My Favourite Artifact: The Olive French Manuscript

By Jill Passmore, Visitor Experience Co-ordinator

What is my favourite artifact? Many people who work at a museum would probably tell you that this is similar to picking your favourite child. I should tell you that I love them all equally, but in the past few years I have come to love a manuscript in the Archives.

At first this artifact was very mysterious to me. I had heard about the ‘Olive French manuscript’ but just that it was about education in Oshawa. I had seen it in passing as students and temporary staff were given it to transcribe. I knew nothing about who Olive French was or why the document was so important.

Olive French, 1895-1980
Olive French, 1895-1980

I vaguely remember asking Laura to making an attempt to finally complete the transcription and organization, as I was interested in learning more about the history of education in Oshawa.I soon came to find out that within the one box that contained it were many different versions of the text; all out of order, some handwritten and poorly photocopied, some typed. It was an organizers dream!

This document is truly one of a kind. Its value to the Archives is unquestionable. Ms. French recorded information about the history of Oshawa and the history of its education system from the early 1800s to 1967. Information about schools (most of which are not in existence anymore), Trustees, teachers, grading systems and special events.

Pupils of Cedardale School c. 1891
Pupils of Cedardale School c. 1891

The Olive French manuscript has now been a springboard for further research. Using Google and, we have been able to search for and find photos of teachers and Trustees mentioned, and background information about teachers and other minutia mentioned in the manuscript.

Ms. French and her manuscript have earned a special place in my heart over the last few years. I have often thought that it would be nice to sit down and have tea with her and chat about what life was like in Oshawa when she was alive. I wish I could ask her follow up questions or what she meant by something that she’d written.You can read Olive’s writings on one of the Museum’s blogs:

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