Blog Look Back – Top 5 Posts of 2020

Happy New Year! Throughout 2020, we shared 64 articles on the Oshawa Museum Blog, showcasing many different stories from our city’s past.  Many of our posts reflected current history with the COVID-19 pandemic – how the pandemic was affecting the Museum and how to archive a pandemic’s impacts.

We’re planning our new and dynamic posts for 2021, but to start the year, let’s look back at our top 5 posts of 2020

Family Tales and (In)Famous Taverns
Our summer student Mia shared her own family history with this blog post, looking at the history of the hotel located at 394 Simcoe St. S.

Spanish Flu in 1918 and COVID-19 in 2020
Our Curator, Melissa, examined how the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic impacted our community and contrasted it to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tales from Olive French
In the 1960s, a woman named Olive French began researching and writing a history of Oshawa’s early education, educators, and schools.  This manuscript was never published but was later donated to the archives. This post shares some interesting tidbids discovered while transcribting the manuscript

Do you Remember The Horse Drawn Wagon?
Before the explosion of large grocery stores that sell a wide variety of foods, the people of Oshawa enjoyed home delivery of local-made milk from local dairies.

You Asked, We Answered: Where are the Henrys Buried?
While on tour, our Visitor Hosts are often asked questions that they may not be able to answer in that moment. However, we take note of the questions and try to find the answers afterwards. One such tour was ‘where are the Henrys buried,’ and we shared the answer in this blog post.

These were our top 5 posts written in 2020, however, for the third year, our top viewed post was actually written a few years ago. Perhaps our readers have an interest in vintage bedwarmers or are looking for inspiration for keeping warm during the cold Canadian winter months, which is why Keeping Warm: The Ways The Victorians Did! is once again our top viewed post!

Thank you all for reading, and we hope to see you again in 2021!

Passive Collecting vs. Active Collecting

By Jennifer Weymark, Archivist

Recently, I attended the Archives Association of Ontario conference.  This fantastic professional development opportunity never fails to inspire and highlight steps I can take to celebrate our community through the archival collection.  The conferences also provide me an opportunity to discuss issues we are facing and troubleshoot with other professionals in the field.

One of the sessions, a session that I was pleased to chair, examined the shift from passive collecting to active collecting.  Traditionally, many archives have waited for donations of collections to come to them – passive collecting.  This is how the archival collection here at the Oshawa Museum has developed. Beyond the very early days of the Oshawa Historical Society, when the members were working to gather a collection to fill a new museum, we have typically not been out in the community asking the public to donate their historic documents and photographs to the archives.

This passive approach to collecting has resulted in some very noticeable gaps in our collection.  It is only through a more active collecting approach will we correct these gaps, as well as prevent a future archival collection that does not accurately represent our community.

The first step in a more active collecting approach is to determine what the gaps in the collection are and begin approaching people or groups that may have items that fit that topic. We noticed that there was a lack archival holdings focused on the diverse population of Oshawa.  In order to address this issue, we first began with researching these communities and developing articles and media to share the information.  The sharing of the information helped us to develop connections with members of the communities that had been underrepresented in our holdings.  These connections have brought in new donations, donations that work to fill in the gaps. For example, our research into early Black history in Oshawa has led to a connection with Club Carib and a donation of items related to the history of the club.

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A018.27.8 – May 1972 – Oshawa Caribs at Midtown Mall

The second step is changing our collecting focus.  For quite a while, the focus was on collecting items that belonged to “prominent” members of the community. By shifting the focus to include collecting on simply members of the community, not just those who have been deemed “prominent,” we create a collection that preserves a more complete and accurate history of our community. We have recently accessioned a new collection of postcards related to a young woman who grew up in Oshawa.  The postcards, and accompanying photographs, were sent to Mary James (nee Riley) from family and friends and speak to the life of a young girl growing up in early 20th century Oshawa. It is a most interesting collection and one that helps fill in a gap related to the female experience.

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A019.1.23 – Mary Riley riding a bicycle. Date and location unknown

Finally, active collecting results an archival collection growing at a far faster rate than one that relies solely in passive collecting.  This growing collection is straining the already cramped storage space for the archival collection. This is just one of the many reasons the Oshawa Historical Society is pursuing a new, purpose built visitor and collections centre. The proposed building will have a larger space for the archival collection and will permit future growth of this important asset to our community’s history.

 

Dressing for Display

By Melissa Cole, Curator

Mounting a historic dress can be challenging, even for the experienced dress curators and conservators.  Inappropriate handling is one of the main causes of damage to museum objects.  Handling should be kept to a minimum; the risk of damage occurring can be reduced by good preparation before, during, and after the historic dress has been mounted.

The condition and structure of the historic dress should be carefully analyzed to determine if it has any structural weaknesses, previous damage, or fragile surfaces.  The condition of the dress will inform how to safely display the piece, or even if it can be displayed at all.  Ensure to consider its stability against environmental conditions and mounts while on exhibit.

A properly dressed mannequin is important for both the visitor experience at a museum and the artefact/garment itself.   The correct style of mount should be chosen, whether it is two dimensional or three dimensional.  For our display at the Oshawa Museum, we have chosen three dimensional mounts using mannequins in various shapes and sizes to create the correct silhouette.  It is important to remember when working with mannequins and dressing historic garments that it is not the same as dressing a store mannequin.  At a store, the mannequin is automatically the correct silhouette and the garment is new and can withstand the stress and handling.

When mounting historic garments, a mannequin should be chosen that is significantly smaller than the garment.  First, carefully measure the garment and ensure to take the time to measure properly.  Measure the entire bodice of a garment, not just straight across the chest.  Carefully measure all the way across the inside of the garment, following the curve of any space created for the bust.

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Areas to measure on the mannequin and the historic dress.  The second photo indicates the measurement of the entire bodice, not just straight across.

 

Once the proper mannequin has been selected, it is time to start building out the mannequin so the historic dress is well supported throughout.  Supplies to build out mannequins include white cotton sheet, pantyhose, quilt batting, cotton twill tape, flexible fabric measuring tape, scissors, and straight pins.  A well-dressed mannequin should go unnoticed by visitors.  This means the visitor will focus on the historic dress itself and not on how it is displayed.  A poorly mounted mannequin can distract the visitor from focusing on the garment and its story.

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When simply placed on a mannequin, this 1860s dress is neither supported nor provides a true representation of its silhouette.

 

The final stage is to ensure the proper silhouette is created.  This primarily comes into consideration with women’s and children’s clothing during certain periods.   Through the addition of appropriate under structure, the garment will be fully supported.  This is completed through the use of petticoats (antique or reproduction) from different time periods, for example, small pillows for bustles, and fabric tulle or netting can be used to create a 1950s crinoline or a 1830s full skirt.

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By using petticoats to fill out the skirt and acid free tissue paper to stuff the sleeves, the garment presents a truer illustration of 1860s fashion.

 

Be sure to watch our social media channels for a glimpse behind the scenes in the upcoming weeks as we prepare for our upcoming exhibition, The Vintage Catwalk!

Image for OMA site

ArteFACTS – Oshawa’s Smith Potteries

By Melissa Cole, Curator

Did you know that Oshawa was once home to the largest makers of hand-painted pottery in Canada, as well as the only artware pottery in the Dominion of Canada?  Smith Potteries operated in Oshawa from approximately 1925 to 1949.

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This collection of artefacts held at the Oshawa Museum is remarkable in that each piece is unique, all individually hand painted.  Smith Potteries produced a range of products such as vases, bowls, candlesticks, lamp bases, ashtrays, and other souvenir novelties with hand painted designs.  Each piece features a maker’s mark that can be found on the bottom of the piece that was either in the form of a stamp or decal – which is most common. The decals are round with gold trim and red centres.  They read “Smith Potteries / Velta Artware / registered / Made in Canada / Oshawa, / Ont.”

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The business opened in 1926 and was located at 353 Kingston Road West and Alexandra Boulevard (today King Street West and Grenfell Street); it was originally owned and operated by Herbert C. Smith.  Mr Smith had previously been the chief accountant for General Motors.  When the plant opened, the head of the mechanical department was A.E. Barker, of Foley-Potteries, Staffordshire, England.  There were seven employees when the plant first opened in Oshawa.  Herbert Smith was manager of the plant from approximately 1925-38.  His brother, Fred A. Smith managed the company from 1939-48.

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The pottery was highly sought after and shipped across North America.  Locally, two other businesses were selling Smith Potteries, D.J. Brown in Oshawa and J.M. Hicks in Whitby, while Smith Potteries also sold retail directly from the store located in the same building as the plant.  Smith Potteries was so successful that they expanded their business in 1930.  Their production of a specialized semi-porcelain pottery, also known as white ware, made Smith Potteries competitively successful with other countries, such as the United States, China, Britain, Japan, Germany, Sweden, and Czechoslovakia.  The white ware pottery was resilient and of fine quality; it was a mixture of clay shipped from England, Kentucky and Saskatchewan.  According to an article published in the Toronto Star in October 1926, they were experimenting with local clay from the area.

A keen businessman, H.C. Smith installed a gas station in the front of the store in order to attract tourists and motorists looking to purchase souvenirs.  Also on the premise was another Smith family operation, Smith Sporting Goods, which was in business until 1968.

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Despite the business’ success, other than basic information, little is known about the business that produced high quality pottery.  We are always looking for more information about the company such as photos of the business and catalogues (if there was any).

It’s All Fun and Games

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

A number of years back, a popular board games manufacturer encouraged families to have ‘Family Game Night,’ and their commercials showed people around a table, playing games, rolling dice and having fun. Clearly they weren’t basing it on Monopoly nights at my family’s home; savage would be the best way to describe those experiences, but looked back on fondly.  When we’re all back at home, or if we’re visiting each other, games of different varieties often get brought out: Scrabble, Trivial Pursuit, cards, and Munchkins, as introduced by cousins and my brother.

This desire for recreation, and perhaps a streak of competition, is something we’ve sought out for centuries, and evidence of board games can be found as far back as c. 3500 BCE.  While our collection here at the Oshawa Museum may not stretch as far back as that, there is a wide variety of games that have been donated through the years, and here are just a few of my favourites.

On display in the Henry Parlour is a Fox and Geese board, although it’s often confused with Chinese Checkers.  Variations of this game can be traced as far back as the 14th century, and the object of the game is for one player, the fox, to try and ‘eat’ the geese, and the opposing player in turn tries to trap the fox, or reach a destination on the board.  Reportedly, this game was a favourite of Queen Victoria, which would justify its place in a Victorian era parlour.  This game often gets comments from visitors while on tour, either curious as to how the game is played, or making connections, remembering playing something similar.

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An interesting example in our collection reflects the desire for recreation and normalcy even in the worst of times.  During World War II, the Canadian YMCA made Pocket Chess and Checker Sets available for military personnel.  The example in our collection is ©1942 by Unique Items Co., New York.  Stored in a portable paper sleeve was a checkered board and cardboard sheets, perforated so the playing pieces could be removed.

 

The Young Christian Men’s Association, YMCA, is one of “Canada’s longest standing and largest charities, with a presence in Canada since 1851 and now serving more than 2.25 million people annually across 1,700 program locations.”  With values of caring, respect, honesty, responsibility, and inclusiveness, it is understandable this group would become involved during wartime. The YMCA stated:

From 1866 – 1946, YMCA War Services provided support in the form of recreation, religious, educational, and entertainment services to troops serving abroad. YMCA staff were a welcome sight and became known for offering moral support and comfort by delivering hot tea, equipment, biscuits and more to Canadian soldiers.

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A simple game like chess or checkers, which could be easily carried, could be a welcome form of entertainment during the hardships of war.

Finally, a donation from 2015 brought a HUGE wave of nostalgia for me with the game Touring: The Great Automobile Card Game!  Touring was originally designed by William Janson Roche,  patented by the Wallie Dorr Company in 1906, and picked up by Parker Brothers in 1925.  It’s interesting to note that this card game was created and became popular at a time when the automobile was in its early stages.

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From the rules:
The object of the game is to score 110 miles by completing a set of Mileage cards. To accomplish this, one not only builds up Mileage as quickly as he may, but also adds to the excitement by obstructing his opponents by the play of DELAY cards upon their GO cards.

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I cannot think back to summer times at a cottage, camping, or nights spent with family without thinking of Mille Bornes, a card game of French origin from the mid 1950s, based off Touring. The game is a road race, where you try to accumulate 1000 miles;  you need a green light card to add miles, and your opponents can throw you obstacles along the way, like a flat time or running out of gas.  Edmond Dujardin, the Mille Bornes creator, adapted Touring and added the Coup Fourré, a strategic safety card that can make you immune from different driving disasters.

It’s such a simple game, as it only requires the deck of cards, but my goodness the memories that this game can bring back is amazing.  A few years ago, I got the game as a stocking stuffer, and I’m pretty sure we cracked it open before Christmas brunch.

Games are a source of entertainment and have been for centuries. Our collection is reflective of popular trends and societal influences.


References:

Fox and Geese: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fox_games

YMCA Canada: http://ymca.ca/Who-We-Are/About-Us