Profiling: Polly Ann Henry

By Laura Suchan, Executive Director

Recently Stoney Kudel, President of the Oshawa Historical Society, and I completed a project annotating the memoir of Reverend Thomas Henry. The memoir published in 1880, one year after Thomas’ death, was written by Polly Ann (P.A.) Henry his daughter in law.  As the Oshawa Museum works towards telling a more inclusive view of Oshawa’s history, we thought it was important that information regarding Polly Henry was included in the annotated version of the memoir. Historian David McCullough says, “History is no longer a spotlight. We are turning up the stage lights to show the entire cast.” His quotation emphasizes the reality that history is generally told from the perspective of one sector of society and it is imperative as historians and those entrusted with the stewardship of our community’s history, that we look to tell our story with a broader, more diverse approach.

Polly Ann Henry

Polly Ann Henry

Pauline (Polly) Ann Hayward Henry, was an accomplished photographer and author in her professional life and a loving mother and wife to her family.  Pauline was born to Reverend Joshua and Lydia Barker Hayward in Lowville, New York in 1825. Not much is known about Polly’s early life. Census records indicate she was the second youngest in a large family.  Her father, who Polly states died in 1840 after “twenty-three years of laborious work in the Gospel field” most likely was known to Thomas Henry. The Christian Palladium has several notices of Reverend Hayward  preaching in New York state during the 1830s and it is quite possible he and Thomas were acquainted.  Polly marries the third son of Thomas and his first wife Elizabeth (Betsey) Davis, George Henry in Porter Niagara, New York June 24, 1846. Polly and George settled on a farm by the lakefront in Oshawa and counted as their neighbours members of the Robinson and Guy families.  Soon two sons, Roland and Chauncy, were added to their family . By 1861, the family had moved to Bowmanville and were living in a 1 storey, frame house. They now had 2 more children, daughter Ella Jane and son George.  A fifth child, Thomas Eben Blake, was born in 1868.

Image177 - Polly Ann & George Henry

Polly Ann and George Henry

Polly Ann was, at least for a time,  a professional photographer. Whether she had any formal training is unknown however she had a studio in Bowmanville which she ran for a short time as well as a studio in Oshawa which was sold in 1865 to another portrait photographer. The Pennsylvania State Special Collection Library has in its collection two portraits taken by Polly. [1]

PA Henry Oshawa

The reverse of a photograph taken by PA Henry. Note, her location is Oshawa, CW (Canada West) telling us the photo was taken pre 1867

Most of the details regarding the writing and publishing of Thomas Henry’s memoir are lost to history.  Perhaps Thomas was following in the footsteps of several of his contemporaries, men such as Elder Abner Jones, Joseph Badger and Joseph Ash, who had published memoirs.  Or perhaps it was his daughter in law Polly that suggested to Thomas that he share his stories of spiritual development, plentiful travel and church leadership with family members and his friends in the church.

Just a few short months after Thomas’ death in September 1879, Polly had Thomas’ memoir completed and was researching publishing options. The only reference to the memoirs in the Henry collection comes from a letter written by George Henry to his step-mother Lurenda Abbey. In it George writes, “P.A. (Polly Ann) …. has Fathers history finished and wanted to see you, she had an answer from the [Publisher] – my house in [Dayton] Ohio about publishing Fathers history but not very encouraging.”[2]  The Ohio publisher referenced in the letter was most likely the Christian Publishing Association, headquartered in Dayton which published many of the Christian Church publications including the Herald of Gospel Liberty.  As a frequent contributor to the publication, Thomas Henry was likely known to the publishers. Interestingly enough, it appears they declined to publish the memoirs.  Polly’s next idea was to have family members contribute funds towards the publication costs, as noted by George “ [she] would like that such of the boys invest $20.00 each towards the printing and take books for their pay and for me to pay the [rest] as the fears if will be looseing matters. If you think favourable of it you can speak to them as you see them and what is done should be done at once.”[3] Unfortunately we don’t know if the family members gave any money towards the publication of the memoir or if it was George, as he feared would happen, who paid for the publishing. The Memoir of Thomas Henry was published by Polly in 1880 and printed by Hill & Weir, Steam Printers of Toronto.


Original Thomas Henry Memoir (l) and the recently published annotated memoir

After the memoir was finished we don’t hear much about Polly. She and George continued to live in Bowmanville where he became a successful fruit dealer. George passed away on March 6, 1892 of complications from diabetes. In  the 1901 census Polly is shown as living in Bowmanville with her son Thomas, his wife and three grandchildren.  Polly passed away on January 2, 1913 in Essex County Ontario.

Where those who walk shall sleep no more
The sleep of death. Are they not there?
Prophetic whispers answers, “There!”
Where those who love, their loved ones meet.

~From a poem written by Polly Henry


[1] Rethinking Professionalism: Women and Art in Canada, 1850-1970 Hardcover – Apr 11 2012 by Kristina Huneault pg 164. Photos are part of the William C. Darrah Collection of cartes de vistas.

[2] Letter from George Henry to Lurenda Henry, February 3, 1880, Original in the Archival collection of the Oshawa Museum

[3] Letter from George Henry to Lurenda Henry, February 3, 1880, Original in the Archival collection of the Oshawa Museum


The Prodigal Son: E.E. Henry, 1828 – 1915

By Jennifer Weymark, Archivist

In 2018, the Oshawa Museum will be publishing a book focusing on the amazing collection of Henry family letters that were donated to the archives in 2013.  One of the more prolific letter writers was Ebenezer Henry.  Who was Ebenezer Henry?

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EE Henry (A017.20.1)

Ebenzer Elijah Henry, or E.E., was the youngest of five boys born to Thomas and Betsey Henry.  Sadly for the young family Betsey died on November 12, 1829 when Ebenezer was just one year old.

The death of Betsey left Thomas alone to care for five young boys aged 9 to 1. While a sister of Thomas’s came to help the family in their time of grief, Thomas knew that the boys would need a mother. Through series of letters, Thomas began courting a young woman from Port Hope, Lurenda Abbey.  They were married on November 2, 1830 and Lurenda moved to Port Oshawa becoming mother to five young boys.

By all accounts, Ebenezer had a fairly typical childhood of the time period.  Lurenda took to her new role as mother and raised the five boys as if they were her own. The family grew to include ten more children. They had a farm and a fruit orchard on which the boys would have been expected to work. Thomas and Betsey built a frame home where they started their family.  Sometime around 1840, Thomas and Lurenda had the stone house that stands today, constructed for the family.

Henry House

Along with his siblings, Eben’s education most likely began at the small log cabin school located in School Section #2 Cedardale. The school was located approximately 2.5 kilometres from the family home. It is unclear if Ebenezer attended high school.  We know that Ebenezer attended Starkey Seminary, located in Eddytown, New York. In a letter written to his father, Ebenezer recounts returning to the Seminary and once again seeing his teacher, Professor Edward Chadwick.  Prof. Chadwick became head of the Seminary in 1847, and Ebenezer attended the school sometime between 1847 and 1851.

It appears that during his time in New York State, Ebenezer met Harriet E. Mills. Harriet was living wither mother and step father and is listed as a student in the 1850 US federal census.  While it is not yet clear if Harriet was a student at the Seminary, as it was approximately 23 kilimotres from the family home, it is clear that this is when Ebenezer met Harriet. Sometime between 1850 and 1852, the couple wed and moved back to East Whitby Township and settled in a frame house located close to his father’s home.

In around 1857, the couple left East Whitby Township and headed east to Port Hope, the hometown of his step-mother Lurenda. Once there, Ebenezer opened a photography studio. He not only created ambrotype photographs for his patrons, he could also produce copies of daguerreotypes, engravings, painted portraits and other such art work. The studio moved several times during his time in Port Hope, but it did appear to be a successful business venture.

Ebon Henry Photo Studio

In 1866, Ebenezer and Harriet moved from Port Hope to Leavenworth, Kansas where he once again opened a very successful photography studio.  Even with the distance between them, Ebenezer maintained relationships with his family in Canada.  The letters sent by Ebenezer to his father offer us a unique opportunity to learn more personal details about the family and provide glimpses into family dynamics.  While Ebenezer would return to Canada to visit family, he made Leavenworth this home until his death February 7, 1915.

As the research for the upcoming publication continues, it has been pleasure to learn more the Henry family on a more personal level.

Celebrating New Years in 1880

In 2013, the Oshawa Museum received a phenomenal collection of letters and papers from the Henry Family.  In February 1880, George Henry wrote to his mother Lurenda, the first letter may have sent since the passing of his father Thomas in September 1879.  Within this long letter, he tells his mother how he spent the new year, saying,

We went from there by invitation to John Edgars to take Newyears dinner and assisted in disposing of a fine turkey & goose. I have another invitation to meet with them on honour of the old gentlemans birth day on the 11th  inst when another turkey is to be slaughtered. (all spelling as originally written).

Not many letters touch on the holiday season, but this letter provides a small glimpse at how one Henry child marked the beginning of 1880.

Image177 - Polly Ann & George Henry

Polly Ann and George Henry


Letter Transcription (all spelling and punctuation as written)

Harrow Feb 3.rd/80

Dear Mother

While in these parts the last few years I have been in the habit of writing to Father and you both but now must write to you alone. The change is so great that I scarcely know what to say. I know you have many sad lonely hours, your feeble state of health with so much suffering from your sore leg makes the days and nights drag heavily, I often dream of seeing Dear Father and rember with much pleasure the plesant visit I had with him at Orono a few days before I went to Montreal but no one can miss Father as much as yourself. I have often thought to loose a good faithful Husband or Wife must be like looseing a part of ones self, but such is life, and we have to bear it. We are all upon the great train mooveing, rapidly on to the great Depot of death stepping off one by one. we follow our loved ones so far and no further, when we give one long anxious lingering look but we see them no more, there is no return train or pasanger to report. all alone we walk through the dark vally and shadow of death with the blessed hope of the Saviour’s strong arm to lean upon, I was glad to hear your health is improving and hope you will be very careful of yourself. P. A. writes that she has Fathers history finished and wanted to see you. she had an answer from the Publishing house in Dayton Ohio about publishing Fathers history but not very encouraging she would like that the boys would invest $20.00 each towards the printing and take books for their pay and for me to pay the rest as she fears it will be a looseing matter. If you think favourable of it- you can speak to them as you see them and what is done should be done at once, I have a letter from Ebben they are all well he says you are to keep the oil painting of Father as long as you want it with you, P.A and I had a very plesant visit in Michigan we first visited Dr. Hayward & family found him quite comfortable in health but cant stand but very little fatigue, I gave him and wife your kind regards also Elder Sherman who is preaching there and they all wished to be kindly remembered to you assuring you their sympathy, and hope to see you again they talked much of the general loss and loneliness felt in Fathers death. We then visited Dr. Younghusband found them well and had a good visit with him and his good second Wife she apperes to be a splendid woman, I think, I never saw a man more if as well pleased to see a woman that was no kin to them as the Dr. was to see P.A. it was eighteen years since he saw her. he talked over his sojourn in Oshawa while she was editing the paper and how often he had become discoraged and felt he could not accomplish the task before him and of his often visits to our house and the good advice P.A always gave him with good encouraging words, and the written recommend when he left Oshawa, he said he owed more to her for his success in life from that time than to any being living. We also visited a family by the name of Fowler in Detroit a very fine family. our first acquaintance with them was at our place at home a relative of theirs at Bowmanville brought them to visit us. they are called one of the upper tens of Detroit, and generally travel and board during hot summer weather we had a fine visit with them. We went from there by invitation to John Edgars to take Newyears dinner and assisted in disposing of a fine turkey & goose. I have another invitation to meet with them on honour of the old gentlemans birth day on the 11th  inst when another turkey is to be slaughtered. from Mr.. Edgars P.A. went home and I came here and the second morning I started out on buisines I sprained my knee very bad & was laid up some time it is still weak and a part of last week and so far this week I have been very sick and confined to the bed most of the time until yesterday, to day I hope to be up all day and am able to write this letter. my sickness has been of the stomach. with fever and pain of body from head to foot. and I tell you I have been loansome. The lamenes-sicknes, and mud has not alowed me to do much I have not got to Cliffords yet but hope to soon. Hoping you are all well, with much love to you all. I remain as ever your son George

Student Museum Musings – Lauren

By Lauren R., Summer Student

In my time as a co-op student, a volunteer, and now as a working summer student I have learned that at the museum you never know what to expect when you show up for work. When I started my summer position this year I honestly had no clue what I was in for; I wasn’t sure what I was going to be doing and I had no clue what kind of projects I would be working on.

Despite this uncertainty, I was incredibly excited to start in my new position and I knew that no matter what I did I would love it (every project is exciting in its own way). This summer I got assigned a project that was even more exciting than I ever could have imagined! My summer project is to create a new audio tour for the houses! For this I will be looking at talking more about the families in the houses instead of just the houses  themselves. Also, I will be looking quite a bit at the heritage gardens of Henry House and adding this new information to the tour as it was not part of the original tour.


Woolly Lamb’s Ear

The Henry House heritage gardens is home to an assortment of interesting (and strange) plants. The Henry House garden is designed to display what an everyday garden would have looked like, similar to what the Henry’s themselves would have had. It is split into different sections depending on what the use of the plant is. There is one garden dedicated to tea, another to dyes and the last to herbs and plants that can be used for medical and other practical purposes. In the practical garden there are eight sections: practical, protection, serious conditions, culinary, insect control, healing, cough control, and calming.

So far, out of the many plants that I have researched and looked at in the garden, I have found four that continue to catch my interest. The first two belong in the healing section of the garden. The first plant is Yarrow (Achillea Millefolium). This plant is used to reduce blood pressure and, if the fresh leaves are put into a poultice, it can stop bleeding from cuts and scrapes and things of that kind. Another plant that is found in this portion of the garden is Woolly Lamb’s Ear. This plant is really cool as it feels fuzzy and is soft to the touch. The way that the Henrys may have put this plant to use would have been as bandages to keep cuts clean and covered, the soft texture of these leaves being non-aggravating to injured skin.



Another plant, in the calming section, that I find interesting is Valerian (Valeriana Officinalis). This plant would have been used to help prevent nightmares and to reduce anxiety. However, if too much is taken (or if it is taken for too long) it can cause some adverse side effects such as hallucinations, abdominal pain and headaches.  The final plant that catches my eye, or rather my nose, in our garden is Lemon Balm (Melissa Officinalis).  This plant is part of the tea garden. Lemon Balm is an incredibly versatile plant. It can be used as an extract to add flavour to dishes, added to a relaxing bath, applied to help soothe insect bites, used to make soothing teas (for headaches and nausea), lessen depression, eczema and it can even help allergy sufferers. In addition to all of this, Lemon Balm can help clean and heal wounds as it acts as an antiviral substance and will starve the bacteria in the wound of oxygen thereby killing it.



Lady Bug on Tea Plant

There are really some incredible plants in the Henry House garden. What is even more incredible is to think that all of these plants would have been used in some way by the Henry family in their everyday lives.

Digging Up The Past – Archaeology Day 2016

This post was originally shared last year, but we thought it was worth sharing again for Archaeology Day 2016!

Archaeology is an important part of the interpretation at the Oshawa Museum.  Our Grandview Gallery in Robinson House helps tell the story of the Lake Ontario Iroquois, a group of First Nations who called this area home over 500 years ago. For far too long, the history of Oshawa began with Benjamin Wilson, an American who settled here in 1790 with his family, and so on and so forth.  By saying our history begins with Wilson, we are completely omitting the Lake Ontario Iroquois, who were settled with 10-15 longhouses, who hunted, who fished, and who farmed for a period of over 70 years.  Archaeology and the evidence it has given us helps us challenge the ‘traditional story,’ and we do so on every tour, through our interpretation and through the artifacts we have on display that were discovered during the excavation of the Grandview site in 1992.

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Inside the Grandview Discovery Gallery

Fun fact: there were over 11,000 artifacts unearthed during that salvage dig excavation, and all 11,000 are part of our collection at the Oshawa Museum.  Not all 11,000 are on display of course, but you can view exceptional examples when you visit!

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Tools on display from the Grandview Archaeological excavation

There were two Aboriginal villages discovered through archaeological excavations; theMacLeod Site at Rossland and Thornton was discovered in the late 1960s, and the Grandview Site, around Grandview and Taunton, was discovered in 1992.  Both sites provide valuable information about the lives of the Lake Ontario Iroquois and have helped us at the Oshawa Museum shift how we tell the history of our City.

When people think about archaeology, ancient ruins, Egypt, Greece, Maya, or early First Nation settlements is what frequently comes to mind.  At the Oshawa Museum, we are fortunate to have two collections from late-historic archaeological sites: the Farewell Cemetery Collection and the Henry House Collection.  These two sites date to the mid to late 1800s and they provide information about Victorian lives and culture. Artifacts from the Henry House excavation will be on display in Henry House.

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Coffin handle found during the removal and excavation of the Farewell Cemetery

Curator Melissa Cole gives information on the Farewell Cemetery excavation in her June 2015 Podcast.

Archaeology is a fascinating field, and Archaeology Day is an event where we get to celebrate and showcase the amazing history that has been unearthed here in Oshawa!

Archaeology Day 2016 is happening on October 15 from 12-3pm.  Proud partners for this year’s event are Trent University Durham and Scugog Shores Museum who will be joining us with interactive displays, engaging activities, lectures, and sharing in their knowledge of and passion for the field of Archaeology.