The Importance of Context When Examining Photographs

By Jennifer Weymark, Archivist

When leading our primary source workshop, I often pose the question to students “Are photographs accurate depictions of the events they are showing?”  Typically, students respond with “yes, of course.”  I prompt them to reconsider that response and ask what tools do we have available that may make that answer incorrect. This leads into a discussion of photo manipulation with tools such as Photoshop and staged or propaganda photographs and how we must use our cognitive thinking skills when examining photographs to use as evidence of events.

I was fortunate to attend the 2021 Archives Association of Ontario virtual conference in May.  The focus of the conference was doing the work to move our archival collections from their colonial roots into a more inclusive future.  The opening keynote address was entitled “Reimagining Our Futures: Photographs of Sports at Indian Residential Schools” and was delivered by Janice Forsyth.  Dr. Forsyth is an Associate Professor at Western University who specializes in exploring sport’s relationship to Indigenous and Canadian culture.

During her talk, Dr. Forsyth shared an image of a hockey team comprised of students from a residential school.  This image, along with hundreds of others, was an integral part of her research. The image was a typical hockey team pose.  Two rows of children, the ones in the front seated, those in the back standing, all wearing their equipment and smiling for the camera. If you just looked at the image without digging any further, it could be used to support those who argue that residential schools weren’t all bad. However, Dr. Forsyth wanted to know more about the image and the students in the photograph and was connected with one of the students.

Upon speaking with a gentleman who had been one of the students in the photograph, Dr. Forsyth was provided with a great deal of context that altered the information the photograph provided. In the photograph, the students are shown wearing new equipment; however, according to the former student, that equipment was brought in to be worn only for the photograph. In reality, the equipment they were provided with was very old and offered very little protection. He sat with Dr. Forsyth and provided context for more images from the school, all of which highlighted how the photographs were not accurate representations of what sports were like at that school but were stylized to provide a palatable representation of residential schools.

When looking at any photograph, it is always beneficial to include as much context as possible as it is context that allows us to better understand the image we are looking at.

The Month That Was – May 1864

All articles originally appeared in the Oshawa Vindicator

May 4, 1864, Page 2
New Church Bell
The new Bell for St. George’s Church, of this Village, has arrived, and is now being placed in position, ready to speak when called upon. It is from the Foundry of Meneely & Sons, of Troy, NY, one of the best establishments of the kind in America; and it presents the appearance of being in reality, a very fine piece of workmanship. On Sabbath next we will all enjoy an opportunity of judging of its tone and power. It is said to be the largest bell between Cobourg and Toronto, and with favourable weather, will be heard at distances from ten to fifteen miles. Its weight is 816lbs, and its cost, when put up, will be about $350 currency.

Excursion to the Falls
There is some talk of an immense Sons of Temperance Excursion to the Falls being got up for some day next month, by Oshawa Div. of the Sons. The subject is to be taken up by the Division for consideration and final decision, on Monday evening next. The Grand Division of CW assembles at the Falls (Town of Drummondville) on Wednesday the 22nd, and it is probable that that day will be chosen for the excursion, should it take place.

Page 3
Married
At the residence of the bride’s father, Port Oshawa, on the evening of the 14th ultimo. by Elder H Hayward, Mr. Edward Dearborn and Miss Elizabeth A Henry, daughter of Elder Thomas Henry, all of East Whitby.

Anonymous Letters
The party who sent an anonymous letter from Oshawa to a young man in Whitby, is hereby respectfully informed by latter, that no more need be sent, as the subject of that communication is of no importance to him.
Whitby, April 30, 1864

May 4 1864, 3.

May 11, 1864, page 1
Pay Up.
Fair Warning
I hereby give notice to all parties indebted to me, either by note, book account or otherwise, that if their respective amounts are not paid forthwith, I shall take legal steps to recover the same, without further notice. I have waited long enough for the many small amounts due me since retiring from business, and am determined to make a speedy collection of the same at all hazards. I’ll sue every man that does not pay up at once! That’s so!!
DF Burk, Oshawa, Sept., 23rd, 1863

Page 2
A visit to Cedar Dale
On Thursday last we took a walk down to Cedar Dale, a thriving little village just outside the Corporation of Oshawa, on the south side of the grand trunk railway, and but a few rods from the station. Cedar Dale owes its existence to the fact that a splendid location for a millpond and waterpower has, for ages past, for ought we know to the contrary, existed in that vicinity on the property owned by Mr. Thomas Conant, which waterpower two enterprising Yankees named AS Whiting and EC Tuttle purchased in turned to account in driving the machinery of their Scythe, Hoe, and Fork Manufacturing.

The Oshawa Scythe, Hoe, and Fork Manufacturing with established by the two gentlemen above named some five or six years ago, soon after the failure of the Oshawa Manufacturing Company, in the north branch of that companies building. The entire premises owned by that company were soon afterwards sold at option and purchased by Joseph Hall, of Rochester. Messrs. Whiting and Tuttle carried on their business as usual in the old premises, until Mr. Hall’s run of that work became so large as to require the whole shop; when it was mutually agreed that the Oshawa Scythe, Hoe, and Fork establishment should move. Its proprietors, with an eye to the saving of the cost of steam power, examined Mr. Conant’s mill site, and firm in the conviction that it was the spot for them, being close to the railway station, to Oshawa, and to the harbour at Port Oshawa, they soon came to terms period two years ago last January, the axe was the first set at work towards clearing the forest on the site of the now thriving little manufacturing village of Cedar Dale. Not only was the immediate site of the factory an village cleared, but the whole of the flats on both sides of the Creek, which the water was to overflow, were also cleared of trees and rubbish—a thing not often done—and the consequence is that a fine, clear, wholesome sheet of water now fills the basin, instead of its being a dirty pool, build with dead, broken an unsightly trees, an rotten logs, once at once an eyesore and a breeder of disease for the neighborhood. Looking to the possibilities of the future, the dam was constructed in a very strong manner, and a very wide floodway built, so that it is believed that the breaking away of half a dozen mill dams above cannot affect this one.

The factory is built some 10 or 15 yards south of the east end of the dam, the water being conveyed to it by a raceway, along the brow of the hill, on the east side of the flats. All the manufacturing operations are carried on in the one building, which is 266 by 40 feet in extent and one and a half storeys in height. The water wheel, which is placed near the centre of the building, is a small but powerful affair. It is a turbine wheel of about four feet in diameter, but exerts a driving power equal to that of 70 horses…

…So long as Messrs. Whiting and Tuttle make scythes, hoes, and forks in Canada (which we may safely say will be so long as they live at least) they will make them cheaper and better than anybody else can, simply because they know how to do it, and are determined to do it, no matter what it temporarily costs.

May 11, 1864, 3.

May 18, 1864 page 2
Early Records of the Township of Whitby
We give, below, as promised, a list of the names of all the heads of families of the old Township of Whitby in the year 1822, as found recorded on six of the pages of the old record book from which we have been making quotations for the benefit, chiefly, of “our oldest inhabitants.” Following each name, in the record from which we copy, our figures showing the number of males and females in each family, the number over and the number under 16, and the number of servants, or hired men. For the sake of brevity, however, we omit all except the totals. The old Township of Whitby, to which this list relates, is now divided up into four municipalities, viz:—the two townships of Whitby and East Whitby, the town of Whitby, and the village of Oshawa.

Census of the Township of Whitby for the year 1822

Heads of FamiliesTotal of FamilyHeads of FamilyTotal of Family
Matthew Terwilligar6Wm. Maxim4
Samuel Dearborn8Alva Way2
Josiah Cleaveland4Michael Wood[6]
Reuben Warren11[Henry] Crawford3
Charles Annis5John Way3
Samuel Dorman2Lawrence D. Way3
Thomas Henry4James [Han      ]6
William Hall7David Jones5
William Pickel7Cornelius Jones7
Abraham Terwilligar5Israel Gibbs[8]
Charles Terwilligar5John McGregor, senr.3
William Farewell11Matthias Mackey7
Ackeus Farewell10Daniel DeHart, jnr5
George McGill6Samuel Jameyson9
Abraham Coryell10Daniel DeHart3
Benjamin Stone11Jabez Lynde12
George Hinkson8George Paxton4
Thomas Herriman8Hawkins Lynde4
William Karr7Joseph Edmunds5
John Karr9Alexander Armstrong1
John McGregor2John Warren4
Benjamin Rogers5John Demaray8
James Hall7Richard Martin8
Benjamin [Labrae]5William Huntington6
John Elliot3Richard Gardiner10
Joseph [Beuway]3Henry P. Smith6
Peter Lapoint8Thomas Moore7
Lewis Drolette2Edmund Oragan4
Wm. F. Moore5John Furguson1
John Hews3Isaac Beachman2
Richard Amsbary8John Blake5
Rufus Hall11George Moore4
David Demaray10Samuel Moore3
Enoch Davis7Thomas Liddle3
George Dean5Sylvester Lynde1
Josiah Farewell9Wm. Paxton4
Michael Wilcocks3Lawrence Smith5
Joseph Wileigh6Samuel Cochrane6
Joseph Witterfield7Joseph [I Losce][13]
Norris Karr2Stephen Smith7
Godfrey Avickhouser5Nicholas Demaray11
Wm H Wade5John Still[8]
John Starr2Caleb Elsworth11
Aaron Martin, 2nd1Gershum Herrick1
Samuel Demaray2David Young[8]
Widow Anna Martin5Moses Hemmingway9
[Russel Hoag]5Thomas Provost6
John King5Henry McGahan9
James Starr4W. Nancy Smith4
Edward Starr4Parnell Webb3
John Kent4[Ju     ] A Seeley9
Jabez Hall8Hass[  ]rd Watson2
Caleb Crawford9John Quick7
William Marsh8George Townsend5
Richard Demaray10Jacob Dehart5
Joseph Shand2Thomas Dehart[8]
John Williams7Barnabas Malby3
Jonathan Steward7James Young9
Randal Marsh9Thomas McGahan4
Joseph [LaHaire]2Abraham Brown5
Benjamin Varnum8Silas Watson5
Aaron Martin Senr.,13John Allen4
Alex C. Harlow3Ichabod Hodge6
David Stafford2Widow C Young10

Total Inhabitants,742

Accident – We learn that while Mr. Mackie, of Harmony, was on his way to (or from) church in this village, on Sabbath last, one of the horses which he was driving incautiously stepped up on a stick, one end of which flew up and  stuck into the horse’s body, making such a fearful wound that the animal speedily bled to death on the spot. Mt. Mackie appears to be rather unfortunate with his horses, having lost a valuable animal in a similar way only two years since.

May 25, 1864, page 2
Godey’s Lady’s Book – The June number of this best Ladies’ Magazine in the world is to hand.  This issue completes it’s thirty-fourth year, and they have been thirty-four years of regular success in the business of providing a first-class ladies’ monthly. A large amount of space in this number is devoted to patterns for children’s dresses. The Lady’s Book can be had at Allan’s and at Willox’s. Always inquire for Godey’s Book and buy it, and then you will have the best.

Page 3
House in Oshawa For Sale
For sale, on Water Street, Oshawa, that story and a half Frame House next south of the residence of GH Grierson, Esq., together with the Lot of land (half of an acre) on which it is situated. – There is a fine orchard of apple, plum, and pear trees, &c., and a large number of smaller fruit bushes, all in bearing. Will be sold at a great bargain for cash. Apply, if by letter, post paid, to
C. Warren, Oshawa, May 16th, 1864

May 25, 1864, 3.

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 Month That Was – March 1868

All articles originally appeared in the Oshawa Vindicator

March 4, 1868, page 2
Toll Cask – On Monday, Messrs. GH Grierson and W Karr were brought before the Reeve, charged by WH Thomas, with not closing up their fences and thus allowing persons to pass over their property in order to avoid paying toll. The case was adjourned until Saturday next.

Village Council
The council held a special meeting on Saturday evening for the purpose of passing a license by law, and granting licenses for 1868….

Mr. Gibbs, seconded by Mr. Wilcox, introduced a license by-law. The by-law limited the number of Tavern licenses to five, and shop licenses to two. It required Tavern keepers and applicants for a shop license to give a bond with two sureties in the sum of $200 for the proper observances of the provisions of the license act. The village fee is placed at $70, and a shop license at $65. In addition a stamp fee must be paid of $5 each, making the total $75 for Tavern and $65 for shop license. The bar room is to be closed and lights out at seven o’clock on Saturday evenings, and not later than eleven on other evenings. No liquor is to be sold to a person whilst in a state of intoxication, or to any person under eight years of age.— No quarreling, fighting, obscene, or profane language is to be allowed, about the present premise, as also no gambling or raffle. No liquor shall be sold to any person addicted to liquor, after having been requested not to do so by the wife of such person, or by the license inspector. No shopkeeper holding a shop license shall sell less than a quart, and this must not be drank on the premises. No liquor is to be sold after 7:00 o’clock on Saturday evening period of fine of $20 is levied for an infraction of the bylaws.

Mr. Gibbs, seconded by Mr. Glenn, moved that certificates for Tavern licenses be granted to Malachi Quigley, Michael Brooks, DH Merritt and Alphonso Hinds, on production to the Reeve, of the treasurers certificate for the payment of the sum of seventy dollars, and the required bond as set forth in the bylaw.

Mr. Quigley, who was present, complained of the large amount of the license, and still more strongly of the provisions requiring two sureties. He however took out the license.

The Snow Storm
The oldest inhabitant has declared that the snowstorm of Monday and Tuesday, the 23rd and 24th ult., was, unmistakably, the severest ever remembered. Although it extended all over that part of the province west of Toronto, and its eastern limits scarcely reached beyond Belleville, Toronto in its neighborhood seemed to be its centre. In some other places more snow may have fallen, yet here the drifts were higher and more numerous. The drifts in our own neighborhood range from an occasional giant of 14 or 15 feet downwards. The roads north and south were completely blocked. Some of them still remain so; the only outlet being through the woods and fields. Simcoe Street seemed to suffer worse than most others. In many places, the snow extended for a considerable length of perfect level from fence to fence, and in some cases burying the topmost rails. On Wednesday, the stage started for the north, and after five hours driving through woods and fields, managed to reach Columbus, but then had to return to Oshawa again. North of Prince Albert, the drifts were not so bad; The Manilla stage on Wednesday making its regular trip. On the next day, Simcoe Street was dug out, and it now presents, for this part of the Dominion, a curious spectacle, the road consisting of a narrow canal, in some places 6 feet deep with occasional switches excavated in the high snowbanks to enable teams to pass each other. The mail routes from the north were in an equally impassable state.

No council –  the East Whitby Council had no session on Monday. – On account of the storm, the Reeve was unable to get even to Oshawa. He got stuck in a drift, and it was with difficulty he got out. A meeting of the council will be held on Monday next. Pathmasters and others will please take notice.

March 4, 1868, p1

March 11, 1868, page 2
Valuable Property – In another column will be found the advertisement of Mr. M. Luke, offering his residence and adjoining land for sale. Lying on the street between the town and the railway station, and midway between both, it is one of the small number of pieces of property left for sale on this, the most growing street in the town. – Mr. Luke will, we believe, sell very cheaply.

34th Battalion – The following appointments have been gazetted for No. 8 Columbus Company: Lieu. JE Farewell to be Captain, and Ensign Scurrah to be Lieutenant.

Page 3
Union Burying Ground

Near the Residence of Rev. Dr. Thornton, Main Road

As these grounds are very desireabe for location and beauty, parties wishing to purchase lots are respectfully informed that they may have an opportunity by applying to the undersigned or to the care taker, James Carruthers, on the premises.

Alex. Burnet
Chairman of the Committee
Oshawa, March 2nd, 1868

Dr. Clarke
Begs to announce to his friends that he has resumed the practice of his profession, and may be found, as heretofore, at his own Cottage, corner of Athol and Centre Streets, Oshawa
Nov. 25th, 1867

March 11, 1868, p2

March 18, 1868, page 2
St. Patrick’s Day – Yesterday was the festival of Ireland’s Patron Saint. The only speciality here was the holding of a service in the Catholic Church. Everything was quiet; a great contrast to former years, when the day was certain to be celeb rated by a general fight. Yesterday’s celebrations throughout the country were marked by an unusual good feeling and unanimity amongst Irishmen. At Ottawa, Mr. McGee was feted by a union party of Irish Protestants and Catholics; and in Montreal, besides the usual ceremonies in the Church and in the street, there was a social dinner of Irish friends at the St. Lawrence Hall, at which all differences were to be forgotten.

Snow Cases – On Friday last, indefatigable Constable Gurley, at the instigation of the Reeve, summoned some 30 or 40 ratepayers to come to court and be fined for neglecting to clear the snow from the sidewalks in front of certain premises owned or occupied by them. The list was a most respectable one –  being headed by TN Gibbs, Esq, MP, and Dr. McGill, MPP. The majority duly made their appearance at 9:00 o’clock on Saturday morning , and as it was their first appearance, the Reeve allowed them to go provided the sidewalks were cleared that day. As the number of rods to be cleared was many, and the laborers just then a few, some had no resource but to take off their coats and do it themselves. The sidewalks were cleared, but from the bent manner in which several walked, and the agonized way in which the dexter arm was placed on the small of the back, they had evidently become acquainted with manual labour for the first time.

March 18, 1868, p3

March 25, 1868, page 2
Board of School Trustees
Still meeting of the Board of School Trustees was held on Wednesday evening. Present: the Chairman and Messrs. Carmichael, Gibbs, Hodder, Boyd, Fairbanks, Glen and Edwards.

The chairman read some very favorable testimonials in favor of Miss Victoria Halton, now teaching at Prescott. After hearing from Mr. McCabe, who had visited several applicants, Mr. Fairbanks, seconded by Mr. Glen, moved that the secretary be empowered to offer the situation of assistant teacher to Miss Victoria Halton, at a salary of $425 per annum.

The selection of a teacher to fill the vacancy in the second division was left in the hands of the Committee of School Management, in Connection with the Chairman of the Board and the Principal of the School.

March 25, 1868, p3