Student Museum Musings – In My Own Backyard?

By Dylan C., Museum Management & Curatorship Intern

Being a resident of Whitby for the better part of 24 years, I have been encouraged through sport to view Oshawa as my rival, which has led to a rather lackluster attempt to learn what Oshawa has to offer. It wasn’t until recently, that life led me to discover the Oshawa Museum for my internship as part of Fleming College’s Museum Management and Curatorship program (MMC).

After only a couple weeks on site, I have gained a considerable amount of knowledge about Oshawa by exploring the waterfront trail and by learning the history of the harbour and the surrounding structures.

Although I have ventured into Oshawa via the waterfront trail from Whitby, or from riding near Oshawa Ice Sports after hockey, I never knew how extensive the trails were in Oshawa and how they bleed out into the city streets creating a somewhat hidden bike transit system. These trails are so extensive that Oshawa and the Durham region offer Cycle Tours. The Waterfront trail extends all the way to Toronto and easily connects to GO station stops. This network can provide residents of Oshawa with a greener alternative to their daily transit, at least in the warmer months of the year.

Both photos taken at Emma Street looking north to King, 1992 and 2016. The rail line is now the Michael Starr Trail

The museum has provided me with a platform to learn and explore Oshawa, but it also taught me how to explore. Without the direction from the museum I would not have known where to start my discovery of the city.

My Experience to Date

So far, the museum has been able to provide me with a wide range of experiences from photographing and cataloguing an archaeological collection, to providing supplementary research for an education program.  I have also been able to help install a Smith Potteries exhibit in Robinson House.

Smith Potteries Collection; Picture from Dylan C.

The archaeological dig was completed by Trent University Durham students in 2015 and uncovered 19th century waste pits surrounding Henry House. Cataloguing this archaeological collection has given me the opportunity to apply some of the skills I learned in the MMC program such as proper care and handling of artefacts, photographing, and detailed documentation practices. It has also provided me with insight into the life of the early inhabitants of the area by literally examining what was buried in their backyards. I’ve learned what animals they farmed and what items they had in their homes including ceramics, glass, nails and buttons. Handling these objects makes it easier to connect with the residents of the past because I am essentially documenting their garbage. The past owners did not bury these objects hoping that someone would dig them up 165 years later; they did it to simply discard their waste. For some reason this humanizes them more for me than even walking in their perfectly preserved homes. Perhaps, you can tell a lot about a person from their trash after all.

Cataloguing Station; Picture from Dylan C.

In the upcoming weeks I will be familiarizing myself with the museum’s database as I enter the information from the archaeological collection. I will also be working on a research project that explores the topic of audio transcriptions and engaging at-home volunteers. And lastly, I will be continuing my tour guide training as the museum adapts to the current COVID-19 regulations.

The Month That Was – October 1873

All posts originally appeared in the Ontario Reformer

October 3, 1873
Page 2
Gone from our Gaze – One Paul Horn, a tenant on Mr. Charles Farewell’s property, disappeared from this locality a few nights ago.  It seems that he was in debt to Mr. Farewell some three hundred dollars, and having sold his grains and surreptitiously disposed of his farming implements he slung his gentle hook for the land of Uncle Sam.  He leaves us a sorrowing creditor to the extent of two years subscription. “May jackasses sit on his uncle’s grace.”

Fire – an alarm of fire was sounded about midnight on Wednesday evening, and it appeared that a house situated on the north side of the town, was in flames.  It burned to the ground before anything could be done.  The loss will be about $600, Mr. Jas. Horn, of Whitby, being the owner of the building.  As it was unoccupied, it is supposed to be the work of an incendiary.

Scandal in Whitby – The county town is just now highly excited over what is known as the “Campbell difficulty.”  It seems that Mr. Robert Campbell, of the firm R & J Campbell, claims to have good grounds for accusing his wife of infidelity; alleging, it is said, to have found the partner of his happiness flagranti delicto.  Be that as it may he has a suit of crin. con. against her to come off at the Fall Assizes in Toronto. The lady (a daughter of the Rev. Peter Byne) on her part repudiates the charge, and has sued her spouse for $10,000 damages for defamation, the party of the third part also entering a similar action for a like amount.  On Wednesday 26th, Mr. Campbell forcibly ejected his wife from the home which he thinks she has disgraced, and on Tuesday last he was ‘np’ before the magistrates for that he did “assault, beat, ill-treat and drag her down stairs the said Eliza Maria” his wife.  The case is still pending.

October 3, 1873, page 2

October 17, 1873
Page 2
Runaway – a lively runaway occurred on Simcoe Street, on Wednesday morning. A horse belonging to Mr Western, cooper, started for some unknown locality in a southerly direction from Fowke’s Corner.  Luckily for the driver, who had lost control of the brute, he was stopped by Mr. T. Lawless before any damage was done.

Thanksgiving Day – The Ontario Government have issued a proclamation ordering Thursday, 6th November prox. To be observed throughout this Province as a day of Thanksgiving.  We believe all religious denominations in this Village will hold their annual thanksgiving services on that day, and so afford a public opportunity of returning thanks to the Author of all our Bounties in a manner befitting a Christian community.

October 17, 1873, page 2

October 24, 1873
Page 2
Hard on the cow – Rumor saith that an Oshawa butcher killed a cow the other day, belonging to another man,  It was a case of mistaken identity, of course, but a sad mistake for the cow.

Education in Ontario – The High Schools of this County take high rank among the schools of this Province, as judged from the results the recent Examination this speaks highlight for the efficiency of the teachers.

Accident – On Monday last a little boy, a son of Mr. John Barnard, merchant, met with a painful accident while playing on the verandah of his father’s house.  By some mischance he fell, breaking the outer bone of the small part of the right leg. Under care of Dr. Coburn he is progressing favorably.

The Agnes Wallace Troupe – This troupe played to full houses here on Friday and Saturday evenings last, notwithstanding adverse weather on the latter night.  They created a most favourable impression, and proved themselves worthy of the reputation they have earned as one of the best troupes travelling.  They will receive a cordial welcome if they should return again.

October 24, 1873, page 2

October 31, 1873
Page 3
Hallowe’en – This evening will be the anniversary of All Halloween, and great will be the strife between cabbage and cabbageheads.  We trust the bhoys won’t perpetuate any tricks of a serious nature, but we would not interfere with innocent sport; they are welcome to all the vegetables in our neighbours’ cabbage gardens.

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.   

ArteFACTS – Lancashire Clogs

By Melissa Cole, Curator

Originating from northern England, Lancashire Clogs have also gone by the names Northumberland Clogs or Yorkshire Clogs. 

Unlike the more famous Dutch clogs, Lancashire clogs have a leather upper; some lace up like ordinary shoes while others contain an engraved metal clasp, such as the ones in our collection.  Clogs were not only cheaper than leather shoes, they were safer against penetration and less likely to be adversely affected by snow, moisture and mud. They were long lasting and comfortable.  

These wooden soled shoes, with strips of steel attached underneath like a horseshoe, were the everyday footwear of working people in England.  At first glance they may look fairly simple, but in fact their simplicity is what made them popular in Britain from the 1840s until the 1920s. Although traditionally associated with Lancashire, they were worn all over the country.

The wearing of clogs in Britain became more visible with the Industrial Revolution, when industrial workers needed strong, cheap footwear. Men and women wore laced and clasped clogs respectively, the fastening clasps being of engraved brass or more commonly steel.   The soles are carved from a hard wood, such as alder and shod with irons to stop the wood from wearing away.  Nailed under the sole at the toe and heel were clog irons, generally 3/8″ wide x 1/4″ thick with a groove down the middle to protect the nail heads from wear.  The uppers are tacked onto the soles and made from leather. Each component of the shoe is made to be easily repaired. 

Symbolic of the working class, this style of shoe was worn by the thousands of people who worked in the cotton mills throughout northern England.  This particular pair of clogs was worn by Mrs. T.H. Campbell before she emigrated from England to Canada in 1910.    Wherever it was damp or wet underfoot, clogs were the preferred footwear due to their cheapness (to buy and to repair), their long-lasting wear, and their comfort.

In England, the wearing of clogs gave rise to clog dancing, a popular form of dancing that eventually developed into tap dancing. It has been suggested that clog dancing originated with workers synchronizing foot tapping with the rhythmic sounds made by the loom shuttles. The predominant style of Lancashire clog dancing was termed ‘heel and toe.’ Many of the steps emulate the sound of the shuttle and other parts of the cotton spinning and weaving machinery.

Clog dancing was a cheap form of popular entertainment. Not only was clog dancing common, it took place on street corners, there were professional clog dancers and competitions, and proficient clog dancers could improve their situation by dancing professionally in music halls.  One notable Lancashire clog dancer who ultimately succeeded was Charlie Chaplin who performed in a troupe called the ‘The Eight Lancashire Lads.’

Dancing clogs were termed ‘neet’ clogs. They did not have irons on the soles and were lighter than the heavier working clogs. The uppers were usually highly tooled (decorated) and often coloured. 

One final note on Lancashire clogs. Men who wished to settle differences frequently did so by squaring off against each other by “clog fighting.” In Lancashire it was curiously known as “purring,” with a contemporary account from Chris Brady who states the following:

It is all up and down fighting here. They fought quite naked, excepting their clogs. When one has the other down on the ground he first endeavors to choke him by squeezing his throat, then he kicks him with his clogs. Sometimes they are very severely injured.

Chris Brady

Watch Melissa talk about the Lancashire Clogs in our video podcast:

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