Celebrating 60 Years of the Henry House Museum

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

It was fanfare and long lineups that met the official opening of the Henry House Museum on May 21, 1960. It was the opening of the first community museum in Oshawa, and it was the result of the hard work of the founding members of the Oshawa (and District) Historical Society.

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In the late 1950s, community members became concerned about the condition of Henry House, and this was the impetus to establish the Historical Society in 1957.  That year, alderman Walter Lane had originally proposed the idea of a historical museum for Oshawa. “Such an institution was long overdue in Oshawa…The alderman told council that countless items of historic interest were lost for the future everyday and just thrown away when the older people were dying” (Oshawa Times, May 7, 1957).

Oshawa Historical Society members “had given considerable consideration to transforming the house into a museum of early Oshawa history” (Oshawa Times, December 1, 1958). On March 20, 1959, members of the ODHS received the news that they could use Henry House as a local museum. They would have just over one year to make the house and collection presentable to the public.

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Verna Conant shaking hands with the Rt Hon Michael Starr as Hon Bryan Cathcart stands to the side, 21 May 1960

Henry House officially opened as a museum at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday May 21, 1960. Former Oshawa Mayor and Labour Minister Michael Starr was the official ribbon cutter and principle speaker was the Honourable B.L. Cathcart, Minister of Travel and Publicity. Other speakers included Mayor Lyman A. Gifford and MPP, T.D. Thomas. Guests were invited to hear the speakers outside of the house then view the exhibits inside, which included a period parlour, farm implements, and antique uniforms, weapons, books and pictures. Members of the ODHS served as guides through the afternoon and answering questions.

Between May 21 and October 10, 1960 the new museum saw over 1000 visitors pass through its door. “One young boy [visited] the museum every week of the summer, spending 15 cents of his 25 cent per week allowance” (Oshawa This Week, August 21, 1985).

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By the end of the decade, the ODHS saw its Museum operation responsibilities double with the opening of the Robinson House Museum, and by the early 1980s, they were operating as the unified Oshawa Sydenham Museum and exploring adding Guy House to the complex, which happened in 1984 and opened in 1985.

Years of operation and thousands of visitors were beginning to take its toll on the home.  In 1988, Henry House was closed for restoration after the second storey was deemed unsafe.  At this time, the entire ground floor was rebuilt and steel structural support beams were added to offer additional support for the second storey.  On July 1, 1989 Henry House was officially reopened, with dignitaries such as Mayor Allan Pilkey, Museum Advisor Allan Barnes from the Ministry of Culture and Communications and Mrs. Mildred Fletcher, the great-granddaughter of Thomas Henry, on hand to cut the ribbon and celebrate this occasion. Also cause for celebration was that the three houses of the museum became the first homes in Oshawa to be designated for their historical importance under the Ontario Heritage Act.

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Since the last major restoration, the focus has shifted towards representing the day-to-day life of the Henry family as accurately as possible. Rooms have been repurposed to reflect how the family would have lived. In its current incarnation, guests now visit a study, parlour, dining room, kitchen, and bedroom, and these rooms change seasonally. Homes today change their decor to reflect the seasons and holidays, and the Henry’s home in the 1800s likely would have as well. The home will also change if it suits the feature exhibition. The best example of this was in 2009 and 2015 for The Mourning After: The Victorian Celebration of Death, when Henry House became a house in mourning; the parlour was exhibited as though a funeral was going to take place, clocks were stopped, mirrors were covered, and crepe was placed at the door to indicate a death had taken place.

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Mourning After exhibit, 2015

One of the more common questions asked on tour is about the objects on display and what was owned by the family. The house is largely filled with objects that were made in Oshawa or owned by different Oshawa families, but wherever possible, the house is furnished with objects that have provenance associated with the Henry family.  For example, in the study, the first room guests see on tour, the desk belonged to Thomas Henry’s grandson, the settee in the room was his daughter Jennie’s, there is a cup on the desk belonging to Thomas, and the chair behind the desk was his as well.  Some items, like a parasol owned by Frank and Millie Henry, were early donations to the site, while others, like Hortense Henry’s table in the parlour, were donated within the last decade.

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The study in 2014 – the desk, chair, portrait, and cane (on the back of the chair, far left in image) were all donated by Henry family members.

Sixty years after officially opening its doors, we have temporarily closed for the safety of our staff and visitors during the COVID-19 pandemic.  We are not celebrating like we thought we would be, but there are still ways you can experience Henry House in honour of its museum birthday. Our blog archive goes back to 2013, and 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

The Gales of November

By Jennifer Weymark, Archivist; this was originally written for the Oshawa Express in 2013

November 2013 was the 100th anniversary of one of the deadliest storms to ever hit Lake Ontario. Early November 1913 saw a storm like no other storm hit the entire Great Lakes area.  Known as the White Hurricane, the storm lasted four days and brought with it deadly snow, ice and freezing temperatures.  When the storm finally ended, approximately 250 people had lost their lives and ships that were supposed to be “unsinkable” had sunk.

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William Percy Judge, a resident of Oshawa, wrote about this storm in his memoirs.  The following is Judge’s description of how the White Hurricane affected Oshawa.

I recall the impact of the great storm of November 1913 on Oshawa’s lakefront.  The storm changed the shoreline, ripped up the pier, tore out the bridge where the creek entered the lake, wrecked the boathouse and dock, tore down the Ocean Wave (and) destroyed the sandy bottom and the beach, left gravel in place of sand, tore down most of the trees in the picnic grounds, wrecked tables and benches and broke many windows in the pavilion.  Some waves were as high as the pavilion and water ran across the car tracks and road and into the cat-tail swamp.  I had heard of the storm from the telegraph operator at the Grand Trunk Station.  Before the storm was over, thirteen large ships had been sunk and more than two hundred people had lost their lives.

The morning of the storm, November 7, gave no indication of the terrible weather to come.  It was apparently, a beautiful warm, in fact unusually warm, and windy day.  However, an Arctic blast of extremely cold air was about to collide with the warmth of the Great Lakes.  In his memoirs, Judge provides an explanation for the terrible turn in the weather.

Lake Ontario is the smallest of the Great Lakes but is very deep.  In the center (sic), the bottom is almost five hundred feet below sea level and because of this, much of the same water could remain near the bottom of the lake.  The current carries the water on top over it like a river.  Because of its depth, it takes a longer time and really big blow to cause Lake Ontario to go mad.  The conditions were right – so, mad she got.

The storm that so battered the Great Lakes concluded with blue skies and temperatures so warm that all of the snow melted by the end of the week.

Street Name Stories – Normandy Street

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

May 8 is the 75th anniversary of VE Day, the end of World War II in Europe. WWII lasted from 1939-1945; approximately 1,159,000 Canadians and Newfoundlanders served, and the number of deaths totaled 44,090¹.  Looking locally, WWII impacted our community with 177 Oshawa residents who died during the conflict, while thousands more enlisted, served, were part of the ordinance corps, or did their part by working on the homefront.

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VE Day was not the end of World War II, which continued until September 1945 when the official terms of surrender were signed with Japan, however, VE Day was widely celebrated in the community.  As described by Oshawa resident Murray McKay, “That was a celebration. You wouldn’t believe it. People were dancing in the street downtown Oshawa.”

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Photo Credit: Oshawa Times- Gazette, Canada, Oshawa Community Archives

 

There were several complex campaigns of WWII taking place in theatres all over the globe; one of the best known was the invasion of Normandy in June 1944.  This co-ordinated attack by the Allied partners was intended to re-establish an Allied presence in Western Europe, and Canada was a full partner in the invasion.  The objectives of D-Day, 6 June 1944 with the Normandy landings, were to take five beaches, and capturing Juno Beach was the responsibility of the Canadians, under the command of General Harry Crerar.  This victory wasn’t without cost; according to the Canadian War Museum, 14,000 Canadians were part of the Allied Troops at the Normandy invasion, and on D-Day, Canadians suffered 1074 casualties, while 359 were killed.²  The campaign lasted 10 weeks, and the casualty list grew to more than 18,000 casualties, 5000 of them fatal, and this number is just representative of the Canadians. There were substantial losses on all sides. It represented a turning point in the war – opening up the western front, leaving the German forces to defend to the west and east, but it was not without cost of life.  By September, the Normandy campaign, known as Operation Overlord, was over, and just over eight months later, Victory in Europe was being celebrated.

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Normandy Street is found north of Highway 401, west of Wilson and east of Ritson, along with Dunkirk Avenue, Dieppe Avenue, Sedan Court, Brest Court, and Crerar Street, all of which are related to the Second World War, be it battle sites or after General Harry Crerar. In terms of dating the street, due to emergency orders, access to the directories at the archives is challenging.  Thankfully, our friends at the Oshawa Library have digitized a number of City Directories, helping me with this research!   The 1955 Directory lists Normandy Street, but also notes that it is ‘Not Built On,’ and the same listing appears in the years 1957 to 1961.  This suggests this street dates to the mid 1950s with development taking place in the early 1960s.


  1. https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/military-heritage/second-world-war/second-world-war-dead-1939-1947/Pages/files-second-war-dead.aspx
  2. https://www.warmuseum.ca/cwm/exhibitions/chrono/1931d_day_e.html

The Month That Was – May 1873

All articles appeared in the Ontario Reformer

May 7 1873
Death & Inquest
The young man Farrel whom we reported in our last issue as having been injured on Saturday night, the 26th ult., died on Tuesday the 20th.  Owing to the peculiar circumstances under which deceased received his injuries it was thought advisable that an inquiry should be instituted.  Dr. Clarke was accordingly notified, and summoned a jury for 2 o’clock, on Wednesday last.  A number of witnesses were examined as to the manner in which the injuries were inflicted.  The testimony was given, went to show that the deceased was intoxicated, and had got upon a wagon going through the village in the direction of Harmony, between nine and ten that evening, and shortly after engaged with two others upon the wagon in a “scuffle,” which resulted in deceased tumbling overboard, the wagon passing over his head, face, and neck.

Drs. McGill and Coburn, who had seen him after the accident, made a post mortem examination of the parts, and testified as to the nature of the injuries… The opinion was that the death resulted from the effects of the injuries to the throat.  The jury, with Mr. Jno. Larke as foreman, returned as their verdict, “Accidental Death.”

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May 7, 1873, page 1

May 7, 1873
Mr Carswell is advertised to give a lecture in the Music Hall, on Friday evening next.  The lecturer has just returned after a lengthened tour through the United States, and the public press wherever he has spoken speak of him in the highest terms.

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May 7, 1873, page 3; for more on the fire, please see The Month That Was – December 1872

May 7, 1873
Our enterprising neighbour, Mr. AS Whiting, has caused within the last few days, a number of beautiful trees to be planted on each side of Simcoe Street, from the railway to the edge of the pond, and along the street leading to the harbour… Anything Mr. Whiting undertakes to do is always well done; this fact is plainly evidenced in his tree planting.  It has been observed that those put out under his instructions and supervision flourished and grown rapidly when others die.  Cedar Dale but a few years ago was not in existence, through the establishment and enterprising of the Cedar Dale Works, in now takes the position of a handsome and flourishing neighbour.

 

May 14 1873
Married
On the 7th inst. At Christ’s Church, Owosso, Michigan, by the Rev. Mr. Whitney, Robert Woon, esq., of Oshawa, to Miss Alice Ingersoul, Owosso, Michigan.

 

May 21, 1873
Queen’s Birthday
The Grand Musical Jubilee
We call the attention to the spirited entertainment got up by the Victoria Lodge of Orange Young Britons for the birthday of our beloved queen.  May we have the pleasure of commemorating many such days for her! The programme is an extra good one, and the selections of songs such as insures a crammed hall.  The array of outside talent procured – professionals all – reflects the highest credit upon the Young Britons, and we feel certain with such a spacious room as our New Music Hall, a rare treat is in store for the people of Oshawa on next Saturday night. Get your reserved seat tickets in time or you may have to take your place near the draft of the door

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May 21, 1873, page 3

May 21, 1873
Oshawa Enterprise – Our indefatigable fellow-townsman, JW Fowke, has just shipped from Whitby Harbour a cargo by the Schooner Kate 4,500 bushels Wheat and 1,500 bushels Peas for Montreal.  He is collecting another cargo of wheat and one of wool for which he pays cash.  Go ahead Fowke and scatter the cash among the farmers.

May 21, 1873
Barnum’s Great Show – We have received the “Advance Courier” of Mr. PT Barnum, from which we learn, that he is again in possession of the largest, most elaborate and exhaustive combination of travelling exhibition ever exhibited on earth, embracing 20 shows consolidated in one.  This great Show will visit Canada in July, and no doubt will favor us with a visit.

May 21, 1873
All parties wishing to celebrate her Majesty’s Birthday, will do well to at Hodder’s and buy a new hat.

 

May 28, 1873
The Village constable, as will be seen by referring to our advertising columns, has been instructed to impound all cattle running at large upon our public streets after Monday next.

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May 28, 1873, page 3

May 28, 1873
The band of the St. Patrick’s Benevolent Society wish to tender to the inhabitants of Oshawa, their more grateful acknowledgement for the very kind manner in which they were received on the morning of the Queen’s birthday.  Their liberal response was beyond their expectation, therefore they wish to inform the public that they will always find them ready and willing to oblige them on any occasion where their services would benefit, and especially on any benevolent or charitable purples, and also with it to be distinctly understood that they are not in opposition to any other party, their motto is and always will be “Harmony.”

May 28, 1873
Fire crackers have at different times of late been the cause of a great deal of mischief and loss of property.  In Whitby on the 24th, a house was  set on fire by their use but happily extinguished before much damage was done.  In some places the sidewalks in Oshawa were fired in the same way.  The authorities would be justified in forbidding their use when danger is likely to result

Making Butter

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

Since mid-March, the Oshawa Museum shifted our visitor engagement online. I had a lot of fun filming a few short videos at the Museum, with the hopes that even if you can’t physically visit the Museum, you can still experience some of our favourite tour features.  Thanks to a suggestion from my best friend, we also created a short video tutorial on how you can make your own butter at home! You can watch that video HERE.

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For many centuries, butter has been a staple in Canadian homes. For a Victorian family of the 19th century, butter making would have been a routine chore. Butter was used in the same way we use it today: as an ingredient in recipes or as a spread for bread, scones and tea biscuits, but it would also be used for barter at the local grocers.

In the video demo, and when we make butter with visitors, we use:

  • whipping cream
  • clean mason jar with tight fitting lid
  • marbles, to help with agitation (optional)
  • Salt (optional)

To make butter like we did in the video, place your cream into your container, filling it about halfway, not all the way.  This is where you can add your optional marbles, which help with agitation, and salt for flavour. Tighten the lid and start shaking.  After some time, the result of all the shaking is your butter and buttermilk.

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Victorians likely would have used churns when making their butter, and we have a few churn examples in our collection. Likely the example that comes to mind first is the churn and dash. By pumping the dasher up and down, the cream inside the churn would be agitated and eventually separation would occur – the fat and protein of the dairy, and the remaining liquid, the buttermilk.

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This churn is another example, where the crank on the outside is turned, and there are paddles on the inside which cause the agitation.

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Perhaps an artefact that is asked about on most tours is the rocker churn.  Our example was made in Fenelon Falls, and at first glance, you likely wouldn’t guess it’s a butter churn.  When the lid is removed, you can see wooden bars on the inside and yes, you guessed it, those bars act like the dash and agitate the cream.  There is even a spout near the bottom where the buttermilk could pour out.

The 1851 agricultural census gives us a snapshot of what crops Thomas Henry had on his farms and what animals were being cared for.  That year, Thomas had 11 cows: 4 bulls, oxen or steers; 3 cows/heifers; and 4 milch cows, which is a cow in milk or kept for her milk. It is likely that among the chores that Thomas’s children would have helped with, his sons would have cared for the animals, and his daughters may have turned that milk into butter.

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Be sure to check out the Museum From Home page for other at home activities to try!