By Lauren R., Summer Museum Assistant
The Grandpa Henry Picnic has become one of the most anticipated events of the Oshawa Museums year, next to our annual Lamplight event, that is. Grandpa Henry’s Picnic is a tradition that was adopted by the Museum from the Henry family.
The Henry family were some of the first European inhabitants of Oshawa and lived in what the Museum now calls “Henry House,” for obvious reasons. Thomas Henry and his first wife, Elizabeth Davis, married in 1817. During the time that they were married they had 6 children, 5 of which survived into adulthood. Despite the happiness that was growing in the family there was despair looming around the corner. Elizabeth contracted tuberculosis and due to the illness, she passed away in 1829. Devastated, Thomas was left with 5 young boys to raise and no wife to help him with the task. With this in mind he set about continuing his work as usual while also hoping to find a new wife to share his life with. He succeeded and in November 1830 he married Lurenda Abbey. Together, he and Lurenda had another 10 children, bringing the number of young members in the family to 15! It wasn’t too long before Lurenda and Thomas were welcoming even littler ones into the family and the number of grandchildren grew large and fast.
Though Thomas Henry loved his family and his children deeply it was the grandchildren that truly held a special place in Thomas’ heart. Each year Thomas Henry, or Grandpa Henry in this case, would hold a huge celebration in the back garden of his house for his grandchildren; there were games, good meals and lots of laughter exchanged between those who came to the event. In the Annotated Memories of Rev. Thomas Henry there is a portion of a letter which talks of the picnics that Thomas held for his grandchildren,
Father Henry was very fond of children, and his grandchildren will carry to their graves pleasant memories of ‘Grandpa’s parties.’ These parties were given on the 24th of May, and the grandchildren were all invited. The children were also welcome if they came, but the grandchildren were the honored guests. We shall always remember the long table, surrounded by children, with grandpa at the head dispensing the good cheer provided for the occasion, was a face scarcely less bright and happy than the children around him.
During his lifetime Thomas Henry was able to meet 49 of his grandchildren, and at the ripe old age of 81 he was able to go to his rest peacefully. In total there were 58 grandchildren born to Thomas Henry. The Museum still receives stories and information from the Henry family about different events in their history that provide an important bridge to the past.
Despite this event being a very important one to the Henry family there is surprisingly little information about it in personal writings or other documents. This makes it hard for those of us who work at the Museum to truly understand what the picnics were like and to give more detailed illustrations of how life and family was for the Henrys in this aspect of their lives.
Today the Museum continues to put on an event annually known as “Grandpa Henry’s Picnic.” This event is meant to keep the Henry tradition alive and to provide families with the chance to come down to the Museum to have a fun-filled day. This event took place this past weekend, for the 4th year in a row, and we are pleased to say that we engaged 201 members of our community! The event involved many fun and engaging activities such as games, live music, coloring sheets, the opportunity to dress-up as a Victorian, and a table with honey bees. In addition to this there was also food available such as traditional handmade ice cream and popcorn. The event was a great success and we hope to be able to meet more of our community next year.