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Putting time in a bottle

Fred Ball has been using his metal detector to find treasure or old artifacts for more than 30 years, unearthing some interesting finds from time to time. A recent case in point is a trove of glass bottles, mainly from the 1920s and ’30s, some a little older.

“To find this many older bottles at one spot, it was a good find. I couldn’t wait to go over there every night to do a little digging for an hour and a half to two hours and find some goodies,” he said of his most recent discovery.

After three weeks of collecting, Ball has been able to find a large quantity of old bottles that help to tell a bit of the region’s history. The oldest bottle he has found so far is from 1885, which he figures used to be a whiskey bottle from its design and green colour. He found items amongst the excavated materials from the reconstruction of Union Street in Elmira.

“There was a few bottles laying on the road. I talked to one of the construction workers and he told me when he dug up the road there it was an old landfill site from the ’20s and ’30s. I checked the dirt and found a few bottles,” said Ball. “Lots of them from 1905 and 1910.”

The recent haul of collectibles is one of Ball’s larger old-bottle finds. He notes he has found similar bottles from those years, but never more than two or three at a time.

“There are people that will appreciate this. These are bottles from their parents and relations that lived here.”

Among his finds was a bottle labelled “Berlin, Ontario,” with Ball admitting it took him a second to note the significance.

“I didn’t know. I’ve been here in Elmira for about 26 years, but it said Berlin, Ontario – I went into the house and it hit me like a ton of bricks: ‘Oh, that used to be Kitchener,’ so that got me,” he said, noting the realization left him ecstatic.

Kitchener was called Berlin from its founding in 1833 up until 1916. During the First World War, referendum was held to change the name after a rise in anti-German sentiment. The city was renamed after the recently deceased British Army officer Horatio Herbert Kitchener.

“When you’re digging, things pop up: whiskey, beer, medicine, pop bottles – there are lots of pop bottles, there’s Kuntz Kitchener. I’ve got six or eight of them (medicine bottles) as they changed over the years – I’ve got the whole collection of those bottles,” explained Ball.  “If anybody does any digging that’s the only way you’re going to find bottles, I’d say.”

He noted that the aqua green colours also give hints to the age of some of the bottles as well as the square shape that used to be more predominant.

“I’ve found them before, but not in town and nothing like this,” he said of the scale of his latest find.

Ball has found many rustic items from that era while out using his metal detector, and has an expansive collection that paints a picture of what people used to use and how our metal processing and manufacturing have evolved.

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