Memories Revived by Museum Opening

Originally printed 24 May 1960

Nostalgic memories and pioneer history intermingled at the opening of the Oshawa & District Historical Society’s Henry House Museum last Saturday.

As the years rolled back in the peaceful aura of the Henry House, persons were heard to comment: “Why we had one of those in our home when I was young,” or, “that baby carriage, my mother wheeled me in one just like it, she said it handled beautifully.”

The pioneer days of which Henry House is representative, do not seem so long ago.


Starr Cuts Ribbon

Labor Minister Michael Starr cut the ribbon that officially opened the Henry House museum.  He led the group of special guests who were the first to enter the museum to sign the register.

Among the official party who spoke prior to the opening of the museum were Mayor Lyman A. Gifford and TD Thomas, MPP.

Hon Brian Cathcart (sic), minister of travel and publicity for Ontario, gave a brief address prior to the opening.

He expressed the appreciation of Premier Frost and of the Ontario Provincial Government for the very great effort put forth by Mrs. Conant in the establishment of the museum.

Verna Conant shaking hands with the Rt Hon Michael Starr as Hon Bryan Cathcart stands to the side, 21 May 1960

Museums Increasing

The minister at the Ontario government is encouraging the establishment of local museums in the province. More than 100 museums are already in existence.  A half dozen were opened last year and 25 or 30 will be opened this year.

He praised his staff member James Gooding, whom he said was very helpful, and who has provided much of the liaison work for the establishment of this museum.

The speaker stressed the importance of those present in impressing upon others the value of making contributions of their time and effort to help build a better province and a better Canada.

The first exhibit at the Henry House Museum

To Change Displays

Articles on display in the museum will be changed periodically.  At present on display is a parlor, set up in the manner of the early residents of the district. Many of the articles in this room are heirlooms lent to the museum by the descendants of the Henrys.

Another room displays some of the implements used on the early farms in the community. Antique uniforms, weapons, books, and pictures are also on display.

The children who were on hand at the opening day, and also on Monday, seemed to thoroughly enjoy this step into the past.

Reflecting on 30 Years

By Laura Suchan, Executive Director

In February, I celebrated 30 years of working with the Oshawa Historical Society.  I like to use the word celebrating because I have enjoyed my years of service to the OHS.  I’ve had the pleasure of working with incredible staff, volunteers, board members and friends of history throughout the years. Things have changed in the last 30 years, and I am proud to have a small  part in making the Oshawa Museum the dynamic place it is today.

Recently I was thinking about my first few days working at the museum.  Jerry Conlin (now the Director of Municipal Law Enforcement and Licensing Services at the City of Oshawa) was the Director of the Museum, and I was hired as a Curatorial Assistant to look after the artefacts and help with exhibits.  In February 1989, Henry House was under renovation to correct some structural deficiencies. The house had been closed since November 1987 and staff and volunteers were looking forward to its re-opening on July 1, 1989.  All of the artefacts had been removed and the entire house seemed  to be full of dust, construction personnel and tools. During my first week of work, Jerry gave me a tour of Henry House so I could at least help in the preparations for re-staging the exhibits. I remember standing in in the front room (now the study)  listening to Jerry explain the work to me when suddenly part of the floor gave way, and I was up to my knees in floor boards. Not exactly the start to my career that I had envisioned!

The construction at Henry House continued for my first few months of work, and things soon became hectic as the July 1 deadline for the re-opening of Henry House loomed.  Once the construction finished, staff had to add the finishing touches, such as paint and flooring as well as re-establish the exhibits in the house.  This involved moving artefacts across Henry Street which at the time dissected the museum site.  I can remember staff moving Thomas Henry’s portrait across the street dodging the cars coming into the park on a busy summer day.  Those weeks leading up to the official unveiling were busy ones, but I’m happy to say we made the deadline, and Henry House opened in front of an enthusiastic crowd on Canada Day.  This date also marked the designation of Henry House, Robinson House and Guy House as historic sites under the Ontario Heritage Act, the first buildings in Oshawa to be designated as such.

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Although I started at the museum in the middle of the Henry House project, I can remember my sense of pride in being part of this project. Henry House looked great and was once again able to be open for public tours.  Talking with many enthusiastic visitors that day, I was able to get a sense of just how important a landmark is Henry House for the people of Oshawa.

Dressing for Display

By Melissa Cole, Curator

Mounting a historic dress can be challenging, even for the experienced dress curators and conservators.  Inappropriate handling is one of the main causes of damage to museum objects.  Handling should be kept to a minimum; the risk of damage occurring can be reduced by good preparation before, during, and after the historic dress has been mounted.

The condition and structure of the historic dress should be carefully analyzed to determine if it has any structural weaknesses, previous damage, or fragile surfaces.  The condition of the dress will inform how to safely display the piece, or even if it can be displayed at all.  Ensure to consider its stability against environmental conditions and mounts while on exhibit.

A properly dressed mannequin is important for both the visitor experience at a museum and the artefact/garment itself.   The correct style of mount should be chosen, whether it is two dimensional or three dimensional.  For our display at the Oshawa Museum, we have chosen three dimensional mounts using mannequins in various shapes and sizes to create the correct silhouette.  It is important to remember when working with mannequins and dressing historic garments that it is not the same as dressing a store mannequin.  At a store, the mannequin is automatically the correct silhouette and the garment is new and can withstand the stress and handling.

When mounting historic garments, a mannequin should be chosen that is significantly smaller than the garment.  First, carefully measure the garment and ensure to take the time to measure properly.  Measure the entire bodice of a garment, not just straight across the chest.  Carefully measure all the way across the inside of the garment, following the curve of any space created for the bust.

PicMonkey Collage
Areas to measure on the mannequin and the historic dress.  The second photo indicates the measurement of the entire bodice, not just straight across.


Once the proper mannequin has been selected, it is time to start building out the mannequin so the historic dress is well supported throughout.  Supplies to build out mannequins include white cotton sheet, pantyhose, quilt batting, cotton twill tape, flexible fabric measuring tape, scissors, and straight pins.  A well-dressed mannequin should go unnoticed by visitors.  This means the visitor will focus on the historic dress itself and not on how it is displayed.  A poorly mounted mannequin can distract the visitor from focusing on the garment and its story.

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When simply placed on a mannequin, this 1860s dress is neither supported nor provides a true representation of its silhouette.


The final stage is to ensure the proper silhouette is created.  This primarily comes into consideration with women’s and children’s clothing during certain periods.   Through the addition of appropriate under structure, the garment will be fully supported.  This is completed through the use of petticoats (antique or reproduction) from different time periods, for example, small pillows for bustles, and fabric tulle or netting can be used to create a 1950s crinoline or a 1830s full skirt.

By using petticoats to fill out the skirt and acid free tissue paper to stuff the sleeves, the garment presents a truer illustration of 1860s fashion.


Be sure to watch our social media channels for a glimpse behind the scenes in the upcoming weeks as we prepare for our upcoming exhibition, The Vintage Catwalk!

Image for OMA site

Thanks for Visiting!

By Jill Passmore, Visitor Experience Co-ordinator

It has taken just over four years, but we have filled up another guest book. I always like to look through them afterwards. Unbelievably, some of those names do bring back memories, even if they were from a long time ago!

I did a breakdown of where people came from and thought I’d share.

Ontario Canada United States International
Whitby Vancouver Island Florida Philippines
Bowmanville Salmon Arm, B.C. Brooklyn, NY Australia
Dorchester Sunshine Coast, B.C. Johns Creek, GA England
Sarnia New Brunswick Duluth, MN Holland
Pickering Lacombe, AB New Jersey India
Toronto Lac Tremblant, QB Barbados
St. Mary’s Moose Jaw, SK St. Petersburg, Russia
Stratford Surrey, B.C. Czech Republic
Scarborough Rosthern, SK
Kirkland Lake Beaumont, AB
Ajax Nanaimo, B.C.

Here are a few of my favourite comments too:

August 5, 2015: David A. M. Such a wonderful place. And well cared for! [I am a] triple-great grandson of [Thomas] Henry.

September 9, 2015: Carol S. Well-maintained, a historic-treasure!

December 5, 2015: Madison & Debbie. When can we move in?

May 24, 2016: Richard & Christine D. Great to see my Great-Great Uncle’s home!

June 24, 2016: Tannis H. Lac Tremblant Nord, Que. Descendant of Phineas Henry.

July 8, 2016: Maryam N. (Grove School Teacher) Thank you for educating our new generation!

August 1, 2016: Arika A. The 1800s were lit!

August 2, 2016: Annabella. My favourite part was digging!

October 1, 2016: Ted H. Descendant of Thomas Henry. Oshawa-born.

December 3, 2016: Jennifer French, MPP. Merriest of Christmases!

January 4, 2017: Madelynn M. (Child). Thanks I really apersheate (sic) it.

March 13, 2017: Hope (Child). It was vary fansee (sic).

March 15, 2017: Kylie (Child). Best place ever!

May 22, 2017: Brianne (Child). I like this place a lot! You always learn something new!

July 26, 2017: Darien, Julian, Owen & Aaron (Children). That was so cool! But it’s more like the kids took care of the parents! Totally epic!

September 3, 2017: Maywea & Valtheepar. We [are] just starting our family life in Oshawa & love to learn about the city. Thank you everyone who [is] working towards this great work. We feel the cheer in the air.

September 17, 2017: Donahue Family. Wonderful tour. So great to have Oshawa’s history easily accessible.

September 28, 2017: Dennis & Betty P. Great, Great, Great, Grandson of T[homas] Henry.

September 23, 2018: Cindy A. Wonderful tour & learning about our family background! (Descendant of Jennie Henry McGill)

December 19, 2018: Roberta W. Very fulfilling & grounding.

Photo credit: Derek Cutting, 2018.

Part of our mission is to disseminate knowledge about Oshawa’s past to the community. We do that without hesitation, but what people don’t realize is that they also teach us about our Museum family history, about what kind of programs we offer, and about how our past compares to that of their family’s experience – whether they were raised locally or far away, just through them sharing their own memories and experiences. The next time you come for a tour, be sure to sign the guest book!

Student Museum Musings – All About the Grandpa Henry’s Picnic

By Lauren R., Summer Museum Assistant

The Grandpa Henry Picnic has become one of the most anticipated events of the Oshawa Museums year, next to our annual Lamplight event, that is. Grandpa Henry’s Picnic is a tradition that was adopted by the Museum from the Henry family.


The Henry family were some of the first European inhabitants of Oshawa and lived in what the Museum now calls “Henry House,” for obvious reasons. Thomas Henry and his first wife, Elizabeth Davis, married in 1817. During the time that they were married they had 6 children, 5 of which survived into adulthood. Despite the happiness that was growing in the family there was despair looming around the corner. Elizabeth contracted tuberculosis and due to the illness, she passed away in 1829. Devastated, Thomas was left with 5 young boys to raise and no wife to help him with the task. With this in mind he set about continuing his work as usual while also hoping to find a new wife to share his life with. He succeeded and in November 1830 he married Lurenda Abbey. Together, he and Lurenda had another 10 children, bringing the number of young members in the family to 15! It wasn’t too long before Lurenda and Thomas were welcoming even littler ones into the family  and the number of grandchildren grew large and fast.

Though Thomas Henry loved his family and his children deeply it was the grandchildren that truly held a special place in Thomas’ heart. Each year Thomas Henry, or Grandpa Henry in this case, would hold a huge celebration in the back garden of his house for his grandchildren; there were games, good meals and lots of laughter exchanged between those who came to the event. In the Annotated Memories of Rev. Thomas Henry there is a portion of a letter which talks of the picnics that Thomas held for his grandchildren,

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 were also 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, was a face scarcely less bright and happy than the children around him.

During his lifetime Thomas Henry was able to meet 49 of his grandchildren, and at the ripe old age of 81 he was able to go to his rest peacefully. In total there were 58 grandchildren born to Thomas Henry. The Museum still receives stories and information from the Henry family about different events in their history that provide an important bridge to the past.

Henry Family Reunion, 1930 (A017.20.20)

Despite this event being a very important one to the Henry family there is surprisingly little information about it in personal writings or other documents. This makes it hard for those of us who work at the Museum to truly understand what the picnics were like and to give more detailed illustrations of how life and family was for the Henrys in this aspect of their lives.

Today the Museum continues to put on an event annually known as “Grandpa Henry’s Picnic.” This event is meant to keep the Henry tradition alive and to provide families with the chance to come down to the Museum to have a fun-filled day. This event took place this past weekend, for the 4th year in a row, and we are pleased to say that we engaged 201 members of our community! The event involved many fun and engaging activities such as games, live music, coloring sheets, the opportunity to dress-up as a Victorian, and a table with honey bees. In addition to this there was also food available such as traditional handmade ice cream and popcorn. The event was a great success and we hope to be able to meet more of our community next year.