Blog Look Back – Top 5 Posts of 2022

Happy New Year! Throughout 2022, we shared 61 articles on the Oshawa Museum Blog, showcasing many different stories from our city’s past. 

We’re planning our new and dynamic posts for 2023, but to start the year, let’s look back at our top 5 posts of 2022:

Black and white photograph of a brick house. There is an orange banner overlaying the photo, with text reading "Top 5 blog posts 2022"

The Host Files: Taste and Scent of Community: The Oshawa Bakery and other Eastern European Groceries

By Mia Vujcic, Visitor Host When we are asked to share something about our heritage or ethnic background, food is often the first thing that springs to mind. In a number of previous blog posts, I explored different aspects of the research behind Leaving Home Finding Home in Oshawa: Displaced Persons and Stories of Immigration…

Oshawa’s Newspapers, Past and Present

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement Preparing for our latest Sunday FUNday event at the Oshawa Museum, our first in person event since February 2020, brought me down the rabbit hole of newspapers. To celebrate Archives Awareness Week, I wanted the Sunday FUNday to be archives related, so newspapers were a good theme. We were able…

Profiling: George Kenneth Lancaster

By Sara H., Summer Student As my summer at the museum is wrapping up, it has been the perfect time to reflect on my time at the museum and how much I have learned about museums and Oshawa’s history.  My last blog post talked about past industries in Oshawa that were featured on the  Discover…

The Ocean Wave

By Jill Passmore, Visitor Experience Coordinator In the early years of the twentieth century, a man named Jack O’Leary owned the New Lunch/O’Leary’s Restaurant at 37 King Street West in Oshawa – between the Commercial Hotel and the coal yards at Centre Street. Behind this small restaurant, a semi-permanent, Trabant/wipeout style of carnival ride existed, a…

Street Name Stories – the ‘Knitting’ Streets

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement Those who know me know that I’m an avid knitter. In fact, in the past I’ve written a blog post about a WWI Sock knitting pattern, I’ve examined some of Oshawa’s early woolen industries, and I’ve done a deep dive into one of those industries, the Empire Woolen Mills, available…

These were our top 5 posts written in 2022, however, for the FIFTH year, our top viewed post was once again Keeping Warm: The Ways The Victorians Did! This post was originally written in 2016 and has been the top blog post every year since 2018. The desire to know about foot warmers and window coverings must be strong with our readers!

Thank you all for reading, thank you to the OM staff, students, and guest authors who helped create content for the blog, and we hope to see you again through 2023!

ArteFACTS: The Mini Christmas Carol

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

Everyone has their own holiday traditions – for some, it’s making holiday treats, for others, it might be putting up seasonal decorations on a certain day, or by a certain time.

Me, I try to read A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens, every year. The short novella makes for the perfect seasonal read at some point in December. Because of this, it is understandable why this particular artefact caught my attention.

In the Oshawa Museum collection is this book, A Christmas Carol.  What makes this artefact unique is its size – it measures 5.5cm by 4cm.

Colour photograph of a miniature book, A Christmas Carol. The book has a beige cover and the page edges are gold
Miniature book: A Christmas Carol; from the Oshawa Museum Collection (X998.91.1)

According to the Miniature Book Society, there are several reasons for producing miniature books, although convenience seems to be a popular reason. Mini books could be easily carried in waistcoats or in reticules. The MBS asserts the standard for a miniature book “is no more than three inches in height, width, or thickness,” and by this measure, our book can be classified as ‘Miniature.’

Our mini was published in 1904 and contains the text of Charles Dickens’ classic ghost story of Ebeneezer Scrooge and how his entire life was changed one Christmas Eve through visiting his past, present, and future. The book is 350 pages, printed on India paper (or bible paper) and contains seven illustrations that appear in the original publication.

A Christmas Carol was written in 1843.  It was Dickens’ novella that helped Americans embrace the Christmas holiday by associating children and good will with the holiday, in essence changing Christmas from the rowdy city celebrations to private family matters.  He wrote the story after a visit to a Ragged School.  Dickens hoped the story would raise the profile of London’s poor and generate some much needed cash for him. He finished the manuscript in six weeks, and within five days, the entire first printing (6000 copies) sold out.

Colour illustration depicting a man sitting in a chair by a fire, and he is approached by a ghostly figure wearing chains.
Marley’s Ghost. Ebenezer Scrooge visited by a ghost, illustration by John Leech. From the British Museum collection (public domain)

In today’s culture, the time for ghosts and spirits is long past, with Halloween taking place almost two months ago, but in the Victorian era, Christmas was the time to tell ghost stories, and perhaps Dickens’ tale is one of the most prolific and enduring. The story opens as follows,

“Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it: and Scrooge’s name was good upon ‘Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.”

Dickens let his reader know right off the bat what tone his story was going to take, and the reader was immediately drawn in, wanting to know more about Marley and why the fact of his certain death was so important. The ghostly story unfolds, and readers follow Scrooge along on his journey of self reflection and change.


References

https://mbs.org/

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/jan/03/why-we-are-fascinated-by-miniature-books

The Timelessness of the Music Box

By Kes Murray, Registrar

Over the summer, I had the pleasure of leading tours. While in Henry House, I had multiple visitors, on different tours, ask about the music box in the parlour. Besides providing basic information that the object was a music box, I was left feeling that there was more to this music box than its appearance.

Henry House Music Box

The music box in Henry House is a pinned cylinder music box made by Langdorff & Fils. Langdorff & Fils were music box makers located in Geneva, Switzerland and active between 1850-1870. They made cylinder music boxes with their signature harp and music sheet decorated on top.

View of a closed, wooden box. There is a decorative motif of musical instruments and sheet music on top.
995.1.1 Top view. You can see the signature Langdorff & Fils stamp, although ours has wind instruments instead of a harp.

Cylinder music boxes, like ours, were the first music boxes to be widely used in homes in the mid to late 1800s. The first music box appeared in the late 1700s in Switzerland and is credited to Swiss watchmaker, Antoine Favre. Based off the advancements made in mechanical watches, early music boxes used the same movements: notes produced by a revolving disc with teeth around the edges.

Author Gilbert Bahl says, “The [cylinder] music box is actually based on a very simple principle: metal teeth which are tuned to scale in a variety of ways are plucked by pins projecting from a revolving cylinder. These pins are set in the cylinder in such a way that they pluck the teeth of the comb at precisely the right moment.”

The popularity of music boxes over the next fifty years led to many improvements, including its incorporation into decorative household items, longer and larger cylinders to play more music, and further mechanization that allowed simply pushing a button to play instead of having to hand crank the player.

Our music box is powered by hand, with a crank for the cylinder on the left side. On the right side of the box, you can see two switches. One is the stop and play switch, while the other is to repeat or change songs. As well, our music box is within a very stylish box that can be set up in any room, ours being in the parlour. The label inside the music box says the cylinder plays twelve songs, including waltzes, polka, and some opera songs, all in either French or German.

Overhead view of an open music box. It is made of dark wood, and inside the box, there is a gold coloured cylinder.
995.1.1 Inside top view.

A lasting history

As I researched music boxes, I realised that I, too, had music boxes in my parents’ house. Something that spoke to me that Bahl wrote was the timelessness of the music box. I was reminded of the ballerina music box my mom had as a child and still has today and, as Bahl explores, how hearing the music from a music box connects us to the past. We realise that we are listening to music that was also listened to and enjoyed by people many years ago. Mine are not that old, but I still adore them and think that maybe someone in some future will listen to them too.


Sources consulted

Bahl, G. (1993). Music Boxes: The Collector’s Guide to Selecting, Restoring, and Enjoying New and Vintage Music Boxes. Running Press Book Publishers.

https://www.britannica.com/art/music-box

https://obsoletemedia.org/music-box-cylinder/

Oshawa Sea Rangers

By Melissa Cole, Curator

One of the main projects I have been working on is the creation of a virtual exhibit for the Digital Museum of Canada, looking at the history of Oshawa’s waterfront with a focus on the harbourThis exhibit is a collaborative project with content sourced from various community archives and our local community.  Here is a sneak peak at one of the stories that will be highlighted in this virtual exhibit.

Oshawa Sea Rangers

The Sea Rangers were a branch of Guiding for teens until 1964 that eventually became known simply as “Rangers.”  The Sea Rangers merged with the Air Rangers and became “Rangers,” who would specialize in sea or air activities, where facilities are available. 

A white hat on a wooden hat block; there is a triangular scarf tied at the bottom of the wooden hat block
SRS Crusaders, Oshawa Cap and Scarf, Oshawa Museum collection, 022.4

The Sea Rangers gave their members a sense of pride working with others and created many long last friendships. Sea Rangers provided young women with the opportunity to develop their confidence and responsibility through the mentoring of other women.

Blue and white crest. The centre features a stylized steering wheel with a boat and oars in the middle, and the words on the crest read: SRS Crusader Cutter Champs, 1960
Crest, commemorating SRS Crusader Cutter Champs, 1960; part of album, Oshawa Museum archival collection (A021.9.1)

The Oshawa Sea Rangers, known as the Crusaders, would meet at the Oshawa Navy League, Cadet Hall, to practice precision drills.  The Cadet Hall, located at 44 Oshawa Boulevard North, is still in the same location today. 

The Oshawa Harbour was the location where Oshawa’s Sea Rangers, practiced drills on the lake and their cutters were stored in the boat house that was located on the east side of the beach.  The sea cadets and rangers both used the boathouse at the lake to store their cutters.  The cutters were rowed by a team of ten with a coxswain who steered the cutter and set the pace.  Practices took place once a week at the harbour, sometimes more as the regatta got closer, practices would increase to twice a week. When practicing, the cutter would be rowed out of the inner harbour, along the jetty and out into the open lake.

Sandra Gaskell
Newspaper photo of nine Caucasian women posed for a photo. Six are wearing white shirts, dark skirts, and white hats, while three are wearing dark coats and dark hats. Under the photo, the caption reads: Sea Ranger Crew, SRS Crusader, Receive Well-Earned Awards
From the Oshawa Times, 1960; image part of album, Oshawa Museum archival collection (A021.9.1)

In the 1950s and 1960s, the Sea Cadet (Navy Club) boat house was located at the lakefront, west of the Yacht Club.  The Sea Cadets took the cutters out in the spring, where it would be tied up, usually on the west wall or the south wall.  In the fall the cutter would be placed back in the boat house.  During this time, it was possible to drive right over to the inner harbour near where the cutter would be tied up.

A group of 11 Caucasian women, wearing white shirts and white hats, posed for a photo with a trophy.
SRS Crusaders Cutter Champs, 1960; image part of album, Oshawa Museum archival collection (A021.9.1)

There is a group of friends who talk about our Sea Ranger days every time we get together. All these Sea Rangers married Sea cadets except for two of us. The boat house at the lake was where we kept the cutters that both the sea cadets and rangers used. Several boathouse paintings of the boathouse hang in at least 4 homes. My sisters, Marg & Pat won the cutter races in the ‘50s. Cathy and I crewed wins in the ‘60s. We have photos to prove it. Not to mention the blisters on our hands and backsides. All the sea rangers kept log books and photos. Mine are long gone but a few others have theirs.

Mary Ellen Cole

The Wedding Dress: A Family Heirloom

By Kes Murray, Registrar

A few month ago, our curator, Melissa, came to me with a research request. She said she had a dress that no one could figure out. No one knew what year it was created or worn in. Some decades were suggested, but nothing concrete could be put with the dress. It was a cream coloured satin dress, supposedly a wedding dress, as that was what it appeared to be. But that was all. As an enthusiast of historic fashions, I was fascinated with this mystery and took on the challenge.

The research itself took some weeks of pouring over wedding dress books and other museums’ online collections. I hit gold on the Metropolitan Museum’s online collection. I came across an almost identical dress. The dress was a 1931-1933 wedding ensemble, created by Best & Co, made of silk, cotton, and wax. It had the same cut on the bodice, and was even in a similar colour. I now knew that our wedding dress was from the 1930s.

My research ended with a fairly good idea of 1930s wedding dresses.

1937 Wedding Ensemble and neck detail (020.8.1 & 020.8.2)

Fashions from the 1930s were a continuation and a contrast to 1920s fashions. In the 1920s, women fashions were quite distinct, with their boxy, figureless silhouettes. Towards the end of the 1920s, silhouettes began to hug the body, emphasizing the curves of the hips. This would flow into the 1930s, with silhouettes hugging the body, emphasizing the natural shape of women’s bodies.

The contrast to 1920s fashions is that of glamour. Many fashion historians call 1930s women’s fashions a more mature, elegant and feminine silhouette when compared to 1920s fashions. The 1930s is the golden era of Hollywood and the ‘silver screen,’ with influential actresses such as Greta Garbo, Mae West, Jean Harlow, and Joan Crawford wearing memorable fashions, and many imitations were made and sold world-wide. New fabrics were used, such as velvet, wool crêpes, silk satins, lames, and many other artificial or “knock off” luxurious fabrics made clothing more elegant looking.

Advertisement in Oshawa Daily Times, featuring an illustrated woman wearing a simple slip dress
Advertisement in Oshawa Daily Times, May 12, 1931 (A012.2.10)

As for wedding dresses, as with typical 1930s fashion, they were designed to complement the sculptural female body. They draped along the body but had been cut and sewn in certain areas as to emphasize the natural shape. Our wedding dress has a bias cut beneath the bust, which means it has been cut on an angle. This allows the dress to emphasize the bust and to flow down along the hips. It is made of satin or some sort of silk imitation. As well, the dress comes with a floral necklace, which is secured along the collar with a series of clasps. All together, the dress creates a rather elegant image. After all my research had accomplished, it seemed that it may have been in vain, as Melissa found the original information that came in with the dress.

Family Heirlooms

In her book, The Wedding Dress: 300 Years of Bridal Fashions, Edwina Ehrman wrote something that stood out to me. She says: “Wedding dresses were prolonged by tailoring…also passed down within families.” In our dress, I noticed that the dress had been altered. The bust line had been shortened. This got me curious about the things our families keep and pass down. Perhaps the original wearer of the wedding dress gave it to a family member who had it tailored? Of all the possibilities that ran through my head, I kept coming back to my own family and our wedding dresses.

My grandmother’s wedding dress fifty years later. My grandmother, Donna Jean, on her wedding day, with her parents Marion and Harold Lang, December 1957, in St. Mary’s, Ontario.

Some years ago, my grandmother gave me her wedding dress. When I got it, I immediately tried it on. It fit but just barely. If I were to get married in her dress, there are definitely some things that would need adjusting.

Another family wedding dress is that of my great-aunt’s. On June 5, 1954, my great-uncle Ron married Birthe Simonsen. The same dress that Birthe wore was given to my great aunt Shirley when she married on August 20, 1955. Then, the dress was given to Shirley’s daughter Chris when she married on July 2, 1983. I was fascinated and continue to be fascinated by the amount of women in my family who have worn the same wedding dress throughout so many years.

My great aunt Shirley on her wedding day, August 20, 1955. My grandmother, Donna Jean, is on the far right. My great aunt Shirley’s daughter, Chris, in her mother’s wedding dress.

Why do we keep family wedding dresses? While so many reasons come to mind, I can only think of the significance we place on the person who wore the dress. Wearing their dress would be a way to remember them and share a special day with someone who may not be here anymore. As I am sure is the case for many heirloom dresses, after each year or decade, they become more special and highlight that piece of family history.

Special thank you to my family members who helped with the family research: Chris Henderson, Meggen Janes, Suzanne Janes, and Donna Jean Lang.


Sources Consulted

Ehrman, E. (2011). The Wedding Dress. London: V & A Publishing.

https://www.fashionhistorymuseum.com/tying-the-knot-exhibit

Fiell, C. (2021). 1930s Fashion: The Definitive Sourcebook. Welbeck Publishing Group.

https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/109791?when=A.D.+1900-present&ft=wedding&offset=80&rpp=40&pos=106

https://www.vam.ac.uk/articles/old-new-borrowed-blue

https://www.vam.ac.uk/articles/the-victoria-connection

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