Researching Our Collections

By Jennifer Weymark, Archivist

In 2002, a donation arrived in the archives related to a gentleman by the name of Jack Humphreys.  At the time, what drew me to the collection were the images of Camp Samac, the Boy Scout camp located in north Oshawa. The images showed the camp during the 1940s from the perspective of the campers and was a gap in the collection.  The collection was also interesting in that Mr. Humphreys was feted in Oshawa for several years for being the oldest citizen in the City.

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In November 2019, I came across a caption in the Toronto Star noting that Mr. Humphreys was a veteran of two wars: the Boer War and World War I. Immediately after reading this, I went back to the collection to see what more I could learn about this aspect of Mr.  Humphreys. What I found was a fascinating life, a story about bravery, potentially tall tales and a long life lived to its fullest.

Learning more about the life and adventures of Mr. Humphreys was amazing and highlighted the unending opportunities for research offered by archival and curatorial collections. In an ideal world, when the collection arrived at the archives in 2002, it would have been researched during or shortly after the processing of the collection, and a finding aid developed. However, given the size of staff in our archives and curatorial departments, one in each, the vast majority of collection research occurs in relation to research requests or exhibit development.

In this case, further research into the collection was due to a happy accident when I bumped into the caption. This research was then used to write a short article looking into the extraordinary life of Mr. Humphreys. Collection research also forms the basis of finding aids and resources to make searching the archival collection easier for researchers.

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Even collections that have been fairly well researched offer opportunities to learn more and to add further context. For example, the correspondence of Pvt. Garrow has been well researched.  The World War I correspondence collection has been transcribed, a finding aid created for it and an online exhibit sharing the collection is available through the Museum’s website.  This research actually connected with research I was doing into early Black history in Oshawa.  It turns out that both Garrow and Albert Pankhurst were at the Battle of Mount Sorrel. This connection has added further context to Garrow’s letters and helped to better understand the enormity of the battle.

Collection research is a vital part of life in an archives or museum. It provides context and provenance.  Research shows connections between collections and artefacts. It can make a collection of photographs showing life at Camp Samac fit into the story of the Boer War and World War I.

Guiding and Scouting

By Jill Passmore, Visitor Experience Co-ordinator

Some of the earliest and most fond memories of growing up in Oshawa stem from my family’s involvement in Guiding and Scouting. Everything happened at Glen Stewart Club House on Cartier Avenue, just west of the Oshawa Centre, though I’m fairly certain Waverly PS and St. Michael CS were temporary or later locations for some units.

I started as a Brownie, with a brown dress uniform, white tie with orange maple leafs printed on it, and sash and small leather pouch for dues. Today my daughter wears pants and a t-shirt with brown trim. The tie is the same, but the maple leafs are brown. The sash is still there but online payments ahead of time or post dated cheques have replaced the dues pouches! An online program has even replaced the Brownie workbook, but that just happened this year. Later I flew up to Guides, wearing my sister’s hand me down uniform, which I donated to the Museum within the last few years.

Guiding taught me so many important life lessons and I am proud to tell people how I learned them. The responsibility of taking care of a pet, learning to do laundry and why it’s important to keep a clean home. How to sew on a button and be a good hostess. These may seem dated and useless to many kids today, but I challenge you to find an eleven year old who can properly introduce themselves to adults or sew a hole in their clothing.

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My parents were supportive when we no longer wanted to be involved in Guiding or Scouting, but until then, they were just as involved as we were. Dad was Hawkeye and Mom was Rainbow as Beaver and Cub leaders. After I was finished with Guiding, I still spent a lot of time attending Cub meetings when my Mom was working. My Dad tired hard to lobby for me to join the organization at a time when the policy was staunchly ‘no girls allowed.’ My son wondered why I was able to tell him what the Beaver Motto was (complete with bent beaver teeth hand gesture); I bet he’ll wonder when I can recite the Cub Grand Howl to him too!

Recently, we all had the opportunity to visit the Scout Shop at Camp Samac. Did you know that it still smells the same thirty years later? Growing up the whole family had grey wool campfire blankets. We would sew on patches and badges we’d earned and later of other places we’d visited. When I went as a kid, we’d always get to pick out a new patch that we would sew on ourselves. We all took great pride in our campfire blankets. Returning as an adult is just as fun. Everything has a slightly different meaning. My new ‘I survived camp’ patch means I got through the weekend by sleeping in a trailer with a clean bathroom and kids that haven’t maimed each other and a bottle of wine, and not my daughter’s version of ‘I survived one night of Sparks camp without my brother.’

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I’m hoping that my kids will begin to understand how meaningful these experiences will be to them in the future. The games I played, the songs I’ve sung are all things that I share with them now as a parent and product of Guiding and Scouting.

Memories of Camp Samac

By Jill Passmore, Visitor Experience Co-ordinator

I realized when I wrote my last blog post that so many of my memories of the Civic Auditorium were tied into those of Camp Samac as well. I have vague memories of coming to Camp Samac on a bus from Port Credit, ON when I was little for Brownie camp. I was excited because I knew were we were going since my maternal grandparents lived in Oshawa. It was not long after this that our family moved to Oshawa and my siblings and I were enrolled into Oshawa Units of Brownies, Guides and Beavers. We attended meetings at Waverly PS, St. Michael CS (now Trent University Durham) and Glen Stewart Clubhouse.

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As a family we often went for hikes through Camp Samac – the Sunrise and Sunset trails, and I am fairly certain this was an all-season activity. One memorable hike took place in the fall. We were out with our neighbours, who were also involved in Scouting. Their son and my brother were the same age and had gone up ahead on the trail. The footing has given way and down my brother went into the creek – he could not swim at the time! My Dad wasted no time getting down that bluff camera and all. Not long after we were enrolled in swimming lessons at the Civic Auditorium.

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I also remember participating in huge campfires held at Samac. I am assuming they were at Kitchie Lodge since that is the most open area for campfires of that size. It seemed like there were many other Cub Packs from Oshawa there on those nights. Many would be wrapped in warm campfire blankets, their badges proudly sewn on. We would play games like telephone; sing songs like Old Mrs. O’Leary, On Top of Spaghetti and One Bottle of Pop/Fish & Chips & Vinegar.

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There was also the familiar scent of the camp shop. If you have been there, you know what I mean. You will also probably remember the awful carpeting! Most of the time we got to pick out a patch to sew onto our campfire blankets. I was disappointed to find out that the blankets are not made as they used to be. I guess that happens to some things after twenty-five years, right? Also, most of the uniforms and badgers for Beavers, Cubs and Scouts are sold online these days, the same goes for Sparks, Brownies and Guides.

Last year my daughter went to Sparks camp at Samac. Boy did it bring back memories. I meant to go back and go to the shop but forgot to amidst the familiar hustle and bustle of getting kids settled at camp. Picking out bunks, checking out the cabin, checking out the fire pit etc. They want on a hike too; though I don’t think it was on Sunrise or Sunset. It makes me happy that my kids are getting to experience something I remember so fondly and that Camp Samac is there for at least another generation to enjoy.

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Jill and her siblings at Camp Samac, mid-1980s