Student Museum Musings – In My Own Backyard?

By Dylan C., Museum Management & Curatorship Intern

Being a resident of Whitby for the better part of 24 years, I have been encouraged through sport to view Oshawa as my rival, which has led to a rather lackluster attempt to learn what Oshawa has to offer. It wasn’t until recently, that life led me to discover the Oshawa Museum for my internship as part of Fleming College’s Museum Management and Curatorship program (MMC).

After only a couple weeks on site, I have gained a considerable amount of knowledge about Oshawa by exploring the waterfront trail and by learning the history of the harbour and the surrounding structures.

Although I have ventured into Oshawa via the waterfront trail from Whitby, or from riding near Oshawa Ice Sports after hockey, I never knew how extensive the trails were in Oshawa and how they bleed out into the city streets creating a somewhat hidden bike transit system. These trails are so extensive that Oshawa and the Durham region offer Cycle Tours. The Waterfront trail extends all the way to Toronto and easily connects to GO station stops. This network can provide residents of Oshawa with a greener alternative to their daily transit, at least in the warmer months of the year.

Both photos taken at Emma Street looking north to King, 1992 and 2016. The rail line is now the Michael Starr Trail

The museum has provided me with a platform to learn and explore Oshawa, but it also taught me how to explore. Without the direction from the museum I would not have known where to start my discovery of the city.

My Experience to Date

So far, the museum has been able to provide me with a wide range of experiences from photographing and cataloguing an archaeological collection, to providing supplementary research for an education program.  I have also been able to help install a Smith Potteries exhibit in Robinson House.

Smith Potteries Collection; Picture from Dylan C.

The archaeological dig was completed by Trent University Durham students in 2015 and uncovered 19th century waste pits surrounding Henry House. Cataloguing this archaeological collection has given me the opportunity to apply some of the skills I learned in the MMC program such as proper care and handling of artefacts, photographing, and detailed documentation practices. It has also provided me with insight into the life of the early inhabitants of the area by literally examining what was buried in their backyards. I’ve learned what animals they farmed and what items they had in their homes including ceramics, glass, nails and buttons. Handling these objects makes it easier to connect with the residents of the past because I am essentially documenting their garbage. The past owners did not bury these objects hoping that someone would dig them up 165 years later; they did it to simply discard their waste. For some reason this humanizes them more for me than even walking in their perfectly preserved homes. Perhaps, you can tell a lot about a person from their trash after all.

Cataloguing Station; Picture from Dylan C.

In the upcoming weeks I will be familiarizing myself with the museum’s database as I enter the information from the archaeological collection. I will also be working on a research project that explores the topic of audio transcriptions and engaging at-home volunteers. And lastly, I will be continuing my tour guide training as the museum adapts to the current COVID-19 regulations.

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.   

Henry Grandkids – Rollin, Channing & George Henry

By Jill Passmore, Visitor Experience Coordinator

Rollin, Channing, and George Henry were the three oldest sons of George and Polly Ann Henry. They seem to have been very close and were the first to continue with family trends of working in photography and fruit cultivation/agriculture.

Rollin, Channing, and George

The three boys were born in East Whitby when the family was still living at the lakefront. George and Polly Ann lived on the west side of what is now Lakeview Park on Guy’s Point (Bonnie Brae Point) with neighbours and family friends, Thomas and Margery Guy.

Rollin Hayward Henry was born in 1848 and died in 1949, living to be 101 years old. He was the only grandchild to live this long. He married Almira (Myra) Simpson on June 23, 1875 in Lincoln, Ontario. Myra’s parents were from Oakville, which may account for their marriage here; there is only 60 kilometres between Oakville and Lincoln around the eastern shore of Lake Ontario. In April 1876, Rollin’s namesake was born. In 1878, their daughter Pauline was born. When Rollin Junior was five years old, the family travelled to Leavenworth, Kansas to visit his Uncle Eben. Prior to marrying Myra, Rollin had a photography studio in Oshawa. Perhaps Rollin took his family to Leavenworth because of this shared interest. The family ended up living there for a few years because the 1880 U.S. Federal Census enumerates them here. By 1885, the family had returned to Oshawa where Rollin continued to work as a photographer on King Street. In 1900, the family spent a few years in South Bend, Indiana before settling in Pasadena, California in 1904, a town and area along State Route 210 that would become the point of convergence for many of the Henry cousins.

When Channing Ellery Henry was born on February 1, 1850, in East Whitby, his father, George, was 25 and his mother, Polly, was 24. In the 1851 Census, the family is listed as living on 200 acres of their ancestral farmland – BF, Lot 7, the same land on which Henry House still stands.

By 1861, the family, which now included a baby sister for the boys, lived in Darlington Township on Lot 11 of Concession 3. Today this is on Liberty Road and Concession 3, south of the Bowmanville Golf and Country Club.

Channing married Bertha Eliza Gamsby on June 30, 1884. In retrospect, we know that the Gamsby family came to have many close ties to the Henry family. Channing and Bertha had only one child during their marriage, Roy Lyman Henry. Through the 1890s, the family lived in Tillsonburg, Ontario, where Channing works as an apple merchant. At some point, Channing experienced an injury that resulted in a “medical deformity – left hand. Affecting ability to earn living,” as listed in his Detroit Border Crossing documentation in 1910. Ten years after his brother settled in California, Channing and Bertha made their way there as well. Channing didn’t work in California, according to the 1920 and 1930 U.S. Federal Censuses; this must have been due to his injury. Bertha taught music lessons. Channing received his naturalization just one and a half years before he died of heart disease in September 1936 at the age of 86. He is buried where many of the Californian branch of the family are – Mt. View Mortuary & Cemetery in San Bernadino.

George’s life took a very similar path as his older brothers. He was born on January 10, 1856 in East Whitby, before the family moved to Darlington. In his early twenties, the 1881 Census of Canada lists him as being a student, though it is unknown what he studied or where this took place. On June 28, 1883, in Toronto, George married Edith Grace Codd in a Christian ceremony. He was 27 and she was 19. The marriage record lists George as a Fruit Merchant. Throughout the 1800s, they went on to have two children, a boy and a girl, and moved to British Columbia and Seattle, Washington. It was while living in Maple Ridge, British Columbia that George was working as a ‘Nurseryman,’ according to Henderson’s British Columbia Gazetteer and Directory, 1891. This was only 35 minutes away from Hatzic, British Columbia, where his Uncle Jesse would later settle. Edith passed away in 1894. George remarried and had one more child, a daughter. They moved around, getting married in Detroit, living with Polly Ann in Kingsville, Ontario before she died, and then returning to Detroit before settling in Pasadena near his brothers. George passed away in 1921 and is buried in Mountain View Cemetery in Altadena, California. This is a different location from where Channing is buried (Mt. View Mortuary & Cemetery in San Bernadino).

The Henry Grandkids – Ambrose Henry

By Jill Passmore, Visitor Experience Co-ordinator

Ambrose Henry was the first child born to John Henry and Elizabeth Hait; he was the first grandchild.  At the time of his birth, November 3, 1847, his father and mother were living in a 1 ½ storey frame home in Darlington Township.

Ambrose married Sarah Anne Tuer on January 14, 1869 in Bowmanville.  In 1871, John and Sarah lived in Darlington Township and John farmed.  They had two children during their marriage, Hortense, born in 1871, and Martia.  It seems Martia was born in 1872 and possibly died in the same year.

By 1881, his father John is living with Ambrose and Sarah and acting as a land agent.  Mary Tuer, Sarah’s mother, is also living with them and their daughter Hortense. 

The 1891 Census lists them as being Methodist instead of Christian and living in East Whitby.  Thomas Henry raised all of his children as Christians/Disciples of Christ, and Ambrose’s father, John continued this.  It is unknown how they came about the decision to change denominations.

By 1901, Ambrose and Sarah’s parents who were living with them had both passed away.  A woman named Edna Drinkle was listed as their servant and Ambrose was a merchant.  In 1906, Ambrose was elected as Warden for Ontario Country.

In 1911, he worked at a local grocery; in 1921 he is recorded living at 66 Drew Street, Oshawa with his daughter Hortense and her husband John Herancourt.

Ambrose Henry died on May 26, 1929 of myocardia failure due to arteriosclerosis at the age of 81; he is buried in Union Cemetery near his parents.  The following is Ambrose’s obituary from the Toronto Daily Star:

Pioneer is Dead

The death took place early to-day of Ambrose E. Henry, one of the most prominent citizens and pioneers of this district, at his home on Drew St.  Mr. Henry was in his 82nd year and for more than half a century was connected with the Masonic order.  He was born in 1848 on the Henry homestead at Oshawa-on-the-Lake, the son of Mr. and Mrs. John Henry, and saw Oshawa grow from obscurity to its present position.  He entered the grocery business, retiring twenty years ago to enter the employ of General Motors as foreman of stockrooms, and retired from that five years later.

To Mr. Henry is given credit for the building of the Masonic Temple here, and during his illness his suffering was mitigated by many tributes from local Masons.  He was a grand steward of the Grand Lodge of Canada and in the Royal Arch Masons he was past grand superintendent of district number 10.  Funeral service will be held on Wednesday, Rev. Ernest Harston officiating.  Mrs. John Herancourt, a daughter, survives.

Toronto Daily Star, May 28, 1929
Henry Headstone, Union Cemetery

Discussions about Difficult Histories

By Jennifer Weymark, Archivist

The Oshawa Historical Society’s summer 2020 newsletter is all about Henry House and the Henry family.  This year marks the 60th anniversary of the home becoming a museum, and we wanted to celebrate this occasion with a Henry House themed newsletter.  For me, writing about the Henrys inevitably turns into writing about Ebenezer Elijah Henry aka E.E. Henry or Eben. He has been an interest of mine since I first accessioned a letter that he wrote to his father into the archival collection. My newsletter contribution was about this letter and how fascinating I found this glimpse into the more personal life of the youngest of Thomas and Betsey’s sons.

EE Henry (A017.20.1)

Initially the newsletter was to include an image of this first letter along with a transcription because the original handwritten letter can be challenging to read.  After a staff meeting on June 4, we changed our approach and decided to no longer include the letter in the newsletter. Why did we decide to switch this letter for a different one written by E.E.?  Simply put, staff decided that the language used, while appropriate at the time it was written, is not only inappropriate, but it is hurtful for those who he was commenting on.

As the world reacts to the protests against police brutality in the United States, Canada is also looking at our history of anti-Black racism, how that has been white washed from our history, and the role that museums have played in this. In the letter, Henry writes about a recent American election, the controversial 1876 election that saw Rutherford B. Hayes win the election due to a decision made by the Electoral College after losing the popular vote to Samuel Tilden.  Henry notes that this election, just a decade after the abolishment of slavery in the United States, had Black Americans terrified that slavery would be reinstated. There doesn’t seem to be any merit behind Henry’s observation, but it is interesting to see his perspective on the political atmosphere in his newly adopted country. The language used by Henry to describe Black Americans is not acceptable, and staff felt sharing that language does not add to the discussion.

Are we censoring history?  Are we continuing to white wash the prevalent racism of those we study in the past?  All valid questions and all ones we weighed against the potential pain we could be adding to a community already dealing with the pain of racism.

No, we are not censoring history.  The complete letter and transcription are in the archival collection and have been printed in full in our publication To Cast a Reflection. The content of the letter is still clear in my newsletter article without including the complete transcription with the hurtful language.

I have written and spoken at length about the challenges of overcoming gaps in our archival collection due to past collecting practices. Our collection is filled with information on the wealthy white elite of our community because that was who was doing the collecting. Currently we are working to fill in those gaps, but it is not easy because much has already been lost.  Research into early Black history in our community has been challenging and rewarding, and ensuring that this community is no longer omitted in our histories is a work in progress. We are very aware that archives and museums are not neutral and we must play a role in ensuring that the community as a whole is represented in what we collect and exhibit.

This post is another way that we are working to be transparent and accountable.  Our decision to not share, at this time, the transcript of a letter with hurtful language was made after much careful reflection and consideration for current events.