ArteFACTS: Bricks Before Lego

By Melissa Cole, Curator

One of the Oshawa Museum’s latest donations included three sets of Minibrix.  This unique toy reminds me of Lego.  The details given within the construction sets state that the Patentees and Manufacturers are the Premo Rubber Co. Ltd, of Petersfield in Hampshire. Premo was a subsidiary of the ITS Rubber Company, founded in 1919. The origin of Minibrix stretches as far back as 1934, when an American manufacturer ITS Rubber Specialties Company introduced its Build-O-Brik line. Those innovative little rectangles inspired the MiniBrix line from England’s Premo Rubber Company in 1935.  The first impression of any of the Minibrix construction sets surely has to be one of robust precision and of quality materials. The boxes are sturdy and even the smallest of sets are comparatively heavy by today’s standards. Like so many of the toys sold in the 1950s and 1960s, the boxes are colourful and very well illustrated.

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A unique fact about Minibrix is the connection to Oshawa.  The sole Canadian supplier of Minibrix, was located here in Oshawa at 184 Bond Street West by the R.D. Fleck and Company Limited.   There is no building located there today, it would have been on the corner of Bond and Arena which is currently an empty lot.

The Minibrix and Tudor Minibrix Book, which were supplied with the sets, gives details of the various items that can be constructed from the materials for each individual set. The colourful illustrations and specific lists of the number of bricks and materials required, make the building of the items shown much easier.  The building sets were launched in 1935 as sets 0 – 7.

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The rubber brown bricks were precisely made and interconnected with each other and are similar in size to today’s Lego bricks. Two lugs protrude from one face of the brick to fit into the two corresponding holes of a second brick.  A slight twist and push action secures the bricks together.   The main bricks measure 1” by 1/2” by 3/8”.

Minibuilders Club

Included with this donation was advertising flyers, within one of the flyers it says “Minibrix is a thoroughly hygienic toy.  All are washable and can be passed on from one child to another without risk.” Also included with the donation was a certificate to the Minibuilders Club.  This is similar to the Lego Club today.  The Minibuilders club encouraged the use and further purchases of the product. The MINIBUILDERS CLUB had its own badge and a clear aim: “MINIBUILDERS CLUB has been formed for the purpose of bringing together all owners of Minibrix sets, on the common ground of their interest in model building and architectural construction.”

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Everhard-Phillips Glass Plate Negative Collection: Back Home in Leavenworth, KS

Background:

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EE (Eben) Henry; from the Oshawa Museum Archival Collection

The Oshawa Historical Society and the Leavenworth County Historical Society share a history and an interest in a gentleman by the name of Ebenezer Elijah Henry.

E.E. was the last of five sons born to Thomas and his first wife Betsey.  His childhood was spent along the shore of Lake Ontario where the family lived and cared for their farm and orchard.  As E.E. reached his late teens, he attended Starkey Seminary in New York State, and it was here that E.E. met his future wife Harriet.  They married, lived briefly in a home close to Henry House before moving to Port Hope where E.E. opened his first photography studio.  Photography appears to have been E.E.’s passion and one he took with him when he and Harriet moved to Leavenworth, Kansas.  It is here that he began, unbeknownst to him, a photography collection that would document the growth of Kansas and showcase the people who called Leavenworth home.

We have been fortunate to create a partnership with the Leavenworth County Historical Society.  This partnership will help both sites to better understand the life and impact of E.E. Henry.  The following article showcases the hard work by their Historical Society to bring this collection home and to make use of it to learn more about their history.


Guest Post by: Mary Ann Brown, President of the Leavenworth County Historical Society

Museums around the world often count a historically significant photographic collection among their holdings.  While sometimes taken for granted by the general population, as common place as they may seem, these collections offer an instantaneous window into history, many times without the need of accompanying commentary.  Such artifacts will maintain their importance overtime and henceforth gain wider acclaim, appreciation, and recognition in their own particular time and place in history.  It is not every day that a collection is uncovered that spans 100 years of a single town’s history, specifically from the early days of its founding and from work carried out by its pioneer photographers.  What is even more significant is the that these images depict life in a western town, from which the United States border advanced.  Before Kansas became a state, the western most border of the United States was the Missouri River and the infant town of Leavenworth became the First City of Kansas.

In 1998 the Leavenworth County Historical Society in Kansas acquired such a collection in the form of thousands of photographic negatives—glass plates, nitrates and safety film—representing the first century of Leavenworth history, from the Gene Autry Museum of Western Heritage (now known as “The Autry National Center”) in Los Angeles, California.  That same year, nearly 4,000 negatives were acquired from David R. Phillips, photographer-collector of Chicago, Illinois, who had purchased the original collection from the Miss Everhard Photography Studio in Leavenworth upon her retirement in 1968, when her efforts to sell it locally were unsuccessful.  Over Labor weekend, four tons of glass plate negatives were removed from Miss Everhard’s Leavenworth studio, loaded into a U-Haul van and transported to Chicago, Illinois.  Comprised mostly of portraits, the collection represents the elite and founding fathers of Leavenworth, Kansas, the first city of Kansas and gateway to the West.  In addition to the cross-section of the people of Leavenworth County, from the wealthy businessmen and society wives, to coal miners, Ft. Leavenworth soldiers, store clerks, and children, there are also photos of Leavenworth homes, the Old Soldiers’ Home, St. Mary College, storefronts, parades, and government buildings.

Miss Mary Everhard, for whom the collection is named, had purchased the studio of early Leavenworth photographer, Harrison Putney in 1922.  This studio had been established in 1866 by E.E. Henry, for whom many of the older and later notable residents posed.  Henry and step-son, Harrison Putney had produced thousands of photographic images over the years which Putney left with the studio.  In 1940, another photography studio closed in Leavenworth, the city’s oldest, which had been opened by Richard Stevenson in 1858 and continued by his son, Harrison.  Their negatives were left behind in the vacated studio so Miss Everhard added those to the Henry/Putney collection.  While Phillips eventually sold portions of the collection to the Gene Autry Museum of Western Heritage, the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, and other museums, he recognized the value, as did Miss Everhard and her predecessors, in not only preserving but sharing an amazing photographic record of a most historically significant town.  Images made from these negatives are beyond compare.  A debt of gratitude is owed Mr. Phillips for saving this wonderful collection of early Kansas history, for when Miss Everhard approached a Leavenworth banker in hopes of using it as her retirement fund, the banker laughed and suggested it was of no value and ought to be thrown into the muddy Missouri River!

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Judge Fenlon & Family 1871 Photographer: E.E. Henry

In the summer of 2015, the LCHS launched a major campaign to bring back to Leavenworth the balance of the collection still held by Mr. Phillips.  It consisted, in part, of the oldest studio portraits and a very rare collection of wet-plate stereonegatives.  Mr. Phillips was finally convinced that these negatives needed to be back in Leavenworth.  For nearly 50 years he had preserved and promoted the collection with exhibits, published articles, and books.  This final piece of the original collection of Leavenworth history is considered the centerpiece of the entire collection and a national treasure.  Several trips were made to Chicago to transport negatives back to Kansas as funds allowed.  The museum also purchased from Mr. Phillips a 24” Epson printer to be able to make over-sized prints from the negatives for sale as a means of support for the museum.

Besides a general plea to the museum’s membership, town leaders were called upon to make generous donations.  A dinner theatre fundraiser and kick-off breakfast were held early in the campaign.  Grants were written to secure funding for exhibits of a selection of prints made by Mr. Phillips, news articles were written and a series of presentations were made locally explaining what a glass negative was and what effect the ownership of the collection would make on the museum and Leavenworth.  Grants were also written to foundations, with little luck, and the campaign stalled.

The deadline to raise the necessary funds was set for December 31, 2016 and as it fast approached, the funds needed to acquire the collection were significantly short.  In the fall of 2016, it was discovered that a Kansas City, Kansas resident had ancestral ties to Leavenworth—Mr. Henry Wollman Bloch.  Now in his 90s, Mr. Bloch had founded successful and nationally recognized H & R Block, a tax preparation company and the H & R Block Foundation for his philanthropic work.  Mr. Bloch’s ancestor was the Jonas Wollman family, early settlers in Leavenworth, owning and operating a clothing store in the early business district.  The family later relocated to Kansas City and then New York City, where they became quite wealthy.  Remembering his roots, Mr. Bloch sent a personal check to the museum right before Christmas (Hanukkah for him), to make up the shortfall, thereby officially ending the campaign and securing the balance of the collection.

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Buffalo Bill’s wedding, 1868 Photographer: EE Henry

 

Now the museum seeks to begin Phase II of the campaign—to raise the necessary funds to design,  build, and maintain an annex, where this and other collections can be archivally stored and studied as we seek to become a research center for early Kansas history.  The annex will be a carriage house style building, reminiscent of one that once stood on the property.  Handicap facilities and accessibility, as well as parking, will also be included.  An extension of the Victorian herb and heirloom gardens is also planned to incorporate the original Planters House Hotel steps from which Abraham Lincoln stood on his first and only visit to Kansas and Leavenworth in 1859.


Visit the Leavenworth County Historical Society’s Website

Visit the LCHS Blog

The Month That Was – December 1872

All  articles are from the Ontario Reformer

December 6, 1872
A short time ago a horse was advertised in the Reformer as strayed.  It  had been missing for some weeks, and no clue to its whereabouts could be obtained till the day after the “ad” appeared, when the owner saw it and got his horse.  One day this week a man came in to advertise a steer which had strayed on to his premises.  Before the advertisement appeared in print the owner had his animal.  If you want anything made known bring your advertisement to the Reformer office.  We presume the reason why the last anumal was recovered so soon was, the “ad” was paid for in advance.

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December 6, 1872, page 1

December 6, 1872
Births

In Oshawa, on the 3rd inst., the wife of Thomas Hopper, of a son.

In Oshawa, on the 4th inst, the wife of Mr. Parks, Bruce Street, of a son.

In Harmony, on the 3rd inst., the wife of Mr. Calston Horn, of a son.

In Oshawa on the 30th ult., the wife of Mr. Wm. Right, of a son.

Married

On the 27th ult., by the Rev. Wm. Scott Mr Thomas Hoskin Jr., of Oshawa, to Miss Eliza Jane, eldest daughter of the late Mr. John Colman, of Darlington

 

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December 6, 1872, page 2

 

December 13, 1872
Terrible Conflegration (sic)
Oshawa ‘Chicagoed’
Fourteen places of business and seven dwellings destroyed
The fire supposed to be the work of an ifcendiary (sic)

The most fearful fire that ever took place in Oshawa was that of Sunday night last.  About ten minutes after seven, a fire was discovered in the clothing store of Mr. Geo. Hodder, and the alarm was immediately given.  The Fire Brigade was soon at the scenes of the conflagration, and at work; but, as usual, the water supply gave out, and the efforts of the firemen to confine the fire to the place where it originated proved unsuccessful.  Quickly the flames spread, and soon the adjoining stores were enveloped with the devouring elements.  It now became evident that the entire row of buildings, from Fitzmaurice’s drug store, around the corner, to Garth’s butcher shop, was doomed, unless a good supply of water could be obtained.  There were three engines at work, Oshawa No. 1 and 2 and the little chemical engine from the Hall Works, all doing well when they could obtain water.  When it became evident that the fire was likely to spread as it did, endangering the whole town, Mr. C.W. Smith procured a horse and went for the Whitby steam fire engine, having first made arrangements for a team to meet the engine on its way down.  Inside of an hour and ten minutes after Mr. Smith left for Whitby, the steamer was playing on the fire, procuring water from the well at Black’s corner.  And well did this little “Merryweather’ under the management of the noble Whitby Fire Brigade, do its work – nobly did the brigade work; and to-day the businessmen on the north side of King Street may thank the Whitby Fire Brigade for saving – with their engine – their property.  Just before the Whitby engine arrived, it was fully expected that the Gibbs block would go, as the heat from the burning buildings was intense.  In fact, in front of the Chisholm’s store, Blamey & Briggs’ store, and the top of Hind’s hotel, were on fire, but with the help of the ‘little chemical,’ the fire in the two  stores was put out, and Hind’s was saved by the Whitby engine.  All this time, the Oshawa Brigade, with old No. 1 and No. 2, was working as they always work – nobly.  But what is the use of a fire engine without water! The Oshawa Hook and Ladder Company worked like ‘all out doors’ as they always do. The citizens, with a few exceptions, worked as if the property belonged to the doing all they could to save goods from the doomed stores.  Men and boys ‘played horse’ and with wagons drew away the goods as fast as they could be loaded, to places of safety.

… The fire was, indeed bad; but how much worse might it have been.  A few accidents happened to the firemen and others, but none of a serious nature.  Let us be thankful that there were no lives lost.

…The persons who burst open Mr. Hoddor’s door distinctly state that the fire first started in the north-west corner of the shop, which would be as much as twelve or fourteen feet from the stove. What makes it certain that the fire could not have originated from any defect in the stove is, there was no fire in it from Saturday night; and the stove was cold when Mr. Hoddor left after closing.

There was no one in the shop, or, no one who had any business there, on Sunday but Mr. Hoddor’s boy, and that was about eight o’clock in the morning.

There appears to be no doubts whatever  but that the fire was the work of an incendiary; but who the scoundrel is yet remains a mystery. A jury was empaneled on Tuesday last, and an investigation proceeded with, before Dr. Clark, coroner, and is yet going on, privately. A great many persons have been examined, but no evidence has been adduced which will criminate anyone.  If any important is brought before the jury, we will make it known in our next issue.

Where to find them

The old customers (and as many new ones wish) of those of our merchants and business men who were compelled to move on Sunday night, on account of the ‘extreme heat’ will find them at the following places, for the present, where great bargains may be expected.

Trewin will be found in the store lately occupied by EB Wilcox, one door west of Wigg & Son’s furniture warerooms.

Dr. Deans will be found in the shop next door north of Taylor’s jewellery store.

Wm. Dickie will be found in the shop between Trewin’s and Gillett Bros.

JF Willox will be found up stairs, over W Lang’s store, one door west of Steele Bros.

JP Johnston will be found in part of H Wilkinson’s boot and shoe store, three doors east of Black’s hotel, till further notice.

R Fitchett will be found, on or after Monday next, in part of Keddie & Rice’s new store.

JJ Hall will be found at present at Hindes’ Hotel, where he will shave you as clean as he ever did.

Geo. Garth will be found in the place lately occupied by Mrs. Finney, next door to Shaw’s boot and shoe store.

J Barnard will be found two doors east of Black’s hotel.

JO & RH Henry will be found in the old stand, Simcoe St., next door to the Reformer Office.

The other parties have not, as yet, secured places.

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Giving Tuesday 2017

By Laura Suchan, Executive Director

This year Giving Tuesday, a movement for giving and volunteering taking place each year after Cyber Monday, will be celebrated on November 28.  As the unofficial start to the giving season, Giving Tuesday has become a day where charities, companies and individuals can join together to share commitments, rally for favourite causes and thank donors and supporters.

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The Oshawa Museum is highlighting donations to the Artefact Fund for this Giving Tuesday. As an external agency of the city, the Oshawa Historical Society receives an annual grant for the operation of the museum which covers general expenses including electricity, office supplies, insurance, accounting, salaries, promotion, etc.  However expenses related to artefact purchases, conservation work or exhibit development are often not covered in the operating budget.  With this mind the Board of Directors established the Acquisition Account in 1995 to fund those purchases not included as part of the museum’s operating budget.  Most of the funds in the account comes from donations and may be used to finance,

  1. the purchase of artefacts historically relevant to Oshawa
  2. the restoration or conservation of artefacts in the collection
  3. projects relating to improving the accessibility of the collection
  4. the purchase of items and services as deemed appropriate by the Board of Directors to support the above.

Our members and donors have told us repeatedly how much pride they take in the museum and its collection. Archivist, Jennifer Weymark, wrote the following about the impact of your donations to the Acquisitions Fund and what it means to our collection growth,

The majority of the time, we rely on the public to donate items to help our collection grow.  These donations are  important as they bring to us items that had been tucked away and are now available for the public to research.  We appreciate each and every donation.

However there are times when we come across items that will  enhance our collection, that have research value and that belong in the public domain and that are for sale.  It is then that we rely on donations to the Acquisition Fund to purchase these items for our collections. Thanks to the wonderful generosity of our members, we have recently been able to purchase  a wonderful marriage certificate dating back to March 21, 1872.  The marriage is between  George Lankin, a mariner from the Village of Oshawa and Mary Matilda Smith, a spinster from East Whitby Township.  While the names may not be familiar, this marriage license contains a wealth of important research information. Not only is it an important piece for those researching the family names of Lankin and Smith in this area but the license also tells us more about what early Oshawa was like.  It can be used to document local employment opportunities;  it is the first one I have come across the lists the gentleman as a mariner. The license also states that the Right Honorable John Baron Lisgar was the Governor General of Canada in 1872.

With each new acquisition we are able to add to our community history in unique and wonderful ways.  Acquisitions help the Oshawa Museum not only preserve  our history but strategically develop the collection for future generations.

Donations in the amount of $25, $50, $100 or more would help  us meet our goal. Please use this link to make a donation in any amount: canadahelps.org/giv3/37338.  You can also send your donation by mail to Oshawa Historical Society, 1450 Simcoe Street South, Oshawa, Ontario L1H 8S8.

As Giving Tuesday draws near, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you all for your continued support.

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Memories of Camp Samac

By Jill Passmore, Visitor Experience Co-ordinator

I realized when I wrote my last blog post that so many of my memories of the Civic Auditorium were tied into those of Camp Samac as well. I have vague memories of coming to Camp Samac on a bus from Port Credit, ON when I was little for Brownie camp. I was excited because I knew were we were going since my maternal grandparents lived in Oshawa. It was not long after this that our family moved to Oshawa and my siblings and I were enrolled into Oshawa Units of Brownies, Guides and Beavers. We attended meetings at Waverly PS, St. Michael CS (now Trent University Durham) and Glen Stewart Clubhouse.

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As a family we often went for hikes through Camp Samac – the Sunrise and Sunset trails, and I am fairly certain this was an all-season activity. One memorable hike took place in the fall. We were out with our neighbours, who were also involved in Scouting. Their son and my brother were the same age and had gone up ahead on the trail. The footing has given way and down my brother went into the creek – he could not swim at the time! My Dad wasted no time getting down that bluff camera and all. Not long after we were enrolled in swimming lessons at the Civic Auditorium.

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I also remember participating in huge campfires held at Samac. I am assuming they were at Kitchie Lodge since that is the most open area for campfires of that size. It seemed like there were many other Cub Packs from Oshawa there on those nights. Many would be wrapped in warm campfire blankets, their badges proudly sewn on. We would play games like telephone; sing songs like Old Mrs. O’Leary, On Top of Spaghetti and One Bottle of Pop/Fish & Chips & Vinegar.

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There was also the familiar scent of the camp shop. If you have been there, you know what I mean. You will also probably remember the awful carpeting! Most of the time we got to pick out a patch to sew onto our campfire blankets. I was disappointed to find out that the blankets are not made as they used to be. I guess that happens to some things after twenty-five years, right? Also, most of the uniforms and badgers for Beavers, Cubs and Scouts are sold online these days, the same goes for Sparks, Brownies and Guides.

Last year my daughter went to Sparks camp at Samac. Boy did it bring back memories. I meant to go back and go to the shop but forgot to amidst the familiar hustle and bustle of getting kids settled at camp. Picking out bunks, checking out the cabin, checking out the fire pit etc. They want on a hike too; though I don’t think it was on Sunrise or Sunset. It makes me happy that my kids are getting to experience something I remember so fondly and that Camp Samac is there for at least another generation to enjoy.

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Jill and her siblings at Camp Samac, mid-1980s