The Host Files – Victorian Flower Language

This blog series comes from our dedicated and awesome Visitor Host staff, and topics range from favourite artifacts, thoughts on our latest exhibits, and anything else in between!

By Karen A., Visitor Host

The Victorian Era ushered in a time of proper etiquette among the upper class in England during Queen Victoria’s reign. Among the many rules and customs, there were expected behaviors that prohibited outright flirtations, questions, or scandalous relationships between two young lovers.


The use of flowers to convey messages had been used in Persia and the Middle East, it was during the Victorian Era and the publication of flower dictionaries explaining the meaning of plants, flowers and herbs, that the tradition began to spread throughout England. Soon it became popular to use flowers to send secretive messages. Though often portrayed to relay positive messages of interest, affection and love, flowers could also send a negative message and at times, the same flower could have opposite meanings depending on how it was arranged or delivered.

There was even a “Floral Clock”, with each flower representing a different hour of the day. “Meet me tomorrow at five o’clock”, for example, could be said with a combination of pimpernel, buttercup, and sweet-pea. Through the language of flowers, Victorian sweethearts were able to exchange messages and arrange meetings under the noses of their unsuspecting parents!

Victorian Era etiquette was dictated by who was around to observe the behaviors and manners of others. There was a clear distinction between upper class, middle-class, and the poor. Proper etiquette often limited communications based on people of another social status, or of a different gender.

Even within the same social class, many topics were taboo and it was impolite or downright rude to ask openly about relationships. Flirtations did take place, but secretly and with attention to discretion. By today’s standards, much of Victorian etiquette seems overly complicated or foolish, but in fact much of it was based on simple good manners. Some customs have been passed along and continued to be followed today such as men removing their hats when indoors, showing respect to women by opening doors for them or bringing a hostess gift to parties.

Here are some examples of the Victorian flower language:

Lavender- Sad refusal. “I like you, but only as a friend.”
Purple Iris- Ardour. “My heart is aflame.”
Bulrush- Haste. “Be more discreet in future.”
Daffodil- Rebuttal. “I do not share your feelings.”
Daisy- Delay. “Await my answer in a few days.”
Fuchsia- Warning. “Take heed, your lover is false.”
Pimpernel- Meeting. “Suggest when and where to meet.”
Primrose- New Love. “I may learn to love you. It’s too soon to tell.”
Begonia – Warning. “We are being watched.”
Tulip- Confession. “With this flower I declare my love.

So the next time you receive a gift of flowers, pay close attention—they may be talking to you!

From the Archival Collection of the Oshawa Museum

The Host Files: Why Carmela Likes Oshawa

This blog series comes from our dedicated and awesome Visitor Host staff, and topics range from favourite artifacts, thoughts on our latest exhibits, and anything else in between!

By Carmela D., Visitor Host

Being a new resident in Oshawa, Ontario, I am constantly learning about all the places there are to enjoy in this beautiful city.  The city is surrounded by farms and the lake, yet it has plenty of shopping, restaurants, and interesting places to see. Before I even arrived in the Fall of 2013, I was so excited to explore the city online, so that when I arrived I could start experiencing all that Oshawa offers.

Three places that excited me most were the waterfront and the museums, particularly  Lakeview Park and the Oshawa Museum, as well as Parkwood Estate.  Within about 5 days of arriving from our long distance move, I left rows of cardboard boxes lining the hallways of my home, picked my children up from their new school, and headed down to the lake, in the hope of having our first tour of the OM. It was so exciting to be there and Lisa did a fabulous job giving us our first tour! We learned all about the three 1800s homes and drive shed that are situated along the lakefront.  We got ice-cream at the Oshawa-famous Tommy’s across from the sandy beach area. We walked the pier, enjoying the sound of the waves and the warmth of the sunshine.  My children played on the different playgrounds, we walked the pathways, and enjoyed the peaceful scenery. We were in our happy place which was such a nice memory for our early days in Oshawa.

Winter came quickly so I couldn’t wait for Spring, when I envisioned myself at Parkwood Estate, strolling through the gardens that I had explored online.  It was so exciting to drive into the grounds, seeing the mansion on my left and then the former carriage house on my right.  My husband and I had pre-booked a lunch in the Tea House, at the back of the gorgeous fountains.  What a fantastic view and tasty meal! We had a tour of Samuel and Adelaide McLaughlin’s former home, where they raised their 5 daughters.  I can only imagine the splendor that those girls experienced. The home was full of the family’s belongings, the guide was very thorough, and it was interesting to see the indoor pool and bowling lane.

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Carmela at Parkwood in 2015, attending the Victory Garden Party outreach for the Oshawa Museum

It was now the second Fall here, after a year of settling in, when we came to the OM for another tour.  We thought we’d make it a tradition!  I have always taken my young ones to historic places where ever we have found ourselves.  I believe it’s important to understand the history of where we are in order to fully appreciate how the present has come to be. We were so excited to go back to the place that we remembered so fondly just one year prior.  We had another wonderful tour, this time with Jill.  I happened to ask if the OM hired at all, as I was working very part-time jobs around my children and had room in my schedule to work in a place I enjoyed so much.  I was in the right place at the right time and was hired not long afterward! I was so excited and now I enjoy the history of Oshawa on a regular basis and from a different viewpoint.  I feel privileged to work at the home of Oshawa’s history with such a lovely group of staff and volunteers.

The OM Crew after Lamplight 2015! Carmela is second from right

The Host Files: Caitlan’s Favourite Toy

This blog series comes from our dedicated and awesome Visitor Host staff, and topics range from favourite artifacts, thoughts on our latest exhibits, and anything else in between!

By Caitlan M., Visitor Host

As our Toys and Games exhibit has just ended, I can’t help but think of my favourite toy who I could never bare to see leave. When I was about 2 years old my Nan took me to Marineland where I become obsessed with Orca whales, this lead me to finding my forever best friend – a stuff animal orca whale. I gave him the most original name possible, Whale or Mr. Whale for those fancy occasions he likes to attend. Today I like to think I was just calling him Whale because that’s what he was and my parents thought that’s what I named him, chances are I just wasn’t creative.

Throughout my childhood Whale would follow me where ever I went. If I wasn’t holding him, he would either be beside me or in the same room. I couldn’t sleep when he went to the drycleaners, or as my mom called it a holiday for him. Over the years Whale has been on every vacation I have been on, and I can remember when I went to Europe to visit family when I was 14 and my dad asked if Whale was coming with us. Going through the sassy know-it-all stage in my life I just gave my dad that look of ‘of course he is coming with us’, my dad then asked if Whale would be going in my suitcase – why my dad would ask me this I will never know, what if my suitcase would get lost or stolen then Whale would be lost to me forever. I can remember getting some weird looks from security and flight attendants, they probably thought it was a bit weird seeing a teen with a stuff animal but Whale quite enjoyed looking out the window during the flight. At the end of the day, to me Whale was another member of the family and I didn’t care what people thought.

I find it sad that these toys do not have the love they once had. Yes they are being taken care of and will continue to be taken care of but some of these toys could have easily been a Whale to some other little girl or boy. Whale has seen/been through practically everything I have. He has gone blind in his left eye (well his left eye has fallen off) and his tail is very fragile, but he continues to live on my bed ready to give me a comforting hug when needed.

The Host Files – The Gift of Play


By Carmela D., Visitor Host

When I was a child, my favourite toy was my red Easy Bake Oven.  It’s exciting to think back at those simpler days.  I would plug it in my playroom’s “House” section, in anticipation of playing “grown-up” and creating a scrumptious dessert.  I would often bake chocolate cakes.  I would serve them on my play dishes. I would then wash all of my dishes in the kitchen sink.  I felt like I was a mini version of my mom, who spent a lot of time in the kitchen.

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Today, my daughter has a purple Easy Bake Oven and we spend time together baking, sometimes even with her friends.  The baking options have expanded from simple cakes to layered cookies, cake pops, cupcakes, and more.  It seems more complicated from when I was little, but it is still a fun way to play the “Mommy” role.

Interestingly, I don’t really bake in my adult life, but I hang onto those fond memories in my playroom and cherish the continued Easy Bake memories with my precious daughter. My son is more than welcome to join us, but he generally chooses not to.  Perhaps it instilled a confidence in me and love of the kitchen because I am a really good cook and seem to entertain a lot.

On display until April 2016: The Gift of Play: Toys of Yesterday

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The Host Files – Kathryn’s Favourite Artifact

This blog series comes from our dedicated and awesome Visitor Host staff, and topics range from favourite artifacts, thoughts on our latest exhibits, and anything else in between!

By Kathryn H., Visitor Host

Aged 14; so talented with a needle and thread; I often wonder who she was and what happened to her? An artifact we are so fortunate to have.

The  artifact that I am referring to is in the parlor in the Henry House which  caught my eye many years ago when I came to the Oshawa Museum and it has kept my attention ever since. Not only is it a treasured piece at the museum but it  provides for me as a Visitor Host much to talk about with my audience when on tours.

970.34.1 – Jean Dick Sampler

The sampler I am referring to is in the parlor on the south wall done by…

Jean Dick, aged 14. Dated Jun 1801c

To give you a little history into samplers, in the 1800s and earlier a young girl was expected by the early age of 5 or 6 to start to learn the skills of sewing. This was achieved by making a sampler. The sampler was done with basic cross stitches with different colored threads sewn on linen, the stitches would be stitches in form of  the alphabet and numbers and was taught to her my mother or grandmother. Thus, two lessons were learned by this sewing tutorial. The purpose was that once she was married and had her own family she would have the skills be able to provide clothing for them.  The first was with working with a needle and thread, and second learning the alphabet and numbers.

Later in a young girls life a second sampler might be required of her; however, the purpose was entirely different from the first required sampler.   If she was fortunate to be born into an “upper-working” family she would be sent to a “dame school” for young girls to learn the arts of being a lady. The lessons would include etiquette, music, painting and a second sampler. The sampler would be decorative and would proclaim the family’s religious beliefs and values. The sampler once done would be proudly displayed in the parlor to display to possible suitors the talents of their daughter and as well to boost to others that they had the financial means to send their daughter to a dame school!

I also embroider; however, I do it in my leisure. I take delight in working with a needle and thread.  I have a respect for Jean Dick for her skill and appreciate the hours she had put into this piece of work we have in Henry House.

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The Henry House Parlour, with Jean Dick’s Sampler proudly on display

Luckily for me my samplers were never required to woo my suitor!


Want to know more about Jean Dick and her family? Her husband, John Dickie, was a participant in the 1837 rebellion, and you can read about him HERE

You can also listen to our podcast about John Dickie and the 1837 Rebellion HERE


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