Tales from the Archives: the Ambrotype

By Kes Murray, Registrar

Sometimes, working in an archive brings you new objects you would never encounter in your everyday life. In my case, it was the Ambrotype. I, of course, had heard of and seen glass plate photographs. However, I had never seen one in person, or even handle one.

In a recent collection, which we called the French House Collection, was an Ambrotype. Our archivist knew exactly what it was the moment she saw it. I, on the other hand, had never heard of an Ambrotype.

Image of a Caucasian woman, sitting in a chair. She is wearing a black dress and has rosy cheeks. The photograph is enclosed in a gold frame
An Ambrotype of an unknown woman, from the French House Collection, Oshawa Museum archival collection (A021.12.21)

So, what is an Ambrotype?

Ambrotype is a type of glass-plate photography popular during the 1850s-1880s. It followed the Daguerreotype, the first publicly available type of photography.

The Ambrotype is created using the Wet Collodion process. This process was invented in 1851 by British inventor Frederick Scott Archer, but the Ambrotype was patented in the United States by James Ambrose Cutting.

The Wet Collodion process involves coating a glass plate with chemicals that makes it sensitive to light. As the glass plate sits within the chemicals, the photographer will focus the camera and position the subject. When the glass plate is allowed the proper amount of time in the chemicals, it is then placed within a camera (see our Korona View Camera!). These steps are done in a dark room since when the chemicals set on the glass plate, it will become sensitive to light.

A large wooden camera. It has an accordian style bellows, and the lens slides along the bottom
Korona View Camera, circa 1900-1903 (008.1.1). This is the type of camera that would have taken an Ambrotype. This particular one does use glass plate negatives, but is from thirty years after the Ambrotype went out of use.

Once in the camera, the photographer will remove the lens cap and expose the glass plate to the subject and light. This exposure is done for about twenty seconds. Then the lens cap is placed back on the camera and the glass plate is removed. The glass plate is then finished in a developing solution and allowed to dry.

Back view of a wooden camera, showing where the negative gets inserted
Back view of the Korona View Camera. The glass plate fits into the grey compartment. 008.1.1

To finish, sometimes a photographer would add pigment to an Ambrotype, such as rosy cheeks or even colour for their clothing or jewelry. Our French House Collection Ambrotype has such pigment, with rosy cheeks.

Close up image of a Caucasian woman, sitting in a chair. She is wearing a black dress and has rosy cheeks
A close up of the French House Ambrotype. You can see their rosy cheeks, an added detail after the photograph was taken. A021.12.21.

The glass plate was then put into a protective case with a black backing. This black backing is crucial, as this makes the photograph visible (see the National Museums Scotland photograph for a great example of this crucial step!).

A photo of a Caucasian woman, encased in a gold frame. The left half of the photo appears to be negative while the right half is positive
An example of an Ambrotype without the black backing. As you can see, it is nearly impossible to see the person without the black backing. From the Howarth-Loomes Collection at National Museums Scotland,

By the late 1800s, the Tintype replaced the Ambrotype as the dominant photographic method.

Though the Ambrotype was only used for around thirty years, it is a fascinating type of photography and an interesting example of the development of early photography.


Sources consulted

https://asc.ucalgary.ca/photohistory/ambrotypes/#:~:text=The%20ambrotype%20was%20introduced%20in,cheaper%20and%20easier%20to%20produce.

https://blog.scienceandmediamuseum.org.uk/find-out-when-a-photo-was-taken-identify-collodion-positive-ambrotype/

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Frederick-Scott-Archer

https://www.loc.gov/collections/liljenquist-civil-war-photographs/articles-and-essays/ambrotypes-and-tintypes/

The Host Files: The Coming of the Oshawa GO Station

By Adam A., Visitor Host

Everyday, thousands of people get up and in one way or another make their way over to the Oshawa GO Station. The overwhelming majority of these people are heading into Toronto.

Oshawa stands as the eastern terminus for the GO train’s Lakeshore East Line. However, this only became the case in 1995. The story of how the GO Train came to Oshawa begins much earlier.

Oshawa had been host to a rail station since 1856, when the Grand Trunk Railway came to town. While mainly a freight route, a passenger service was provided by Grand Trunk initially, then CNR after 1923, and VIA Rail after 1976.

In 1912, a station for the Canadian Pacific Railway was opened near their railyard, yet it closed in the 1960s, once again leaving Oshawa with one passenger rail service.

Black and white photo of a train station with a number of people in front of the station
C.P.R. Station, undated; Oshawa Museum archival collection

GO Transit was established by the Government of Ontario in 1967, and almost immediately there were many who recognized that Oshawa’s future prospects would depend on getting a station. Over the ensuing decades many promises to extend the rail line east to Oshawa were made, yet they consistently fell through. Most notable of these being the GO ALRT (Advanced Light Rail Transit) project of the 1980s, which would have provided an express light rail service between downtown Oshawa and the Pickering GO Station where one would be able to transfer on a regular GO Train.

Black and white photo of a train station, with two rail lines in the foreground
Canadian National Railway Station in Oshawa, 1970; Oshawa Museum archival collection

As per Premier David Peterson’s election promise, the GO Train did finally come to Oshawa in 1990. However, it did not yet have its own dedicated line or station building, and Oshawa was served by exactly one train each way per day, leaving Oshawa at 7:17AM and departing Union Station for Oshawa at 5:33PM. Perhaps this lacklustre limited service played a part in why the arrival of the first GO Train in Oshawa was greeted by only 150 of an expected 400-500 passengers.

The Lakeshore East Line was only properly extended out to the Oshawa train station in 1995. With a dedicated double tracked passenger line, GO could extend its regular service out to Oshawa, though plans for the line to extend to the Oshawa Centre and downtown ultimately fell through. During the early ’90s, the GO Train only ran east of Pickering during rush hour, but high demand following the opening of Oshawa GO brought hourly service out to Oshawa.

Colour photograph of a parking lot beside a train station. The train station has signs for VIA Rail and GO Transit, and there is a sign identifying the station as Oshawa
Oshawa Train Station, 2013; Dowsley Collection, Oshawa Museum archival collection

The site had previously been the station for the CNR’s passenger service, and had been modified for use by VIA Rail and GO Transit in the early ’90s. The site underwent additional renovations in 2009 to improve accessibility. Between 2015 and late 2017 the site underwent another major renovation which brought the site to its current form.

The Harry H

By Melissa Cole, Curator

The Harry H began its life chasing down German submarines in World War I and spent years in the Oshawa Harbour. It remained floating on the west wharf of the Oshawa Harbour until it could float no more. 

A long boat moored at a harbour. There is water in the foreground and trees in the background
The Harry H docked at the Oshawa Harbour; Oshawa Museum archival collection (A996.16.4)

In July 1916, five ships were sunk in New York by German submarines, spurring the navy to design an effective anti-submarine vessel. Steel was scarce, and because of that, a new ship was designed of wood, built for speed rather than strength.

The Harry H was built in 1918 in New York City and spanned 110 feet long. Its original name was the Subchaser SC-238. In 1922, David Sullivan purchased the ship, renamed it the Allen, and brought it to Oshawa. In October of 1925, the vessel was found abandoned by George Hardy. An “action for salvage” warrant was then issued by the exchequer Court of Canada for George Hardy for the towing fee to Toronto.

Two men standing on the deck of a boat moored in a harbour
The Harry H; Oshawa Museum archival collection (A996.16.3)

By 1933, the ship, re-named Harry H, had been in the hands of several different owners. During that year, it was seized by the R.C.M.P. for infractions to customs regulations. It was rumored that after the seizure, the R.C.M.P. used the ship for chasing Rum Runners on Lake Ontario.

Some confusion in the registration of the Harry H, as well as repairs, caused some to believe that the ship had been used as a Rum Runner herself. When owner David Sullivan brought the ship (then named the Allen) over to Oshawa Harbour, its New York registration was not closed; in fact, it was not closed until three years after the ship was found abandoned on Lake Ontario.

In June of 1934 there was a Court Order issued by the Registrar of Shipping in Toronto that the vessel be sold at public auction. She was bought by Stanley Grossett of Port Hope for $180. On October 2, 1934 the Harry H was sold to Oshawa resident William Leggott.

When Harry H was first found in Oshawa Harbour, it was noticed that the boat no longer had three engines. Instead, it had two. When the hull of the ship was inspected, it was found that the prop shaft had been plugged. In addition, the propellers of the ship were 9 inches shorter than the original 39 inches. It was customary then for Rum Runners to keep the propellers sharp for cutting through fishing nets dropped by patrol boats to catch Rum Runners. Harry H was no exception to this.

Harry H was found at the bottom of the Oshawa Harbour basin in the summer of 1965 due to a pump or battery failure. In the fall of the same year, it broke away from the dock during high winds. It was later found underwater next to a clay bank in shallow water at the Harbour. A mast, as well as part of the deck, showed through the water. They were later torn off by ice.

In August of 1978 a dredging operation by the Porter Dredging Company ended the life of the Harry H. Although the boat put up a good fight, tangling in the wire ropes in the 36 inch diameter auger that was used for the dredging, Harry H eventually gave in and the ship was destroyed.

The Month That Was – May 1862

All articles originally appeared in the Oshawa Vindicator

Content warning – an article in 21 May 1862 discusses a death by suicide.

7 May 1862, Page 2

Postmasterships
Mr. Francis Kellar, of Whitby, has been appointed Postmaster of Oshawa, in place of Mr. D. Smith, who is appointed to the Whitby office. We hope Sidney and the wire-pullers will get things fixed to suit them pretty soon. The hangers-on of Whitby are very well pleased with the position of the cards at present. Mr. Kellar’s being stationed at Oshawa instead of Whitby leaves the Whitby office still open for aspirants – Mr. Smith’s appointment being only one of convenience for the time being. He is worthy of a better position, and will get it, if the last of the Hincksites is not ejected from office too suddenly to allow of the papers being made out. We are sorry to part with Mr. Smith at Oshawa, for we believe he gave the best of satisfaction to all having business at the office.

Page 3

Notice
Valuable Property For Sale in the Village of Oshawa

The building at present occupied by Henry Binge, Druggist, and Frank Taylor, Jeweler, situated on the northeast corner of King and Simcoe Streets, known as Sutton’s Block, will be sold by public auction at Woon’s Hotel, on Thursday the 15th day of May next, at 12 o’clock noon. Terms made known on day of sale.

John Warren, Wm. Bartlett, Assignees of WJ Sutton’s Estate. Oshawa, April 22nd, 1862.

Coal! Coal!
Just received Ex “Royal Oak” from Oswego, a lot of Blacksmiths’ Coal, which will be sold cheap for Cash or approved credit. A supply will be kept constantly on hand. James O. Guy, Port Oshawa, April 15th, 1862

7 May 1862, page 3

14 May 1862, page 2

Ran away, but got Caught
On Saturday evening last, while the members of the Oshawa Rescue Fire Company were returning to their quarters, after going through with one of their monthly evolutions, a span of smart looking horses from the country, not being accustomed to such sights, took fright at the red-coated gentlemen and their machine, and started on a gallop with their load. The firemen slipped anchor and gave chase, in right earnest. The horses passed up King, down Centre, and on to Athol Street, where they were intercepted by some half dozen of the fleetest of the Rescuers, and after knocking down one who attempted to grapple the bits, were “brought to,” almost instantly. Immediately the wagon box was filled with cargo of firemen, several of whom got hold of the “horse strings: to act as moderators, while others sent the air with ebullitions of exultation over their bravery in capturing the team. … The damage done on occasion was very slight – nothing further than distributing a few bags of wheat, bran, &c., along the street; but it might have been worse, and shows that people should not be so reckless of life and property as to leave their horses standing in the street without being securely tied. – Communicated

Page 3

Torch Lights,
This is to caution all parties against carrying Torch Lights, or cutting Pine Timber on my premise – particularly on the north 60 acres of Lot No. 4, Broken Front, as the penalties of the law will be strictly enforced. John Wilson, East Whitby, April 22nd, 1862

Died
On the battle-field at Pittsburg Landing (Tenn.) on Sunday, April 6th, First Lieutenant Frank N. Doyle, of Company H, 16th Iowa Volunteers, formerly of this office, in the 24th year of his age.

“Poor Frank! He little thought he was to die so soon; yet he died nobly, with his face to the foe, encouraging the men to retreat in good order. We buried him on yesterday, April 8th, on the field where he so nobly fell, with nought but a pine board with his name, age, rank, date of his death, and his place of residence on it to mark the spot where the young hero died. There he lies, far from home and friends, in an enemy’s country, in the wilds of Tennessee, within a short distance of the Tennessee River. You may judge of the feelings of those who had been so long associated with him, on this occasion. Often we think of him and murmur a prayer for him who sleeps the long sleep.” Letter from an officer of the regiment, published in the Dubuqe Daily Times.

Newspaper notice for property for sale by auction
14 May 1862, page 3

21 May 1862, page 2

Distressing Suicide in Oshawa
On Friday morning last, the inhabitants of our village were startled at an early hour, with the intelligence which went the rounds with marvelous speed, that Mr. Martin Bambridge, Blacksmith, one of the oldest and best known residents of the place, had been found dead, at five o’clock, in the loft of his stable.

A jury was soon summoned to investigate the matter, and a Coroner’s Inquest was held, before Dr. Jos. Clarke, at the residence of the deceased, at 9 o’clock. …

The jury, after hearing [the evidence] agreed upon their verdict without leaving the room, which was that the deceased was found hanged, and that, in the opinion of the jury, he came to his death by his own hands.

The deceased was widely known and highly respected in the community, and his untimely death has produced a painful impression in the minds of a large circle of friends. His remains were accompanied to their place of internment, in the Episcopal-burying ground, on Sabbath afternoon, by a great concourse of people. The burial service was performed by Rev. Mr. Dickson.

Newspaper ad for fancy work
21 May 1862, page 3

28 May 1862, page 2

New Election in Oshawa
On Friday next, at 10 o’clock in the forenoon, a meeting of the Electors of Oshawa is to be held at the Court House for the Purpose of electing a Village Councillor in place of Mr. W. W. Brown, who has resigned. It is to be well represented at the meeting, and that a wise choice will be made.

Base Ball Club
At a meeting held in Woon’s Hotel, on Wednesday evening, the 14th inst., by a number of the young men of this place, a Club was organized entitled the Morning Star Base Ball Club of Oshawa, and the following members were elected as Officers for the present season, viz: Edward Morris, President; Thomas W. Gibbs, Vice Pres.; Wm. Ogston Hay, Secretary. Committee of Management: T.G. Webster, Walter Spender, James Stephens, T.W. Gibbs.

The above Club meets, for play, every morning at 5 ½ o’clock, on Conant’s field. Persons wishing to become members of the same, can hand in their names to the Secretary.

Two newspaper ads for wool
28 May 1862, page 3

Tales of the Nose Neighbour: Oshawa and the Moustache

By Savannah Sewell, Registrar

I was inspired to write this blog as I shuffled through seemingly endless negative film images of Oshawa Fire Department staff. The collection, which has now been entirely organized and accessioned, has a large selection of images taken in the field, at the hall, and during events. Not shockingly, the collection sports an enormous variety of absolutely stunning moustaches. Therefore, I thought that it would be MOST appropriate to display some of the beautiful moustaches we, at the Oshawa Museum, have the privilege of enjoying, both within the Oshawa Fire Department Collection and the rest of our historical images.

History of the ‘stache

Fashionably shaped facial hair is not a modern concept, and many individuals have sported a combination of beards, moustaches, goatees, and side burns for most of human history. Most historical and archaeological records indicate that facial hair has been styled since the days of early humans, often with a variety of implements such as sharpened shells or stone tools.

Facial hair has been associated with religious or community groups, but it has also been very important in the identification of military personnel. The BBC history article, The Moustache a Hairy History, details the importance of the differentiation between war and post-war times.

“When the war ended in 1856, returning soldiers were barely recognizable behind their vast crops of facial hair. Deciding that beards were the signs of heroes, British men started once again to grow their own. Beards were everywhere and moustaches were lost amongst the general “face fungus” (as Edwardian novelist Frank Richardson termed it). It was a dark time for the moustache.”

War also had a lasting impact on Canadian leadership and their facial hair. Sir Robert Borden, the 8th Prime Minister of Canada, had a very recognizable moustache. Most people would recognize him as the face on the Canadian $100 bill. Borden served from 1911 to 1920, and World War I subsequently turned his moustache a stark white from the stress. (https://canadaehx.com/2019/11/04/penny-sized-history-great-moustaches-in-canadian-history/)

Some leadership even took it into their hands to change the entire face of a population with facial hair. Peter the Great desired for Russia to present a more modern European nation during his reign. This meant that examples of the style of clothes that he desired for the population to wear were hung outside the city gates, on mannequins, and that a task force was employed to ensure that the people were following new orders. This task force when as far as to rip and cut long beards from men’s faces often against their will, as Peter deemed the look of a long beard to be too stereotypically associated to the old fashioned Russian. 

Oshawa Fire Department

According to the website Firefighter Now, a blog written by a Cleveland firefighter/paramedic, the recognizable firefighter moustaches were an early form of smoke filtration, prior to oxygen masks. The firefighters would moisten their moustaches before entering a smoky area to process the air as they breathed.

There are several reasons why firefighters still wear the stylish ‘stache: a sense of identity, fashion, and it’s often their only option for facial hair. The moustache is a symbolic image of firefighters and, as such, both in reality and popular media, provide a sense of identity and inclusion within the community. Some individuals really enjoy the look, and it’s often the only facial hair that firefighters can have! The oxygen masks that are worn in the field cannot create a tight seal when there is facial hair such as a beard, therefore, the old cookie duster is the only option.

Collection

Thomas E.B. Henry, a member of our Henry family, was an actor and had a spectacular array of images taken for his acting portfolio from various shows that he performed in. One of my personal favourites is this Western looking garb, complete with a fantastic moustache. Though I cannot be certain that the moustache is real, it can still be appreciated in all of its glory for truly transforming the actor. Some of the other images include a dapper tuxedoed Thomas E.B. Henry, complete with eyeliner, a military uniform, and even a man caught in a fight, including a sword and fake wound on his arm.

Black and white photo of a Caucasian man, wearing a western costume and striking a pose
Thomas Eben Blake Henry; from a private collection of the Henry Family

Another fantastic example of the cultural significance that moustaches have had through history is this china cup. The white china decorated with pink flowers has been designed with a special shelf. This shelf, that sits on the inside lip of the cup, was an addition meant to protect the drinker’s moustache from being dampened by the liquid that they were consuming.

969.6.2a

This is Richard Elwood Hastings Welch, who married Ruth Eunice Robinson and served as the Customs Officer of Port Oshawa. He is buried in the Port Oshawa Cemetery. This image of Mr. Welch with this fantastic example of the “mutton chop” moustache was published in The Oshawa Daily Reformer with the caption,

“Capt. Richard Elwood Hastings Welch, who was in H.M.S. Customs as Landing-Waiter at Port Oshawa at the time of Confederation and was Captain in the Third Battalion of the Durham Militia. He was the father of Miss Welch and Mrs. Samuel J. Babe of this city of the late Vicars H. Welch.”

Black and white photo of a Caucasian man
Richard Elwood Hastings Welch; Oshawa Museum archival collection

It was difficult to choose just a few photos from our collection in order to represent the complete variety of moustaches at the Oshawa Museum. If you are interested in exploring more of the content within our archive and collection, please visit the virtual database on the Oshawa Museum’s website.


Works Cited

Baird, Craig. Penny Sized History: Great Moustaches in Canadian History. Canadian History Ehx, 2019.

Hawksley, Lucinda. The moustache: A Hairy History. BBC: Culture, 2014.

Soth, Amelia. Peter the Great’s Beard Tax. JSTOR: Daily, 2021.

%d bloggers like this: