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.

Celebrating Henry House During COVID-19

By Melissa Cole, Curator

While editing our latest issue of Historical Happenings (our quarterly newsletter for Oshawa Historical Society Members) which is dedicated to celebrating the 60th Anniversary of Henry House as a museum, I began to reflect on my time here at the museum.  My career at the Oshawa Museum started 20 years ago.  I started as a Fleming College Museum Management and Curatorship intern in the archives, working with past Archivist, Tammy Robinson.  One of my first projects was to work on a display celebrating the 40th Anniversary of Henry House officially opening as a museum: a come and go tea was held in the garden of Henry House. 

Letter from former Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Jean Chrétien acknowledging the 40th anniversary of Henry House.

Twenty years later, I never would have thought we would not be on site to celebrate the 60th anniversary of what I consider one of our largest artefacts and that we would celebrate virtually.  Before Henry House became a museum, it was the home to many families such as the Henry Family, Smith Family, and Mackie Family.  The home is furnished in belongings from various families that once lived in Oshawa.  In this post I thought I would highlight a few of my favourite pieces that are currently on display in Henry House, artefacts you would see on a tour with one of our knowledgeable Visitor Hosts.  Some of the items I will highlight belonged to the Henry family. 

Lets go on a curatorial tour!

Walking in the front door, something I miss the most is the smell of Henry House.  I realized how much I missed this smell the other day when I walked into Henry to check on the collection.  The smell is comforting, and it may have to do with the fact it has become my home away from home over the last 20 years. 

In the study, as you walk into the room you will find a beautiful mahogany spinet desk that once belonged to Dr. Franklin Luther Henry, grandson of Thomas Henry.  This particular desk was once located in Dr. F.L. Henry’s home and dental practice located at 231 King Street East in Oshawa.  This building still stands and is now home to the Harmony Health Centre. 

As you enter the parlour there is a beautiful Edwardian settee along the south-east wall, that once sat in Centre Street United Church.

Settee that once was at the Centre Street United Church

Located nearby is a beautiful embroidered child’s folding chair that once belonged to Thomas and Lurenda’s youngest child Jennie Henry.  As you enter the dining room there is another lovely artefact that once belonged to Jennie as well, a vegetable warming dish that was a wedding gift for her and John McGill.  They were married in Henry House on January 1, 1873. As you leave the dining room on the south hallway wall is a frame containing six tin types of the Henry children,

Jennie (Henry) McGill’s vegetable warmer

One of the popular rooms in the house containing the most activity was the kitchen; my favourite artefact in this room is not attributed to any particular family member.  It is a common kitchen gadget that many people still use in their home today, likely in the form of an SOS pad.  If you have visited our site in the past you have probably already named it, the pot scrubber!  You just never know what guesses our visitors will come up with for this item. 

Not on display but within the corner cupboard is chinaware similar to what was found during the 2018 archaeological dig in the backyard of Henry House.

Lastly the main floor bedroom, on the east wall is a pair of oval framed tin types of Thomas and Lurenda Henry. Further along this wall is a bird’s eye maple dresser that once belonged to the Robinson Family.  I have to mention, on top of this dresser are three exquisite pieces of hair jewellery, made from human hair.  This was a great way to recycle hair.  After brushing, the hair would be removed from the brush and kept in ceramic hair receptacles.  Sometimes the hair may have been from someone who had died, and this was made in memory of them. 

I have to be honest, all the artefacts in the home are my favourites for different reasons because these objects assist us in sharing the unique stories about our community and the people that helped shape it.  I wanted to bring a few to life today. 

To discover more about Henry House, you can check out our blog archive which goes back to 2013; the handy search bar makes searching easy.

We also have videos on our YouTube channel featuring Henry House – Our Henry House Playlist is a curated list of videos about Henry House or the Henry family: Access it HERE

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