You Asked, We Answered: 2022 Round-up

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

While on tour, our Visitor Hosts are often asked questions that they may not be able to answer in that moment. However, we take note of the questions and try to find the answers afterwards. Here are a few of the questions that we were asked throughout 2022

Is John Henry, former Oshawa Mayor and current Durham Regional Chair, related to the Henry family?

We asked His Worship this question upon his first election as Mayor in 2010, and he claimed that there was no connection.

What year is the Fire Insurance Map from?

In Robinson House, in the Leaving Home, Finding Home in Oshawa exhibit, there is a large map showcasing a neighbourhood in Oshawa with many landmarks of significance to the eastern European community. That map dates to 1948, and you can read more about it in a previous blog post!

Did the Henry family know how to speak French?

As far as we know, it doesn’t seem to be a language that was spoken at home. The 1891 Census has a column for ‘French Canadian,’ 1901 has a column for ‘Mother Tongue’ and 1911 has a column for ‘Language Commonly Spoken;’ the Henry siblings all indicate English in these columns.

In 1960, Thomas’s Granddaughter, Arlie DeGuerre, shared family history in The Life and Times of Thomas Henry. When recalling Thomas’s War of 1812 involvement, she stated,

“Thomas Henry… was employed to attend this new Judge on an official trip to Montreal. He remained in Montreal a month and learned something of the French language” (page 2).

A grain of salt is always taken when using this source as there are some inaccuracies within.

Did the Henry family have a cat/have pets?

This was one I was also asked on a tour this fall. The 1851 Agricultural Return tells us that, for livestock, they had:

  • 4 bulls, oxen or steers
  • 4 milch cows (a cow in milk or kept for her milk)
  • 3 cows/heifers
  • 3 horses
  • 27 sheep (with 100 lbs of wool)
  • 7 pigs

There is no apparently mention to pets in the Memoir of Thomas Henry, nor any mention in Arlie DeGuerre’s writings.

What year was the music box in Henry House made?

For this answer, I’ll direct you to a post written by Kes back in December.

Overhead view of an open music box. It is made of dark wood, and inside the box, there is a gold coloured cylinder.
995.1.1 Inside top view.

When did someone last live in Henry House?

The last Henry family member to live in Henry House was William. He lived there until the 1910s. Between 1917 and into the early 1920s, the Mackie family called the house home. It was used for a time as a ‘rest room’ for mothers, a place to rest while their children were playing in the park. It was home to Nasion and Emelline (Ned & Lina) Smith from the 1930s to 1942, and Harry Smith, a Parks Board of Management employee and in charge of Lakeview Park maintenance, lived in the home into the 1950s.

A sepia toned photograph of two adult women and two children posed for a picture outside. They are beside a stone house, there is snow on the ground, and they are all wearing winter clothes.
The Mackie Family and friend outside Henry House, c. 1920; from the Oshawa Museum archival collection (A983.3.8)

In 1959, the Oshawa Historical Society received word that they could use Henry House as a local museum. Doors opened in 1960, and we’ve welcomed thousands of visitors every year since.

Black and white photograph of people lined up to go inside a stone building. There is a sign outside the house that reads 'Henry House Museum' and there is a Union Jack flag flying.
Opening of Henry House, May 1960; Oshawa museum archival collection

Thank you for visiting!

The Timelessness of the Music Box

By Kes Murray, Registrar

Over the summer, I had the pleasure of leading tours. While in Henry House, I had multiple visitors, on different tours, ask about the music box in the parlour. Besides providing basic information that the object was a music box, I was left feeling that there was more to this music box than its appearance.

Henry House Music Box

The music box in Henry House is a pinned cylinder music box made by Langdorff & Fils. Langdorff & Fils were music box makers located in Geneva, Switzerland and active between 1850-1870. They made cylinder music boxes with their signature harp and music sheet decorated on top.

View of a closed, wooden box. There is a decorative motif of musical instruments and sheet music on top.
995.1.1 Top view. You can see the signature Langdorff & Fils stamp, although ours has wind instruments instead of a harp.

Cylinder music boxes, like ours, were the first music boxes to be widely used in homes in the mid to late 1800s. The first music box appeared in the late 1700s in Switzerland and is credited to Swiss watchmaker, Antoine Favre. Based off the advancements made in mechanical watches, early music boxes used the same movements: notes produced by a revolving disc with teeth around the edges.

Author Gilbert Bahl says, “The [cylinder] music box is actually based on a very simple principle: metal teeth which are tuned to scale in a variety of ways are plucked by pins projecting from a revolving cylinder. These pins are set in the cylinder in such a way that they pluck the teeth of the comb at precisely the right moment.”

The popularity of music boxes over the next fifty years led to many improvements, including its incorporation into decorative household items, longer and larger cylinders to play more music, and further mechanization that allowed simply pushing a button to play instead of having to hand crank the player.

Our music box is powered by hand, with a crank for the cylinder on the left side. On the right side of the box, you can see two switches. One is the stop and play switch, while the other is to repeat or change songs. As well, our music box is within a very stylish box that can be set up in any room, ours being in the parlour. The label inside the music box says the cylinder plays twelve songs, including waltzes, polka, and some opera songs, all in either French or German.

Overhead view of an open music box. It is made of dark wood, and inside the box, there is a gold coloured cylinder.
995.1.1 Inside top view.

A lasting history

As I researched music boxes, I realised that I, too, had music boxes in my parents’ house. Something that spoke to me that Bahl wrote was the timelessness of the music box. I was reminded of the ballerina music box my mom had as a child and still has today and, as Bahl explores, how hearing the music from a music box connects us to the past. We realise that we are listening to music that was also listened to and enjoyed by people many years ago. Mine are not that old, but I still adore them and think that maybe someone in some future will listen to them too.


Sources consulted

Bahl, G. (1993). Music Boxes: The Collector’s Guide to Selecting, Restoring, and Enjoying New and Vintage Music Boxes. Running Press Book Publishers.

https://www.britannica.com/art/music-box

https://obsoletemedia.org/music-box-cylinder/

You Asked, We Answered: Summer 2022

While on tour, our Visitor Hosts are often asked questions that they may not be able to answer in that moment. However, we take note of the questions and try to find the answers afterwards. Here are a few questions we’ve been asked this summer and their answers.

What is the roof of Henry House made of?

The roof at Henry House is made from cedar shingles. It was last replaced in 2013, and the lifespan of these shingles is at least 25 years (according to my Google skills). Here is a side by side comparison from 2011 and then November 2013, not long after it was replaced.

Beams of drive shed – where are they from?

The Drive Shed! The Drive Shed was a 50th anniversary project for the Oshawa Historical Society. The idea for an additional exhibition area was launched in 2007 during the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Oshawa Historical Society.  The  Board of Directors wished to commemorate this milestone with a permanent, tangible addition to the museum complex and the City’s lakefront property. The Drive Shed is a timber frame structure, built by students from Fleming College, Haliburton Campus. The opening for the Drive Shed was celebrated in September 2009.

A brown wooden building with prominent triangular roof. There are sliding barn doors, and glass doors behind them. It is winter with snow on the ground
Drive Shed, Winter 2013

What was style of the sash in the community room?

In A Carrying Place: Oshawa’s Indigenous Story, there is a sash, on loan from the Oshawa-Durham Métis Council.

A woven sash - it is predominantly red with blue, white and yellow also featured. The sash is in a display case with other items surrounding it
Métis sash, and other items on display from the Oshawa Durham Métis Council

The origins of the sash reflect the diversity of the Métis experience. The finger-weaving technique used to make the sash was firmly established in Eastern Woodland Indigenous Peoples Traditions. The technique created tumplines, garters and other useful household articles and items of clothing. Plant fibers were used prior to the introduction of wool. Wool and the sash, as an article of clothing, were introduced to the Eastern Woodland peoples by Europeans. The Six Nations Confederacy, Potowatami and other First Nations of the area blended the two traditions into the finger-woven sash.

The French settlers of Québec created the Assomption variation of the woven sash. The sash was a popular trade item manufactured in a cottage industry in the village of L’Assomption, Québec. The Québécois and the Métis of Western Canada were their biggest customers. Sashes were also made by local Métis artisans. Sashes of Indigenous or Métis manufacture tended to be of a softer and loose weave, frequently incorporating beads in the design.

The sash was used by the Métis as a practical item of clothing. It was decorative, warm and could be used to replace a rope to tumpline if none were available. The sash has been the most persistent element of traditional Métis dress, worn long after the capote and the Red River coat were replaced by European styles. The Métis share the sash with two other groups who also claim it as a symbol of nationhood and cultural distinction. It was worn by Eastern Woodland Indigenous Peoples as a sign of office in the 19th century. It was worn by French Canadians during the Lower Canada Rebellion in 1837. It is still considered to be an important part of traditional dress for both of these groups.

A display case with several items, such as a red sash, a doll, and a fiddle inside. Behind there is a large Métis flag: blue with a white infinity symbol
Inside A Carrying Place: Oshawa’s Indigenous Story; this display features items from the Oshawa Durham Métis Council

Are the three families still around today?

Yes! Every year, we get people coming into the museum and saying that they are descended from either the Henry, Robinson, or Guy families. Because Guy House was a triplex for many years before becoming the Museum’s admin building, we will also have visitors tell us that they, or someone they know, lived in Guy House in the past.

Six Caucasian people, four standing, two sitting, posed for a photograph. The two seated people are holding a large book, and behind the group, there is a framed, painted portrait of another Caucasian man
Henry descendants presenting Isabelle Hume with the Henry Family Bible, c. 1990 (AX994.62.1)

Thanks for visiting!

Pteridomania: The Victorian Craze for Ferns

By Kes Murray, Registrar

Walking through our Henry House is like walking back into the mid-1800s. From the furniture, to the decorations, our Henry House is a good example of a Victorian home, right down to the tiniest detail. Walking through, you may notice that a lot of the decorations and motifs are floral. This is because the Victorians loved their plants! During the Victorian era, Botany became one of the most popular scientific fields within English society, due in part to colonialization and expansion of European countries into the Americas, Asia, Oceania, and Africa, and also from the scientific endeavour to collect and classify the natural world.

When thinking of the Victorian era and flowers, you may think of a few things, such as the Victorian language of flower dictionaries that grew in popularity, the emphasis on gardening and landscaping during this period, the popular pastime of collecting and pressing flowers, or the boom in greenhouses and hothouses. No aspect of life was exempt from the craze of flowers.

However, one unique plant captured this Victorian plant craze to a new extreme. This plant was that of the fern. This craze was so intense that it created its own name, called Pteridomania, meaning fern fever.

A bright room with pink wallpaper. There is a large wooden couch, and two framed items on the wall. There is a fern on a pedestal in the room as well.
Parlour, Henry House, with a fern in the corner.

How did this start?

Ferns have a long mysterious history before the Victorian era. It has long been used for medicinal purposes, commonly used for treating asthma, hair loss, kidney complaints, and worms. However, the real mystery was that of how ferns reproduced. None knew how they grew, thus myths spread that ferns has magical properties, and eating the fern seed could make one invisible.  

Throughout the 1700s, minor scientific developments happened in the study of ferns. The largest challenge to this study was the survival rate. England only had about fifty native species, but many botanist wanted the exotic ferns. Transporting ferns from Australia, for example, was extremely difficult, as ferns would not survive the harsh conditions of the trip. Just about 2% of ferns survived the journey.

However, this all changed with the invention of the Wardian case. In 1829, Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward, a doctor and an amateur naturalist, invented the Wardian case. Ward had a keen interest in ferns but faced difficulties when growing them in foggy, damp, and polluted London, England. One night in 1829, he placed the chrysalis of a moth in a sealed glass bottle with moss at the bottom. To his surprise, he noticed some days later that a seedling fern had started growing inside. We can then think of the Wardian case as a precursor to that of our modern terrariums. They acted as a protective case and also as a microenvironment.

A view into a room from a doorway. There is a window with drapery and a fern in the centre
Dining Room, Henry House, with fern in the window.

Together, Ward and friend George Loddiges, also a botanist, began experimenting with larger Wardian cases. By 1831, they had grown thirty fern species in the Wardian cases. Overall, the Wardian case allowed plants from all over the world to be brought to England and survive.

Along with new inventions, literature added to this growing fern craze. In 1840, Edward Newman wrote A History of British Ferns. In this book, Newman praised Ward for his work and wrote that only those with “good taste” would attempt growing ferns. This right here started the fern craze.

People began collecting and hunting for ferns. Different species came from all over the world. Greenhouses and ferneries were created, where one could walk through and enjoy different fern species, along with other plants, flowers, shrubs, and trees. And of course, fern motifs could be found on everything from buildings, to ceramics, to clothing.

Our own collection here at the museum contains some of this fern craze. I was delighted when I found some clothing with fern motifs and Victorian era photography with individuals wearing clothing with fern themes.

However, this fern craze came with some costs. As the rage for ferns continued, prices increased. It became more difficult to find new species of ferns, and fern hunters would put themselves into dangerous situations just to find that new fern, like climbing mountains or venturing into unknown environments. Many injuries happened. Soon, some ferns, like the Killarney fern, became nearly extinct due to this craze.

A black jar with gold lid; it has a fern motif and features the word 'Oshawa'
Oshawa souvenir, with fern decoration, made by Oshawa’s Smith Potteries (020.7.1)

Pteridomania ended in the early 1900s. But, if you come to our Henry House, you can still see the fern craze in action.


Sources consulted:

Books

  • Bailey, M. & Bailey, A. (2021). The Hidden Histories of House Plants. Hardie Grant Books.
  • Favretti, R. J., & Favretti, J. P. (1997). Landscapes and gardens for historic buildings: A handbook for reproducing and creating authentic landscape settings. Rowman Altamira.
  • Shteir, A. B. (1997). Gender and” modern” botany in Victorian England. Osiris12, 29-38.
  • Whittingham, S. (2009). The Victorian Fern Craze. Shire.

Websites

You Asked, We Answered – The Photos in the Henry Hallway

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

For two weeks, at the end of April and beginning of May, I had given tours almost every day we were open. It was a wonderful return to how Spring at the Museum looked before COVID-19.

In the hallway of Henry House, there is a frame holding six Victorian era photographs, and it felt like on every tour, I was asked, “who was in the photos?” It pained me to say that I didn’t quite know. Two of them looked very Henry like (there is a distinct look to all the siblings), but beyond that, I couldn’t say.

A photo frame, holding six black and white photos of Victorian era people.

While closing up one day, and with our Curator’s permission, I took the photo off the wall to see who was in the photos.

I was very pleased that the two that I kept identifying as Henrys were, indeed, Henrys. George Henry (top right) was the son of Thomas and his first wife, Elizabeth. His wife was Polly Henry, and we’ve profiled her before on the blog. The couple would live out their lives in nearby Bowmanville.

Also photographed are James O. Henry (bottom left) and his first wife, Adelaide Hall (bottom right). James was Thomas’s eighth child, the second born to Thomas and his second wife, Lurenda. James and Adelaide had four children together before her death, and after her passing, James remarried and had one child with his second wife. He was an enterprising man, a farmer, photographer, and exporter of apples. He was reportedly the first exporter to Britain, his brand remained popular for many years.

There are three more photos depicting four people. Their identities are still, somewhat, a mystery, although, thanks to information in the archival collection and on the back of the frame, it is very likely they are members of the Hall family, Adelaide’s relatives.

I always appreciate it when I’m asked questions on tours that I don’t know the answer to. Even after 11 years of tours, there are still ones that will leave me without an answer, and this means I have the opportunity to learn something new myself.


Information on George and James from If This House Could Talk: The Story of Henry House (Oshawa Historical Society, 2012).

%d bloggers like this: