If you live in Hawkesbury and have old family photo albums stashed away somewhere, now might be a good time to look through them.

A few years ago amateur historian Jean Cuillerier was sorting a bunch of old photos he had of Hawkesbury and thought it would be a good idea to create a Facebook page on which to post them. He uploaded a bunch of his pictures, invited others to share any old images they had of the town and over the years the group gained a few hundred members who would occasionally post a photo or two. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

“The page was made years ago, but it took off just around the pandemic time,” says Cuillerier, who was literally stunned by the response he made to a photo he posted just after social distancing began last March. “I decided to post one thing on (the page) and I said ‘whoa!’ – people were really interested. So I decided to start posting more pictures and ‘Bang’, I’m up to 3,800 (members).”

In the months since the pandemic started, the Hawkesbury History Photos page on Facebook has grown exponentially, featuring multiple new images every day – many of which have garnered hundreds of comments and a lot of friendly debate as to when and where things were. The pictures come in all shapes and sizes, displaying everything from a tree-lined Main Street, to old building and cars, Le Chenail (before it became part of the Ottawa River with the construction of the Carillon dam), family photos, weddings, fires, hotels, movie theatres – literally anything in Hawkesbury that was ever captured in a photo is welcome.

“People appreciate it so much,” Cuillerier says, noting there are members who only joined Facebook after hearing about the historic photos being posted on the page. “Some people go on Facebook just for this history group – a lot of people tell me it’s the first thing they look at when they go online in the morning.”

With many businesses now reopening and more people returning to work Hawkesbury Historic Photos continues to remain active, having garnered enough interested members to keep the ball rolling for quite some time. Cuillerier himself has hundreds of photos he has not yet posted and continues to search for more through both online contacts and local research. But his biggest treasure-trove is the Facebook page itself and he hopes it will encourage others to go through their family photo albums so more of Hawkesbury’s history can be unravelled.

“What I would like people to do is go and look into their grandparents’ and parents’ photos before they disappear – sometimes those are just thrown away,” Cuillerier emphasizes. “Every family has photos and they should try to make an effort. They can give them to me – I’ll scan them and give them back. “One thing I want people to know is if they don’t want to make the effort of looking through their photos, just give them to me and I’ll look at them.”

This 1956 photo of the Ottawan Theatre received hundreds of comments on the Hawkesbury History Photos Facebook page, with many wondering if it later became The Regent Theatre. The Ottawan was in fact located at the corner of William and Main. The building remains there and the outline of the old theatre can still be seen in the photo below. Photos courtesy of Hawkesbury Historic Photos