ArteFACTS: Bricks Before Lego

By Melissa Cole, Curator

One of the Oshawa Museum’s latest donations included three sets of Minibrix.  This unique toy reminds me of Lego.  The details given within the construction sets state that the Patentees and Manufacturers are the Premo Rubber Co. Ltd, of Petersfield in Hampshire. Premo was a subsidiary of the ITS Rubber Company, founded in 1919. The origin of Minibrix stretches as far back as 1934, when an American manufacturer ITS Rubber Specialties Company introduced its Build-O-Brik line. Those innovative little rectangles inspired the MiniBrix line from England’s Premo Rubber Company in 1935.  The first impression of any of the Minibrix construction sets surely has to be one of robust precision and of quality materials. The boxes are sturdy and even the smallest of sets are comparatively heavy by today’s standards. Like so many of the toys sold in the 1950s and 1960s, the boxes are colourful and very well illustrated.

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A unique fact about Minibrix is the connection to Oshawa.  The sole Canadian supplier of Minibrix, was located here in Oshawa at 184 Bond Street West by the R.D. Fleck and Company Limited.   There is no building located there today, it would have been on the corner of Bond and Arena which is currently an empty lot.

The Minibrix and Tudor Minibrix Book, which were supplied with the sets, gives details of the various items that can be constructed from the materials for each individual set. The colourful illustrations and specific lists of the number of bricks and materials required, make the building of the items shown much easier.  The building sets were launched in 1935 as sets 0 – 7.

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The rubber brown bricks were precisely made and interconnected with each other and are similar in size to today’s Lego bricks. Two lugs protrude from one face of the brick to fit into the two corresponding holes of a second brick.  A slight twist and push action secures the bricks together.   The main bricks measure 1” by 1/2” by 3/8”.

Minibuilders Club

Included with this donation was advertising flyers, within one of the flyers it says “Minibrix is a thoroughly hygienic toy.  All are washable and can be passed on from one child to another without risk.” Also included with the donation was a certificate to the Minibuilders Club.  This is similar to the Lego Club today.  The Minibuilders club encouraged the use and further purchases of the product. The MINIBUILDERS CLUB had its own badge and a clear aim: “MINIBUILDERS CLUB has been formed for the purpose of bringing together all owners of Minibrix sets, on the common ground of their interest in model building and architectural construction.”

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The Month That Was – December 1872

All  articles are from the Ontario Reformer

December 6, 1872
A short time ago a horse was advertised in the Reformer as strayed.  It  had been missing for some weeks, and no clue to its whereabouts could be obtained till the day after the “ad” appeared, when the owner saw it and got his horse.  One day this week a man came in to advertise a steer which had strayed on to his premises.  Before the advertisement appeared in print the owner had his animal.  If you want anything made known bring your advertisement to the Reformer office.  We presume the reason why the last anumal was recovered so soon was, the “ad” was paid for in advance.

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December 6, 1872, page 1

December 6, 1872
Births

In Oshawa, on the 3rd inst., the wife of Thomas Hopper, of a son.

In Oshawa, on the 4th inst, the wife of Mr. Parks, Bruce Street, of a son.

In Harmony, on the 3rd inst., the wife of Mr. Calston Horn, of a son.

In Oshawa on the 30th ult., the wife of Mr. Wm. Right, of a son.

Married

On the 27th ult., by the Rev. Wm. Scott Mr Thomas Hoskin Jr., of Oshawa, to Miss Eliza Jane, eldest daughter of the late Mr. John Colman, of Darlington

 

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December 6, 1872, page 2

 

December 13, 1872
Terrible Conflegration (sic)
Oshawa ‘Chicagoed’
Fourteen places of business and seven dwellings destroyed
The fire supposed to be the work of an ifcendiary (sic)

The most fearful fire that ever took place in Oshawa was that of Sunday night last.  About ten minutes after seven, a fire was discovered in the clothing store of Mr. Geo. Hodder, and the alarm was immediately given.  The Fire Brigade was soon at the scenes of the conflagration, and at work; but, as usual, the water supply gave out, and the efforts of the firemen to confine the fire to the place where it originated proved unsuccessful.  Quickly the flames spread, and soon the adjoining stores were enveloped with the devouring elements.  It now became evident that the entire row of buildings, from Fitzmaurice’s drug store, around the corner, to Garth’s butcher shop, was doomed, unless a good supply of water could be obtained.  There were three engines at work, Oshawa No. 1 and 2 and the little chemical engine from the Hall Works, all doing well when they could obtain water.  When it became evident that the fire was likely to spread as it did, endangering the whole town, Mr. C.W. Smith procured a horse and went for the Whitby steam fire engine, having first made arrangements for a team to meet the engine on its way down.  Inside of an hour and ten minutes after Mr. Smith left for Whitby, the steamer was playing on the fire, procuring water from the well at Black’s corner.  And well did this little “Merryweather’ under the management of the noble Whitby Fire Brigade, do its work – nobly did the brigade work; and to-day the businessmen on the north side of King Street may thank the Whitby Fire Brigade for saving – with their engine – their property.  Just before the Whitby engine arrived, it was fully expected that the Gibbs block would go, as the heat from the burning buildings was intense.  In fact, in front of the Chisholm’s store, Blamey & Briggs’ store, and the top of Hind’s hotel, were on fire, but with the help of the ‘little chemical,’ the fire in the two  stores was put out, and Hind’s was saved by the Whitby engine.  All this time, the Oshawa Brigade, with old No. 1 and No. 2, was working as they always work – nobly.  But what is the use of a fire engine without water! The Oshawa Hook and Ladder Company worked like ‘all out doors’ as they always do. The citizens, with a few exceptions, worked as if the property belonged to the doing all they could to save goods from the doomed stores.  Men and boys ‘played horse’ and with wagons drew away the goods as fast as they could be loaded, to places of safety.

… The fire was, indeed bad; but how much worse might it have been.  A few accidents happened to the firemen and others, but none of a serious nature.  Let us be thankful that there were no lives lost.

…The persons who burst open Mr. Hoddor’s door distinctly state that the fire first started in the north-west corner of the shop, which would be as much as twelve or fourteen feet from the stove. What makes it certain that the fire could not have originated from any defect in the stove is, there was no fire in it from Saturday night; and the stove was cold when Mr. Hoddor left after closing.

There was no one in the shop, or, no one who had any business there, on Sunday but Mr. Hoddor’s boy, and that was about eight o’clock in the morning.

There appears to be no doubts whatever  but that the fire was the work of an incendiary; but who the scoundrel is yet remains a mystery. A jury was empaneled on Tuesday last, and an investigation proceeded with, before Dr. Clark, coroner, and is yet going on, privately. A great many persons have been examined, but no evidence has been adduced which will criminate anyone.  If any important is brought before the jury, we will make it known in our next issue.

Where to find them

The old customers (and as many new ones wish) of those of our merchants and business men who were compelled to move on Sunday night, on account of the ‘extreme heat’ will find them at the following places, for the present, where great bargains may be expected.

Trewin will be found in the store lately occupied by EB Wilcox, one door west of Wigg & Son’s furniture warerooms.

Dr. Deans will be found in the shop next door north of Taylor’s jewellery store.

Wm. Dickie will be found in the shop between Trewin’s and Gillett Bros.

JF Willox will be found up stairs, over W Lang’s store, one door west of Steele Bros.

JP Johnston will be found in part of H Wilkinson’s boot and shoe store, three doors east of Black’s hotel, till further notice.

R Fitchett will be found, on or after Monday next, in part of Keddie & Rice’s new store.

JJ Hall will be found at present at Hindes’ Hotel, where he will shave you as clean as he ever did.

Geo. Garth will be found in the place lately occupied by Mrs. Finney, next door to Shaw’s boot and shoe store.

J Barnard will be found two doors east of Black’s hotel.

JO & RH Henry will be found in the old stand, Simcoe St., next door to the Reformer Office.

The other parties have not, as yet, secured places.

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Giving Tuesday 2017

By Laura Suchan, Executive Director

This year Giving Tuesday, a movement for giving and volunteering taking place each year after Cyber Monday, will be celebrated on November 28.  As the unofficial start to the giving season, Giving Tuesday has become a day where charities, companies and individuals can join together to share commitments, rally for favourite causes and thank donors and supporters.

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The Oshawa Museum is highlighting donations to the Artefact Fund for this Giving Tuesday. As an external agency of the city, the Oshawa Historical Society receives an annual grant for the operation of the museum which covers general expenses including electricity, office supplies, insurance, accounting, salaries, promotion, etc.  However expenses related to artefact purchases, conservation work or exhibit development are often not covered in the operating budget.  With this mind the Board of Directors established the Acquisition Account in 1995 to fund those purchases not included as part of the museum’s operating budget.  Most of the funds in the account comes from donations and may be used to finance,

  1. the purchase of artefacts historically relevant to Oshawa
  2. the restoration or conservation of artefacts in the collection
  3. projects relating to improving the accessibility of the collection
  4. the purchase of items and services as deemed appropriate by the Board of Directors to support the above.

Our members and donors have told us repeatedly how much pride they take in the museum and its collection. Archivist, Jennifer Weymark, wrote the following about the impact of your donations to the Acquisitions Fund and what it means to our collection growth,

The majority of the time, we rely on the public to donate items to help our collection grow.  These donations are  important as they bring to us items that had been tucked away and are now available for the public to research.  We appreciate each and every donation.

However there are times when we come across items that will  enhance our collection, that have research value and that belong in the public domain and that are for sale.  It is then that we rely on donations to the Acquisition Fund to purchase these items for our collections. Thanks to the wonderful generosity of our members, we have recently been able to purchase  a wonderful marriage certificate dating back to March 21, 1872.  The marriage is between  George Lankin, a mariner from the Village of Oshawa and Mary Matilda Smith, a spinster from East Whitby Township.  While the names may not be familiar, this marriage license contains a wealth of important research information. Not only is it an important piece for those researching the family names of Lankin and Smith in this area but the license also tells us more about what early Oshawa was like.  It can be used to document local employment opportunities;  it is the first one I have come across the lists the gentleman as a mariner. The license also states that the Right Honorable John Baron Lisgar was the Governor General of Canada in 1872.

With each new acquisition we are able to add to our community history in unique and wonderful ways.  Acquisitions help the Oshawa Museum not only preserve  our history but strategically develop the collection for future generations.

Donations in the amount of $25, $50, $100 or more would help  us meet our goal. Please use this link to make a donation in any amount: canadahelps.org/giv3/37338.  You can also send your donation by mail to Oshawa Historical Society, 1450 Simcoe Street South, Oshawa, Ontario L1H 8S8.

As Giving Tuesday draws near, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you all for your continued support.

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ArteFACTS: The Walking Wheel

By Melissa Cole, Curator

One of our featured artefacts for Celebrating 60: Sixty Years of Collecting is our Walking Wheel, or Great Wheel, an earlier types of spinning wheel. The fiber is held in the left hand and the wheel slowly turned with the right. This wheel is thus good for using the long-draw spinning technique, which requires only one active hand most of the time, thus freeing a hand to turn the wheel. The great wheel is usually used to spin wool, and can only be used with fiber preparations that are suited to long-draw spinning.

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The walking wheel is approximately five feet in height.   The large drive wheel turns the much smaller spindle assembly, with the spindle revolving many times for each turn of the drive wheel. The yarn is spun at an angle off the tip of the spindle, and is then stored on the spindle.   To begin spinning on a great wheel, first a leader (a length of waste yarn) is tied onto the base of the spindle and spiraled up to the tip. Then the spinner overlaps a handful of fiber with the leader, holding both gently together with the left hand, and begin to slowly turn the drive wheel clockwise with the right hand, while simultaneously walking backward and drawing the fiber in the left hand away from the spindle at an angle. The left hand must control the tension on the wool to produce an even result. Once a sufficient amount of yarn has been made, the spinner turns the wheel backward a short distance to unwind the spiral on the spindle, then turns it clockwise again, and winds the newly made yarn onto the spindle, finishing the wind-on by spiraling back out to the tip again to make another draw.

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This particular artifact arrived at the museum in the late 1960s.  It originally belonged to Mrs. David Fleming who used this wheel for over 70 years of her life while she lived in a cabin north of Cobourg.   In the summer of 2011 Mrs. Fleming’s great grand-daughter came to see the walking wheel that her great grandmother had used.  While at the museum that day she provided me with a photograph of Mrs. David Fleming pictured beside her walking wheel and a poem that was written by Mrs. David Fleming on April 14, 1914 in Cobourg, Ontario.

I’m putting you away, my dear old wheel,
With an aching pain in my heart,
And in spite of all that I can do,
The tears from my eyes will start.

We’ve been friends for over 60 years,
Day by day I’ve walked by your side,
Drawing the threads of fleecy wool,
With a happy, contented pride.

And you and I together have made,
The yarn for mitts and hose,
Which kept hands and feet of my children warm,
Protected from frost and snows.

The years roll on with ceaseless tread,
And no change have they brought to you,
And I, dear old wheel, have grown old and gray,
And far from as good as new.

The bloom of youth has left my cheek,
And my step is less sprightly than then,
For I am some years past the mark
Of my three score and ten.

When I am gone, who will love you, my wheel,
As I so long have done,
And who will walk by your side and spin,
The wool as I have done?

Some ruthless hand may break and burn,
And put you out of the way,
And the thought makes me sigh with an ache in my heart,
As I put you away today.

The hum and buzz of you, dear old wheel,
Has been music in my ears.

~ Mrs. David Fleming, 1914

ArteFACTS: Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild Coach, 1933

By Melissa Cole, Curator

The artefact featured in today’s blog post is one of the Oshawa Museum’s recent acquisitions.  I was hoping that this artefact could be included in our latest exhibition Celebrating 60: Sixty Years of Collecting unfortunately the coach is very fragile and does require some conservation work before it is placed on display for a period of time.  Although anyone that attends our Exhibition Opening next week will get an opportunity to view the coach as it will be on display, for one week only, along with the original plans and instructions for building the coach.

So what exactly was the Fisher Body Craftsman Guild, and what was its purpose?

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Fisher Body was an automobile coachbuilder founded by the Fisher Brothers in 1908 in Detroit Michigan.  By the 1920s, the Fisher Body Company had become one of the biggest and best known suppliers of automobile bodies in North America.  General Motors acquired the majority of the holdings of the Fisher Body Company in the early 1920s.  By 1926, General Motors turned the company into its main coach-building factory.   One of the obstacles that General Motors faced at the time was the lack of designers available for hire.

Starting in the 1930s, The Fisher Body Company in Detroit, in conjunction with General Motors in Detroit and Oshawa where the Canadian Headquarters was located, ran a series of competitions in design and styling for teenage students.  In the early years of the competition, contestants ordered a set of model plans to build a Napoleonic Carriage which was the signature logo of the company.

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The Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild became the major recruiting tool for young artistic talent.  Each year twenty-four scholarships were awarded to boys between the ages of 12 and 16 in Canada and the United States.  These scholarships ranged in value from $500 up to $5000 in 1933.

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The Oshawa Museum has one of the earliest surviving Napoleonic carriages from the Guild competition in Canada.  This particular model was submitted for competition in 1933 by Floyd Hembruff.   When this carriage was submitted for donation to the Oshawa Museum it was accompanied by the original plans, contest rules, model diagrams and cut outs with assembly instructions.  The coach itself is 46 cm long, with the tongue added the total length is 71cm, the height is 28 cm and the width is 23 cm.  The finished model weighs about 7 pounds (3 Kg).

By 1938, with the increasing interest in car styling, the Craftsman’s Guild introduced a new category – designing and building a model car. The interest in the car design competition was so overwhelming that the Napoleonic Coach was dropped. By 1968, when the Craftsman’s Guild was concluded, over 8.7 million youths had enrolled over the life of the competition, millions of dollars in Awards had been given and many lives had been touched – some profoundly. Thru the years, the Craftsman’s Guild represented rock-solid values. Young men learned that perseverance was essential and that hard work paid off. They enjoyed a sense of pride and accomplishment that comes from a constructive and positive activity – plus the joy of working with their hands and mind to create their very own design.

Many scholarships are given each year to young people with outstanding athletic ability or outstanding scholastic record.  What made the Craftsman’s Guild unique was recognition and reward for young people with outstanding creative ability.  Many of the winners went on to become designers themselves and others such as Floyd Hembruff became Mayor of his community and founding partner of a respected construction company in Matheson Ontario, Hembruff & Dambrowitz Construction Ltd. which built extensively throughout Northern Ontario.