A University Student’s Entry on the Pandemic

By Jessica R., Summer Student

As I am writing this post, I have been working at the Oshawa Museum for almost a month. Unsurprisingly, I have yet to enter the museum. The reason that this is unsurprising pertains to the issue of COVID-19. Its newfound changes have caused me and the rest of the world to continuously adapt to its decisions. Since this blog aids in archiving and documenting local Oshawa history, I believe adding my perspective on how a university student lives within a pandemic could potentially be useful for documenting the experiences for future historians. I won’t be stressing statistical data since that is heavily documented and shared by our government and media.

March 2020 was the last time I entered a school. Since then, I have been attending school virtually. COVID-19’s continuous variation and ability to spread has stopped most in-person experiences and businesses from opening. As someone who enjoys being around others, stopping suddenly and staying home was a learning curve. I’m lucky to say that my quarantine periods were spent quite uneventfully since many experiences by others can vary in levels of stress and negative moments. Finishing high school felt rushed, confusing, and bittersweet, but I still carried optimism for recovery.

Once I finished high school in June 2020, I was on my way to experience all of my first year of university online. The self-teaching moments of self-discipline and independence gave me an overwhelming wave of stress that I, and many other first-year university students, endured in our first semester. Never going on campus while having the difficulty of not participating in clubs, making friends, and maintaining a daily schedule continues to make me feel a detachment from my university after my first year. It took many months for me to learn how to follow a virtual way of studying instead of the 12 years of in-person studying I had been accustomed to. By trying dozens of different methods just to study, I can say that I have achieved a level of stability that kept me afloat during online schooling.

In the second semester, I was feeling my efforts finally being rewarded and had seen my livelihood and marks improve. As the weather started to warm up and vaccinations started to increase, Ontario’s government promised a brighter future by the end of 2021. As the year continues with these changes, as may be expected, I had to continue to keep up with its pace. The tiredness I once felt when I was in lockdown was fading and I began to see opportunities of being productive again. By the end of June 2021, I decided that I was going to find a job again.

I honestly had no expectations of gaining a job with major career experience or one that fit my interests so soon. I give credit to my mom for being able to see a job application for my current position at the Oshawa Museum. If I’m being frank, this was one of the highlights of my whole year. I am an individual greatly swayed by my passions. So, being able to learn and communicate with people who share the same energy and passion encourages me to work hard and aid in exploring my community in depth. The people I had the pleasure of meeting at the Oshawa Museum have already exceeded my expectations and gave me hope for my future. Although I have only met them online, I’m becoming accustomed to the familiarity of seeing them on Zoom (another part of my life that has become somewhat normalized for someone my age). It sounds cheesy but I consider it a landmark for helping me feel capable of achieving the long-term goals I thought were out of reach during COVID-19.

One thing that the pandemic taught me is that stability in daily schedules is not as promised as we wish them to be. Being someone who values stability in my life, specifically in work and in school, COVID-19 completely shifted my perspective on change. I did a lot of self-reflection and endured times of emotional stress and hard times. However, I can also say that it did teach me more about how I view life, while also helping me realize the priorities I value most. Hopefully this post aids in painting the picture of the experiences I had in COVID-19. No two people’s experiences are the same, but collectively as a community, we have grown stronger together. I hope all the stories from our community, from the good to the bad, continue to be documented as we move forward to help us to reminisce and reflect.

Discover Historic Oshawa

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

The OM has developed a number of virtual exhibitions throughout the years – you can find them listed under the ‘Online Resources‘ tab at the top of our blog. Last summer, we were excited to launch Discover Historic Oshawa, an interactive mapping site, plotting places of interest in our community. Adding places of interest, both historic and current, has been ongoing, and we’re up to 40 listings and growing!

We also envision this website to dovetail with feature exhibitions and happenings at the Museum. Our 2021 exhibit, Leaving Home, Finding Home in Oshawa, is an excellent example of this. This exhibit shares the stories of those who arrived in Oshawa as displaced persons and post-WWII immigrants, many hundreds of whom resettled in Oshawa due to economic and social factors. They positively contributed to the city as both an industrial hub and as the proud beneficiary of a rich cultural landscape.

To complement the exhibition, we’re adding listings to Discover Historic Oshawa that have important connections to our Eastern European immigrants, like churches, community halls, and even the Michael Starr Building in downtown Oshawa. Opened in 1983, this building was named for Oshawa’s Michael Starr, a Member of Parliament from 1952-1968 who became the first Canadian of Ukrainian descent to be appointed to the federal Cabinet. He is remembered for his work in furthering the cause of ethnic groups and minorities, assisting and advocating for those who arrived as displaced persons after WWII, especially in the Oshawa area.

I have to make a very special thanks to our two 2020 summer students, Adam and Mia. Adam was instrumental in getting this site up and running and writing a number of our initial listings on the site, and Mia’s research and writing on landmarks relating to Leaving Home, Finding Home have been fantastic additions to the site.

I invite you to take explore this online exhibit, learn more about noteworthy places in our community, and read about the places that have connections to Leaving Home, Finding Home in Oshawa.

Henry Grandkids – William James Henry

By Jill Passmore, Visitor Experience Coordinator

William James Henry was the first-born son of Thomas Simon Henry and his wife Christine. He only lived to be 31 years old before succumbing to typhoid fever just before Christmas in 1882.

William married Cora Atkins in Watson, Michigan on December 25, 1879. According to the marriage register, William lived in Ashana, New York at the time, which upon examining the document closer, looks like a misspelling of Oshawa. It is unsure where the ‘New York’ came from. Maybe William said, ‘it’s near New York.’ The document lists William’s occupation as an accountant.

It is interesting that William and Cora chose to get married on Christmas Day. Similar to the correlation of certain professions running in the family (photographers and fruit growers), there also seems to be an affinity for members of the family to get married within a week or two of Christmas. Three of William’s aunts and one uncle are among them, with Eliza Henry married January 1, 1852; Clarissa Henry married December 23, 1868; Jennie Henry married January 1, 1873 and William Henry married December 25, 1878.

The newlyweds returned to Oshawa where they lived with William’s father, Thomas S. Henry, and William’s siblings. They lived very close to the family homestead, Henry House. William and Cora’s son, Glen Atkins Henry, was born in 1881. The enumerator recorded him as being only three months old at the time of the 1881 Census. The same Census lists William as a ‘book keeper,’ though it is unknown where he might have worked. Thomas Simon Henry, William’s father, was not good at managing his money. Perhaps William tried to help him as best he could, or maybe he was just as bad as his father was. We may never know.

Cora was 23 years old when William died and never remarried. His namesake, son, William James, was born five months after his father died. Cora seemingly spent the rest of her life living with her sons in the United States.

A017.20.68: Thomas Simon Henry with his grandsons Glenn & Will Henry

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, typhoid fever is a bacterial infection often spread by contaminated fecal matter. In the 21st century, if someone has not washed their hands after using the restroom and is infected, there is a high likelihood of them transferring the disease through close contact with others or contaminating food and drinking water.  In the 19th century, it was much easier to contract. In the past, typhoid infected water may have come from contaminated wells or even milk the family was drinking. Another likelihood was contaminated ice. Richard Longley describes Ashbridge’s Bay (Toronto) as being “scored like a chocolate bar, and cut into blocks and sold in the city [York/Toronto] clean ice for cooling drinks and making ice-cream, less clean ice for refrigeration. Inevitably there was confusion that contributed to outbreaks of typhoid.” The Don River drained into the Bay at the time (1850s and onwards), causing the contamination.

William and his family lived on the same lot of land that his parents and grandparents lived on; the Oshawa Creek cuts through that lot of land. The closest industry to the Henry land was the A.S. Whiting Manufacturing Co. Upstream were numerous mills and factories all spilling contaminants into the Creek – chemicals, animal manure, and, early on, human waste. Combining this with the reality that people cut ice from the Cedardale Pond, just like Ashbridge’s Bay and it is shocking that there were not more occurrences of Typhoid in the area.

As mentioned previously, William died on December 22, 1882 and is buried in the Port Oshawa Pioneer Cemetery with many other members of his family.

William Henry’s headstone in the Port Oshawa Pioneer Cemetery, 2011.

Sources:

“Typhoid Fever.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/diseases/typhoid.

Rutty, Christopher, et al. This Is Public Health a Canadian History. Canadian Public Health Association, 2010.  P. 15

Longley, Richard. “Toronto Pandemics Past: Typhoid and a Tale of Death in the Water.” NOW Magazine, 3 July 2020, nowtoronto.com/news/toronto-pandemics-typhoid.

The 1940s One Egg Cake

Since early 2020, grocery store shelves haven’t been as well stocked. During the first COVID-19 lockdown, people were in short supply of toilet paper, Kleenex, paper towels and antibacterial cleaning supplies. But this isn’t the first time the world has experienced shortages like this. In the 1970s, due to tensions in the Middle East and rising oil prices, there was a gas shortage throughout North America and other countries around the world. The era of rationing that people most remember though, is that during and after World War II.

In 1942, The Government of Canada rationed everyday grocery items and gasoline for civilians. This system of rationing managed with small coupon books distributed to families. By 1943, the Canadian Bankers Association had a system in place whereby shopkeepers deposited ration coupons into the banks that then issued cheques to the shopkeepers.

During the War, the government issued over 11 million ration books throughout the country. Families needed to keep these ration books very safe because if they were lost, it meant going without until they could replace it.

Even though the War had ended, rationing still continued while the world got back on its feet.

For Family Day 2021, the OM took to social media and encouraged our followers to spend some family time together in the kitchen. We shared a cake recipe which is heavily influenced by wartime rationing. The ingredients needed are all things that women would typically have had in their home, regardless of rationing. There are other recipes that are made with much less in terms of what is needed, a true mark of the creativity and ingenuity of the people during the time of rationing.

The recipe served as an advertisement for Swans Down cake flour and Calumet baking powder, but use whatever you have in your kitchen.


And here is the recipe, typed out:

One Egg Cake

This recipe appeared in the Toronto Daily Star, 19 Oct 1944, page 18, as an advertisement for Swans Down Cake Flour.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups sifted Swans Down Cake Flour (1:1 substitute with all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons Calumet baking Powder
  • 1/3 cup butter or other shortening (2.5 ounces)
  • 1 cup sugar (8 ounces)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg, unbeaten
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Directions

  • Sift flour once, measure, add baking powder and salt, and sift together three times.
  • Cream butter, add sugar gradually, and cream together until light and fluffy.
  • Add egg and beat very thoroughly.
  • Add flour, alternately with milk, a small amount at a time, beating after each addition until smooth.
  • Add vanilla. Bake in two greased 8-inch layer pans, in moderate oven (375°) for 20 to 25 minutes.
  • Cover with Sugarless Chocolate Frosting—you’ll find the recipe on the Baker’s Choice package—or with your own favourite Chocolate Frosting.

Museum Resiliency

By Melissa Cole, Curator

As I write this month’s blog post, staff from the Oshawa Museum continue to work from home.  I reflect back to the date of March 13, 2020, the date when museums in our city, and across the province, shut their doors as a public health precaution due to COVID-19.  This measure resulted in a loss of self-generated revenue.

Throughout the last year I have seen and heard the impact that COVID-19 has had on museums throughout the province at Regional Museum Network virtual meetings, held with the Ontario Museum Association (OMA).  During the pandemic, museums were affected directly; for instance, there are museums where staff worked remotely and were able to re-open for a short period of time in the summer/fall of 2020, while other sites remain closed, and some museums faced staff redeployment.

Recently, the Ontario Museum Association invited museum networks across the province to meet with local Members of Provincial Parliament.  I was fortunate to represent the York-Durham Association of Museums and Archives at one of these meetings hosted by the OMA.  On March 11, the OMA and YDAMA, including colleagues from Markham and Oshawa, met with MPP Billy Pang (Markham—Unionville) in his roles as MPP and Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries and Dr. Michael Bonner to discuss the impacts of the pandemic and the recommendations put forth by the OMA for support to assist museums to participate in the province’s recovery. Museum representatives from the Oshawa Museum, Markham Museum and Canadian Automotive Museum spoke to our museums’ challenges, potential, and resiliency. 

Museums thought of unique ways to assist their communities to both survive and thrive in this new world of uncertainty and physical isolation.  Museums, that had the means to do so, in the YDAMA network continued to engage the public virtually, providing a safe space away from the pandemic, through the creation of digital content.  For some sites this was the first time producing digital programs and virtual activities.  I thought I would highlight a few examples of the unique programing offered by museums across York and Durham:

When students returned to school in the fall of 2020, once again museums adapted their curriculum school-based programs for virtual delivery.  At the Oshawa Museum, staff created three new virtual programs utilizing our collections and resources. 

The pandemic has shown that museums have an important role to play as integral members of their communities, as places for well-being and connection.  As each of the examples above demonstrates, in their own way, museums can serve their communities by providing a supportive and engaging space, even when our physical spaces are closed.