By Lisa Terech: Youth Engagement/Programs and Digitization Assistant
Throughout the summer, I have been slowly, but surely, working my way through Henry House, photographing and cataloging the artifacts on display in this heritage house. The room being exhibited as Thomas Henry’s study was my second last room to complete, with some of my favourite artifacts on display; it is great to catalogue artifacts that you love and have great interest in.
Hanging on the walls are three pieces of artwork: portraits of Thomas Henry, Lurenda Henry, and Buena Vista.
Thomas and Lurenda are on opposite walls, or, as I’ll joke on tour, staring into each other’s eyes! I love the portrait of Thomas. He looks so stately, dignified, and, dare I say, handsome! The portrait of Lurenda always receives strong reactions from visitors on tour. She looks to be a very formidable woman from the image. It was painted in Toronto by HC Meyers, and it appears to have been created based on a photograph. When our visitors react to Lurenda, I am always careful to remind them that, firstly, it is based from a photograph, and early photograph techniques made smiling rather labour intensive. I also remind them that Lurenda was rather sick, especially as she was older, and, last but not least, this woman was step-mother to 5 boys, who had 6 boys and 4 girls of her own! If you had 15 children, you would look formidable as well!
I removed the portrait of Lurenda from the wall to photograph it, and when I did, I was able to get a closer look at this image that I have seen almost daily for 3 years. I couldn’t help but notice how striking her eyes are. Maybe it’s the work of a skilled artist, but you cannot deny there is wisdom and warmth behind those eyes.
The final painting we have hanging on the wall is of Buena Vista, the homestead to the Conant family. The home was built c. 1873 by Thomas Conant, best known as the author of Life in Canada and Upper Canada Sketches, detailing the history of his family and a history of the Oshawa area. The home was located at 1050 Simcoe Street South, the southwest corner of Wentworth and Simcoe Streets. Premier Gordon Conant was born in this home in 1885, and Thomas Conant housed over 6,000 books in his personal library. The house, however, was demolished in 1985 to make way for a housing complex. The complex today is known as Conant Place.
The painting was completed by ES Shrapnel in 1899, the same artists who illustrated Thomas Conant’s Upper Canada Sketches. Shrapnel (1845 – 1920) was born in England, and eventually settled in Canada, teaching at the Ontario Ladies’ College (Trafalgar Castle) before moving to British Columbia in the late 1880s. While the painting is, admittedly, outside of the interpretation period of Henry House (set in the 1860s/1870s), the image is one way of honouring another prestigious home, vestiges of Oshawa’s days gone by.