Celebrating Henry House During COVID-19

By Melissa Cole, Curator

While editing our latest issue of Historical Happenings (our quarterly newsletter for Oshawa Historical Society Members) which is dedicated to celebrating the 60th Anniversary of Henry House as a museum, I began to reflect on my time here at the museum.  My career at the Oshawa Museum started 20 years ago.  I started as a Fleming College Museum Management and Curatorship intern in the archives, working with past Archivist, Tammy Robinson.  One of my first projects was to work on a display celebrating the 40th Anniversary of Henry House officially opening as a museum: a come and go tea was held in the garden of Henry House. 

Letter from former Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Jean Chrétien acknowledging the 40th anniversary of Henry House.

Twenty years later, I never would have thought we would not be on site to celebrate the 60th anniversary of what I consider one of our largest artefacts and that we would celebrate virtually.  Before Henry House became a museum, it was the home to many families such as the Henry Family, Smith Family, and Mackie Family.  The home is furnished in belongings from various families that once lived in Oshawa.  In this post I thought I would highlight a few of my favourite pieces that are currently on display in Henry House, artefacts you would see on a tour with one of our knowledgeable Visitor Hosts.  Some of the items I will highlight belonged to the Henry family. 

Lets go on a curatorial tour!

Walking in the front door, something I miss the most is the smell of Henry House.  I realized how much I missed this smell the other day when I walked into Henry to check on the collection.  The smell is comforting, and it may have to do with the fact it has become my home away from home over the last 20 years. 

In the study, as you walk into the room you will find a beautiful mahogany spinet desk that once belonged to Dr. Franklin Luther Henry, grandson of Thomas Henry.  This particular desk was once located in Dr. F.L. Henry’s home and dental practice located at 231 King Street East in Oshawa.  This building still stands and is now home to the Harmony Health Centre. 

As you enter the parlour there is a beautiful Edwardian settee along the south-east wall, that once sat in Centre Street United Church.

Settee that once was at the Centre Street United Church

Located nearby is a beautiful embroidered child’s folding chair that once belonged to Thomas and Lurenda’s youngest child Jennie Henry.  As you enter the dining room there is another lovely artefact that once belonged to Jennie as well, a vegetable warming dish that was a wedding gift for her and John McGill.  They were married in Henry House on January 1, 1873. As you leave the dining room on the south hallway wall is a frame containing six tin types of the Henry children,

Jennie (Henry) McGill’s vegetable warmer

One of the popular rooms in the house containing the most activity was the kitchen; my favourite artefact in this room is not attributed to any particular family member.  It is a common kitchen gadget that many people still use in their home today, likely in the form of an SOS pad.  If you have visited our site in the past you have probably already named it, the pot scrubber!  You just never know what guesses our visitors will come up with for this item. 

Not on display but within the corner cupboard is chinaware similar to what was found during the 2018 archaeological dig in the backyard of Henry House.

Lastly the main floor bedroom, on the east wall is a pair of oval framed tin types of Thomas and Lurenda Henry. Further along this wall is a bird’s eye maple dresser that once belonged to the Robinson Family.  I have to mention, on top of this dresser are three exquisite pieces of hair jewellery, made from human hair.  This was a great way to recycle hair.  After brushing, the hair would be removed from the brush and kept in ceramic hair receptacles.  Sometimes the hair may have been from someone who had died, and this was made in memory of them. 

I have to be honest, all the artefacts in the home are my favourites for different reasons because these objects assist us in sharing the unique stories about our community and the people that helped shape it.  I wanted to bring a few to life today. 

To discover more about Henry House, you can check out our blog archive which goes back to 2013; the handy search bar makes searching easy.

We also have videos on our YouTube channel featuring Henry House – Our Henry House Playlist is a curated list of videos about Henry House or the Henry family: Access it HERE

An Introduction to the Henry Grandchildren

By Jill Passmore, Visitor Experience Co-ordinator

Father Henry was very fond of children, and his grandchildren will carry to their graves pleasant memories of ‘Grandpa’s Parties.’ These parties were given on the 24th of May, and the grandchildren were all invited. The children were all welcome if they came, but the grandchildren were the honored guests. We shall always remember the long table, surrounded by children, with grandpa at the head dispensing the good cheer provided for the occasion, was a face scarcely less bright and happy than the children around him.

~Polly Ann Henry, Stoney Kudel, and Laura Suchan, The Annotated Memoir of Rev. Thomas Henry (Oshawa Historical Society, 2017), 115-116.

Why them? Why was it important to me to document the lives of Thomas Henry’s grandchildren? This project began a few years ago when we decided to host an event we called Grandpa Henry’s Picnic. After a few years of hosting this event, I realized that we weren’t offering any information to the public about our guests of honour! I quickly printed out some pictures and did a few brief biographical sketches. Later I began to wonder which of the grandkids attended these Grandpa’s Parties. There were so many of them, I began to lose track of who was who.

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My next step was to create an Excel spreadsheet that included columns to denote their names, year born, age at death, occupation, where they lived, did they live while Thomas was alive, who were their parents, are there any photos of them, and did they have any servants. From here I could manipulate the columns to see the grandkids from oldest to youngest, according to who their parents and siblings were, and were they alive while Thomas was.

In total, Thomas and Lurenda had 54 grandchildren. Thomas’s first wife Elizabeth never met any of her grandchildren, dying when her oldest son was only nine years old. For sake of ease, my research has not included any step-grandchildren, nor infants whose information I could not find.

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Bertie Vasbinder,Hazel DeGurre, “Aunt Eliza Henry,” Arlie DeGurre, Elva Lorbeer, Jennie McGill (A017.20.14)

Ambrose Henry, son of John and Elizabeth, was the first grandson born in 1847, and Ida May McGill, was the youngest granddaughter, daughter of John and Jennie, and born in 1890 – 43 years apart. To give you some more perspective, Ambrose was born before his youngest three aunts and uncle were born: Clarissa in 1848, William in 1849 and Jennie in 1852. In another interesting tidbit, the oldest granddaughter Edna, daughter of John and Elizabeth was born in 1855 and Thomas’s youngest daughter Jennie was born in 1852.

Now that you’ve gotten a taste of the information, which I personally find fascinating, I hope you’ll continue reading as I introduce Thomas Henry’s Grandchildren.

Making Butter

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

Since mid-March, the Oshawa Museum shifted our visitor engagement online. I had a lot of fun filming a few short videos at the Museum, with the hopes that even if you can’t physically visit the Museum, you can still experience some of our favourite tour features.  Thanks to a suggestion from my best friend, we also created a short video tutorial on how you can make your own butter at home! You can watch that video HERE.

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For many centuries, butter has been a staple in Canadian homes. For a Victorian family of the 19th century, butter making would have been a routine chore. Butter was used in the same way we use it today: as an ingredient in recipes or as a spread for bread, scones and tea biscuits, but it would also be used for barter at the local grocers.

In the video demo, and when we make butter with visitors, we use:

  • whipping cream
  • clean mason jar with tight fitting lid
  • marbles, to help with agitation (optional)
  • Salt (optional)

To make butter like we did in the video, place your cream into your container, filling it about halfway, not all the way.  This is where you can add your optional marbles, which help with agitation, and salt for flavour. Tighten the lid and start shaking.  After some time, the result of all the shaking is your butter and buttermilk.

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Victorians likely would have used churns when making their butter, and we have a few churn examples in our collection. Likely the example that comes to mind first is the churn and dash. By pumping the dasher up and down, the cream inside the churn would be agitated and eventually separation would occur – the fat and protein of the dairy, and the remaining liquid, the buttermilk.

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This churn is another example, where the crank on the outside is turned, and there are paddles on the inside which cause the agitation.

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Perhaps an artefact that is asked about on most tours is the rocker churn.  Our example was made in Fenelon Falls, and at first glance, you likely wouldn’t guess it’s a butter churn.  When the lid is removed, you can see wooden bars on the inside and yes, you guessed it, those bars act like the dash and agitate the cream.  There is even a spout near the bottom where the buttermilk could pour out.

The 1851 agricultural census gives us a snapshot of what crops Thomas Henry had on his farms and what animals were being cared for.  That year, Thomas had 11 cows: 4 bulls, oxen or steers; 3 cows/heifers; and 4 milch cows, which is a cow in milk or kept for her milk. It is likely that among the chores that Thomas’s children would have helped with, his sons would have cared for the animals, and his daughters may have turned that milk into butter.

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Be sure to check out the Museum From Home page for other at home activities to try!

Archiving a Pandemic

By Laura Suchan, Executive Director

Although the Oshawa Museum, along with other cultural organizations, is temporarily closed to help alleviate the spread of COVID-19, that doesn’t mean staff are idle. We continue to work behind the scenes to present content and ensure the safety of the museum collection.  One of our new initiatives was to join with archives on an international, national, provincial and local level who are developing platforms to document the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their communities.

For the Oshawa Museum that means documenting the impact of COVID-19 on the Oshawa community. To do this we are utilizing several resources to capture day to day life in Oshawa through these unprecedented times.  We are collaborating with Empty Cup Media to produce an oral history project collecting videos and interviews with the citizens of Oshawa as they experience daily life during a pandemic.  All official municipal communications concerning COVID-19 in Oshawa are collected as well as local media reports.  Museum staff will also be sharing insights on how COVID-19 is impacting the Oshawa Museum: changes to museum operations, the impact on collections and staff, and the importance of ensuring that this time in history is documented and preserved for future generations.

Probably the most important component of the project will be to tell the stories of how Oshawa residents, businesses and organizations are coping with the pandemic.  Have you had to close your business?  How are you and your family coping with self isolation?  We want to collect your thoughts, photographs, diaries and other items that tell the story of how you are coping in these times.  “I hope the community is journaling through this time,” says Jennifer Weymark Archivist for the Oshawa Museum. “In 10, 50 or even 100 years from now, these journals will become the personal voices of the pandemic.”  Much like diaries kept during the Spanish Flu epidemic in 1918 have helped people understand its impact, Weymark feels journals kept during the current pandemic will help future generations understand this period in history.  “I am hoping residents will donate their writings to the Oshawa Museum once this is over,” says Weymark. “I plan on archiving the material once this is done as a way to document Oshawa during this time.”

There are several ways you can contribute. If you are interested  in being interviewed about your experiences living through COVID-19 contact Colin at Empty Cup Media (colin@emptycupmedia.ca). Keep a diary and write down your daily habits or record how things have changed. Donate your diary to the archives to help us preserve what life was like in 2020. Contact Jennifer Weymark, Archivist, to explore other ways you can help us document history as it unfolds in real time: archivist@oshawamuseum.org. Finally, you can visit our newest online exhibit, covid19oshawa.com.


This article was originally written for Metroland Media.

We Are Living Through History

By Melissa Cole, Curator

We are living through history.  Museums closed their doors during one of their busiest times, March Break.  This is the quietest March Break our site and Lakeview Park has seen since I started at the Oshawa Museum 20 years ago. As institutions closed their physical doors, we turned to our digital windows.  Museums have adopted online tools to continue to deliver our missions and engage with our communities.  Here are a few sites I encourage you to visit as the Oshawa Museum works behind to scenes to continue to offer engaging content, build our collections, and share stories about our community.


I invite you to view our latest blog to capture the stories of what is happening NOW in our community during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

https://covid19oshawa.com/


Many of our events have been cancelled or postponed; this is also the case for our upcoming exhibit, Leaving Home, Finding Home in Oshawa: Displaced Persons & Stories of Immigration.  It was set to open this spring but has been postponed.  The exhibit started as an oral history project four years ago, and thanks to our community participants, it has shaped into an exhibit that will open later this year.

The Times-Gazette January 30, 1948 - copy

The work for this exhibit continues behind the scenes, and because the opening has been postponed, there is still time to contribute to this exhibit.  Your contribution may become a part of the physical exhibit or it may be featured in the online portion of our exhibit, but it will form a part of our archival collection for future generations to discover.  I invite you visit our online exhibit, Oshawa Immigration Stories, where you can learn more about this project.  More details can be found here:

https://oshawaimmigrationstories.weebly.com/


Since you can not visit us in person, I invite you to visit our online collection database, which contains artefacts and photographs from the collections held at the Oshawa Museum.

https://oshawa.pastperfectonline.com/


On a happy note, while I was at the museum this week to check on the collections, I noticed one of our members out for his walk, and I couldn’t resist opening the door to say hi and ask how he was…of course we made sure to keep our social distance!