Reflections on “Ask a Curator Day”

By Melissa Cole, Curator

You might be asking, what exactly is “Ask a Curator” day?  It started a decade ago with the intention of giving the public access to experts who work in museums, galleries, and heritage sites through the use of social media.  Initially the event started on Twitter; since then it has extended to Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, and more.

From the first year this online event started, it has proven to be popular, attracting cultural, heritage, and science institutions from across the world! 

Here are a few questions that were asked and my responses!  If you wish to view the Facebook Live event you can view it on the Oshawa Museum’s Facebook Page.

What COVID-19 artefact do you think will fascinate people 100 years from now? And why?

The inspiring move when local breweries stopped beer production and turned over to making hand sanitizer to help fight COVID-19.  Initially, All or Nothing Brewhouse in Oshawa started producing exclusively for local hospitals, front-line emergency workers, and major utility companies.  A can of All or Nothing Brewhouse’s Hand Sanitizer was the first COVID-19 related object to be acquired for the Oshawa Museum’s collection.

What’s the weirdest thing in your collection?

I can’t focus on just one artefact in particular, but rather a collection of artefacts.  I have two collections which many may find weird, but they are also fascinating!  Our Farewell Cemetery Collection which contains coffin jewellery, the decorative hardware used on coffins. 

The other collection is our extensive medical collection, which was used a few different doctors in the Oshawa community prior to the opening of the hospital; when surgeries took place in the home, a kitchen table would have made a great make-shift operating table.  Many of the instruments resemble the tools that are still used today but there are a few which have thankfully…changed with the times. 

Do you have a particular Henry Family member that you like best?

The youngest child of Thomas and Lurenda is Jennie (Lorinda Jane) Henry.  I have been fortunate to meet her granddaughter, who spent time in Jennie Henry’s home when she resided on Agnes Street (I said Elgin Street during our Facebook live).  She shared stories with me about the home and has donated various items related to Jennie and her husband, John Luke McGill. 

Have you ever broken an artefact?

Yes I have, and of course it was an artefact that once belonged to Thomas Henry, of Henry House.  I broke his tea cup accidently because it had been left in a hutch that was being moved.  Many of the large furniture pieces in Henry House are used to store smaller items such as china cups and saucers, other chinaware, stoneware, vases, glassware, and many other artefacts related to the household.  Fortunately, I was able to repair the china cup because of my collection care training that was provided the Museum Management and Curatorship program offered through Fleming College.     

Curator advice: MAKE SURE ALL ARTEFACTS ARE REMOVED EBFORE MOVING A HUTCH!

What is your favourite tool?

I have three tools….beside my computer that assist me greatly with my work on exhibitions and with collections.  My squeegee tool, measuring tape (make sure to measure three times), and 3M Command Strips that have saved so many wall repairs.  The walls of Robinson House thank us each time we use them because the walls in this house are made from lath and plaster.   

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.