Cabinets of Curiosity: Sixty Years of Collecting

By Melissa Cole, Curator

Since 1957 our collection has grown in ways that may surprise the average visitor.  With more than 50 000 objects and archival records, our collection is vast and unsurpassed in its diversity and size in the City.  Celebrating our first 60 years, the OM will feature objects with the richest stories to tell, from our 1837 Rebellion Box to our largest artefacts, the historic homes.

As a homage to our own history, we are presenting this exhibition as an interpretation of the cabinet of curiosity.  Given our curious natures and innate desire to collect, it is no wonder that the modern museum has its roots planted in the privately owned collections of extraordinary objects from the past.  These collections, called cabinets of curiosity, first became popular in the Renaissance and reached their peak of popularity in the Victorian Era.  Amateur and professional scientists kept their most prize specimens hidden away, until the elite members of society began to seek them out and placed in ornate display cases for all to see.  Some of these collections filled entire rooms.

Inside Celebrating 60

Our exhibition, Celebrating 60: Sixty Years of Collecting features rarely seen, a few odd and curious objects drawn from the Oshawa Museum’s collection.  Deciding which artefacts to display was not an easy task, with assistance from museum staff members who shared their favourite artefacts and we asked Oshawa Historical Society members to assist us in choosing a quilt to display in the exhibition.  Visitors will have the unique opportunity to peruse various objects and documents of curiosity and wonder, up close and in a personal way.

This exhibition is dedicated to the OM’s past Curators, not only for the artefacts they helped to collect but for the stories and material culture they helped to preserve for future generations.

Join us at the Oshawa Museum in celebrating our first 60 years.

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The Host Files: Caitlan’s Favourite Toy

This blog series comes from our dedicated and awesome Visitor Host staff, and topics range from favourite artifacts, thoughts on our latest exhibits, and anything else in between!

By Caitlan M., Visitor Host

As our Toys and Games exhibit has just ended, I can’t help but think of my favourite toy who I could never bare to see leave. When I was about 2 years old my Nan took me to Marineland where I become obsessed with Orca whales, this lead me to finding my forever best friend – a stuff animal orca whale. I gave him the most original name possible, Whale or Mr. Whale for those fancy occasions he likes to attend. Today I like to think I was just calling him Whale because that’s what he was and my parents thought that’s what I named him, chances are I just wasn’t creative.

Throughout my childhood Whale would follow me where ever I went. If I wasn’t holding him, he would either be beside me or in the same room. I couldn’t sleep when he went to the drycleaners, or as my mom called it a holiday for him. Over the years Whale has been on every vacation I have been on, and I can remember when I went to Europe to visit family when I was 14 and my dad asked if Whale was coming with us. Going through the sassy know-it-all stage in my life I just gave my dad that look of ‘of course he is coming with us’, my dad then asked if Whale would be going in my suitcase – why my dad would ask me this I will never know, what if my suitcase would get lost or stolen then Whale would be lost to me forever. I can remember getting some weird looks from security and flight attendants, they probably thought it was a bit weird seeing a teen with a stuff animal but Whale quite enjoyed looking out the window during the flight. At the end of the day, to me Whale was another member of the family and I didn’t care what people thought.

I find it sad that these toys do not have the love they once had. Yes they are being taken care of and will continue to be taken care of but some of these toys could have easily been a Whale to some other little girl or boy. Whale has seen/been through practically everything I have. He has gone blind in his left eye (well his left eye has fallen off) and his tail is very fragile, but he continues to live on my bed ready to give me a comforting hug when needed.

De-Mystifying Freemasonry

By Melissa Cole, Curator

Next month a new exhibition will be opening at the Oshawa Museum, Freemasonry: A History Hidden in Plain Sight.   Freemasonry is shrouded in superstition and generally misunderstood; the oft-called “secret Society” has been actively involved in bettering communities behind the scenes since the 1700s.  This exhibit which opens at the Oshawa Museum on May 9 will cover the history of Masonry and some of the stereotypes portrayed in the media along with a special focus on the lodges of Oshawa.  Pop culture has been responsible for fuelling the speculations and conspiracy theories associated with Freemasonry – particularly books such as Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol.  In this book it was suggested that the government of Washington was secretly fun by a coven of masons practicing sinister rites.

A series of large shadow boxes form the framework of the exhibition.  The exhibit walks a viewer through the various periods in History from;

  • The very early times – operative masons, establishment of Grand Lodges in England, Scotland, Ireland and so on.
  • The Migration of Freemasonry to the New World
  • The Renaissance
  • Freemasonry today
  • Military lodges
  • Concordant bodies
  • Philanthropy and Benevolence
  • Symbolism of Freemasonry
  • Portraits of famous Freemasons through history

A special focus of the exhibition while it is here will highlight the lodges in Oshawa and portray individuals from Oshawa who were Masons.  While compiling the research I discovered that my great grandfather was a Master Mason.  His name was listed in the 1958 program of the Order of the Eastern Star as Worshipful Patron.  The Order of the Eastern Star is a masonic organization that is the sister organization of the Freemasons.  It is the largest fraternal organization to which men and women both belong, although the majority of its members are female.  The stated purposes of the organization are:  Charitable, Educational, Fraternal and Scientific.  They used to meet in Oshawa at the temple on Centre Street.  Today they meet in Whitby.

William Henderson OES

The exhibit runs from May 9th to August 31 at the Oshawa Museum!  On Sunday May 29 I will be talking about Masonry in Oshawa at our monthly Tea and Talk.  Watch our social media channels and e-news bulletins for future events while the exhibition is here in Oshawa.

Freemasonry Exhibit Logo

The Host Files – The Gift of Play


By Carmela D., Visitor Host

When I was a child, my favourite toy was my red Easy Bake Oven.  It’s exciting to think back at those simpler days.  I would plug it in my playroom’s “House” section, in anticipation of playing “grown-up” and creating a scrumptious dessert.  I would often bake chocolate cakes.  I would serve them on my play dishes. I would then wash all of my dishes in the kitchen sink.  I felt like I was a mini version of my mom, who spent a lot of time in the kitchen.

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Today, my daughter has a purple Easy Bake Oven and we spend time together baking, sometimes even with her friends.  The baking options have expanded from simple cakes to layered cookies, cake pops, cupcakes, and more.  It seems more complicated from when I was little, but it is still a fun way to play the “Mommy” role.

Interestingly, I don’t really bake in my adult life, but I hang onto those fond memories in my playroom and cherish the continued Easy Bake memories with my precious daughter. My son is more than welcome to join us, but he generally chooses not to.  Perhaps it instilled a confidence in me and love of the kitchen because I am a really good cook and seem to entertain a lot.

On display until April 2016: The Gift of Play: Toys of Yesterday

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Student Museum Musings: Death to Rest: The Story of the Coffin

By Lauren R., High School Co-op Student

When undertaking was first introduced it wasn’t a popular business; in fact furniture makers used undertaking as a side job. Undertaking wasn’t a popular enterprise because people believed that the deceased loved ones were being separated and taken away from the rest of the family; it was depersonalizing the death. For this reason most undertakers actually went to the house and prepared the body there- they would take the flowers, a coffin, stands for the coffin, and any accessories or back drops the family may want. All of the equipment that could be used again was collapsible and could be put into boxes and suit cases to be taken with the undertaker once the person had been buried.

Mourning After
Mourning After

The body would be held in the house for a few days before the burial at this time the family would come and say good bye to the deceased loved one. This period is known as a wake (in North America it is synonymous with a viewing- which now takes place at a funeral home) during this time family members would stay with the body and attempt to wake it up to return the loved ones to them. The body would lay in either a coffin or a casket; a coffin is in a hexagonal shape to mirror the human body, while a casket was in a rectangular shape, surrounded by flowers and family. These coffins would be rather plain wooden boxes; unless, the family purchased coffin jewelry, little metal ornaments which would adorn the coffin and make it unique. When the body was moved from the house to be buried the coffin would face so that the person was looking away from the house, this way they were always looking forward, do as not to disturb the spirit.

The body would then be carried, or taken by hearse to the cemetery. The coffin would sometimes be covered in a cloth known as a pall; this is where the name pallbearer comes from. After this the body would be laid to rest.

Mourning After: The Victorian Celebration of Death is on display now through to November! Be sure to visit and see this exhibition

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