Student Museum Musings – In My Own Backyard?

By Dylan C., Museum Management & Curatorship Intern

Being a resident of Whitby for the better part of 24 years, I have been encouraged through sport to view Oshawa as my rival, which has led to a rather lackluster attempt to learn what Oshawa has to offer. It wasn’t until recently, that life led me to discover the Oshawa Museum for my internship as part of Fleming College’s Museum Management and Curatorship program (MMC).

After only a couple weeks on site, I have gained a considerable amount of knowledge about Oshawa by exploring the waterfront trail and by learning the history of the harbour and the surrounding structures.

Although I have ventured into Oshawa via the waterfront trail from Whitby, or from riding near Oshawa Ice Sports after hockey, I never knew how extensive the trails were in Oshawa and how they bleed out into the city streets creating a somewhat hidden bike transit system. These trails are so extensive that Oshawa and the Durham region offer Cycle Tours. The Waterfront trail extends all the way to Toronto and easily connects to GO station stops. This network can provide residents of Oshawa with a greener alternative to their daily transit, at least in the warmer months of the year.

Both photos taken at Emma Street looking north to King, 1992 and 2016. The rail line is now the Michael Starr Trail

The museum has provided me with a platform to learn and explore Oshawa, but it also taught me how to explore. Without the direction from the museum I would not have known where to start my discovery of the city.

My Experience to Date

So far, the museum has been able to provide me with a wide range of experiences from photographing and cataloguing an archaeological collection, to providing supplementary research for an education program.  I have also been able to help install a Smith Potteries exhibit in Robinson House.

Smith Potteries Collection; Picture from Dylan C.

The archaeological dig was completed by Trent University Durham students in 2015 and uncovered 19th century waste pits surrounding Henry House. Cataloguing this archaeological collection has given me the opportunity to apply some of the skills I learned in the MMC program such as proper care and handling of artefacts, photographing, and detailed documentation practices. It has also provided me with insight into the life of the early inhabitants of the area by literally examining what was buried in their backyards. I’ve learned what animals they farmed and what items they had in their homes including ceramics, glass, nails and buttons. Handling these objects makes it easier to connect with the residents of the past because I am essentially documenting their garbage. The past owners did not bury these objects hoping that someone would dig them up 165 years later; they did it to simply discard their waste. For some reason this humanizes them more for me than even walking in their perfectly preserved homes. Perhaps, you can tell a lot about a person from their trash after all.

Cataloguing Station; Picture from Dylan C.

In the upcoming weeks I will be familiarizing myself with the museum’s database as I enter the information from the archaeological collection. I will also be working on a research project that explores the topic of audio transcriptions and engaging at-home volunteers. And lastly, I will be continuing my tour guide training as the museum adapts to the current COVID-19 regulations.

Final Musings from an Intern

By Clare Kennedy, MMC Intern

It’s hard to believe it, but my time as an intern at the OCM has come to a close. The past four months have flown by, and I feel that I have gained valuable experience here that I will take with me as I continue my journey into the heritage field.

One of the projects that I have enjoyed during my time at the museum has been reading and analyzing letters from the late nineteenth century that were sent to Thomas Henry. Through the letters, I have had the privilege of encountering history in a more personal way than many people. These letters revealed complex family relationships and attitudes that have piqued my curiosity, and I hope that someone finds more documents associated with the Henry family, so I can learn more about their joys and struggles. This project has been rewarding for me because my research will help with the writing of an upcoming publication by the museum.

A013.4.12 - Envelope addressed to Rev. Thomas Henry, dated 1869
A013.4.12 – Envelope addressed to Rev. Thomas Henry, dated 1869

Working at the Oshawa site this summer has provided me with a number of other exciting learning opportunities. One valuable experience was attending the Archives Association of Ontario conference, which was held locally. This allowed me to discover more about the relevance of archival work, the different struggles that archivists face, and strategies they use to deal with these challenges. I also attended outreach activities, including a couple of workshops for the upcoming Reflections of Oshawa exhibit, and the local Swing into Summer event. These events were useful because I got to see how museums build relationships with community groups, as well as how museums promote themselves as public events. Another opportunity I have had is developing collections management experience, which sounds a bit boring, but is something that I have come to find very rewarding.

Programming is not a particular area of interest for me (I tend to enjoy curatorial and archival work more), but I still was able to get a taste of this important facet of museum work. By watching an educational program in action, I have learned some strategies that the programming staff use to engage children. I have even given a few tours of the museum, and rediscovered my interpretation skills, which have been lying dormant since my high school volunteering days at Lang Pioneer Village.

Thank you Clare for all of your hard work this summer! We've loved getting to know you, and all the best for the future!
Thank you Clare for all of your hard work this summer! We’ve loved getting to know you, and all the best for the future!

Overall, I have to say that my time at the OCM has given me a truly well-rounded experience in museum work. In the end, I am glad that I chose a small site, because of the flexibility that it offered and the chance it gave me to interact with all of the wonderful staff at this museum. I will count myself very lucky to find another museum team that is as supportive as the OCM staff. Goodbye for now– it’s been a pleasure!