Reflections on “Ask a Curator Day”

By Melissa Cole, Curator

You might be asking, what exactly is “Ask a Curator” day?  It started a decade ago with the intention of giving the public access to experts who work in museums, galleries, and heritage sites through the use of social media.  Initially the event started on Twitter; since then it has extended to Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, and more.

From the first year this online event started, it has proven to be popular, attracting cultural, heritage, and science institutions from across the world! 

Here are a few questions that were asked and my responses!  If you wish to view the Facebook Live event you can view it on the Oshawa Museum’s Facebook Page.

What COVID-19 artefact do you think will fascinate people 100 years from now? And why?

The inspiring move when local breweries stopped beer production and turned over to making hand sanitizer to help fight COVID-19.  Initially, All or Nothing Brewhouse in Oshawa started producing exclusively for local hospitals, front-line emergency workers, and major utility companies.  A can of All or Nothing Brewhouse’s Hand Sanitizer was the first COVID-19 related object to be acquired for the Oshawa Museum’s collection.

What’s the weirdest thing in your collection?

I can’t focus on just one artefact in particular, but rather a collection of artefacts.  I have two collections which many may find weird, but they are also fascinating!  Our Farewell Cemetery Collection which contains coffin jewellery, the decorative hardware used on coffins. 

The other collection is our extensive medical collection, which was used a few different doctors in the Oshawa community prior to the opening of the hospital; when surgeries took place in the home, a kitchen table would have made a great make-shift operating table.  Many of the instruments resemble the tools that are still used today but there are a few which have thankfully…changed with the times. 

Do you have a particular Henry Family member that you like best?

The youngest child of Thomas and Lurenda is Jennie (Lorinda Jane) Henry.  I have been fortunate to meet her granddaughter, who spent time in Jennie Henry’s home when she resided on Agnes Street (I said Elgin Street during our Facebook live).  She shared stories with me about the home and has donated various items related to Jennie and her husband, John Luke McGill. 

Have you ever broken an artefact?

Yes I have, and of course it was an artefact that once belonged to Thomas Henry, of Henry House.  I broke his tea cup accidently because it had been left in a hutch that was being moved.  Many of the large furniture pieces in Henry House are used to store smaller items such as china cups and saucers, other chinaware, stoneware, vases, glassware, and many other artefacts related to the household.  Fortunately, I was able to repair the china cup because of my collection care training that was provided the Museum Management and Curatorship program offered through Fleming College.     


What is your favourite tool?

I have three tools….beside my computer that assist me greatly with my work on exhibitions and with collections.  My squeegee tool, measuring tape (make sure to measure three times), and 3M Command Strips that have saved so many wall repairs.  The walls of Robinson House thank us each time we use them because the walls in this house are made from lath and plaster.   

It’s All Fun and Games

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

A number of years back, a popular board games manufacturer encouraged families to have ‘Family Game Night,’ and their commercials showed people around a table, playing games, rolling dice and having fun. Clearly they weren’t basing it on Monopoly nights at my family’s home; savage would be the best way to describe those experiences, but looked back on fondly.  When we’re all back at home, or if we’re visiting each other, games of different varieties often get brought out: Scrabble, Trivial Pursuit, cards, and Munchkins, as introduced by cousins and my brother.

This desire for recreation, and perhaps a streak of competition, is something we’ve sought out for centuries, and evidence of board games can be found as far back as c. 3500 BCE.  While our collection here at the Oshawa Museum may not stretch as far back as that, there is a wide variety of games that have been donated through the years, and here are just a few of my favourites.

On display in the Henry Parlour is a Fox and Geese board, although it’s often confused with Chinese Checkers.  Variations of this game can be traced as far back as the 14th century, and the object of the game is for one player, the fox, to try and ‘eat’ the geese, and the opposing player in turn tries to trap the fox, or reach a destination on the board.  Reportedly, this game was a favourite of Queen Victoria, which would justify its place in a Victorian era parlour.  This game often gets comments from visitors while on tour, either curious as to how the game is played, or making connections, remembering playing something similar.


An interesting example in our collection reflects the desire for recreation and normalcy even in the worst of times.  During World War II, the Canadian YMCA made Pocket Chess and Checker Sets available for military personnel.  The example in our collection is ©1942 by Unique Items Co., New York.  Stored in a portable paper sleeve was a checkered board and cardboard sheets, perforated so the playing pieces could be removed.


The Young Christian Men’s Association, YMCA, is one of “Canada’s longest standing and largest charities, with a presence in Canada since 1851 and now serving more than 2.25 million people annually across 1,700 program locations.”  With values of caring, respect, honesty, responsibility, and inclusiveness, it is understandable this group would become involved during wartime. The YMCA stated:

From 1866 – 1946, YMCA War Services provided support in the form of recreation, religious, educational, and entertainment services to troops serving abroad. YMCA staff were a welcome sight and became known for offering moral support and comfort by delivering hot tea, equipment, biscuits and more to Canadian soldiers.


A simple game like chess or checkers, which could be easily carried, could be a welcome form of entertainment during the hardships of war.

Finally, a donation from 2015 brought a HUGE wave of nostalgia for me with the game Touring: The Great Automobile Card Game!  Touring was originally designed by William Janson Roche,  patented by the Wallie Dorr Company in 1906, and picked up by Parker Brothers in 1925.  It’s interesting to note that this card game was created and became popular at a time when the automobile was in its early stages.


From the rules:
The object of the game is to score 110 miles by completing a set of Mileage cards. To accomplish this, one not only builds up Mileage as quickly as he may, but also adds to the excitement by obstructing his opponents by the play of DELAY cards upon their GO cards.


I cannot think back to summer times at a cottage, camping, or nights spent with family without thinking of Mille Bornes, a card game of French origin from the mid 1950s, based off Touring. The game is a road race, where you try to accumulate 1000 miles;  you need a green light card to add miles, and your opponents can throw you obstacles along the way, like a flat time or running out of gas.  Edmond Dujardin, the Mille Bornes creator, adapted Touring and added the Coup Fourré, a strategic safety card that can make you immune from different driving disasters.

It’s such a simple game, as it only requires the deck of cards, but my goodness the memories that this game can bring back is amazing.  A few years ago, I got the game as a stocking stuffer, and I’m pretty sure we cracked it open before Christmas brunch.

Games are a source of entertainment and have been for centuries. Our collection is reflective of popular trends and societal influences.


Fox and Geese:

YMCA Canada:

Why I Love Museums

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

May 18 is celebrated as International Museum Day.  From the International Council of Museums (ICOM):

The objective of International Museum Day is to raise awareness of the fact that, “Museums are an important means of cultural exchange, enrichment of cultures and development of mutual understanding, cooperation and peace among peoples.”

In honour of this day, I have compiled a list of just of a few of the reasons why I love museums.

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1) Museums celebrate the past, but they also allow for critical examination of it as well.

Last summer, I visited the newly revamped Canadian Museum of History and was truly impressed at how different the Canadian History Hall was to its predecessor.  The story of Canada was still being told, but unlike before, there was a plethora of perspectives being offered. It was clear it was curated in a time of Truth and Reconciliation as the Indigenous perspectives were being woven throughout each section of the exhibit.  The final gallery was of particular interest as it brought in many stories of minorities and their experiences in Canada.

Here at the Oshawa Museum, we are continually examining the traditional story of Oshawa, in particular, how it is NOT always reflective of our complete community.  For example, the wealthy industrialists are remembered, but not often talked about are the workers who worked in the plants and secured the wealth for the owners.  Experiences of minorities haven’t always been collected and shared, and our Archivist is constantly working to ‘Change the Narrative.’

Museums are spaces where narratives should be challenged.

2) Museums are FUN.

Let’s look at the numbers. According to the Ontario Museum Association, every year Ontario’s Museums see 19.4 million visitors, 93.5 million online visits and 38,112 school visits.  With numbers like this, we must be doing something right! How often are your trips planned with museums or cultural visits in mind? How often do you attend events at your local museums because they sound fun (like our Yoga in the Garden, Annual Lamplight Tour, or Scenes from the Cemetery)?

My favourite tour I’ve delivered (and there’s been a lot of them) was over March Break a few years back, and about half way through a young visitor said, “You know, I thought this was going to be boring, but it’s actually really cool!” There was no greater compliment than that.

3) Museums and Community are intrinsically linked.

As I asked above, how often are your trips planned with museums or cultural visits in mind?  Any time I take a trip, I try to visit a local community museum so to better learn about the history of where I’ve visiting. Community museums are just that – about the history of their municipalities. Community can take a much broader meaning as well.  For example, our friends at the Canadian Automotive Museum – their community of car enthusiasts has a national and even international scale! Community isn’t just the geo-political boundaries. Community is so much more, and museums are there to celebrate.

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From my museum travels around Ontario – Outside the Waterloo Region Museum (and failing at a jump pic…), Bytown Museum, Huron County Museum, McMichael Art Gallery, and Gibson House Museum

4) Museums are more than brick and mortar.

When you picture a museum, what comes to mind? A building? A historic house? Museum often brings to mind a place, however, without the collections, what is a museum except an empty building. The collections is what brings a museum to life, the genuine, one-of-a-kind things that each have their own story to tell.  Our photography collection shows how much our community has changed and in what ways it’s stayed the same.  I could easily geek out about our Rebellion Boxes and have to retrain myself when talking about them on tour. Every visitor looks at our 1862 Tackabury Map and can make connections with it, whether it’s finding their home town on the map, marvelling at changes (like visitors from Kitchener, which was then Berlin), or simply laughing about the time table and how completely useless it is in 2018 with standard time.


Aside from the collections, we often find ourselves engaging with the community outside of the Museum.  We love sharing stories from the past on our various walking tours.  We don’t have to be on-site in our houses to talk about our community and its history.

5) Museum people are good people.

Not only is it the collections that make a museum shine, but also the people who work in them.  Again from the OMA, there are over 11,600 museum professionals and over 35,500  volunteers.  Museum people love what they do, they are passionate, knowledgeable, and are more than happy to tell you why working for a museum is one of the coolest jobs a person can have.

Happy International Museum Day!

Celebrating 60: Our Favourite Things

This blog series comes from our dedicated and awesome Visitor Host staff, and topics range from favourite artefacts, thoughts on our latest exhibits, and anything else in between!

Kathryn’s Favourite: Granny Cock PortraitDSCN1537

Harriet, you often catch me of guard when I am in front of you in Guy House in the board room; your piercing eyes are always calling my attention.

Your eyes speak volumes to me; Harriet your story is one of being so brave, and determined. Yet the deeper I consider your eyes you are trying to tell me something different aside from facts.

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The facts are impressive though; you a widow at age 59 travels in 1846 by boat from England to Canada and let me say you were an old woman by that year’s standards. Please excuse me Harriet! You travelled with your daughter and son-in- law  and yes, the voyage was exceptional long and miserable and yes, many people died from either small pox, dysentery or measles.

Then once you got here there were no fine shops to buy another pretty delicate lace bonnet that you cherished or even the fine slippers that you are wearing right now. That wool shawl would have been perfect here, warm and practical.

Harriet Cock, I know you were scared as your eyes really tell me so; however, who would not be afraid travelling in 1846 to a new world! You took the risk; you came here as a pioneer and believed in this country.  Our country, Canada

Granny Cock, thank you.

You are my treasured artefact and champion here at The Oshawa Museum.


Caitlan’s Favourite: The Music Box017

There are many very interesting artefacts throughout the houses at the Oshawa Museum. It is a treat to see them, especially when you know that they still work.  On a rare occasion one of our music boxes plays. It has not seized up, nor is it broken. Many items over time would have been damaged in one way or another preventing them for further use or are to delicate to risk trying to play. This item is an exception. Done with care a few times a year this music box fills Henry House with sound. This sets it apart from many other items in the houses.


By playing the music box you can be given a small taste of what life would have sounded like at the time. Just the practice of winding it and knowing how much sound it would produce and for how long creates a greater depth of understanding of people’s lives. It is a favorite artifact of mine for this reason. It provides an understanding that cannot be presented simply in writing thereby creating a fuller understanding of the lives people lived.

Listen to one of the Music Box’s as the background music in this video!


Carrie’s Favourite: Thomas and Lurenda Letters


My favorite artefacts would have to be two letters, one from Thomas and the other from Lurenda. I love them so much because of the content of them, that being the marriage proposal and acceptance. It’s strange to think, at least now, that you would be able to propose to someone in this way, and with barely knowing the other person as well. Two letters led to one big family, which led to even more interesting letters between Thomas and his children. Seeing the start of the family in black and white makes you realize how much has changed between then and now.

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Read about Karen’s Favourite Artefact HERE

Be sure to visit our 2017 Feature Exhibit Celebrating 60: Sixty Years of Collecting and discover your favourite artefact!

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Candle Making

Over the next two weeks the Museum is going to welcome many school children to participate in our ‘Day in the Life of a Victorian Child’ program. One of the components is a candle making demonstration. It always amazes me when kids these days are fascinated by the simplicity of the pioneer and Victorian lifestyle. They find it so hard to believe you couldn’t just flip a switch and voila! They also have a hard time with the fact that kids had A LOT of chores to do. To make a decent sized candle, it would take 40 dips into wax. Can you imagine any child these days staying still long enough to dip candles 40 times?!

Candles have been around for millennia. People began to settle North America and fireplaces were the norm in all small cottages and cabins. As houses got larger, there was a need for portable light. Settlers would make their own wicking using the fluff from milkweed pods. They would twist it together until it created something akin to yarn or thin rope. Tallow from sheep and beef was used for wax. They wicking was tied onto a stick and dipped into a pot of melted tallow and water. This is known as the hand dipped method. However, tallow candles smelled quite bad and often brought rodents and other small pests into the house because they were attracted to the smell. Eventually when paraffin wax became available, it was used.

As more settlers arrived, small villages grew and sometimes a store would be opened where the imported candle molds could be purchased. Occasionally a tinsmith in the area would make the molds as well. The wick used in these molds could be bought at the general store. The wick was thread through the holes and tied around the twigs, making sure to tie a knot at the end to prevent seepage of wax. The melted tallow was poured into each section of the mold.

Eventually homes began using oil lamps as they became available at local shops or through catalogues. I’m fairly certain that the children were glad not to spend half a day dipping candles anymore!