm. Please walk to the Honey House to continue the tour.
Our last recording was discovered embedded in a steel honey extractor, a large vessel into which wooden honey frames were spun to remove the honey from the honey combs. This extractor was used by Daniel Ramer (pronounced Ray-‐mer), a local apiarist whose family operated a successful honey business in Markham from 1883 to the 1990s. Lee’s relationship to Daniel Ramer is not yet known, however, it is known that Ramer often hired laborers to assist in the dismantling, cleaning and reconstruction of his honey extractors. What makes this particular object interesting is the fact that the grooves have been inscribed on the inside of the extractor. While it is not yet understood how Lee accomplished this feat, it is thought that the action of the spinning frames rubbing against the interior wall of the extractor may have altered the grooves themselves, creating the strange, distorted recording we are left with. We are still working with this recording to further enhance and clarify the recording.