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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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

Dead Man’s Penny – Memorial Death Plaque

By Laura Suchan, Executive Director, and Jennifer Weymark, Archivist
This article was been edited from what originally appeared in the AGS Quarterly

 

The Government of Canada has designated the period 2014-2020 as the official commemoration period of the World Wars and of the brave men and women who served and sacrificed on behalf of their country. One of the most enduring examples of war commemoration  is the bronze “Dead Man’s Penny” seen on many gravestones in cemeteries across Canada. The plaques, resembling a large penny (hence their nickname), were given to families who had lost a loved one as a result of WWI.

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Garrow headstone in Oshawa’s Union Cemetery

Canada entered WWI on August 4, 1914 when the United Kingdom declared war on Germany. During the course of the war over 619 000 Canadians enlisted and almost 60 000 lost their lives.

In 1916, as the Great War waged on, the British Government felt there was a need to create a memorial to be given to the families of the war dead which would acknowledge their sacrifice. A committee was created and given the task of deciding what form this memorial would take; a bronze plaque officially known as the Next of Kin Memorial Plaque and a memorial scroll signed by the King was their decision.

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Memorial Scroll for Private Wilfred Lawrence Bancroft. Courtesy of the Whitby Archives

In 1917, a competition, open to any British born person, was held to find a design for the plaque. Instructions for the competition were published in The Times newspaper on August 13, 1917.  For example, any design had to include a symbolic figure, meaningful to British citizens.  Potential designs must also include the inscription “He died for freedom and honour” and provide space to include the name, initials and military unit of the deceased.

There were more than 800 entries submitted and Mr. Edward  Preston was the successful winner. His design, a 12 centimetre disk cast in bronze gunmetal, featured the figure of Britannia holding a laurel wreath beneath which was a rectangular tablet where the deceased individual’s name was cast into the plaque. No rank was included as it was intended to show equality in their sacrifice.  The required inscription “He died for freedom and honour” was inscribed along the outer edge of the disk. In front of Britannia stands a lion and, two dolphins representing Britain’s sea power.  A smaller lion is depicted biting into an eagle, the emblem of Imperial Germany.  With the conclusion of the war, over 1.3 million plaques were sent to grieving families throughout the British Empire. Plaques were sent to the next of kin for all soldiers, sailors, airmen and women sailors, airmen and women serving who died as a direct consequence of their service. Plaques were also sent to the next of kin of those who died between August 4, 1914 and April 30, 1919 as a result of sickness, suicide or accidents, or as a result of wounds sustained during their time of service.

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An example of the Next of Kin Memorial Plaque or Dead Man’s Penny. Photo courtesy of the Ontario Regiment Museum

The plaques soon became popularly known as “the Dead Man’s Penny”, or “Widow’s Penny” for their resemblance to the penny coin. There was no formalized etiquette for displaying the plaques.  According to Sam Richardson, assistant curator at the Ontario Regiment Museum, some families chose to do very little with the plaques, the memorial scrolls and King’s messages that came with them. Often these plaques would be hidden away in drawers or chests so as not to be reminders of their loved ones.  Others, however, went to great lengths to display it, with many families adding them to war memorials as they were built, or framed and mounted on walls in the family home or in a local community establishment the soldier was a part of, such as a church parish.  As time passed and military museums began to be established and grow, many descendants would also choose to donate the plaques to them.

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William James Garrow Jr., from the Oshawa Museum Archival Collection

The family of Oshawa resident William Garrow Jr.  decided a permanent home for his memorial plaque was most fitting and they chose to have it mounted into a gravestone.  Garrow was born on May 15, 1894 to William and Mary Garrow., the youngest of four children and the only surviving son.

At the time he enlisted, Garrow had been working as an upholsterer and living with his parents and two sisters in the family home on Albert Street. He enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) in Montreal on August 30, 1915 at the age of 21. He saw action overseas  in both France and Belgium.  Garrow joined up with the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry as a replacement on the front lines in December 1915.  He was fighting with the Princess Pats at that Battle of Mount Sorrell when he lost his life sometime between June 2–4, 1916. The family received official word of his death through a telegram. Although the final resting place of Pvt. William Garrow is unknown, he is memorialized as one of the missing on the Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium.

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The Next of Kin Memorial Plaque received by William Garrow’s family remains today  embedded in his tombstone in Oshawa’s Union Cemetery. It remains as a testament, over a hundred years later,  to a young man’s supreme sacrifice  and the depth of pride his family felt in his service to King and country.

Publishing the Thomas Henry Correspondence Collection

By Caitlan M., Research & Publication Co-ordinator

In 2013 the museum received a box of jumbled up letters, receipts, and other pieces of papers which turned out to be a truly amazing donation as these papers were either written by or sent to a Henry family member. This became known as the Thomas Henry Correspondence Collection. Since receiving this collection, the idea of using the collection to help further understand the lives of the Henry family was always there but the time and resources were not available then.

Jump forward to a few months ago, a grant was received to hire a person to go through and create an annotated book. However, this book will only focus on the letters from a family member to family member. The idea is to go through and give the letters context; explaining the other names throughout the letter, the location from where it was sent from, any business ventures and all the other details.

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Thomas Simon (TS) Henry (A983.41.5)

For example there is a letter written from Thomas Simon (T.S.) and John Henry to their father, Thomas Henry. It was written in September of 1879, the sons mention they were not able to attend the Toronto Exhibition and later in the letter make a point of saying Thomas was there “to enjoy the Old Pioneer conflab.” This is all really interesting as the Canadian National Exhibition or CNE was originally called the Toronto Industrial Exhibition and its opening year was in 1879. Although his sons mention that Thomas was only at the exhibition to enjoy a conversation with the York Pioneers; a group of men formed to preserve York County’s early history, a history Thomas would have been a part of since he was a substitute in the War of 1812. The York Pioneers were at the Toronto Exhibition as they were moving a log cabin – the Scadding Cabin (originally known as Simcoe Cabin,) to its now permanent home.

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A001.7.6; letter to Thomas Henry from his sons George and TS.

I have also been making a point at looking at census records to see how the family continued to move around. Take George Guy, grandson to Thomas Henry, we have two letters written by him – from 1878 and 1879, both are written from Winnipeg. George was born in East Whitby, he headed west to find work sometime around 1878 and was able to purchase land in Morris, Manitoba. What’s interesting about him is two things happen in most of the census records; his location changes and his occupation changes.

  • 1881 Census: Location: Morris, Manitoba. Occupation: Cultivator
  • 1891 Census: Location: Morris, Manitoba. Occupation: Gram Buyer
  • 1905 Census: Location: Buffalo Ward 25, Erie, N.Y. Occupation: Carpenter
  • 1910 Census: Location: Buffalo Ward 17, Erie, N.Y. Occupation: Watchman – public school
  • 1920 Census: Location: Buffalo Ward 12, Erie, N.Y. Occupation: Engineer – public school
  • 1925 Census: Location: Buffalo Ward 12, Erie, N.Y. Occupation: Janitor
  • 1935 George dies, buried in Buffalo.

Although I am unsure why George moved around so much, I can’t help but wonder if it was to move closer to his new occupations.

The book will be published sometime in 2018 with the transcriptions of each of the letters and all of the annotations.


Transcription of above letter:

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Postcard sent to Thomas Henry from T.S.  and J. Henry (punctuation added during transcription)

Georgetown Sept. 8th 79

Dear Father

I am here today with Thomas. We are both well and healthy. We hope you are awe well as could be expected considering your age. I did attend the Toronto exhibition but expected to go to Ottawa the week after next. No doubt you was at Toronto to enjoy the Old Pioneer conflab to see Lawrence and the Princess and you could look ? on the Bay and imaginette great chougesuce(?) 1812 when you was a big boy in tall muddy York as you called it an you have a log cabin in the ? city. Did you see it?  I understood it is well put ?

 

*If you can add to this transcription or note any corrections, please leave a comment.

The Month That Was – November 1947

 

Nov, 1, 1947

POLICE NAB 3 IN $137,000 PAYROLL RAID
Boston, Nov. 1 (AP) – An escaped convict who jumped out of a fourth floor window in a drawn gun police chase was captured today and held for questioning with two other former prisoners in Boston’s day-apart payroll raids in which hooded gunmen snatched a total of $137,000.

George Hayes, 30, who broke out of State’s Prison Sept. 19, was taken after injuring himself gravely in a leap from a suburban Cambridge apartment house, police reported.

Another former convict was arrested in the same apartment building a short time later, making three ex-prisoners now held in connection with a Tuesday robbery of $29,000 from two firms.

Patrick Farina, third man arrested since the hold-ups, was charged with armed robbery in the $108,000 raid at the Sturtevant Division of the Westinghouse Electric Corporation.

 

Smashed Fence Most Serious Hallowe’en Prank
Chief of police Owen D. Friend said today that he “has seen a good many worse Hallowe’ens” and added that some of the acts reported were nothing more than childish pranks while others were criminal offenses against the public.

Possibly the near-full moon spreading its cool light over the countryside was a reason for Oshawa’s comparatively quiet 1947 Hallowe’en Police were a little busy but firemen had no calls and Fire Chief Westley R. Elliott remarked today, “I cannot remember when we last when through a Hallowe’en without a false alarm.”

Probably the most expensive breakage was done to a concrete and wooden fence recently constructed by Harry Cowley, 293 Gilddon Avenue. It was pure vandalism that resulted in damage estimated by the owner and police at nearly $100. Mr. Cowley said he had just completed the fence about ten days ago.

B. W. Haynes, 39 Park Road North, reported that a summer house in the backyard had been overturned. Although lifted clear of its foundation last night, it did not suffer extensive damage.

City fireman L. R. Little, 82 Oshawa Boulevard, said some destructive scalliwags tore part of the eave trough right off his house. “Just say,” jokingly quipped Mr. Little within hearing of the other firemen, “that I may suspect of my fellow workmen.”

Detenbeck’s Men’s Shop, King Street East, and Fred Guscott’s plumbing stockroom, 21 Church Street, received somewhat identical treatment when their windows were marked; the former with soap and Mr. Guscott’s with grey paint.

Rotten tomatoes and cucumbers were freely thrown about the property of Charles Carpenter, 215 Park Road South, and street lights along the unpopulated section of McMillan Drive were broken.

Motorists driving through the intersection of Mary and Hillcroft Streets last night were obliged to break down a tinny barrier of empty cans which caused a lot of noise and a few loud exclamations but no damage.

Chief A. J. Pierce of the East Whitby Township Police force reported the only damage he had investigated was the breakage of several large cement tile, the property of the Township.

 

DEER AT GOLF CLUB
Seventeen – year – old Jack Penfound, 39 McLaughlin Boulovard, strolling over the Oshawa Gold Club property yesterday afternoon, was surprised to see a buck deer springing across the links toward the west. He said it disappeared down around the creek bed. “It had beautiful antlers.” The boy stated.

 

Nov, 8, 1947

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