Museums are Cool! (Pun Intended)

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

I am rather lucky to work where I do, for a plethora of reasons.  I’m a history junkie and museum nerd, so working in my field in a subject I love is a blessing.  I work right on the shores of Lake Ontario; on summer mornings, before I begin my day, I’ll often sit and just watch the lake, taking in the silence before the excitement of the day.  I love my community and I love meeting new people, and as Community Engagement co-ordinator, I get to talk about how amazing Oshawa is.  And on the hot, humid, stinking summer days, I get the joys of working in an air conditioned environment!


Visitors are often surprised to walk through the doors of Guy House and discover just how cool it is in here.  All three museum buildings have climate control methods, and while I’d like to say that it is purely for the comfort of staff and guests, that just simply is not the case.  In our collections, housed between our three buildings, we have thousands of artifacts, including clothing, textiles, archaeological collections, cameras, furniture, and much more.  And then, of course, there is the archival collection in Guy House, including around 10,000 photographs of Oshawa, and irreplaceable text documents.  Fluctuations in temperature and relative humidity (RH) are not ideal for collections, so air conditioners are used in the summer for climate control.

According to the Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI), who are essentially the go-to people for Museum conservation standards, fluctuations in temperature and RH are the enemies to museum collections.  It is important to note that temperature and RH are directly related – if a volume of warm air is cooled, then its RH will go up; in turn, if a volume of cool air is warmed, the RH will go down.  Science.

Circled in red is the temperature and RH meter in the Robinson House attic storage area
Circled in red is the temperature and RH meter in the Robinson House attic storage area

What could happen if there is incorrect temperature or humidity?  CCI outlines three broad categories: biological damage (mould growth); chemical damage (including hydrolysis and oxidation); and, mechanical damage (objects naturally expand or contract depending on warm or cool temperatures – this could spell disaster for large objects with many components, like CCI’s example of a chest of drawers or paintings).  By regulating the museum environment and closely monitoring the temperature and relative humidity in our buildings, we are doing our best to deter potential damage to our precious artifacts.

Having A/C is also a nice draw for tours: take a break from the heat and discover more about Oshawa’s past.  The Oshawa Museum: We’re a cool place to visit! (See what I did there?)

Student Museum Musings – Do You Want to be a Victorian?

By Caitlan, Summer Student

When I first started here this summer Jill asked if I could create a video based on the song from the Disney movie Frozen, Do you want to build a snowman? How could I say no to that request! Of course some of the words had to be changed around a bit to fit the museum better and what we do but I couldn’t resist. This was the start of Do you want to be a Victorian?

Caitlan becoming a Victorian
Caitlan becoming a Victorian

With the help of Karen, the other summer student, we re-wrote the song and got the help of co-op student Nadia to help us film. We had a lot of fun filming everything, but the only problem that arose came down to singing the song. Nobody wanted to sing the song on their own, so I was able to convince some of the staff here to sing together. By the end there was a total of 6 of us; the summer students Karen, Carey, and Nadia (to convince them I said it was listed under the “other museum-related duties as assigned”), and Melissa and Lisa lent their voices as well.

Become a Victorian at the Oshawa Museum!
Become a Victorian at the Oshawa Museum!

When asked about some of things I do here, I bet having a choir-like practice in a kitchen is one of last things people would think expect me to do. But it’s one of the joys here – to always expect the unexpected! If you would like to head over to our YouTube channel you will be able to watch Do you want to be a Victorian? Or if you would like to see what Victorian life was like, come on down to the Museum!

Check out our latest video on our YouTube Channel:
Do You Want to be Victorian

Student Museum Musings: Museums are AWESOME!

By Karen, Summer Student

Today I am going to tell you why I believe museums are awesome. I wish my answer could simply be, they are because they are, however for those of you I am trying to convince (I know you are out there) I will tell you why museums are not only awesome but they are one of the best institutions to ever be known in our world.


First, museums are a way to allow the next generation and generations beyond that to understand and see how the people before them lived. Take for example the Oshawa Community Museum, our museum allows people of all ages to see how Victorians lived in Oshawa during the Victorian era. We have children’s programs where the children can learn to make candles and butter, activities Victorian children would do on a daily basis.  If museums never existed then today’s children most likely would not understand how candles and butter was made.

Doing laundry, Victorian Style!
Doing laundry, Victorian Style = Awesome.

Secondly, museums are a way to keep history from being forgotten. Although this seems like an obvious reason I needed to include it and explain why this is so important. If no one or nothing collected history and remembered it from years ago, then we would not have a past. Todays’ generation would not know about World War One or World War Two.  How could we learn about events that happened so long ago if no one or nothing collected documents from decades before? Museums collect history and keep it safe for all of us to remember past events, people and objects. This is why museums are awesome.

Thirdly, and this might make me sound a bit bias, I work at the Oshawa Community Museum and I think it’s the best place anyone could work at. The people are great, the atmosphere is fun and every day you learn something new. Not the kind of learning when you are in school and the teacher dictates what you learn and how much homework you will have to complete. NO, I get to learn about history every day and I get to choose how I learn it. So not only do you, the public, learn from museums, I the worker learn from museums too. Museums: the very first institutions of learning!

Victorian costumes in Henry House = Awesome.
Victorian costumes in Henry House = Awesome.

Forth, most museums have tunnels,  secret places and crawl spaces which makes them pretty awesome to play hid and seek in (something I have never done, but kind of wish I could).

Fifth, most museums have sweets and treats to eat. I know the Oshawa Community Museum has lots of treats to eat in our store.

Candy sticks = Awesome.
Candy sticks = Awesome.

Last and maybe the single most important reason why museums are awesome in every way and shape and form is that museums are ever changing yet always staying the same. Museums are your home that you just gave a new renovation to; let me explain in more detail. Your home is always your home even if you paint the walls or add in new furniture or even if you take down a wall. The foundation of your home does not change; the only thing that changes is the framework. Museums get new exhibits all the time, museums are always gaining new history and hosting new events. But the museum foundation of learning and collecting history for the future will always stay. It will always be home.

Simply put, museums are awesome. I hope that by the end of this all of the people out there who I was trying to convince will now understand (and maybe agree with me) that museums are in every way and shape and form awesome.      o1och

Grandpa Henry’s Picnic

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

At the Oshawa Museum, we put a great amount of time, energy, thought, and enthusiasm into our events and event planning.  Late in the year is when we start putting thought into the events for the following year, and in late 2014, we knew we wanted to shake up our usual events and try new things!  Accessioned: a behind the scenes tour of the Museum, Tea & Talks, Sunday FUNdays, and Grandpa Henry’s Picnic was what we came up with!

Why Grandpa Henry’s Picnic?  After Thomas Henry passed away in 1879, his daughter-in-law Polly-Ann Henry wrote Memoir Of Rev. Thomas Henry Christian Minister, York Pioneer, And Soldier Of 1812.  For Museum staff or those wanting to research the Henry Family, this book is a fantastic resource as it details Thomas’s early life, his experiences both with the War of 1812 and the 1837 Rebellion, his work with the Christian Church, and his private family life.  Polly-Ann also shared this wonderful passage:

Father Henry was very fond of children, and his grandchildren will carry to their graves pleasant memories of “Grandpa’s parties.” These parties were given on the 24th of May, and the grandchildren were all invited. The children also were welcome if they came, but the grandchildren were the honored guests. We shall always remember the long table, surrounded by children, with grandpa at the head dispensing the good cheer provided for the occasion, with a face scarcely less bright and happy than the children around him.

We wanted to host an event for families, much like Thomas Henry would have done 100 years before us.

Thomas typically held this event on May 24, but we decided to host it in the beginning of July.  Historically speaking, when we host events around the May long weekend, Mother Nature tends to rain on our parade; those who attended Acessioned on May 31 can attest to that!  On July 5, the Henry House Gardens will be taken over by games of croquet, ice cream making, and yoke races!  Costumed guides will be in Henry House to provide information on the history of the house and the Henry Family.

We hope you’ll join us for Grandpa Henry’s Picnic! It’s going to be a fun afternoon!

Gpa Henry Picnic Poster

Where the Streets Get Their Names – Ritson Road

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

Earlier in this blog series, we looked at the history of Adelaide Avenue, named after a fairly important woman in Oshawa’s history.  Compared to other roads named for citizens, Adelaide McLaughlin could be considered a fairly ‘modern’ woman, as many roads bear the names of early pioneers.  One such road is Ritson Road.

Ritson Road runs through what was once the farm of John & Mary Ritson.

Detail of the Village of Oshawa, from Ontario County Atlas, 1877 - property of William Ritson is circled
Detail of the Village of Oshawa, from Ontario County Atlas, 1877 – property of William Ritson is circled

Mary Catherine Stone was born on September 18, 1803, the eldest daughter of Benjamin Stone and Catherine Kendall. They lived in Massachusetts, but moved to Canada shortly after their marriage in 1802. They settled in the township of Ascott, in what is now Quebec, which is where Mary was born. Benjamin purchased a large farm, but a cold season destroyed his crops. In 1807, he and his family came to East Whitby, what is now the eastern part of Oshawa. He bought 400 acres of land, and eventually built a school house.

Mary (Stone) Ritson, from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection
Mary (Stone) Ritson, from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection

The first teacher at the school was John Ritson. He was born in Allendale, Northumberland, England, in March of 1790. He arrived in Oshawa in 1820, from Ottawa, where he had been refused payment for work he had done. He refused to accept land in lieu of cash, but eventually accepted a horse, wagon, harness, and one hundred dollars. He was travelling when his wagon broke down at Benjamin Stone’s, on Kingston Road. He decided to stay in Oshawa when he heard of the need for teachers, and so became Oshawa’s first school teacher.

John Ritson, from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection
John Ritson, from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection

John married Mary Stone on December 29, 1822. John purchased land in Concession One, where present day Ritson Road is located. John and Mary had seven children, six daughters and one son.

Those familiar with Oshawa streets may be looking at Mary’s maiden name and wondering if she has any connection to Stone Street, found by the Lake in South Oshawa. Mary is the daughter of an early settler, Benjamin Store, who appeared to settle on Lots 7 & 8, Concession 2; Benjamin’s only son Marshall moved back to the United States. The land around current Stone Street was owned and farmed by William R. Stone, and there does not appear to be a relation between these Stone families.

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