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Saturday, June 24, 2017

Pairing ancient history with fine wine | St. Catharines Standard

Pairing ancient history with fine wine

By Laura Ranieri, Special to Postmedia Network

Gayle Gibson with Ramses I. - Chris Irie/Special to Postmedia

Looking for a little Ancient Egypt magic to spice up all the Confederation celebrations? You're in luck.

Famous Egyptologist Gayle Gibson – identifier of Ramses the Ist, our Canadian Pharaoh (who resided in Niagara for just about 150 years) returns for another riveting local talk.

Gibson, the star of BBC and NOVA docs will regale us with tales of tombs, treasures and early Egypt exploration on Sunday, July 9 at Hare Wine Co. After all, Niagara can rightly celebrate its own sesquicentennial of Egypt exploration this summer too! A Taste of Ancient Egypt will take place at The Hare Wine Co. 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on July 9 – tickets $20 in advance and $25 at the door.

Nabbing mummies for Niagara's cabinet of curiosities

Between 1857 and 1861 - just years just before Confederation - our own Sidney Barnett of the Niagara Falls Museum set off overseas to embark upon three epic journeys up the Nile. His mission was to acquire some antiquities for his dad's popular museum of curiosities.

In fact, dad sent him for just this reason – as Egyptomania had already hit in Canada!

Sidney was a pioneer - one of the intrepid Victorian-age travelers and antiquities buyers at a chaotic time when shady dealers sold mummies in the back alleys. To put this in context, this was a full decade before Thomas Cook arranged his first group tour to Egypt.

Among the dozens of treasures Barnett brought back was that famous mummy of Pharaoh Ramses I that resided in the collection until the 1990s. I suppose that would make the long-deceased king one of the very first Canadian citizens, fresh off the boat just before 1867!

An all-Canadian expedition up the Nile

Sidney was not alone in his pioneering exploits. He was part of a uniquely Canadian (or pre-Canadian) 1857-58 expedition of six or seven adventurers from Ontario and Quebec who travelled up the Nile together in a traditional Dahabeyah (sail boat).

Other notable co-travelers included Lachlan Taylor, a Methodist minister from Cobourg, Ont., and James Ferrier, a former mayor of Montreal and later founder of the Redpath museum which still showcases three mummies he personally acquired.

The leaders of the expedition were James Douglas and his son, also from Montreal. The elder Douglas, a medical doctor of dubious reputation (deported from the U.S. for digging up prominent corpses for study) had vacationed in Egypt for health reasons every winter through the 1850s – a true Victorian snowbird.

He was very fond of his mummies, and his son complained they had to cart them about with them everywhere they went. The Douglases brought back to Canada not only many priceless antiquities, but also among the first series of important early photographs of the country. They were also very well connected in Egypt with the early archeologists and antiquity dealers of the time – so they had some great inroads for antiquity buying.

It was James Douglas Jr., in fact, who assisted Barnett in his purchases for the Niagara Falls Museum. In addition to the exceptionally fine mummy of Ramses I, these included eight other mummies, 10 coffins and assorted artefacts, mainly from the later period of Egypt – 900 BCE through Roman times.

Barnett's travel journals, housed today at the City of Niagara Falls Museum, reveal his personal and poetic impressions of Egypt during those wild and lawless years. The Nile, he describes as about a mile and a half wide with a very fair current "like the Niagara river at Frost bite".

He also writes:

"Thousands! Yes, hundreds of thousands of mummies still remain notwithstanding the number that have been carried away and destroyed ... And the traveler will find there in some places where antiquarians have been making excavation piles of mummies thrown out, partly buried by the sand a grim and awful site. And while he views the ruins, these tombs, Arab men and boys will chase after him with fragments of them, a foot, a hand a head or some of the liver ..."

The Egypt travel experience - frozen in time

Despite the advent of mass tourism and the march of time, in many ways, travel to Egypt has changed little since Barnett's time. The merchants are still relentless in hawking their wares - thankfully, not real artifacts but only cheap replicas today. The pyramids, temples and tombs still mesmerize travelers as they have done for millennia – and are quite accessible for touring.

Many rural farmers still working the fields with their water buffalos and wooden ploughs – just as you see depicted in the 3,000-year old tomb reliefs. And the eternal Nile continues to flow upstream, from the green, fertile Delta in the north to the dry desert lands of Upper Egypt in the south, carrying travelers past indescribable wonders unchanged over time.

And speaking of Egypt travel, three special Egyptologist-led tours associated with Gibson's group – one with her at the helm - are planned for fall 2017 and winter 2018.

For more details, visit For A Taste of Ancient Egypt in Niagara tickets July 9 featuring Gayle Gibson, visit Or call Anna at 1-800-978-0544;

--   Sent from my Linux system.

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