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).

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.

Sources:

“Typhoid Fever.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/diseases/typhoid.

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, nowtoronto.com/news/toronto-pandemics-typhoid.

Henry Grandkids – Edwin and Marshall Henry

By Jill Passmore, Visitor Experience Co-ordinator

Edwin, the first son of James O. Henry and his wife Adelaide, pursued a law degree through Osgoode Hall in 1881. He is listed as studying law in the 1881 Census as well as “matriculant of university,” or enrolled, in the Canadian Law Journal on March 15, 1881.

Adelaide Hall Henry (wife of James Orin) and sons Edwin, Marshall, and Frank; From the Elliott Grey Henry Family Album Digital Collection

It is unknown whether Edwin fully saw this through, because ten years later in the 1891 Census, he is living with his father and cousin working as a fruit shipper.

Coincidentally 8 out of the 55 grandkids’/cousins’ occupations had something to do with growing apples or citrus, selling them as grocers or tending to them in a nursery. This must run in the family since some of their fathers also kept this occupation (14.5%).

Edwin married Mabel Mackie on January 7, 1899. There was a 17 year age difference between them. They had three children. The two boys lived long healthy lives, while their daughter, Miriam, passed away at the age of three.

In 1921, the family was living at 130 King Street East, in Oshawa. Currently this is a parking lot between Armstrong Funeral Home and the Beth Zion Congregation.

Edwin’s brother Marshall was only 20 years old when he passed away.

Marshall Henry, from the Oshawa Museum Archival Collection

While studying to become a dentist in Toronto, he developed Typhoid Fever. Typhoid is a bacterial infection that is contracted by drinking or eating food contaminated with feces. It is unknown where he contracted the infection, but it was not kind to him in his last days. Marshall succumbed to the illness after suffering a bowel hemorrhage.

There was no vaccination or antibiotics to treat him.

In a recent online discovery, I learned that the two young men lived very close together while studying law and dentistry. They lived at 12 and 42 Rose Avenue, a street in Toronto’s Cabbagetown neighbourbood, near Wellesley and Parliament. Today, both of these homes are the location of a public school.

I’m now curious as to their relationship while Marshall was sick. Did Edwin stay by his side?

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