By Savannah Sewell, Registrar
Regardless of whether you got married last weekend or last century (applies to this context…I promise), I’m sure you remember a variety of dramas and joys surrounding your wedding. If you have upcoming nuptials in mind, be prepared, from what I hear; there is lots of confusion, drama, and stress associated with the planning and preparation for a wedding. Regardless of how much work or loss of sleep is involved in planning your wedding, they are incredibly important days in our lives and symbolize the union of two people who love each other very much. The history of western weddings are often a lot more complicated that most think; from wedding fashions to the decision making process of picking a date, every decision was made for a reason.
Down at the Oshawa Museum, we have the pleasure of being the backdrop for weddings year-round. The Oshawa Museum rests on the shore of Lake Ontario, and our three historic houses each hold a unique colour scheme and aesthetic. The museum is also located conveniently beside the Jubilee Pavilion, a hall and event space that has existed in Oshawa since 1927! All of this combined with the picturesque views, mature trees, and beautiful gardens, Lakeview Park and the museum continue to be the perfect background for a romantic day of love and the institutional norm of marriage.
Wedding photography is a complex academic conversation, intrinsically linked with the controversial conversation surrounding marriage itself, the ownership of others, and the traditional patriarchal contract of marriage. However, when observed from a historical perspective, I find that a more appropriate conversation surrounding its evolution, is actually of the desire to capture such a monumental moment in one’s life. As Walsh and Wade explain “wedding photographs and albums symbolically demonstrate the enduring centrality of ritual in contemporary America while addressing complex issues such as social change, gender, and economics.“1 Photography for weddings is a long and complicated story, growing from staged and set photos, that were often taken on separate days to the wedding, to the lifestyle aesthetic that we see most often now.
Queen Elizabeth’s wedding day was fraught with complications and restrictions, including having to request extra clothing coupons from the British government for her dress, as World War II rationing was still in effect. However, one of the most interesting stories was the loss of her wedding bouquet. Interested individuals will notice that family photos taken on November 20, 1947 do not show Her Majesty holding her bouquet, as it was misplaced sometime after the departure from Westminster Abbey. Therefore, the bride and groom’s wedding portraits were completed on their honeymoon, days later, after another bouquet could be created. Photography at the time also lent only to posed photos in a space where light could be monitored and controlled. As the cameras changed and lent to transportation, so too did wedding photos. The first wedding daguerreotypes of the 1840s evolved into wedding albums and studio portraits. The “Wedding Boom” after the Second World War also influenced photographers to make the leap from military photography to weddings, and some would show up, take photos, and then attempt to sell them to the bride and groom without a prior contract. These events forced wedding photographers to leave their studios and create their memories with the couple at their wedding location.2
The Oshawa Museum is in possession of the Oshawa This Week Wedding announcement photo collection and, therefore, a representation of a large variety of wedding photographs from the past century that were published in the paper. To my surprise, while writing this blog, I clicked across my own parents’ wedding, as well as an assortment of other parents and community members that I have known my entire life.
Within the museum’s collection, we also have a large variety of wedding items, anywhere from wedding dresses, shoes, to certificates and photos. I have a particular interest in the wedding dresses within the collection, as they represent a variety of styles throughout the years. One of the most iconic symbols of the western wedding is the bridal gown. Typically, they are white or ivory, long, and somehow elaborate, depending on the style at the time. Queen Victoria, who was married on February 10, 1840, set a trend in wedding outfits for women. Prior to her wedding, women either wore their best dress, regardless of the colour, or designed and wore new dresses of colour depending on the fashion of the season. Queen Victoria’s large and extravagant white wedding dress led to a surge in the wearing of white dresses today. Coupled with the industrial revolution and the availability of such impractical materials, the full-skirted, white, or ivory look for brides is now the norm.3
However, some brides chose to continue with fashionable colours. One of the most extravagant examples of that is a dress which belonged to Samantha Hill. She was married in 1875 in this rusty, orange dress, the colour at the time was called Australien. The colour was inspired by the colour and landscape of the Australian outback and used in dresses-making and fashion houses through late Victorian England.
One of the museum’s best-known families, the Henrys of our Henry House, had several weddings held within the home. The parlour would have been host to Henry House weddings, as it was the most lavishly decorated and designed for entertaining. One of the most interesting facts concerning the weddings of Henry family children and grandchildren is the timing of the weddings within the calendar year. Many were married around the Christmas holiday, either before or after. One marriage, that of Clarissa Henry, Thomas and Lurenda’s third youngest child, was married to Cassius Stone on December 22, 1868. Clarissa and Cassius are said to have wanted to be wed on Christmas Day itself, however, the church and priest were not available, so alternative plans were made. Some reasons for these Christmas season celebrations could have been the proximity to each other during the holiday season or that the crops were tended and the harvest chores were finished, so the family was available to enjoy celebration and merriment.
The Oshawa Museum is thrilled to have a variety of representations of both modern and historical weddings, the images and collection items provide an interesting context for weddings in Oshawa and Lakeview Park. Whether it is announcing your wedding in the newspaper, using the museum’s beauty as a photography backdrop, or having your wedding gown end up in our permanent collection, we love to love and are happy to be a part of anyone’s Big Day.
- Walsh, Michael James and Wade, Matthew. Soundtrack for love: wedding videography, music and romantic memory. Continuum 34:1, pages 14-31, 2020.
- “The History of Wedding Photography.” San Francisco Wedding Photographer. Accessed November 29, 2021. https://www.iqphoto.com/history.
- Ehrman, Edwina. The Wedding Dress. London: V & A Publishing, 2011.