Student Museum Musings: Changing Seasons, Changing Exhibits

By Mia V., Archives Assistant

With the changing seasons also comes the changing of exhibits here at the Oshawa Museum. Uniquely Oshawa – an exhibit I’ve been working on together with curator Melissa and intern Dylan – is almost ready to be revealed in Robinson House. As the name suggests, this exhibit features many of the museum’s most inimitable and remarkable artefacts and the stories that go alongside them. From baseball to bread, Oshawa has innumerable objects and anecdotes to share.

This is the second exhibit I’ve worked on while at the museum, but it has been a very different experience from that of my first and main project. As I’ve shared in many of my previous blog posts, I’ve been working on the research and design for the exhibit Leaving Home, Finding Home in Oshawa: Displaced Persons and Stories of Immigration for the last two and a half years. The research began in 2016 as an oral history project and has taken many different turns since. Due to the unexpected postponement of the exhibit from spring of this year (coinciding with the first wave of the pandemic) to spring of next year (2021), many new opportunities for research have come up. Most recently, I’ve been continuing to dig deeper into the history of the Polish, Greek, and Italian immigration to Oshawa, connecting with individuals from each community in order to share their stories.

Check out the online exhibit “Oshawa Post-WWII: Resettling Displaced People” and read through some of the stories in the meantime!

Both exhibit experiences have truly given me invaluable experience and have made me realize that, while I love all areas of museum work, exhibitions may indeed be my favourite. This has been a very aptly-timed realization, since I have just begun my master’s program in museum studies at the University of Toronto. Discussing museums, even day-in and day-out, really cannot compare to getting to work with the artefacts themselves!

There are so many little things you start to notice when installing an exhibit that you otherwise simply wouldn’t have. For instance, you begin to second-guess if something is actually, in fact, maybe, just slightly crooked… Or, that, no, that placement is not quite right. I spent a fair amount of time debating the placement of three beautiful pieces of Smith Potteries, and then stepping back, and asking for a second and then a third opinion… I definitely think it was worth it, however.

The delicately painted black illustrations stand out beautifully against these two lamps and one vase of a deep red colour – they seem to come together to narrate a story all on their own. I see it as one of conflict and of homecoming. When you look at them, do you see the same kind of narrative? Or maybe you’re seeing another story emerging from their display… Or maybe you’re simply admiring their artistry!

In any case, I hope (and am pretty confident!) that you will enjoy Uniquely Oshawa and the exhibit coming next spring. Looking forward to seeing you when you make your trip down to the museum!

Putting together the sign wall was another highlight of helping to install this exhibit!

Reflections on “Ask a Curator Day”

By Melissa Cole, Curator

You might be asking, what exactly is “Ask a Curator” day?  It started a decade ago with the intention of giving the public access to experts who work in museums, galleries, and heritage sites through the use of social media.  Initially the event started on Twitter; since then it has extended to Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, and more.

From the first year this online event started, it has proven to be popular, attracting cultural, heritage, and science institutions from across the world! 

Here are a few questions that were asked and my responses!  If you wish to view the Facebook Live event you can view it on the Oshawa Museum’s Facebook Page.

What COVID-19 artefact do you think will fascinate people 100 years from now? And why?

The inspiring move when local breweries stopped beer production and turned over to making hand sanitizer to help fight COVID-19.  Initially, All or Nothing Brewhouse in Oshawa started producing exclusively for local hospitals, front-line emergency workers, and major utility companies.  A can of All or Nothing Brewhouse’s Hand Sanitizer was the first COVID-19 related object to be acquired for the Oshawa Museum’s collection.

What’s the weirdest thing in your collection?

I can’t focus on just one artefact in particular, but rather a collection of artefacts.  I have two collections which many may find weird, but they are also fascinating!  Our Farewell Cemetery Collection which contains coffin jewellery, the decorative hardware used on coffins. 

The other collection is our extensive medical collection, which was used a few different doctors in the Oshawa community prior to the opening of the hospital; when surgeries took place in the home, a kitchen table would have made a great make-shift operating table.  Many of the instruments resemble the tools that are still used today but there are a few which have thankfully…changed with the times. 

Do you have a particular Henry Family member that you like best?

The youngest child of Thomas and Lurenda is Jennie (Lorinda Jane) Henry.  I have been fortunate to meet her granddaughter, who spent time in Jennie Henry’s home when she resided on Agnes Street (I said Elgin Street during our Facebook live).  She shared stories with me about the home and has donated various items related to Jennie and her husband, John Luke McGill. 

Have you ever broken an artefact?

Yes I have, and of course it was an artefact that once belonged to Thomas Henry, of Henry House.  I broke his tea cup accidently because it had been left in a hutch that was being moved.  Many of the large furniture pieces in Henry House are used to store smaller items such as china cups and saucers, other chinaware, stoneware, vases, glassware, and many other artefacts related to the household.  Fortunately, I was able to repair the china cup because of my collection care training that was provided the Museum Management and Curatorship program offered through Fleming College.     

Curator advice: MAKE SURE ALL ARTEFACTS ARE REMOVED EBFORE MOVING A HUTCH!

What is your favourite tool?

I have three tools….beside my computer that assist me greatly with my work on exhibitions and with collections.  My squeegee tool, measuring tape (make sure to measure three times), and 3M Command Strips that have saved so many wall repairs.  The walls of Robinson House thank us each time we use them because the walls in this house are made from lath and plaster.   

Volunteering in the Times of COVID

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

The COVID crisis hit Ontario in early March, and by March 13, the Oshawa Museum made the decision to close our doors to the public. Staff continued to work from home remotely, but essentially all volunteering came to a halt at that time. Museums benefit from volunteers in so many ways, from the volunteers who help at events, being wonderful ambassadors for the site, helping behind the scenes, and being just a wonderful complement to the staff.  To say we miss our volunteers is an understatement; their presence is missed every day.

Not all volunteering stopped, for as restrictions began to lift, we were able to safely accommodate and welcome back our garden volunteers, who have worked throughout the summer to keep the gardens around the museum looking their very best.

But, due to space constraints currently at the Museum, we cannot safely have volunteers on site because social distancing would not be achievable.  So, we started thinking about ways that we can have volunteer engagement and participation, but in a remote capacity. Enter the Audio Transcription Project.

Our archival collection is vast and varied: legal documents, photographs, diaries, newspapers, and a large collection of audio cassettes. Yes, that’s right. Audio Cassettes. In case this technology is a little before your time, we’re talking about these:

This collection features historical talks, oral interviews, and the like.  We saw this collection as a great starting point for creating at-home volunteer opportunities.

Staff began the project, digitizing the cassettes using a handy devise that turns the audio into an MP3. However, what is of great benefit is having a written transcript of the audio file.  This transcript not only is makes searching the content of the audio file simple and quick, it also makes an audio file accessible to those who are hearing impaired, thereby increasing accessibility to the collection.

The project is being facilitated over our Google Drive – volunteers can sign up for which audio file they want to work on, and the MP3s are accessible from that same online folder. In the month of August, when we launched the project, volunteers contributed over fifty hours to this project, and we are so very thankful for the work they are doing!

If you are interested in helping with this project, please email Lisa at membership@oshawamuseum.org


What we’ve learned!

In the 1980s, there was an interview with a Mrs. Mechin, and one of our volunteers has transcribed the audio. Within the interview, Mrs. Mechin, a Robinson descendant, talked about her history of employment:

MRS MECHIN: And, when Burt and I were sleigh riding, I was six and he was seven. And I was fitted the night before, and it was across the fields, there was a hill, a pastor field. And, halfway down the hill, there was a, a wooden fence. A rail fence. And, so we took a notion, we would take our sleigh and go to the top of this hill down. And, of course it went pretty fast, it’s just, just like ice, right? I see, I can see the sun shining on it now, just like diamonds you know. And, I-I sat down, I had long coat on, at the back, and he sat down at the front, he was gonna steer. Of course he sat on my coat, I guess my feet were around him, I don’t know, I can’t remember that but, I ran into the fence, and hurt my hand. So, then I was operated on, had the bone removed and diseased in 1917. That’s why I left Fittings, because my health wasn’t good… So, then I was home three months, or at least I was away three months. And, then I went to Hallett’s store and George [Hazelwood] interviewed me, and I got in the [General] Motors’ office. But, that was before the carriage business was settled up… And, I worked for the manager there… Ms.Keddy, was sick at the time, so I took over her, she used to write letters about the liens on the cars around the carriages… So, I took that job over as well. I did, that was in 1914, and I worked there for three years.

INTERVIEWER: You worked there during the war years?

MRS MECHIN: Well, I worked their four, four years, yeah. Mhmm. 1918

Percy Ibbotson, another Robinson descendant, shares his memories of Robinson House:

INTERVIEWER: We are now in the large north room on the main floor. Percy is going to tell us how he remembers this room.

PERCY: I remember, readily, that when this room was a barber shop, the poles were out in the front, we used to sit in the front steps, and I suppose catering to the traffic down to the beach, people coming and going, especially on the weekend. But, this room was used for some time, for some years, as a barber shop.

INTERVIEWER: And the entrance to the barber shop would be the door on the north side, which we are not using today.

PERCY: Double doors

In 1983, Rev. E. Frazer Lacey gave a presentation about the 150 year history of the congregation of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian, where he shared a story about Rev. Thornton during the 1837 Rebellion:

1837 was the year of the Mackenzie rebel, and Thornton was sympathetic to the cause, to the issue, he was for representative democracy, as he was also for free and open education, he was certainly against the family compact. And so here he was torn, loyalist in terms of British connection, but reformist in his social concern. The rebellion was put down, but Thornton received a real setback, troops of the loyalist cause, took a shot at him one night as he came home from a meeting.

Family Tales and (In)Famous Taverns

By Mia V., Summer Student

Continuously figuring out how my own family’s stories fit into the grander narrative of History with a capital H is my favourite part of historical research. I’ve realized the importance of this on a larger scale while researching for the Oshawa Museum’s oral history project on displaced persons and post-WWII immigration more generally. Most recently, I’ve realized how the two strands – family history and post-war history – converged with local history as I researched the hotel located at 394 Simcoe St. S.

My grandpa, who goes by Joe, first bought this hotel along with his uncle (my great-great-uncle) George Radusin. A Serb from Yugoslavia, George’s story of immigration mirrors that of many displaced persons. After fighting in the Second World War, he survived and made it to Italy. With the help of the Allied armies, he moved through several different resettlement camps in Italy and in Germany and eventually made it to Canada. In Sudbury, he worked in the mines and, like most other displaced persons, soon sought a safer and more fulfilling career – which happened to be in hotels and investments. In Cornwall, over two decades after the war, he was able to help my grandpa – his nephew – join him. My grandma, mom, and uncle were eventually able to join my grandpa after four years apart from each other. Despite the two separate waves of immigration – post-1945 and then the 1970s – this kind of ‘chain migration’ is another very common theme in immigration stories. (Please see the entry “Family’s Journey” on our online exhibit if you would like to learn more.)

With all that said, where does the local history of Oshawa – and this one hotel – fit into the story? According to an article from the Oshawa Times, the hotel on Simcoe Street South was built in 1886.[1] Unfortunately, despite digging around in city directories, I was not able to confirm this year. As for the original building, it is quite clear that it has gone through extensive expansion and renovation. In any case, it is interesting to note that, at least in the years 1921-1936, it was owned (and resided in for at least some of the time) by J.D. Storie. You may recognize his name because he is known as the founder of Fittings Limited. After Storie passed away in 1936, the lot remained vacant and afterwards was sold to two separate owners – a William Patterson and a A.W. Jewell, as listed in 1939.

In 1945 or 1946, it became the Cadillac Hotel, at least in part (as the property also had the second identifier of S.S. Vassar). The location was in fact ideal for a hotel at this time. The railway station was only a short walk away, and it was therefore possible to wait for the train at the hotel, as another relative of Joe’s had done (he was also coincidentally someone who settled in Oshawa as a displaced person after the war).

1960s postcard. The back advertises the hotel as “Oshawa’s newest,” boasting “modern rooms” and an “attractive dining room.”

Hotels were quite a lucrative business in Oshawa’s “early days,” welcoming weary travellers over land (by stage-coach or horseback) which meant they required frequent rests.[2] A newspaper article dating back to around 1963, says that the Cadillac Hotel has been seen as “one of Oshawa’s finest hotels.” It had the look of an “old English manor” but was still “equipped to provide all of today’s modern comforts to its patrons.” Various events and functions, including bowling banquets and staff parties were held there. By the 1970s, however, the nearby station was closed for passenger service[3] – perhaps playing a role in the changing reputation of the hotel. The hotel also changed hands several times – and names, once, to the Karlin Hotel.

My grandpa Joe on the left and a bartender Tony on the right. The article’s caption says that the new owners are “hoping the name, atmosphere and policy attract a different climate.”

And, here is where my family story begins to intersect once again! In 1982, my grandpa Joe and his uncle George bought the Karlin Hotel and set about transforming it into the Simcoe Tavern the following year. After some very intense renovations, the hotel was apparently unrecognizable for patrons who visited it. The changes including adhering to requirements in order to gain an additional liquor license as well as a battle with the city (primarily regarding the family atmosphere of the neighbourhood).

Business card for the Simcoe Tavern, advertising its two bars – attracting a wide clientele

However, prior to the renovations, Joe wondered whether he had made the right decision in buying the place. Had he known about the hotel’s more sordid history, he said, he would’ve stayed in Cornwall. This impression was reinforced on the first night of reopening the bar when a fight actually broke out! With the strict measure of initially banning seventy individuals (in a list that hung over the bar), business headed in the right direction.[4] The two bars became the Rock Connection – known for booking in local rock and roll bands and especially tribute bands from Toronto – and Spurs which played country music. Booking rock bands cost “almost twice as much as country bands,” however, and, once the nearby Purple Onion began “booking all rock bands, the competition was too stiff.”[5]

The Side Street Inn in the early 1990s, the hotel as Mia knew it

Joe sold the hotel in 1991, but was actually back to running it by 1993 – with a new name now, the Street Side Inn. In those years, the hotel continued to improve its reputation for good local music – especially with the Moon Room. Finally, in 2007, Joe sold the hotel in preparation for retirement.

Real estate listing from 2007

History, as I’ve come to believe, is really made up of smaller stories like these. I would encourage anyone interested (who hasn’t already!) to investigate all those stories they grew up hearing about, especially those related to local landmarks they spent so much time in.


[1] Laura Lind, “Rock Connection closes: Simcoe Tavern club becomes sporting goods store,” The Oshawa Times, Feb. 16, 1991.

[2] “Hotels were important in early days of Oshawa,” The Oshawa Times, July 30 1984.

[3] “Oshawa Station (Canadian Pacific Railway),” Toronto Railway Historical Association http://www.trha.ca/trha/history/stations-2/oshawa-station-canadian-pacific-railway/nggallery/image/oshawacpr1987/.

[4] “Karlin Hotel becomes Oshawa’s Simcoe Tavern after $35,000,” Oshawa This Week, Jun. 17 1982.

[5] Lind, “Rock Connection closes.”

Celebrating 100 Years of Lakeview Park

Lakeview Park officially opened in 1920, and for over 100 years, it has been a place of rest and recreation, of memorable summer days and wild winter storms!

To celebrate this history, the Oshawa Museum launched an online exhibit, which is divided into three sections: Before the Park, Lakeview Park, and the Park Today.

Explore this online exhibit and read about different aspects of the park’s history, like the story of the Ocean Wave, the Pavilions past and present, or about the buffalo that called the park home!

In our latest post, curator Melissa Cole delves into the early history of the Oshawa Harbour.

New posts are being added frequently! Visit https://lakeviewparkoshawa.wordpress.com/ to read all about it!