Cornwall resident Lily Worrall will be one of eleven inducted into the Cornwall and Area Arts Hall of Fame at a gala event on October 8, 2023. Worrall has made lasting contributions to the arts in Cornwall and SDG through her website, cornwallpostcards.ca, her time at Upper Canada Playhouse, and her passion for genealogy, storytelling, and desktop publishing.
Cornwallpostcards.ca is an online collection of postcards from Cornwall, Ontario. The website preserves 559 postcards going back to 1900, a collection Worrall started when she moved to Cornwall and realized the love many Cornwallites have for their local history. The postcards are categorized and contain different bits of history and memories collected by Worrall over the years.
“Every year I pay to keep it up on the web and there it is for people to use, whatever they want to do,” Worrall told Seaway News, “Sometimes I get a little note from a student at school – can I use some of your postcards? – and I always say yes, as long as you give me credit, that’s fine.”
Worrall was the Director of Upper Canada Playhouse for 15 years and served two two-year terms as President. Traditionally Presidents are only allowed so serve one term, but Worrall was asked to come back at time when the theatre was struggling and helped them stage a powerful comeback. Years later, Upper Canada Playhouse is thriving with an annual audience of over 40,000.
Another, arguably the biggest, way that Worrall has contributed to the arts in Cornwall and SDG is through the many books she has written or helped others publish. One of the first of these was a hardcover book called Avonmore, a collection of stories and photographs created using dot matrix, long before spell check came about.
“I lived in Avonmore for 25 years and I was on the board that built the seniors’ apartment building,” Worrall explained, “There’s 25 units in it and as we sat around and started talking about that as a board, we said you know, all of these seniors are going to move into this building and their houses are going to be emptied. What are they going to do with all of their stuff; what are they going to do with their photographs and their stories?”
Because she was into computers, Worrall offered to put a book together to preserve all of that history. Through this and other projects, including two books in partnership with fellow genealogist Lyle Manson compiling popular Standard Freeholder columnist George Wilson’s Down the Lane interviews with Cornwall residents, Worrall became sought out for her skills in book layout and cover design.
“The other thing that I do for people is I get an ISBN number (International Serialized Book Number). All books have them (or should have them),” said Worrall, “That means that two copies of that book go to the National Archives. One goes on the shelf so that researchers can look things up and the other one goes – best of all – into their vault, and it stays there forever.”
Worrall’s passion for genealogy came about when she decided to look into her own family history.
“My grandmother was a Gallinger. I never asked her a question, ever, about her family. And she lived to be 102! Once she was gone, this is what turned me on to genealogy. That was when the internet came in.”
Worrall soon co-authored a book on the Gallinger family genealogy with Arlene Frolick, another Gallinger decedent who resided in Saskatchewan. The two went back and forth via the internet to put the book together. Worrall recalls having to go use an old microfilm machine at the former Cornwall Library or to go to Ottawa for research, whereas Saskatchewan already had census records available online. The finished project was around 1000 pages of genealogy.
“The family starts with Micheal and his wife Agatha,” she shared, “They came down to the Mohawk Valley and then the Americans had their big revolution, so they ran away from that because they were loyal to the Crown. They came up here with their six kids and settled in Cornwall.”
In recent years, Worrall has helped many more people from different walks of life share their stories in the form of trade paperbacks. One of these was Thom Racine, former Cornwall Police Service member and sports enthusiast. With Worrall’s help, Racine wrote two books: One telling the story of John Davie, a Cornwall Special Constable who was shot by an armed drifter in 1892, and a memoir of his father, famed football player Maurice Racine, affectionately known as ‘Moe the Toe’.
Worrall’s latest commission, Woodlawn Cemetery, 1887-1987 – Minute Book & Local History, was published in 2023.
“They asked me to do the history of a cemetery, and I thought, what kind of history can you do on a cemetery? It’s not a living, breathing place. It’s a dead place, really,” Worrall laughed, acknowledging that there are many ‘famous’ Cornwallites buried there.
In addition to transcribing handwritten Minutes dating back to the late 1800s, Worrall included local newspaper clippings, photographs, and ‘funny things that are Cornwall’ to give context to the cemetery and the trials faced by the directors running it. The book also includes an index of approximately 2,000 names along with tidbits of information such as their occupation. Woodlawn Cemetery is available at the Cemetery Office, located at 540 Cumberland, open Monday to Friday from 9:30am to 1:30pm.
From the way that Worrall recounts all of the stories she has helped preserve over the years, her love for Cornwall and its residents is clear.
“It’s a nice town and it’s not too big. What I like about it is some people say, well everybody knows your business because everybody knows you. But on the other hand, everybody knows your business and they know when you’re in trouble, when you’re celebrating,” Worrall smiled, “All those things, that’s Cornwall. It’s kind of magical. And to meet the people and find their stories, that’s what I like about genealogy.”