Shacka do do! Ohh! What is Savannah up to? Oh, probably nothing

By Savannah Sewell, Registrar

I know lots of you have been wondering: what is Savannah up to?

Well, let me tell you… A lot of staring a photos of unknown people while accessioning a variety of collections.

The most recent being the MacGregor Collection which was donated to the Oshawa Museum in 2021. The MacGregor Collection is a variety of photos and documents that were collected over many generations of the MacGregor and Burr family.

A021.11.1.107
 Ivy Burr
Athol St. W.
Oshawa, Ontario

When a collection such as this is donated to the museum, there are limited details about the family, names, and addresses. The MacGregor collection was fortunately donated with some historical land deeds and mortgage documents, school photos, yearbooks, and enough contextual information that the mapping of the majority of the family was simple, albeit timely.

It is my first time working in an archival role, and as such, honestly I was a little lost in how to proceed when this collection landed in my lap. So, as I navigated it, I tried to keep in mind that however it was accessioned into the archive, it needed to be accessible for future researchers. I had to ensure that if a family member or future historian wanted to piece together what I had, in less time, I had to make sure that the archival decisions were intuitive.

A021.11.25
 Form CII – Oshawa High School
C. September 16, 1919
Belonging to Ivy (nee. Burr) MacGregor 

Here, I will detail the steps that I took to organize and make sense of the collection and why I made the choices that I did.

Timeline

Step 1: Lay out donated collection

During this step I ensured that I had the groups of documents and photos all laid out so that I would be able to see all of the elements together. The box that the documents came in did not have any particular organizational elements, so I wanted to ensure that I didn’t miss any patterns by being disorganized.

A021.11.23
 Ivy Burr’s high school diploma – Oshawa High School 1918

After the documents were all laid out, I created four smaller collections to make working through the large amount of documents easier. I separated the photos, the legal documents, the yearbooks, and “other” and started with the photos.

Step 2: Identify Group Photos

Some of the photos had dates, names, and captions written on the photo itself; if that was the case then the images could be grouped together. There were also several images that did not have a caption, but others that had clearly been taken on the same day or trip, so they could be grouped. Other images could be identified by individuals in them, locations, outfits, or by occasion. I did my best to group people, families, locations, and similar photos so that when searching the collection, it would be simple to navigate space and time.

A021.11.21
 Acta Ludi (O.C.V.I. Yearbook) C.1953-1954

Step 3: Organizing and labeling

The images were transferred to an easily accessible album; each image was numbered, the caption or writing written in printing (because some of the cursive was difficult to read), and placed in order.

Step 4: Finding Aid Document

When documents are accessioned in the permanent archive they can be difficult to find. I created a finding table that corresponds to the image accession numbers, the captions, notes/research, people in the image, and tag words for the virtual archive system.

Step 5: Ancestry

In order to better understand the individuals in the image and the names on the documents, I used the museum’s ancestry.com account to map the family for four generations. It certainly cleared up a lot of confusion, especially considering there were FOUR individuals with the exact same name!

Step 6: Scanning

The documents and images were scanned to add them to the museum’s digital archival database.

Step 7: Finding a home

The final step to accessioning the collection is finding a permanent home for all of the documents. Each was appropriately labelled in the finding aid with its permanent location, whether an archival box, a drawer, or within the yearbook collection.

Questions and Concerns

Even though there was lots of information available from the donation, there are portions that cannot be taken any further than how they came in. For example, these images of Gwendolyn Vera Baker. In the portrait shown here Gwendolyn is 2 years and 6 months old, which is written on the cardboard frame of the image.

A021.11.1.51
 Gwendolyn Vera Baker
2 years + 6 months

I have not been able to find the connection between the Baker family and our MacGregor/Burr family. However, there could be several explanations as to why this little girl’s image was saved in the family’s photo collection. Think of your own photo albums – they could be filled with friends, coworkers, or even neighbours.

A021.11.1.52
 Little Gwen smelling our morning glories when half grown.

This second photo’s caption is “Little Gwen smelling our morning glories when half grown.” I have accessioned these photos beside each other in this collection, assuming a relationship between the two and that the same child, named Gwen, is shown in both. However, though for research purposes the placement makes sense, it is not known if this is the same child. There are no dates on the images and they are different sizes, types of photography, locations, etc. The child in the second photo is also facing away from the camera, and though the hair looks similar, we cannot confirm their identity.

If these documents were of particular interest to someone or to a project where more detailed and accurate information was needed, then names could be cross-researched with other local archives. Other initiatives could be used as well, images or names could be sent out as a crowd-sourcing project into the community that the families were from, or census documents could be investigated.

Conclusion

The overarching question throughout the accessioning of this collection was, how do I make it as easy as I can for future researchers to find what they are looking for? I hope that I have succeeded.

Family collections like these can be so valuable to research, and this project was extremely enjoyable to work on. From coming to understand the family connections and dynamics, to organizing the images and seeing growing and smiling faces from the past, it is fair to say that accessioning family collections is a task that comes with lots of complications and more than a few unanswered questions.

One Year, Three Museums

By Kes Murray, Registrar

Ever since I was young, I have loved museums. All that history and knowledge within one building spurred me from gallery to gallery. Flash forward to today. Me, a recent graduate with a museum studies degree and one year of experiences working in three different museums.

As we enter into a new year, I like to reflect upon my 2021. Like everyone, 2021 was a challenging year. From online school, to trying to balance my personal and professional life, I was constantly burnt-out. Thankfully, one shining light of 2021 was all the museums I had the pleasure of working in. In total, I worked in three museums. Now, please don’t mind me as I reminisce about my 2021 museum adventures.

Royal Ontario Museum

At the start of 2021, I began my journey at the Royal Ontario Museum. The ROM is one of the largest museums in Canada, and navigating this large institution taught me many things.

At the ROM, I worked in the Registration Department. If you are unfamiliar with the role of a museum registrar, don’t worry! I was too. I learned that a registrar is mainly responsible for museum objects that enter and leave the museum. This includes travelling exhibits, loans to other museums, and objects that are leaving the museum’s collection permanently. Because of the diverse tasks a registrar must do, they have to be knowledgeable in many areas of museum work, like how to properly handle museum objects, how to write copyright agreements, and how to process objects that come into the museum.

The absolute highlight of my time here happened in January 2021. I was invited to help de-install a travelling exhibition. The registrar’s part in this is straightforward; all objects that are leaving need to be inspected to see if something has happened to them during their time on display. This process is called condition reporting. Along with some other tasks, my week went by very quickly.

Me, condition reporting at the ROM, January 20/2021.

As I reflect on my time there, I realize the depth of my learning. I learned here how to process objects that are coming into the museum’s collection, how to be observant that meet museum standards, how to work with other departments, and, most importantly, not to be afraid to ask questions.

Algonquin Provincial Park

I always remember that museum can be found just about anywhere. My adventure into Algonquin Park was a big reminder of this. In September 2021, I began a month-and-a-half contract in Algonquin Park as a museum technician.

I have never in my life lived outside of southern Ontario. So, moving to a provincial park in Central Ontario seemed rather intimidating. And it was quite the drive, let me tell you. But, after a six hour drive from London, Ontario, I arrived.

My experience in Algonquin was like nothing I have ever experienced in a museum setting before. I mainly worked at the Visitor Centre at the information desk. I answered questions and watched over the bookstore. The Visitor Centre was a unique building. It housed the Friends of Algonquin offices, where I worked, and also a lookout deck and a museum that took you through the natural and human history of the park. My favourite part of working at the Visitor Centre was the Visitor Animal sightings board, a simple white board where visitors can record their wildlife sightings. Everyday, visitors would record different animals they saw. It was hard not to be excited with them. From moose sightings to wolf sightings, it was an excellent way of seeing animal movement in the park, and maybe a good recommendation to another visitor where they may see a grouse or a Canada Jay.

Visitor Sightings Board, October 15/2021

Other times, I worked at the Logging Museum. The Logging Museum happened to be a part of one of the Park’s trails. So when I was at the Logging Museum, I got to walk the trail at least once a day to make sure all the structures on the trail undamaged.  

And of course it wouldn’t be Algonquin without a fun animal story. The trail at the Logging Museum passes a creek, where a mischievous beaver would regularly dam the log shute, a structure that tells one part of the history of logging in the park. Apparently, this happens a lot, and when I told my supervisor of the clogged shute, I was met with sighs and shaking heads. The beaver had struck again.

Log shute dammed by beaver on Logging Museum Trail, September 18/2021

Oshawa Museum

My last museum journey of 2021 brought me here, to the Oshawa Museum. The beginning of December 2021, I started as one of two registrars working on a large backlog of donations to the museum. Now, I’m on the waterfront. From being in the urban jungle of downtown Toronto, to the forests of Algonquin Park, to Lake Ontario, I feel like I have seen all the wonderful places in Ontario where museums are situated.

Outside look of Guy House, December 21/2021

As for my work here, I have sorted through brochures, photographs, and now cassettes. Myself and the other registrar, Savannah, have made a considerable and noticeable dent in the backlogged donations. Every day brings its own fascinating discovery and challenge. As we move further into the New Year, I am very eager to continue my work here, to say the least.

Every 2021 museum I worked in was, to me, an adventure. I didn’t know what to expect and came somewhat prepared. Navigating a new workplace and environment brought its own challenges. But, if I had the chance to do it all again, I would.

As the New Year is a time of reflection of the year that has past and the year to come, I am excited for what 2022 has in store for me, especially if it means more museums.

RCAF Ground Observer Corps  

By Jennifer Weymark, Archivist

The Archives recently received a donation of three pins awarded to a local gentleman, Dean Kelly, for his work with the Ground Observer Corps at the Oshawa Airport in the 1950s.  The Corps was a civilian organization within the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and was tasked with helping to identify any potential enemy airplanes entering into Canadian airspace.

Post World War II, much of the Western world found themselves entering into a new type of war, the Cold War. There was concern that Soviet aircraft, specifically bombers, would enter North American airspace via the North Pole. To counter this threat, the RCAF developed a three-part early warning system with radar stations being constructed at strategic points across Canada. The Ground Observer Corps worked alongside these stations, which were considered early warning systems, to monitor the skies for Soviet aircraft.

The Corps began with a small group of officers but soon grew to approximately 50,000 volunteers. The members of the Corps were supplied with an RCAF radio and would often make use of their own personal items, such as binoculars, as they were tasked with reporting on any aircraft sighted with four or more engines. The observation posts, some of which were constructed by members of the Corps on their own time and at their own expense, were staffed around the clock. During WWII, the Canadian Air Detection Corps reported sightings of both German aircraft and surfaced German submarines, so volunteers with the new Ground Observer Corps knew that there was high potential for Soviet aircraft to do the same.

The formation of the RCAF Ground Observer Corps prompted the United States Air Force (USAF) to form their own Ground Observer Corps.  In 1955, the USAF ran an operation to test the effectiveness of the northern defenses. They sent an “enemy” force to enter Canadian airspace to see how quickly it was detected. The exercise highlighted the weaknesses with current radar systems, and it was the Ground Observer Corps who sent out the first warning, approximately three hours before the radar systems reported the attack.

The RCAF Ground Observer Corps existed for just over a decade as all operations were terminated in January 1964, and the focus shifted to improved radar capabilities.

The pins are now part of the Oshawa Museum’s archival collection and will help tell this interesting aspect of Oshawa’s history.

Weddings, Bridal Style, and the Oshawa Museum

By Savannah Sewell, Registrar

Regardless of whether you got married last weekend or last century (applies to this context…I promise), I’m sure you remember a variety of dramas and joys surrounding your wedding. If you have upcoming nuptials in mind, be prepared, from what I hear; there is lots of confusion, drama, and stress associated with the planning and preparation for a wedding. Regardless of how much work or loss of sleep is involved in planning your wedding, they are incredibly important days in our lives and symbolize the union of two people who love each other very much. The history of western weddings are often a lot more complicated that most think; from wedding fashions to the decision making process of picking a date, every decision was made for a reason.

Visitor Experience Coordinator, Jill, in front of Henry House on her wedding day.

Down at the Oshawa Museum, we have the pleasure of being the backdrop for weddings year-round. The Oshawa Museum rests on the shore of Lake Ontario, and our three historic houses each hold a unique colour scheme and aesthetic. The museum is also located conveniently beside the Jubilee Pavilion, a hall and event space that has existed in Oshawa since 1927! All of this combined with the picturesque views, mature trees, and beautiful gardens, Lakeview Park and the museum continue to be the perfect background for a romantic day of love and the institutional norm of marriage.

Curator, Melissa, on the front steps of Henry House, on her wedding day.

Wedding photography is a complex academic conversation, intrinsically linked with the controversial conversation surrounding marriage itself, the ownership of others, and the traditional patriarchal contract of marriage. However, when observed from a historical perspective, I find that a more appropriate conversation surrounding its evolution, is actually of the desire to capture such a monumental moment in one’s life. As Walsh and Wade explain “wedding photographs and albums symbolically demonstrate the enduring centrality of ritual in contemporary America while addressing complex issues such as social change, gender, and economics.1 Photography for weddings is a long and complicated story, growing from staged and set photos, that were often taken on separate days to the wedding, to the lifestyle aesthetic that we see most often now.

Queen Elizabeth’s wedding day was fraught with complications and restrictions, including having to request extra clothing coupons from the British government for her dress, as World War II rationing was still in effect. However, one of the most interesting stories was the loss of her wedding bouquet. Interested individuals will notice that family photos taken on November 20, 1947 do not show Her Majesty holding her bouquet, as it was misplaced sometime after the departure from Westminster Abbey. Therefore, the bride and groom’s wedding portraits were completed on their honeymoon, days later, after another bouquet could be created. Photography at the time also lent only to posed photos in a space where light could be monitored and controlled. As the cameras changed and lent to transportation, so too did wedding photos. The first wedding daguerreotypes of the 1840s evolved into wedding albums and studio portraits. The “Wedding Boom” after the Second World War also influenced photographers to make the leap from military photography to weddings, and some would show up, take photos, and then attempt to sell them to the bride and groom without a prior contract. These events forced wedding photographers to leave their studios and create their memories with the couple at their wedding location.2

Mom and Dad on their wedding day, October 19, 1991. Oshawa This Week Collection, Oshawa Museum archival collection, A997.7.124

The Oshawa Museum is in possession of the Oshawa This Week Wedding announcement photo collection and, therefore, a representation of a large variety of wedding photographs from the past century that were published in the paper. To my surprise, while writing this blog, I clicked across my own parents’ wedding, as well as an assortment of other parents and community members that I have known my entire life.

A couple on their wedding day. Oshawa This Week Collection, Oshawa Museum archival collection, A997.37.3

Within the museum’s collection, we also have a large variety of wedding items, anywhere from wedding dresses, shoes, to certificates and photos. I have a particular interest in the wedding dresses within the collection, as they represent a variety of styles throughout the years. One of the most iconic symbols of the western wedding is the bridal gown. Typically, they are white or ivory, long, and somehow elaborate, depending on the style at the time. Queen Victoria, who was married on February 10, 1840, set a trend in wedding outfits for women. Prior to her wedding, women either wore their best dress, regardless of the colour, or designed and wore new dresses of colour depending on the fashion of the season. Queen Victoria’s large and extravagant white wedding dress led to a surge in the wearing of white dresses today. Coupled with the industrial revolution and the availability of such impractical materials, the full-skirted, white, or ivory look for brides is now the norm.3

Samantha Hill’s Australien, wedding dress. C. 1875 Oshawa Museum collection.

However, some brides chose to continue with fashionable colours. One of the most extravagant examples of that is a dress which belonged to Samantha Hill. She was married in 1875 in this rusty, orange dress, the colour at the time was called Australien. The colour was inspired by the colour and landscape of the Australian outback and used in dresses-making and fashion houses through late Victorian England.

Clarissa (Henry) Stone

One of the museum’s best-known families, the Henrys of our Henry House, had several weddings held within the home. The parlour would have been host to Henry House weddings, as it was the most lavishly decorated and designed for entertaining. One of the most interesting facts concerning the weddings of Henry family children and grandchildren is the timing of the weddings within the calendar year. Many were married around the Christmas holiday, either before or after. One marriage, that of Clarissa Henry, Thomas and Lurenda’s third youngest child, was married to Cassius Stone on December 22, 1868. Clarissa and Cassius are said to have wanted to be wed on Christmas Day itself, however, the church and priest were not available, so alternative plans were made. Some reasons for these Christmas season celebrations could have been the proximity to each other during the holiday season or that the crops were tended and the harvest chores were finished, so the family was available to enjoy celebration and merriment.

The Oshawa Museum is thrilled to have a variety of representations of both modern and historical weddings, the images and collection items provide an interesting context for weddings in Oshawa and Lakeview Park. Whether it is announcing your wedding in the newspaper, using the museum’s beauty as a photography backdrop, or having your wedding gown end up in our permanent collection, we love to love and are happy to be a part of anyone’s Big Day.


Citations

  1. Walsh, Michael James and Wade, Matthew. Soundtrack for love: wedding videography, music and romantic memory. Continuum 34:1, pages 14-31, 2020.
  2. “The History of Wedding Photography.” San Francisco Wedding Photographer. Accessed November 29, 2021. https://www.iqphoto.com/history.
  3. Ehrman, Edwina. The Wedding Dress. London: V & A Publishing, 2011.
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