Shacka do do! Ohh! What is Savannah up to? Oh, probably nothing

By Savannah Sewell, Registrar

I know lots of you have been wondering: what is Savannah up to?

Well, let me tell you… A lot of staring a photos of unknown people while accessioning a variety of collections.

The most recent being the MacGregor Collection which was donated to the Oshawa Museum in 2021. The MacGregor Collection is a variety of photos and documents that were collected over many generations of the MacGregor and Burr family.

 Ivy Burr
Athol St. W.
Oshawa, Ontario

When a collection such as this is donated to the museum, there are limited details about the family, names, and addresses. The MacGregor collection was fortunately donated with some historical land deeds and mortgage documents, school photos, yearbooks, and enough contextual information that the mapping of the majority of the family was simple, albeit timely.

It is my first time working in an archival role, and as such, honestly I was a little lost in how to proceed when this collection landed in my lap. So, as I navigated it, I tried to keep in mind that however it was accessioned into the archive, it needed to be accessible for future researchers. I had to ensure that if a family member or future historian wanted to piece together what I had, in less time, I had to make sure that the archival decisions were intuitive.

 Form CII – Oshawa High School
C. September 16, 1919
Belonging to Ivy (nee. Burr) MacGregor 

Here, I will detail the steps that I took to organize and make sense of the collection and why I made the choices that I did.


Step 1: Lay out donated collection

During this step I ensured that I had the groups of documents and photos all laid out so that I would be able to see all of the elements together. The box that the documents came in did not have any particular organizational elements, so I wanted to ensure that I didn’t miss any patterns by being disorganized.

 Ivy Burr’s high school diploma – Oshawa High School 1918

After the documents were all laid out, I created four smaller collections to make working through the large amount of documents easier. I separated the photos, the legal documents, the yearbooks, and “other” and started with the photos.

Step 2: Identify Group Photos

Some of the photos had dates, names, and captions written on the photo itself; if that was the case then the images could be grouped together. There were also several images that did not have a caption, but others that had clearly been taken on the same day or trip, so they could be grouped. Other images could be identified by individuals in them, locations, outfits, or by occasion. I did my best to group people, families, locations, and similar photos so that when searching the collection, it would be simple to navigate space and time.

 Acta Ludi (O.C.V.I. Yearbook) C.1953-1954

Step 3: Organizing and labeling

The images were transferred to an easily accessible album; each image was numbered, the caption or writing written in printing (because some of the cursive was difficult to read), and placed in order.

Step 4: Finding Aid Document

When documents are accessioned in the permanent archive they can be difficult to find. I created a finding table that corresponds to the image accession numbers, the captions, notes/research, people in the image, and tag words for the virtual archive system.

Step 5: Ancestry

In order to better understand the individuals in the image and the names on the documents, I used the museum’s account to map the family for four generations. It certainly cleared up a lot of confusion, especially considering there were FOUR individuals with the exact same name!

Step 6: Scanning

The documents and images were scanned to add them to the museum’s digital archival database.

Step 7: Finding a home

The final step to accessioning the collection is finding a permanent home for all of the documents. Each was appropriately labelled in the finding aid with its permanent location, whether an archival box, a drawer, or within the yearbook collection.

Questions and Concerns

Even though there was lots of information available from the donation, there are portions that cannot be taken any further than how they came in. For example, these images of Gwendolyn Vera Baker. In the portrait shown here Gwendolyn is 2 years and 6 months old, which is written on the cardboard frame of the image.

 Gwendolyn Vera Baker
2 years + 6 months

I have not been able to find the connection between the Baker family and our MacGregor/Burr family. However, there could be several explanations as to why this little girl’s image was saved in the family’s photo collection. Think of your own photo albums – they could be filled with friends, coworkers, or even neighbours.

 Little Gwen smelling our morning glories when half grown.

This second photo’s caption is “Little Gwen smelling our morning glories when half grown.” I have accessioned these photos beside each other in this collection, assuming a relationship between the two and that the same child, named Gwen, is shown in both. However, though for research purposes the placement makes sense, it is not known if this is the same child. There are no dates on the images and they are different sizes, types of photography, locations, etc. The child in the second photo is also facing away from the camera, and though the hair looks similar, we cannot confirm their identity.

If these documents were of particular interest to someone or to a project where more detailed and accurate information was needed, then names could be cross-researched with other local archives. Other initiatives could be used as well, images or names could be sent out as a crowd-sourcing project into the community that the families were from, or census documents could be investigated.


The overarching question throughout the accessioning of this collection was, how do I make it as easy as I can for future researchers to find what they are looking for? I hope that I have succeeded.

Family collections like these can be so valuable to research, and this project was extremely enjoyable to work on. From coming to understand the family connections and dynamics, to organizing the images and seeing growing and smiling faces from the past, it is fair to say that accessioning family collections is a task that comes with lots of complications and more than a few unanswered questions.

Henry Grandkids – William James Henry

By Jill Passmore, Visitor Experience Coordinator

William James Henry was the first-born son of Thomas Simon Henry and his wife Christine. He only lived to be 31 years old before succumbing to typhoid fever just before Christmas in 1882.

William married Cora Atkins in Watson, Michigan on December 25, 1879. According to the marriage register, William lived in Ashana, New York at the time, which upon examining the document closer, looks like a misspelling of Oshawa. It is unsure where the ‘New York’ came from. Maybe William said, ‘it’s near New York.’ The document lists William’s occupation as an accountant.

It is interesting that William and Cora chose to get married on Christmas Day. Similar to the correlation of certain professions running in the family (photographers and fruit growers), there also seems to be an affinity for members of the family to get married within a week or two of Christmas. Three of William’s aunts and one uncle are among them, with Eliza Henry married January 1, 1852; Clarissa Henry married December 23, 1868; Jennie Henry married January 1, 1873 and William Henry married December 25, 1878.

The newlyweds returned to Oshawa where they lived with William’s father, Thomas S. Henry, and William’s siblings. They lived very close to the family homestead, Henry House. William and Cora’s son, Glen Atkins Henry, was born in 1881. The enumerator recorded him as being only three months old at the time of the 1881 Census. The same Census lists William as a ‘book keeper,’ though it is unknown where he might have worked. Thomas Simon Henry, William’s father, was not good at managing his money. Perhaps William tried to help him as best he could, or maybe he was just as bad as his father was. We may never know.

Cora was 23 years old when William died and never remarried. His namesake, son, William James, was born five months after his father died. Cora seemingly spent the rest of her life living with her sons in the United States.

A017.20.68: Thomas Simon Henry with his grandsons Glenn & Will Henry

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, typhoid fever is a bacterial infection often spread by contaminated fecal matter. In the 21st century, if someone has not washed their hands after using the restroom and is infected, there is a high likelihood of them transferring the disease through close contact with others or contaminating food and drinking water.  In the 19th century, it was much easier to contract. In the past, typhoid infected water may have come from contaminated wells or even milk the family was drinking. Another likelihood was contaminated ice. Richard Longley describes Ashbridge’s Bay (Toronto) as being “scored like a chocolate bar, and cut into blocks and sold in the city [York/Toronto] clean ice for cooling drinks and making ice-cream, less clean ice for refrigeration. Inevitably there was confusion that contributed to outbreaks of typhoid.” The Don River drained into the Bay at the time (1850s and onwards), causing the contamination.

William and his family lived on the same lot of land that his parents and grandparents lived on; the Oshawa Creek cuts through that lot of land. The closest industry to the Henry land was the A.S. Whiting Manufacturing Co. Upstream were numerous mills and factories all spilling contaminants into the Creek – chemicals, animal manure, and, early on, human waste. Combining this with the reality that people cut ice from the Cedardale Pond, just like Ashbridge’s Bay and it is shocking that there were not more occurrences of Typhoid in the area.

As mentioned previously, William died on December 22, 1882 and is buried in the Port Oshawa Pioneer Cemetery with many other members of his family.

William Henry’s headstone in the Port Oshawa Pioneer Cemetery, 2011.


“Typhoid Fever.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,

Rutty, Christopher, et al. This Is Public Health a Canadian History. Canadian Public Health Association, 2010.  P. 15

Longley, Richard. “Toronto Pandemics Past: Typhoid and a Tale of Death in the Water.” NOW Magazine, 3 July 2020,

About the Elim Cemetery

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

A wonderful resource for historical research is our 1877 County of Ontario Atlas.  It shows all townships in Ontario County (the forerunner to the Regional Municipality of Durham, with some boundary adjustments), towns, villages, and hamlets, and often these maps show details like locations of schools, churches and townships.

1867 Centennial Map

Looking at the map for East Whitby Township, I noticed a church and cemetery at the southeast corner of Concession 6, Lot 7.  This today is the northwest corner of Wilson Road and Winchester Road.  Interest piqued, I learned that this is known as the Elim Cemetery, what was likely a private burial ground, located on land owned (in 1877) by Henry Graham.

As can happen through the years, there appears to be stories that have evolved about this cemetery.  Here’s what we know with certainty about this apparently abandoned burial ground.


First, I will say, this parcel of land is still zoned as a cemetery and appears to be its own parcel of land, according to the Interactive Mapping System from the City of Oshawa.  This cemetery is on the Heritage Inventory, prepared by Heritage Oshawa, the city’s Heritage Advisory Committee, as a property of interest.

As mentioned, the cemetery appears in the 1877 Atlas; the next Atlas we have in our collection dates to 1895, and it does not show details like cemeteries or schools in the township views.  It does note Union Cemetery’s location, but bear in mind, Union was occupying a good number of acres and was a major burial ground for Oshawa and Whitby at that time.


In the archival holdings, there is an undated transcription of five graves, commemorating Jacob Raicard (died 1872, aged 46), David Stephens (died 1877, aged 14), Mary Graham, nee Underwood (died 1877, aged 43), Mahala G Stephens (died 1869, aged 19), and Robert Henry Graham (died 1877, aged 13).  Today, there appears to be only one marker remaining, and interestingly, it wasn’t included in the original transcription. It is for [     ] Elizabeth Postil, died 1863, aged 17 (stone broken, and her first name appears to be missing).  In its inventory, Heritage Oshawa dates the cemetery as 1863, likely due to this surviving headstone.


Postil’s headstone is at the base of a stone pillar, encased in cement, by the entrance to this cemetery.  This pillar can add some confusion to this cemetery as it may have been moved from Elmcroft Farm/Windfield Farms.  Here is a photo of the pillar:


Note, the stone which states ‘Lot 12 Con 5 East Whitby,’ and this cemetery is most certainly located on Lot 7, Con 6.  Information available from Windfield Farms confirms that Elmcroft was located at Lot 12 Concession 5.  The Elim Cemetery stone certainly looks different from the one that says Elmcroft.  It is interesting to note that Elmcroft farm started by George McLaughlin, son of Robert McLaughlin and brother of Col. Sam, and the land stayed in the McLaughlin family until it was purchased by EP Taylor, who would establish Windfield Farms.


As mentioned, the cemetery was located on land owned by Henry Graham, and two of his family members are buried here, his wife and son.  Robert and Mary Underwood were married in 1860 and were parents to Annie, Robert, John, Ruth, and Margaret.  Mary died in January 1877 of Pthysis, or tuberculosis.  Their son Robert died a few months after, in June, of consumption, another term for tuberculosis.  It appears sometime between 1877 and 1881, Robert remarried, and he passed away in 1912 in Orangeville.

According to records, there also appears to be two members of the Stephens family buried in the cemetery, Mahala and David, the children of Walter and Fanny Stephens.  Walter and Fanny lived around Lot 5 Concession 5 in East Whitby, the parents of 9 children; they are both resting in Union Cemetery.

Jacob Raicard was 46 years old when he died in 1872, the son of Mark and Catherine, as per his headstone.  His was married to Alvira, and it appears that they had four children.  He was born in the US, immigrated to Quebec (as per the 1861 Census) but later moved to East Whitby Township (as per the 1871 Census).

Finally, the lone remaining headstone is for Anne Elizabeth Postil.  She was the daughter of William and Sarah, the eldest of their children, who also included Francis, Frederick, Elisa, Mary, George, and Charles.  Sometime between 1871 and 1881, the family relocated to Moore Township, Lambton County, which is where William and Sarah passed away, both in 1905.


Elim Cemetery appears to have been a private burial ground, used by people who farmed in northeast East Whitby Township, and unfortunately, due to the lack of records, it is unclear when it stopped being used as a burial ground.  Today it is a quiet piece of land, tucked away from busy Winchester Road, serving as a somber resting place for 19th century settlers.

Where the Streets Get Their Name – Henry Street

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

Do you remember Henry Street in Oshawa? Several years ago, this small street ran between the lots 6 and 7, between Henry House and Guy House in Lakeview Park.  It was a north-south street, connecting Simcoe Street to Lakeview Park Avenue.  It was removed in the 1990s, creating room for accessible pathways and a pedestrian friendly area in Lakeview Park.

Map of the City of Oshawa, c. 1985 - Henry Street has been circled in red.
Map of the City of Oshawa, c. 1985 – Henry Street has been circled in red.

Like many other streets, Henry Street’s name also came from an early settler, and it ran through what was the farm of Elder Thomas Henry.  His family home still stands today as one of the buildings of the Oshawa Community Museum.

A973.13.1 - Elder Thomas Henry
A973.13.1 – Elder Thomas Henry

There is a wealth of knowledge available about the life of Thomas Henry.  After he died, his daughter-in-law, Polly Ann Henry, wrote Memoir of Rev. Thomas Henry: Christian Minister, York Pioneer, and Soldier of 1812, a comprehensive, and admittedly biased, narrative about his life and times.  As well, the families of our Museum buildings, the Henrys, Robinsons, and Guys, are one of our collecting focuses, and in 2013 an unbelievable donation came to the archives. Now known as the Thomas Henry Correspondence Collection, this donation contained family letters, correspondence in regards to the Christian Church, receipts, and other invaluable documents which provide us with great insight into this man’s private and professional life.

In a nutshell, Thomas Henry was born in 1798 in County Cavan, Ireland.  He came to Canada in 1811.  Shortly after the family’s arrival, Canada was at war, and Thomas worked during the War of 1812 as an attendant to a judge, and he also served some military duty before the conflict ended.  In 1830, Thomas purchased 130 acres of land in Lot 7, Broken Front Concession, East Whitby Township, and sometime between 1830 and 1851, he constructed a stone house, which would later become known as Henry House.

Henry House exterior
Henry House exterior

Thomas was married twice, first to Elizabeth Davies, with whom he had one daughter (Nancy, who died in infancy), and five sons.  After the death of Elizabeth, Thomas met and married Lurenda Abbey, and together they had six sons and four daughters.  His family of 15 surviving children always seems to impress guests on tour!

Thomas Henry's headstone in the Port Oshawa Pioneer Cemetery
Thomas Henry’s headstone in the Port Oshawa Pioneer Cemetery

After an illness, Thomas Henry died in 1879 at the age of 81.  It was noted in the local media that more than 85 carriages followed Thomas to his final resting spot in the Port Oshawa Pioneer Cemetery.

To learn more about the life of Thomas Henry, I invite you to visit the Oshawa Community Museum and take a tour through his home!

The removal of Henry Street in the 1990s.
The removal of Henry Street in the 1990s.

Before Henry Street was removed, Laura Suchan, Executive Director of the Oshawa Community Museum, remembers having to stop traffic along Henry Street when large artifacts were being moved between Henry House and Guy House.  The street sign for Henry Street is now a part of the Oshawa Museum collection.

Henry Street sign, now part of the Oshawa Museum collection
Henry Street sign, now part of the Oshawa Museum collection

My Favourite Artifact: The Spirit Photograph

By Emily Dafoe, Visitor Host

My favourite artifact (or in this case archives document) that is held here at the Oshawa Community Museum and Archives is a letter that was written by Thomas Henry addressed to his son, E.E.. This correspondence letter can be paired with a very interesting photograph that is also here at the museum. The photograph shows an image of a man and a woman, Dr. Taylor A.M. and Josephine Keigwin, and with a third man, Charles Grandison Taylor, that can be seen faintly in between the two. This photograph is titled a ‘Spirit Picture’ and was taken by E.E. Henry. The correspondence letter, which goes with this picture and is my favourite item at the museum, is Thomas Henry’s response to the spirit picture. In this letter Thomas, who was a very involved member of Christian church, condemns his son for taking such a picture, and goes on to lecture his son throughout the letter. The letter was written on June 10th of 1873, and of the spirit Thomas writes, “I do not dispute but what the picture has been taken. It is not of god, in my humble opinion, But of the Divil, and show very clearly to me a falling away from God, and disbelieving his word.” Within the letter Thomas then goes on to relay to his son a biblical story that he feels in pertinent to the situation.

A013.4.449, 'Spirit Photograph' taken by EE Henry
A013.4.449, ‘Spirit Photograph’ taken by EE Henry

This item stands out to me as being my favourite artifact because of the way in which Thomas is disapproving of his son. This letter in many ways shows the personality and character behind the figure of Thomas Henry. Throughout this museum Thomas Henry is in many ways an icon, and this letter allows me to get a glimpse into the person that Thomas Henry is beyond what I know from giving tours and being involved with the Oshawa Museum. This letter allows for a more realistic image of Thomas to be created, this is due to the fact that he is doing a very common thing, which is yelling and disapproving of his child. This is a way of linking Thomas with the contemporary period because as mentioned, he is doing a very common practice that is still done today. Moreover, my favourite aspect of this particular letter is Thomas Henry’s closing statement to his son, which reads, “and now I would not wonder, but what Dr. Taylor and his medium might get a picture of some of your friends if so send me one.” I feel as though this final statement in the letter is important because it shows Thomas Henry’s continued interest in his son’s life, placing him as a caring father figure, who is invested in learning about his son’s life.

A013.4.37, page one of a letter from Thomas Henry to his son Eben about the spirit photograph
A013.4.37, page one of a letter from Thomas Henry to his son Eben about the spirit photograph

I enjoy this correspondence letter because it is, as I discussed previously, very reminiscent of how parents would address and scold their children today, in particular children who have grown up and left the house. I really enjoy this letter because it acts as a way of fleshing out Thomas Henry more than he had been done previously, and is able to make Thomas appear as a more realistic person, rather than someone whose connection to modern Oshawa is left at the location alone. Through this letter, and others of a similar nature, we are able to learn and become more connected to important figures of Oshawa history, which is why this letter is my favourite item at the Oshawa Community Museum.


We hope you’ve enjoyed reading about our staff’s favourite artifacts and the stories behind the objects (or documents!).  

Want more artifact stories?  Check out IT’Story: Stories from the OCM Collection, on display now through September!

%d bloggers like this: