Big in Bonavista

Ross Abbott’s Facebook page has become an unofficial archive for the historic town

Published on February 16, 2011
One of the many old photos of Bonavista on Ross Abbott's Facebook page.

Men, women, seniors in their 80s, school children doing projects — everyone wants to be Ross Abbott’s friend on Facebook.

He’s got more than 2,000 Facebook friends already, and they’re not there to write on his wall — they want to see his photo albums, 48 in total, containing more than 6,600 pictures.

Abbott, United Church organist, music teacher and part-time hairdresser’s assistant, has added a new job to his resume, although it came about by accident, thanks to Facebook: he’s now Bonavista’s unofficial archivist.

Abbott was at a friend’s house about a year ago, tuning their piano, when he noticed some old pictures of Bonavista hung on the wall in frames. He commented on them. His friend told him there were more where those came from, and Abbott was welcome to take them and scan them. He did and put them up on Facebook.

“I thought I’d start an album called Old Stuff, Location: Bonavista,” Abbott explained. “I made the album open so friends of my friends could see it, and it sort of grew from there.”

It wasn’t long before people from Bonavista started sending Abbott their own old pictures of the town and people in it, and offering to lend him their photo albums for him to scan.

After he filled his first Old Stuff album with a mix of photos, he started another, and then another. Pretty soon, he realized it would be better to organize the photos in categories. These days, he’s got albums full of pictures of weddings, churches and church groups, parades, boats and the ocean, school pictures, and piles and piles of photos of what he calls “Young Folks,” many of them now grown up and moved away from Bonavista. He’s also got pictures of memorable events in Bonavista’s history, including the arrival of the town’s first car, owned by Phillip Templeman, in the early 1920s.

“I don’t know everybody in the pictures,” Abbott explained. “Someone might give me a picture with one person identified, and then people will help me by identifying and tagging the others.”

Instead of merely posting the pictures, Abbott also attempts to get some of the history behind them, and often posts captions along with the photos.

Not surprisingly, long-lost friends and relatives have reconnected through Abbott’s Facebook.

Carolyn Bradbury of St. John’s spent four years in Bonavista as a child, and has reconnected with a friend in Ontario, thanks to a photo posted by Abbott.

“We had been really good friends, together almost every day,” Bradbury explained. “Somebody had sent in a picture of us in front of our house when we were kids, and she commented, ‘They were a nice family; Carolyn was a good friend.’ I hadn’t spoken to her in 45 years, and now we email back and forth. She’s coming to visit in July.

Bradbury said she checks Abbott’s albums just about every day.

“It brings back all kinds of memories about people and things I had forgotten about,” she said.

Abbott, himself, discovered pictures of his family members he had never seen. Invited into a man’s house to look through his photo albums one day, Abbott came across a wedding picture of a familiar couple, and was told it was his parents, who have both passed away.

“I had never seen their wedding picture, so I was kind of shocked,” he said.

Many of Abbott’s Facebook friends are people who had never bothered with social networking before, or didn’t know what Facebook was. Some of the more senior people in the group had never even really used a computer, but learned of Abbott’s albums and joined Facebook, just to have a look.

“Ross Abbott has sparked so much interest in the history of Bonavista by inviting and sharing all these historic photos on his Facebook site,” said Glen Whiffen, The Telegram’s web editor, who’s from Bonavista.

“Many people, even senior citizens, who had no interest in computers or social media sites, have become friends of his Facebook page, and are enjoying the albums of photos of family, friends and neighbours, and old pictures of the town they never knew existed.”

Abbott accepts most people who send him a friend request, if they have friends in common or if he recognizes their name as being from Bonavista. If people send him a message, explaining who they are, he’ll often add them.

With the help of the Bonavista Archives, he’s in the process of coming up with a way to move his Facebook albums over to the archives’ website, but acknowledges it’s a challenge.

“To move them over is a lot of work, because you have to click on them and save them individually, and when you move them, you don’t get the comments people have left. But we’re trying to come up with a way to do it.

“I didn’t realize it was going to get as big as this.”