The Shawville Centennial Baby

Jennifer Davies is the Centennial Baby.

“That was my claim to fame,” she laughs. “It has got me a lot of mileage.”

When I first heard this piece of history, I couldn’t help but to be curious. How did she receive such a declaration? Was judging involved? How many people took part?

I decided to pay a visit to the Shawville/Clarendon Library on Main Street. The woman, who holds such a unique title as a baby, has been the Head Librarian for the last ten years. She greeted me with a friendly smile and so, it’s not a bad opener.

She took me through the scrapbook memories of her mind, along with some digging of my own just downstairs in the Archives. The story began to come together.

During the celebration of Shawville’s 100 years in 1973, a Centennial Baby Contest took place in the Anglican Hall on May 12. All 49 entries were of the Pontiac. There were two sections for the contest, Shawville babies and out of town babies – including divisions for age. The judging was on appearance, personality, and behaviour and bone structure. The babies all wore undershirts, diapers and a number, to make sure clothing wasn’t judged.

“I was the overall winner,” adds Jennifer, who was ten months at the time and is the daughter of Muriel and Terry Davies. “I think I got a trophy and a rosette.”

Mark Richardson won for the boy in the same age group. While Nancy Kearnan and Herbert Strutt were winners in the 11 to 24 months division.

Since then, Jennifer has judged a baby contest for Shawville’s 125th and organized another baby event for Clarendon’s 150th in 2005 – hence the mileage.

Where does a Centennial Baby go for high school? She decided to spend her last year in Neuchâtel, Switzerland. “I read about it in the Citizen and thought it would be pretty cool. I spent 9 months there. I first landed in Paris and to go there from Shawville, it was a culture shock,” recalls Jennifer.  She made it back home of course, and eventually to the Library.

I looked around the building as the Librarian tells her tale from behind the desk. Would you guess 9,070 books, magazines and DVDs fill the shelves? (On their last count in 2013) Plus an addition 4,080 items on rotation?

All those numbers add up pretty good, even if Jennifer admits the new wave of E-books have taken a hit to the Library. Nevertheless, the kids who still come, keep her positive.

She notes, the two biggest questions a Librarian can probably get asked are – What are you reading? What do you recommend?

“I’m re-reading a series and I haven’t caught up yet. It’s the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon and book number eight was just released on June 10. It starts in 1945 Scotland with a World War II nurse and the war has ended, she’s on a second honeymoon with her husband who was also in the war, an officer. She goes to these standing stones collecting flowers and things and goes into the stone circle and ended up in 1743, Scotland. A little bit of time travel but I like historical fiction…I started reading the Little House on the Prairie when I was a kid and it just kind of followed through.”

If Jennifer’s thoughts haven’t swayed you, the popularity of the books may change in time. A 16 episode television season is hitting the screens this summer.

A few other books that are featured on her personal list, “Annabel by Kathleen Winter a Canadian book, and I absolutely loved it, and anything by Adriana Trigiani, she is one of my favourite authors.”

The challenge though is making a judgement call on which books to put on the shelves, but she tells me, “After ten years, you kind of know. James Patterson books are ordered before they are released. Danielle Steel, Nora Roberts. Those are some of the ones you get right away. Others can hold on off, or they are asked for. New authors are hard because people don’t know them.”

Some of the books are decided through Interlibrary loans, which are brought in from Libraries in the region and across Canada.

Jennifer managed to be ahead of the curve with The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill. It was on a shelf for a year before it took off and became high in demand.

The Shawville/Clarendon Library is open 28 hours a week. The other hours of the week, her kids keep things rather busy. There is the soccer coach, the hockey mom and working on their Market Garden, which the produce gets sold at the Farmers Market.

We eventually trailed off into other memories of Shawville. The park benches at the Royal Bank, street dances on a Friday night. There are the three-legged races and a dance on Canada Day. The splashing of water in the wading pool in Rotary Park, which is beside McDowell.

Soon enough, people start coming in to return books and pick a few news ones to read. Jennifer goes about the business in the Library, a building which has grown and expanded over these ten years – the anniversary is on June 25. There are still plenty of stories waiting and ready to be cracked open.

Yet, after 41 years the talk about the Centennial Baby has faded a bit with time, but the moment is etched in history when Shawville turned 100.

There simply cannot be another.

By: Scott Campbell