Where the Streets Get Their Name – Henry Street

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

Do you remember Henry Street in Oshawa? Several years ago, this small street ran between the lots 6 and 7, between Henry House and Guy House in Lakeview Park.  It was a north-south street, connecting Simcoe Street to Lakeview Park Avenue.  It was removed in the 1990s, creating room for accessible pathways and a pedestrian friendly area in Lakeview Park.

Map of the City of Oshawa, c. 1985 - Henry Street has been circled in red.
Map of the City of Oshawa, c. 1985 – Henry Street has been circled in red.

Like many other streets, Henry Street’s name also came from an early settler, and it ran through what was the farm of Elder Thomas Henry.  His family home still stands today as one of the buildings of the Oshawa Community Museum.

A973.13.1 - Elder Thomas Henry
A973.13.1 – Elder Thomas Henry

There is a wealth of knowledge available about the life of Thomas Henry.  After he died, his daughter-in-law, Polly Ann Henry, wrote Memoir of Rev. Thomas Henry: Christian Minister, York Pioneer, and Soldier of 1812, a comprehensive, and admittedly biased, narrative about his life and times.  As well, the families of our Museum buildings, the Henrys, Robinsons, and Guys, are one of our collecting focuses, and in 2013 an unbelievable donation came to the archives. Now known as the Thomas Henry Correspondence Collection, this donation contained family letters, correspondence in regards to the Christian Church, receipts, and other invaluable documents which provide us with great insight into this man’s private and professional life.

In a nutshell, Thomas Henry was born in 1798 in County Cavan, Ireland.  He came to Canada in 1811.  Shortly after the family’s arrival, Canada was at war, and Thomas worked during the War of 1812 as an attendant to a judge, and he also served some military duty before the conflict ended.  In 1830, Thomas purchased 130 acres of land in Lot 7, Broken Front Concession, East Whitby Township, and sometime between 1830 and 1851, he constructed a stone house, which would later become known as Henry House.

Henry House exterior
Henry House exterior

Thomas was married twice, first to Elizabeth Davies, with whom he had one daughter (Nancy, who died in infancy), and five sons.  After the death of Elizabeth, Thomas met and married Lurenda Abbey, and together they had six sons and four daughters.  His family of 15 surviving children always seems to impress guests on tour!

Thomas Henry's headstone in the Port Oshawa Pioneer Cemetery
Thomas Henry’s headstone in the Port Oshawa Pioneer Cemetery

After an illness, Thomas Henry died in 1879 at the age of 81.  It was noted in the local media that more than 85 carriages followed Thomas to his final resting spot in the Port Oshawa Pioneer Cemetery.

To learn more about the life of Thomas Henry, I invite you to visit the Oshawa Community Museum and take a tour through his home!

The removal of Henry Street in the 1990s.
The removal of Henry Street in the 1990s.

Before Henry Street was removed, Laura Suchan, Executive Director of the Oshawa Community Museum, remembers having to stop traffic along Henry Street when large artifacts were being moved between Henry House and Guy House.  The street sign for Henry Street is now a part of the Oshawa Museum collection.

Henry Street sign, now part of the Oshawa Museum collection
Henry Street sign, now part of the Oshawa Museum collection

Doors Open Oshawa: Behind the Scenes of Henry House

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

I love the Doors Open weekend.  It is a great program that gives people in their community, or those visiting town, to visit buildings that might not otherwise be open, or it may give them a fresh perspective on a familiar site.  A number of years back, I visited Doors Open Toronto and visited a number of churches, museums, and archives in Toronto’s downtown core, and it was wonderful to see the history amongst the tall office buildings.  This year, I am able to be a visitor for Doors Open Oshawa; in years past, I’ve always greeted visitors at the Oshawa Community Museum, playing a different role for the event.  I cannot wait to visit these heritage sites in the community that I love.

Historic Henry House, open from 12-4 as part of Doors Open Oshawa
Historic Henry House, open from 12-4 as part of Doors Open Oshawa

At the Oshawa Community Museum, we are opening up the doors to Henry House, the oldest building of our Museum complex.  It is estimated that Rev. Thomas Henry has his stone house built c. 1840.  He lived in the home with his second wife, Lurenda, and there was typically 8 or 9 of his 15 children living in the home with them.  The second storey, a wooden addition, was added sometime after 1861.  We know this because Census records from 1852 and 1861 record a single storey brick home being owned by Thomas Henry, and Henry House today is very distinctly two storeys high.

The door that leads to the second storey of Henry House.  The needlepoint to the right of the door was created by a Henry family member.
The door that leads to the second storey of Henry House. The needlepoint to the right of the door was created by a Henry family member.

Often on tours, Visitor Hosts are asked what lies behind the door in the hallway, and the answer is storage.  If you ever visit a historic house museum and you see a closed door, chances are very strong that there are items being carefully stored behind them.  This is very true with Henry House.  Behind the door is a set of stairs which leads to the second floor storage areas.  There are three rooms: two of them are used for storing our textile collection, including clothing, hats, shoes, and quilts, while the third room is used as a digitization studio, used for photographing artifacts in the collection.

The upper level digitization studio in Henry House.
The upper level digitization studio in Henry House.

If you visit Henry House for Doors Open Oshawa, you will have the opportunity to learn about the family from costumed guides, tour through a Victorian home, one of the oldest in the City, and you will have the chance to view letters from the recently acquired Thomas Henry Correspondence Collection, a fascinating collection of papers and letters written by or written to Thomas Henry by family or associates in the community.  We will also have our tablet in Henry House and guests can view our Behind the Scenes of Henry House video.  Can’t make it to Doors Open Oshawa? View the video here: Behind the Scenes of Henry House 

Henry House is open for Doors Open Oshawa for FREE, Saturday, September 27, 2014 from 12-4PM.

More Musings from an Intern

By Clare Kennedy, MMC Intern

While reading letters written by the family and friends of Thomas Henry, I have frequently come across discussions of death. This preoccupation with death is not surprising, given the fact that many of Thomas’ family and friends were devoted Christians. Therefore, they would have been concerned with living good lives and being prepared for death so that they could go to heaven. Also, mortality rates were higher in Thomas’ day, and people usually died in their homes, not a hospital.

George Henry, from the Oshawa Community Archives
George Henry, from the Oshawa Community Archives

I have found the most interesting discussions of death in the letters from Thomas’ sons. For instance, one son George uses metaphors to talk about death. The following is an excerpt of a letter from George to his mother Lurenda. It was written shortly after Thomas died. George writes:

We are all upon the great train…[moving] rapidly on to the great Depot of death stepping off one by one. We follow our loved ones so far and no further, when we give one long anxious lingering look but we see them no more, there is no return train or passenger to report.

George’s comments reveal an anxiety about death. He sees life as a journey moving too quickly towards an inevitable end. He is also unnerved by the fact that no one really knows what life after death is like.

Thomas’ son Ebenezer writes about death very differently. For him, death sometimes seems to be the solution to his problems. He believes that life after death will lead to better relationships with his family. For instance, he writes to his father, “Believe me to be your Prodigal Son till we meet on the other shore then all misunderstandings will be…[righted] and I shall be properly understood.” In the same letter, he mentions that death will allow him to be reunited with his mother and her love. This last statement sums up Ebenezer’s feelings on the subject: “I would love to exchange this cold hearted world for the flowers that are waiting for us to gather in those bright fields that we have never trod.

A013.4.1 - Funeral notice for Lurenda Henry, from the Thomas Henry Correspondence Collection
A013.4.1 – Funeral notice for Lurenda Henry, from the Thomas Henry Correspondence Collection

There is one more mention of death in the letters that I find particularly interesting. This occurs in a letter from Thomas’ son Albert to Lurenda. What strikes me is Albert’s very frank discussion with his mother about her impending death.  While on a trip to London, he writes, “If I don’t find you in your accustomed place when I return, I shall be very sorry that I came away.” He then goes on to say, “I certainly hope to be with you when you close your eyes for the last time. This as you well know cannot be far away.” I am sure that Albert had good intentions when he wrote this last sentence, but I find it slightly disturbing that he is reminding his mother that she is going to die soon.

Thomas’ sons discuss death very differently. Probably most of us do not share Ebenezer’s desire to move on from this life. More likely, the vast majority of us are like George, still struggling with the mystery of our fate.

My Favourite Artifact: Lurenda Henry Portrait

By Jennifer Pandelidis, Visitor Experience Co-ordinator

When I asked to pick my favourite artifact, I was a bit stumped on what to write about. So I thought back to my first days here at the Museum and what stood out to me was the picture of Lurenda sitting on the wall in the Study of Henry House.

70-L-140 - Lurenda Henry
70-L-140 – Lurenda Henry

When I came to Museum for my first training session, Jill (Visitor Experience Coordinator, currently on Maternity Leave) took all us new guides on a tour. The image of Lurenda, for obvious reasons, stayed in my mind and when I went home that night closed my eyes to go to sleep, of course, this is the image that stayed with me.

After too many tours to count and much time spent in Henry House I have come to realize that I am no longer frightened of this image, but instead kind of like it.

Henry House Study
Henry House Study

The first reason why I chose this artifact is that every person you take on tour has a reaction of this image. It’s unique in that it is almost always a piece for conversation. Many people comment on her expression and appearance rather harshly or negatively, and I now find myself defending her and defending her appearance. I tell people “she was actually considered very a nice person” or “photography methods were quite different, people didn’t smile.”

This brings me to my second point, which is the whole picture side of it all. For myself and my generation, our lives are shared and capture through photos. On my Facebook alone I have 270+ pictures of myself and this doesn’t account for the dozens of baby photos, toddler, birthday party, pre-teen, graduation, prom and school prints that are stashed away somewhere in my parents closet. The hundreds of photos that have been taken of me over my twenty something years on earth, I think help to paint to a small picture of what kind of life I have had, who my friends are, what my hobbies are and so on. I also get a lot of choice in what images are out there of me. I can’t tell you the amount of times I have untagged myself from an unflattering photo that appeared on Facebook. Then I think back to Lurenda’s time, where one photo could take upwards to 30 minutes capture, where you had stand in the same position, holding a pose for that length of time. Sometimes you wonder, would the photographer have always captured your best angle? And of course a selfie was not yet a thing… I also think of the 5 or so images of Lurenda that exist that we look at and try to piece together elements of life from. Of course, I have had a few questionable haircuts in my lifetime and have selected numerous outfits that I would later go on to regret and I can’t help to think what if just one of those photos was framed and put on the wall and in 100 or so years visitors came and looked at that image. What kind of reaction would they have?

For myself I think this artifact is ultimately my favourite because it is a perfect example of not judging a book by its cover, which is very important in this field!

Ambrotype of Lurenda Henry
Ambrotype of Lurenda Henry

What we do know about Lurenda is that she had a good relationship with her step children and that she was kind hearted. We also know that later in life Lurenda struggled with mobility issues. Correspondence that has been collected has also helped to better understand what kind of lady she really was.

If you haven’t already come to visit Henry House and seen Lurenda’s picture I recommend it!

Around Henry House – Our Paintings in the Study

By Lisa Terech: Youth Engagement/Programs and Digitization Assistant

Throughout the summer, I have been slowly, but surely, working my way through Henry House, photographing and cataloging the artifacts on display in this heritage house.  The room being exhibited as Thomas Henry’s study was my second last room to complete, with some of my favourite artifacts on display; it is great to catalogue artifacts that you love and have great interest in.

Room furnished as a Victorian Study. Green walls, window behind a table. There is a bookcase/bureau in the left corner and a stovepipe
The Henry House Study

Hanging on the walls are three pieces of artwork: portraits of Thomas Henry, Lurenda Henry, and Buena Vista.

Framed painting of a man, wearing a white dress shirt and black waist coat and over
A973.13.1 – Elder Thomas Henry

Thomas and Lurenda are on opposite walls, or, as I’ll joke on tour, staring into each other’s eyes!  I love the portrait of Thomas.  He looks so stately, dignified, and, dare I say, handsome!  The portrait of Lurenda always receives strong reactions from visitors on tour.  She looks to be a very formidable woman from the image.  It was painted in Toronto by HC Meyers, and it appears to have been created based on a photograph.  When our visitors react to Lurenda, I am always careful to remind them that, firstly, it is based from a photograph, and early photograph techniques made smiling rather labour intensive.  I also remind them that Lurenda was rather sick, especially as she was older, and, last but not least, this woman was step-mother to 5 boys, who had 6 boys and 4 girls of her own!  If you had 15 children, you would look formidable as well!

framed painting of a woman, dressed in black and wearing a frilled bonnet/hat
70-L-140 – Lurenda Henry

I removed the portrait of Lurenda from the wall to photograph it, and when I did, I was able to get a closer look at this image that I have seen almost daily for 3 years.  I couldn’t help but notice how striking her eyes are.  Maybe it’s the work of a skilled artist, but you cannot deny there is wisdom and warmth behind those eyes.

A framed painting of a grand two storey house. There is a white fence with an open gate in front of the house.
Buena Vista, the Conant Homestead, by ES Shrapnel

The final painting we have hanging on the wall is of Buena Vista, the homestead to the Conant family.  The home was built c. 1873 by Thomas Conant, best known as the author of Life in Canada and Upper Canada Sketches, detailing the history of his family and a history of the Oshawa area.  The home was located at 1050 Simcoe Street South, the southwest corner of Wentworth and Simcoe Streets.  Premier Gordon Conant was born in this home in 1885, and Thomas Conant housed over 6,000 books in his personal library.  The house, however, was demolished in 1985 to make way for a housing complex.  The complex today is known as Conant Place.

The painting was completed by ES Shrapnel in 1899, the same artists who illustrated Thomas Conant’s Upper Canada Sketches.  Shrapnel (1845 – 1920) was born in England, and eventually settled in Canada, teaching at the Ontario Ladies’ College (Trafalgar Castle) before moving to British Columbia in the late 1880s.   While the painting is, admittedly, outside of the interpretation period of Henry House (set in the 1860s/1870s), the image is one way of honouring another prestigious home, vestiges of Oshawa’s days gone by.

Information from the Oshawa Community Archives, and information on Shrapnel from http://www.shrapnell.org.uk and http://www.askart.com

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