“What’s my story?” Mark Rowe asked.
Sitting in a black leather chair in the Silvercreek Café of downtown Georgetown, Rowe paused to reflect on the question.
It’s a bit loud in the small coffee shop. It’s bustling with students and shoppers ordering espresso and grabbing a bite to eat.
“I’ve always been interested in history,” he said over the buzz of the cafe.
“I was supported by my community growing up and felt it was important to give back. That got me into being a part of the community, sharing history and teaching people in the community about their own history.”
Rowe sipped on his coffee in the centre of the bustling coffee shop. He spoke slowly about his 31 years of teaching, his community involvement and his healthy obsession with local and Canadian history.
He moved to Acton from Toronto when he was just three years old. After finishing high school he attended the University of Guelph receiving his bachelor’s degree in history. After that he completed teacher’s college at the University of Toronto.
“I joined the Esquesing Historical Society shortly after I started my family in Georgetown. I’ve been involved since the early 80’s and held lots of different positions,” Rowe said.
“Several years later I joined heritage Halton Hills as the Esquesing Historical Society representative, and I’ve been on it ever since.”
Rowe showed up at his first Esquesing Historical Society meeting in 1982. Now he is a part of the Historical Society that advises town council on heritage matters.
“I really enjoy researching buildings and houses,” he said. “We provide information to council so that they can make a decision on whether places need to be put on a heritage register, or whether they need to be designated.”
“I’m the archivist at the Historical Society now. We work to establish the archives at the Georgetown Public Library.”
“Our job is to collect local history including documents, papers and photographs related to our local heritage. But we also educate the public and share the information with them,” Rowe said.
He’s an honest and kind man who speaks softly while leaning forward in his chair.
During his involvement with the Historical society, Rowe began writing articles for The Georgetown Independent in the 1980’s.
“I learned different things. I wrote brochures and smaller booklets before I got into the bigger projects of book writing.”
Rowe has penned three books including Acton: The History of Leathertown in 2003, Georgetown: Reflections of A Small Town in 2006, and most recently Bats Balls And Sticks in November of 2011.
Each of his books are available at Coles in the Georgetown Marketplace and Reeve & Clarke Books in Glen Williams. His book on Acton can also be purchased at What the Dickens in Acton.
“Each book is usually a two year commitment,” Rowe added.
He has used archived issues of The Georgetown Independent to research his books prior to writing them. “Also the documents and photograph collections that the Historical Society have collected over the years have been invaluable.”
“I like being a detective,” he said. “I like being a sleuth and looking for information. I like putting the pieces together and figuring out who is responsible for what and what families were important.”
“I love history so much because I have a very interesting family history myself. So that’s what got me interested in history in the first place.”
Rowe once read in a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not as a student a story of a tree trunk being sliced open at a sawmill in Acton. The massive trunk was cut open, and a single toad hopped out.
“I read that as a child and when I did my research for my Acton book I came across that in the local papers. That actually happened,” he said laughing.
“That was so cool. That was a connection between my childhood in Acton, and writing that book.”
“My latest book on sports history I learned so much about sports and of course how important it was in peoples lives. Even from the earliest days when the pioneers had a lot of work in the summer, they didn’t in the winter.”
Rowe’s book cites curling as one of the earliest sports to be played in Halton Hills.
“I was surprised that organized hockey didn’t get started until the turn of century,” he said. “They played shiny but there was no organized hockey. As you might expect, baseball is the one sport that more people have played than any other sport in Halton Hills.”
While sports are such a big part of the history of Halton Hills, Rowe also loves the natural beauty and scenery our community provides. He cites Glen Williams as one of his favourite spots in Halton Hills.
“I’m into the man made history but I also really enjoy the nature and layout of the landscape in Halton Hills,” he said.
“It’s so well preserved. Part of being well preserved is that Glen Williams is off the beaten track. Naturally I also love the escarpment and Hickory Falls.”
Now retired from his teaching career, Rowe spent 31 years teaching grades three thought eight at both St. Francis of Assisi and St. Brigid. He’s happy to have had the support from his wife Kelly and his four children throughout his career.
“I was ready to retire,” he said slowly.
“When I retired from teaching, elections were coming up and I was elected as the trustee for Halton Hills in the Halton Catholic School Board. I am doing that and I enjoy seeing education from another point of view.”
Halton Hills Councillor Moya Johnson sat on the Heritage Committee with Rowe and has known him for more than 30 years.
“Mark ‘lives’ the history of the town,” Councillor Johnson said.
“His gentle manner is a striking characteristic. He doesn’t ‘spout off’’ or sound like a know it all. He just talks very quietly and is a wealth of information.”
“He is highly respected for his knowledge and integrity in the heritage field and for his volunteer commitment to the community,” she said.
Dawn Livingstone is the current secretary of the Esquesing historical Society and has known Rowe for close to 25 years now. Livingstone said Rowe is a treasure to this town and community.
“Mark has had a very great influence on all the communities of Halton Hills, but especially Georgetown, Acton and the Glen.”
“As a devoted and much loved teacher, I am sure he’s had a great influence on the many children he has taught over the years.”
“His research and writing has helped raise an awareness of our history, and through his work as Archivist is helping preserve that history for future generations.”
Adding on to his impressive resume, Rowe is currently the President of the Glen Williams Town Hall. That keeps him busy on a day-to-day basis and is glad to be heavily involved with his own immediate community.
After receiving the Ontario Lifetime Heritage Award in 2007, Rowe has rounded out an impressive career as a teacher, author, role model and historian.
But for those looking to follow in Rowe’s footsteps, he urges all residents to volunteer their time, and appreciate the history behind their community.
“Appreciate the town. Appreciate the history behind the town and all the families that contributed to make it what it is today. Appreciate your community and whenever possible help out.”
“You need to get involved. That’s what helps shape you as a person and gives you experience,” he said.
Mark Rowe has made the community his priority, and is determined to spend his life preserving and sharing the history of Halton Hills.
“Just like any history it helps to understand where we came from, and therefore who we are right now. History gives direction of where we should be going in the future.”
“And really, that’s the story,” he said smiling.