Archives Awareness Week – Archives A to Z

Throughout March 2021, Archives took to Twitter and shared their collections from A to Z. Never one to skip social media trends, the Oshawa Museum played along with the daily #ArchivesAtoZ prompt and were excited to showcase our collection.

Here is our round up of #ArchivesAtoZ:

A is for Audio – our collection contains documents, photographs, and many hours of audio interviews! Through the pandemic, at home volunteers have been working to transcribe these audio files, making them accessible and simpler for searching!

B is for Boxes – Hollinger Boxes, to be precise. The majority of our collection is stored inside these boxes, organized by by subject, collection, or Fonds. Designed for long-term storage, they were LIFE SAVERS (or, I guess, collection savers, in the 2003 Guy House Fire.

C is for Collections – Our archival holdings have a number of collections. A favourite is the Dowsley photograph collection, a series of photo donations, images taken by Mr Dowsley through the years. It is a wonderful documentation of Oshawa through the last few decades.

Bruce Street, east of Drew taken in 1990 (Dowsley Collection, A016.10.198)

D is for Digitization – A focus within the archival field for well over a decade, the purpose of digitization is two fold: preservation and access. In one of our podcasts, our archivist looks into the process of digitizing the archives for access.

E is for Exhibit – We have a number of online exhibitions, featuring the archival collection. One of our newest was to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Lakeview Park: https://lakeviewparkoshawa.wordpress.com/

F is for Fire Insurance MapsFire Insurance Maps are one of those hidden gems within an archives as they can help a wide variety of researchers. These incredibly maps show the footprints of the buildings that existed at the time the map was created, and their original purpose was to assist insurance underwriters with determining risk when assessing insurance rates.

G is for Granny – Perhaps one of our largest archival items, the portrait of Harriet Cock. We often just call her Granny. It was donated just over a decade ago, & after some restoration and reframing, she has been on display in Guy House since 2012.

H is for House – One of our commonly asked questions is how to research the history of your house. We partnered with Heritage Oshawa and developed a guide with helpful steps on how to do this research: https://oshawahistoricalsociety.files.wordpress.com/2019/03/researching-your-house.pdf

I is for Immigration – We have been actively seeking to fill gaps in the collection, and our Displaced Persons Project came from this. We have been collecting oral histories of people who immigrated after WWII for several years now, and these stories will not only become an important part of the archival collection, they will also form the basis of an exhibition we plan on opening Summer 2021: https://oshawaimmigrationstories.weebly.com/

J is for Jennifer – Meet our archivist, Jennifer Weymark. She’s been part of the OM team since 1999 and the archivist since 2000. She manages the archival collection and ensures this information is preserved and made available to those interested in researching.

K is for King St – This is what Oshawa calls our section of Highway 2, and the story of King Street has been whimsically painted by local artist Eric Sangwine. His paintings, depicting his interpretations of local history, are a beloved part of our archival holdings.

L is for Letters – Our 2013 donation of letters, photographs, & receipts, all relating to Thomas Henry, helped us better understand one of the patriarchs of our Museum buildings. The letters formed the basis of a book, To Cast a Reflection: The Henry Family in their Own Words, and this book can be bought from our online store.

M is for Marriage Certificate – This was included in the 2013 Thomas Henry donation; he was a witness for this marriage. It was received at the same time that our research into Oshawa’s early Black History was underway. This marriage between George Dunbar and Mary Andrews was interracial, and Mary’s family was one of two Black families who settled in Oshawa in the 1850s. Research through documentary evidence has helped us to better understand the history of early Black settlers in the area and has helped us to share this important aspect of our history. While we work to fill in the gaps left by earlier collecting practices, we are also working to tell the histories that were lost in that gap. Items like the marriage certificate are a part of work.

N is for Newspapers – Our collection of early Oshawa newspapers were digitized and made available to researchers: http://communitydigitalarchives.com/newspapers.html

*These newspapers also are the resource used for the blog series: The Month That Was

O is for Oshawa – Oshawa is our mandate, to collect the history of our city from the earliest Indigenous inhabitants to present day.

P is for Photographs – Our collection is over 10,000 images & growing yearly! Photos help us understand how our community has changed, and what events & experiences were like. Our oldest images are from the c. 1860s, and our newest are the COVID-19 pandemic.

Q is for Query – Does your research have you wondering about something in Oshawa’s past? Contact our archivist with your query and we’ll do our best to help!

R is for Robson – Robson Leather was an industry in our community for almost a century. Did you know that during WWI, 70% of all upper leathers for the Canadian Expeditionary Force were produced at Robson? Learn more: https://industryinoshawa.wordpress.com/tanneries/robson-tannery/

S is for Storage – We underwent a large storage upgrade project in 2012, improving our storage room and shelving. While this project was incredibly beneficial and allowed us to increase our collecting capabilities, it was a band-aid for the larger issue we’ve faced at the Oshawa Museum for decades. We are at capacity and are in need of a purpose built museum facility to allow us to continue to collecting Oshawa’s history and open that collection up to researchers.

T is for Telegram – This is part of a special collection of correspondence of a man named William Garrow. He enlisted in 1915 & wrote letters to his sisters at home. His family received this telegram, notifying of his death in June 1916. https://lettersfromthetrenches.wordpress.com/

U is for Union Cemetery, a decades old partnership. We offer walking tours of Union, researched using archival resources. In the 1980s, the Durham OGS Chapter transcribed headstones in that cemetery, and copies of those transcriptions are part of the collection.

V is for Vacuum – Why Vacuum? We have a small vacuum that we’ll use for very carefully cleaning the spines of books.

W is for Weights – We have weights in the archives which helps our archivist hold down documents when working on them.

X is for eXamination – X is hard, ok… BUT examination of documents and photographs are an important part of archival work. In this video, Jennifer works out the critical thinking examination she uses for photographs:

Y is for Yacht Club – In 2014, our exhibit was Reflections of Oshawa, a community rooted exhibit, and one participant, Linda, shared her memorabilia from the Oshawa Yacht Club.

Z is for Zoom, the NEW way to meet the archivist! If you’re an educator and would like to book a Q & A with Jennifer, let us know! We want to help however we can with these new ways of learning.

ArteFACTS – St. Patrick’s Day Postcards

Our archival collection features a number of postcards of a variety of topics and themes. Below are a sampling of some of the St. Patrick’s Day postcards in our collection, in honour of St. Patrick’s Day next week!

The Way To Go – All About Chamber Pots

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

Last fall, we were approached by our longtime partner, CLOCA, to participate in their Durham Children’s Watershed Festival, which shifted to online and virtual due to the pandemic. This festival is designed to for students to engage with “activities that address water conservation, water protection and the preservation of the natural environment in a fun, hands-on and interactive way. Students will learn how many of their everyday needs and choices affect interrelationships within the natural environment and their watershed community.”

When asked about contributing with a historical spin, our minds went to the fact that Victorian homes did not have indoor plumbing. Modern homes have modern bathrooms and toilets, but search as you might, a ‘bathroom’ will not be found inside Henry House. When I give tours, it’s with delight that I share that the Henrys had an ‘ensuite’ – in the corner of the bedroom, we have a washstand, water pitcher, and a chamber pot.

Chamber pots were a portable toilet, meant for nighttime use in the bedroom. Many kids will greet this artefact with a wonderful ‘ewwwww,’ but then I ask them, if it was the middle of the winter, middle of the night, would you want to get all dressed up to use the outhouse outside, or would you rather use your chamber pot? It’s often an ‘aha’ moment as they think about it and realize the convenience that the chamber pot provided.

Chamber pots were common in many cultures before the advent of indoor plumbing and flushing toilets and may still be used in places where there isn’t indoor plumbing.

We have a few examples of chamber pots and commodes in the OM collection. The one which is on display in the bedroom has a crochet cover for the lid, and this helps dampen any noise from the clattering of the porcelain – a wonderful addition if there were any roommates not wishing to be awoken by the lid.

Another interesting example is the commode – it features a lid for discrete chamber pot storage. The top of the lid has a wonderful embroidery, rather decorative when closed, and it lifts for easy access to the chamber pot nestled within.

Thank you again to CLOCA for inviting us to participate in your virtual festival!

Enjoy the video we put together all about the Chamber Pot

The Importance of a Little Wicker Doll Set

By Jennifer Weymark, Archivist

In 1981, a collection of wicker doll toys were donated to the Oshawa Museum. The donation of a tiny rocking chair, a toy washstand, and a set of doll furniture certainly fit the collecting mandate of the Museum given that the Pankhurst family had been long time residents of Oshawa.  These toys also had deep connection to an important part of Oshawa’s history as the donor, Greta Pankhurst, was the great-granddaughter of Wealthy Andrews, the matriarch of one of Oshawa’s earliest Black families.

Early collecting practices tended to focus on collecting items that had connections to prominent early white settlers. This donation has that connection as the donor forms indicate that the items had belonged to the Conant family before coming into the ownership of Greta. This connection would have made the donation very important under these early collecting practices. While it is unclear if Greta’s connection to Wealthy was known or understood when the items were added to the Museum collection, this donation is important because of its connection to Greta and her family.

Today we are grateful for the existence of this donation as it is one of the few artefacts that we have connected to early Black setters.  Museums use artefacts or objects to help us to understand the past and to tell the story of our community. There is very little artefact or object based evidence to help us tell the history of early Black settlers in our community, and this creates a challenge when it comes to exhibiting these stories.

We are fortunate to have documentary evidence. In fact, beyond resources like census records and land records, we are incredibly fortunate to have the original marriage certificate of Greta’s grandparents, Mary Andrews and George Dunbar. We also have family photographs and an audio recording of Greta’s brother, Ward, reminiscing about growing up in Cedar Dale. Research through documentary evidence has helped us to better understand the history of early Black settlers in the area and has helped us to share this important aspect of our history.

A013.4.519: Marriage licence between Mary Andrews and George Dunbar

While we work to fill in the gaps left by earlier collecting practices, we are also working to tell the histories that were lost in that gap.  Items like the little wicker doll set are a part of work.

Blog Look Back – Top 5 Posts of 2020

Happy New Year! Throughout 2020, we shared 64 articles on the Oshawa Museum Blog, showcasing many different stories from our city’s past.  Many of our posts reflected current history with the COVID-19 pandemic – how the pandemic was affecting the Museum and how to archive a pandemic’s impacts.

We’re planning our new and dynamic posts for 2021, but to start the year, let’s look back at our top 5 posts of 2020

Family Tales and (In)Famous Taverns
Our summer student Mia shared her own family history with this blog post, looking at the history of the hotel located at 394 Simcoe St. S.

Spanish Flu in 1918 and COVID-19 in 2020
Our Curator, Melissa, examined how the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic impacted our community and contrasted it to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tales from Olive French
In the 1960s, a woman named Olive French began researching and writing a history of Oshawa’s early education, educators, and schools.  This manuscript was never published but was later donated to the archives. This post shares some interesting tidbids discovered while transcribting the manuscript

Do you Remember The Horse Drawn Wagon?
Before the explosion of large grocery stores that sell a wide variety of foods, the people of Oshawa enjoyed home delivery of local-made milk from local dairies.

You Asked, We Answered: Where are the Henrys Buried?
While on tour, our Visitor Hosts are often asked questions that they may not be able to answer in that moment. However, we take note of the questions and try to find the answers afterwards. One such tour was ‘where are the Henrys buried,’ and we shared the answer in this blog post.

These were our top 5 posts written in 2020, however, for the third year, our top viewed post was actually written a few years ago. Perhaps our readers have an interest in vintage bedwarmers or are looking for inspiration for keeping warm during the cold Canadian winter months, which is why Keeping Warm: The Ways The Victorians Did! is once again our top viewed post!

Thank you all for reading, and we hope to see you again in 2021!