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.   

Student Museum Musings – Nadia

By Nadia, Social Media Co-op Student

If I could summarize my first couple week at the Oshawa Community Museum in one word, it would be “welcoming.” The atmosphere is very friendly and the staff members made me feel like a part of the team.

Although my first day was primarily accessibility training, I enjoyed being in the workplace rather than school. The tour my supervisor, Lisa Terech, gave me was both intriguing and informative. In just a short period of time, I learned a lot about Oshawa that I would not have known otherwise. I love working in such a historically significant site.

My favourite aspect of my time so far was reading through Oshawa’s old newspapers starting from the 1960s. On the contrary, anything old and vintage fascinates me, however; the style of writing and the information given diverge from modern day journalism. When I was reading through old hockey articles, I found out about Bobby Orr’s origins with the OHL. It was truly amazing to find the roots of his success from the newspapers. When I searched through photographs of Oshawa, I found many of him in his old uniform. My favourite place in the museum is the closet full of old cameras. Yes, a closet. Since I do photography on my recreational time, the abundance of cameras mesmerized me.

Currently, I am into my third week at the Oshawa Community Museum. I am beginning to get used to the routine here. I am also honored to have big responsibilities, such as creating a logo for the Mourning After: The Victorian Celebration of Death (Spring 2015 exhibit). From my co-operative experience, I hope to discover if a career in media or journalism is the right path for me. I believe the Oshawa Community Museum is the best place for me to figure this out.

Below are photographs from around the Museum that Nadia has taken with her captions! Enjoy!

Robinson House, c. 1856
Robinson House, c. 1856

Reflections of Oshawa exhibit in Robinson House
Reflections of Oshawa exhibit in Robinson House

Before the Canadian national anthem was created, students started the day by singing “God Save the Queen”
Before the Canadian national anthem was created, students started the day by singing “God Save the Queen”

Hand-dyed wool
Hand-dyed wool

Henry House exterior
Henry House exterior

Opening up our Collection to the Digital World

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

A common saying among staff at the Oshawa Community Museum is that our Museum is one of Oshawa’s best kept secrets.  People in the community either know about us and have visited, they have heard of us, or, surprisingly, some people were not aware that Oshawa had a Museum.  I love being able to tell people about the Oshawa Museum, who we are and what we do.  When you love your job, it’s easy to rave about it.

I love sharing with our visitors that they are touring through Oshawa’s oldest Museum.  Henry House first opened as a stand-alone Historic House Museum in 1960; by 1985, the Museum expanded to three historic buildings all standing on their original foundations.  This means that we have been actively collecting the history of the City of Oshawa for over 50 years.

Textile storage on the upper floor of Henry House.  Behind every closed door is storage space!
Textile storage on the upper floor of Henry House. Behind every closed door is storage space!

When our visitors are on tour, only a fraction of the collection is on display, and behind closed doors, we have storage for the material history of Oshawa.  Feature exhibitions, like Tales from the Tracks: The Oshawa Street Railway (2013), Lights, Cameras, Lenses: A JourneyThrough the History of Photography (2010), and Mourning After: A Victorian Celebration of Death (2009 and upcoming 2015) provide us the opportunity to tell stories from Oshawa’s past and highlight the artifacts and photographs that help tell the story.

Mourning clothing on display in 2009.  The Mourning After will return in Spring 2015.
Mourning clothing on display in 2009. The Mourning After will return in Spring 2015.

Our collection contains over 25,000 objects and over 10,000 photographs.  While it is completely unfeasible to have everything on display for visitors to see, the internet and social media has made it possible to open our collection in several creative ways.

Firstly, if you haven’t explored our online database, I highly recommend checking it out.  This resource has made it possible to share portions of our collection to a wide audience.  You can search for objects or photographs using the various search functions, but I like clicking the ‘Random Images’ tab, and I’m frequently surprised by what images or objects will be displayed. Visit http://oshawa.pastperfect-online.com to explore this resource.

Oshawa Museum Virtual Collections
Oshawa Museum Virtual Collections

The Oshawa Museum has been active on Facebook and Twitter for over 5 years, and we use these resources to share interesting facts and information, but also to share our collection.  On the last Wednesday of the month, Curator Melissa Cole posts a ‘What is it Wednesday’ on Facebook, sharing images of unusual artifacts and encouraging our fans to guess what it might be.  Photographs from Archivist Jennifer Weymark’s collection make for perfect Twitter content, sharing #WinterWednesday and #SummerSunday images.  Archival photographs also made excellent #ThrowbackThursday content for our Instagram account.  Jennifer and Melissa also share their collection through a monthly podcast series, accessible from our YouTube Channel.

A salt cellar, our What is it Wednesday for January 2015
A salt cellar, our What is it Wednesday for January 2015

Finally, this blog and other blogs we maintain, have provided us a forum to share information about artifacts, documents,  and photographs from our collection.  As well, by sharing stories from Oshawa’s past, about people, buildings or businesses, we’re able to use images to help illustrate those stories.  Along with our main blog (this page), we also maintain:

Our mandate is to preserve and actively promote Oshawa’s history, and the world wide web and social media has made it possible to achieve this mandate on a much larger scale.