Hello! I am Adam, you may recall me from previous years’ summer student musings. This year I am the Summer Heritage Gardener, which naturally means that I am working on creating entries for one of the museum’s web projects. All joking aside I do work in the gardens on Fridays, which provides a nice change of pace from researching and writing about various historically relevant sites around Oshawa.
Normally, being called away to lead a tour would provide a break from my desk work. However, prior to this week we haven’t been conducting any tours due to COVID-19. Working at the museum without running any tours has been an interesting experience. Leading tours was always a high point of my day. I always really appreciated the chance to stretch my legs and interact with people. I would have the tour script and all manner of additional factoids memorized, and I would be eager to see what the visitors find most interesting or engaging.
Tuesday, July 14 was the museum’s first tour. However the new system for tours is quite different from what it would normally be.
As I’m sure most of you can remember, a tour would normally be arranged on the spot in Guy House. It would normally start by heading out to Robinson House to see the temporary exhibit and the Indigenous history exhibit. After that it would normally head over to Henry House to see what a mid-1800s home would look like. After that I personally liked to conclude with a visit to the drive shed to see the carriages through the glass doors. Tours take anywhere from 20 minutes to over and hour.
Precisely none of that applies this year. Tours are booked online for a specific time slot. The tour is of Henry House. Visitors are to download/stream an audio tour which will guide them through Henry House – our podcast channel, Oshawa Musings, is available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts and through our Podcast hosting website. A staff member, such as myself, will be present to answer any additional questions and wipe down any surfaces that the visitor touches, but the audio tour is meant to do the guiding and presenting. Tours will be strictly limited to the time block that was booked online.
One commonality between the two tours is that they both conclude with the offer to go to Guy House to visit the gift shop and gallery space. The gift shop has been modified to minimize points of contact, and the Verna Conant Gallery will play host to a photograph based exhibit.
This is a very different sort of tour from what is normally offered, but it is hoped that this will minimize instances of close contact between visitors and staff/surfaces. I look forward to seeing how these new tours work out!
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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This churn is another example, where the crank on the outside is turned, and there are paddles on the inside which cause the agitation.
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.
Be sure to check out the Museum From Home page for other at home activities to try!