Engaging Volunteers at Home

By Dylan C., MMC Intern

As a result of the pandemic, volunteers have not been able to return in person to the Oshawa Museum. By not being able to come into the museum, they lose the social aspect of their volunteer experience which is the biggest motivator for some.  The museum has been looking for ways to keep their volunteers engaged at home. One proposed way of keeping volunteers engaged is through the audio transcription of oral histories. But if audio transcription is going to be one of the main ways to keep volunteers engaged from home during this pandemic, then the question becomes how do we incorporate and infuse that process with a social component? One theory of mine includes hosting online discussions through zoom or other web-based programs, where volunteers can discuss what they have learned from completing the transcription. They can talk about the process of transcribing itself or discuss the history that they have learned from hearing the voices of the past.

The first transcription I worked on was an oral history from a gentleman named Wardy Pankhurst who was a life long resident of Oshawa that was born in the early 1900s. (We’ve written at length about the Pankhurst family on the blog – read through past articles HERE) I learned very quickly that I could barely understand what he was talking about between the poor audio quality and the lack of knowledge that I had in regards to Oshawa’s past. It wasn’t until I did a bit of digging myself when I began to understand what were the places and people he was referencing. For example, he is hard to hear, understandably being an elderly man born at the turn of the century, coupled with the fact he refers to places and people as if it is common knowledge, which of course would have been if you were alive during his time or if you are well versed in Oshawa history. The first word or rather name that he kept bringing up when referencing to his work past was Malleable. I could not make out what he was trying to say, so I had to ask my dad to see if he could hear because at first, I could not even distinguish what word he was trying to say. After deciphering the word “malleable,” I then still found myself in the dark. After a quick google search I found out that he was referring to the Ontario Malleable Steel Company and then all of a sudden, the entire context of what he was talking about came to fruition. It connected his tales about working for the McLaughlin’s, to travelling south of the border to Detroit then coming back to Oshawa to sell his services to the highest bidder. Doing this research to simply understand the story he was trying to tell gave me the idea that audio transcription can be more than simply turning speech into text. It could be a rewarding experience that turns social transcribers into an amateur research team that seeks to learn more about the history of Oshawa.

The second part of this is that you could turn the finished and researched transcriptions into mini history resources if you will, that have hyperlinks incorporated in them so if someone wants to read the transcription and has questions about certain topics discussed they could simply click on the highlighted word that takes them to a web page on the subject.

This mixture of independent work with a social meeting aspect may help to keep volunteers engaged even if they are restricted to their own homes. However, it is impossible to replace the in-person social aspects of volunteering but this idea gives some food for thought and perhaps gives us an avenue to engage and stay connected during these unprecedented times.


To hear Ward’s memories as relayed by him, take a listen to our video podcast:


The audio transcription project is being facilitated over our Google Drive – volunteers can sign up for which audio file they want to work on, and the MP3s are accessible from that same online folder.

If you are interested in helping with this project, please email Lisa at membership@oshawamuseum.org

Volunteering in the Times of COVID

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

The COVID crisis hit Ontario in early March, and by March 13, the Oshawa Museum made the decision to close our doors to the public. Staff continued to work from home remotely, but essentially all volunteering came to a halt at that time. Museums benefit from volunteers in so many ways, from the volunteers who help at events, being wonderful ambassadors for the site, helping behind the scenes, and being just a wonderful complement to the staff.  To say we miss our volunteers is an understatement; their presence is missed every day.

Not all volunteering stopped, for as restrictions began to lift, we were able to safely accommodate and welcome back our garden volunteers, who have worked throughout the summer to keep the gardens around the museum looking their very best.

But, due to space constraints currently at the Museum, we cannot safely have volunteers on site because social distancing would not be achievable.  So, we started thinking about ways that we can have volunteer engagement and participation, but in a remote capacity. Enter the Audio Transcription Project.

Our archival collection is vast and varied: legal documents, photographs, diaries, newspapers, and a large collection of audio cassettes. Yes, that’s right. Audio Cassettes. In case this technology is a little before your time, we’re talking about these:

This collection features historical talks, oral interviews, and the like.  We saw this collection as a great starting point for creating at-home volunteer opportunities.

Staff began the project, digitizing the cassettes using a handy devise that turns the audio into an MP3. However, what is of great benefit is having a written transcript of the audio file.  This transcript not only is makes searching the content of the audio file simple and quick, it also makes an audio file accessible to those who are hearing impaired, thereby increasing accessibility to the collection.

The project is being facilitated over our Google Drive – volunteers can sign up for which audio file they want to work on, and the MP3s are accessible from that same online folder. In the month of August, when we launched the project, volunteers contributed over fifty hours to this project, and we are so very thankful for the work they are doing!

If you are interested in helping with this project, please email Lisa at membership@oshawamuseum.org


What we’ve learned!

In the 1980s, there was an interview with a Mrs. Mechin, and one of our volunteers has transcribed the audio. Within the interview, Mrs. Mechin, a Robinson descendant, talked about her history of employment:

MRS MECHIN: And, when Burt and I were sleigh riding, I was six and he was seven. And I was fitted the night before, and it was across the fields, there was a hill, a pastor field. And, halfway down the hill, there was a, a wooden fence. A rail fence. And, so we took a notion, we would take our sleigh and go to the top of this hill down. And, of course it went pretty fast, it’s just, just like ice, right? I see, I can see the sun shining on it now, just like diamonds you know. And, I-I sat down, I had long coat on, at the back, and he sat down at the front, he was gonna steer. Of course he sat on my coat, I guess my feet were around him, I don’t know, I can’t remember that but, I ran into the fence, and hurt my hand. So, then I was operated on, had the bone removed and diseased in 1917. That’s why I left Fittings, because my health wasn’t good… So, then I was home three months, or at least I was away three months. And, then I went to Hallett’s store and George [Hazelwood] interviewed me, and I got in the [General] Motors’ office. But, that was before the carriage business was settled up… And, I worked for the manager there… Ms.Keddy, was sick at the time, so I took over her, she used to write letters about the liens on the cars around the carriages… So, I took that job over as well. I did, that was in 1914, and I worked there for three years.

INTERVIEWER: You worked there during the war years?

MRS MECHIN: Well, I worked their four, four years, yeah. Mhmm. 1918

Percy Ibbotson, another Robinson descendant, shares his memories of Robinson House:

INTERVIEWER: We are now in the large north room on the main floor. Percy is going to tell us how he remembers this room.

PERCY: I remember, readily, that when this room was a barber shop, the poles were out in the front, we used to sit in the front steps, and I suppose catering to the traffic down to the beach, people coming and going, especially on the weekend. But, this room was used for some time, for some years, as a barber shop.

INTERVIEWER: And the entrance to the barber shop would be the door on the north side, which we are not using today.

PERCY: Double doors

In 1983, Rev. E. Frazer Lacey gave a presentation about the 150 year history of the congregation of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian, where he shared a story about Rev. Thornton during the 1837 Rebellion:

1837 was the year of the Mackenzie rebel, and Thornton was sympathetic to the cause, to the issue, he was for representative democracy, as he was also for free and open education, he was certainly against the family compact. And so here he was torn, loyalist in terms of British connection, but reformist in his social concern. The rebellion was put down, but Thornton received a real setback, troops of the loyalist cause, took a shot at him one night as he came home from a meeting.

Fire Insurance Maps

By Jennifer Weymark, Archivist

Fire insurance maps are one of those hidden gems within an archives as they can help a wide variety of researchers.

OFI_2_P1
1911 Fire Insurance Map

These maps are incredibly detailed drawings of neighbourhoods showing the footprints of the buildings that existed at the time the map was created. The original purpose of these maps was to assist insurance underwriters with determining risk when assessing insurance rates.

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Page 21 from the 1911 Fire Insurance Map

The maps not only show the footprint of a building but also provide construction details such as the number of stories, the building materials and the use of the building.  The buildings were colour coded to indicate the materials used in their construction.  The colour red indicated that it was a brick building, whereas yellow indicated a wooden building. These maps can help researchers track the history of a certain building, learn more about growth of areas, and how construction methods have changed.

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Page 6 from the 1911 Fire Insurance Map

The Oshawa Museum’s archival collection is fortunate enough to have three of these maps in our holdings.  The earliest in our collection is from 1911.  Some of the highlights found in the 1911 map are the footprints of early industries such as Williams Piano Company, the McLaughlin Carriage Company, and a very new company by the name of McLaughlin Motor Car.  Interestingly, there is also the footprint of Oshawa’s other carriage and auto maker, Matthew Guy and Co.

 

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Page 19 of the 1911 Fire Insurance Map; the Olive Avenue Row Houses are seen in the centre right of the image

The Olive Avenue Row houses are also included in the 1911 Fire Insurance Map.  This collection of terrace homes was constructed in 1910 by John Stacey and are considered to be architecturally significant in Oshawa.

The maps are a wonderful resource for tracking the changes to the downtown of Oshawa.  The 1911 map shows three different hotels located along King Street East.  Oshawa once again offers hotel service downtown with the opening of La Quinta just a couple of blocks east of where the American Hotel once stood at the corner of King St. East and Celina Street.

We were fortunate enough to, with the assistance of Heritage Oshawa, digitize two of the fire insurance maps in our collection.  The 1948 map had been previously digitized and now we have the 1938 and 1911 in digital versions. The digital version will be made available to researchers and the 1911 will be made available online in the near future.  Until then, all three of our fire insurance maps are available in archives for researchers to enjoy.

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.

PicMonkey Collage
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

The Month That Was – October 1922

Did you know that Oshawa’s historical newspapers are available for searching online? Visit Canadian Community Digital Archives to discover Oshawa’s history for yourself!  This month’s edition of Month That Was has been researched and written based on newspapers available on the online database.  Enjoy!


 

Ontario Reformer

October 3, 1922
Steps are Taken to open Mechanic Street, Alma to Alexandra Streets; R.W. Dixon Donates a Large Strip

Mechanic Street, from Alma to Alexandra, a distance of 2,993 feet is to be opened by the town.  This much needed development which has been pressing for years has come about through the work of a special committee which has been engaged on the problem for several months, of which Councillor R. Moffat is Chairman.

The task of extending this street has been facilitated by the splendid offer of Mr. R. W. Dixon who owns more than half the property required.  Mr.  Dixon has agreed to give this property to the town for the purpose of the street for the nominal sum of $1.  He was also agreed to permit the town to take gravel from the creek where owned by him, sufficient for the purpose of making the street.

In the report which Councillor Moffat presented, the committee stated “We are of the unanimous opinion that the extension of this street northerly should approximately follow the course of what is known as the ‘mill raceway.’ Speaking generally your committee was impressed with the natural lie and adaptability of this land for the particular purpose.  … Furthermore a considerable portion of the said ‘raceway’ is lined with trees which would take years to develop on any new street.”

Ontario Reformer, October 3, 1922
Ontario Reformer, October 3, 1922

October 5

October is an ideal month for motoring. The country looks its best then with its blaze of colour while the tank in the air gives an added zest to an outing.

 

Oct 10
Facts About St. George’s Church Past, Present and Future

Here are a few facts about the old St. George’s Church and its pact rectors, also information about the new structure.

When complete it is estimated that it will cost approximately $150,000

The chimes have been donated by Edward T. Houston of Cincinnati in memory of his wife’s parents, the late Edward & Mrs. Carswell of Oshawa

The first sod in connection with the erection of the edifice was turned by his Excellency, The Duke of Devonshire, Governor General of Canada, on June 12, 1919.

Ontario Reformer, October 10, 1922
Ontario Reformer, October 10, 1922

October 14
Oshawa & District
Rebekahs Hold Euchre

Oshawa Rebekah Lodge No. 3 held a most successful euchre party and social last Tuesday evening in Engel’s Hall, the attendance being unusually large.  The ladies’ first prize was won by Mrs. Weeks while Mrs. Clark won the second prize.  The gents first prize went to Mr. Robinson and the second to Mr. Harry Carter. Refreshments were served at the close of the game. The proceeds amounted to $55.

 

October 24
Cedar Dale Annexation Nearer Consummation; Effective on January 1?
Survey of Both Town and Village Must Be Made – Town Council Must Pass Resolution and Majority of Residents of Suburb Must Petition Railway Board
Much detail work to be done; Dale will be separate Ward.

The largest and perhaps the most satisfactory meeting that has been held, with a view to bringing about the annexation of Cedar Dale to the Town, took place in the Municipal offices on Saturday evening.  The Town of Oshawa was represented by Mayor Stacey, Reeve Morris and Deputy Reeve Hill; the Township of East Whitby by Reeve Ellins, Deputy Reeve Nesbitt, Councillors Farewell and French… Mr. G. D. Conant, who has had the matter in hand in an endeavor to arrange an agreement that would be acceptable to all parties, was also present.