One Year, Three Museums

By Kes Murray, Registrar

Ever since I was young, I have loved museums. All that history and knowledge within one building spurred me from gallery to gallery. Flash forward to today. Me, a recent graduate with a museum studies degree and one year of experiences working in three different museums.

As we enter into a new year, I like to reflect upon my 2021. Like everyone, 2021 was a challenging year. From online school, to trying to balance my personal and professional life, I was constantly burnt-out. Thankfully, one shining light of 2021 was all the museums I had the pleasure of working in. In total, I worked in three museums. Now, please don’t mind me as I reminisce about my 2021 museum adventures.

Royal Ontario Museum

At the start of 2021, I began my journey at the Royal Ontario Museum. The ROM is one of the largest museums in Canada, and navigating this large institution taught me many things.

At the ROM, I worked in the Registration Department. If you are unfamiliar with the role of a museum registrar, don’t worry! I was too. I learned that a registrar is mainly responsible for museum objects that enter and leave the museum. This includes travelling exhibits, loans to other museums, and objects that are leaving the museum’s collection permanently. Because of the diverse tasks a registrar must do, they have to be knowledgeable in many areas of museum work, like how to properly handle museum objects, how to write copyright agreements, and how to process objects that come into the museum.

The absolute highlight of my time here happened in January 2021. I was invited to help de-install a travelling exhibition. The registrar’s part in this is straightforward; all objects that are leaving need to be inspected to see if something has happened to them during their time on display. This process is called condition reporting. Along with some other tasks, my week went by very quickly.

Me, condition reporting at the ROM, January 20/2021.

As I reflect on my time there, I realize the depth of my learning. I learned here how to process objects that are coming into the museum’s collection, how to be observant that meet museum standards, how to work with other departments, and, most importantly, not to be afraid to ask questions.

Algonquin Provincial Park

I always remember that museum can be found just about anywhere. My adventure into Algonquin Park was a big reminder of this. In September 2021, I began a month-and-a-half contract in Algonquin Park as a museum technician.

I have never in my life lived outside of southern Ontario. So, moving to a provincial park in Central Ontario seemed rather intimidating. And it was quite the drive, let me tell you. But, after a six hour drive from London, Ontario, I arrived.

My experience in Algonquin was like nothing I have ever experienced in a museum setting before. I mainly worked at the Visitor Centre at the information desk. I answered questions and watched over the bookstore. The Visitor Centre was a unique building. It housed the Friends of Algonquin offices, where I worked, and also a lookout deck and a museum that took you through the natural and human history of the park. My favourite part of working at the Visitor Centre was the Visitor Animal sightings board, a simple white board where visitors can record their wildlife sightings. Everyday, visitors would record different animals they saw. It was hard not to be excited with them. From moose sightings to wolf sightings, it was an excellent way of seeing animal movement in the park, and maybe a good recommendation to another visitor where they may see a grouse or a Canada Jay.

Visitor Sightings Board, October 15/2021

Other times, I worked at the Logging Museum. The Logging Museum happened to be a part of one of the Park’s trails. So when I was at the Logging Museum, I got to walk the trail at least once a day to make sure all the structures on the trail undamaged.  

And of course it wouldn’t be Algonquin without a fun animal story. The trail at the Logging Museum passes a creek, where a mischievous beaver would regularly dam the log shute, a structure that tells one part of the history of logging in the park. Apparently, this happens a lot, and when I told my supervisor of the clogged shute, I was met with sighs and shaking heads. The beaver had struck again.

Log shute dammed by beaver on Logging Museum Trail, September 18/2021

Oshawa Museum

My last museum journey of 2021 brought me here, to the Oshawa Museum. The beginning of December 2021, I started as one of two registrars working on a large backlog of donations to the museum. Now, I’m on the waterfront. From being in the urban jungle of downtown Toronto, to the forests of Algonquin Park, to Lake Ontario, I feel like I have seen all the wonderful places in Ontario where museums are situated.

Outside look of Guy House, December 21/2021

As for my work here, I have sorted through brochures, photographs, and now cassettes. Myself and the other registrar, Savannah, have made a considerable and noticeable dent in the backlogged donations. Every day brings its own fascinating discovery and challenge. As we move further into the New Year, I am very eager to continue my work here, to say the least.

Every 2021 museum I worked in was, to me, an adventure. I didn’t know what to expect and came somewhat prepared. Navigating a new workplace and environment brought its own challenges. But, if I had the chance to do it all again, I would.

As the New Year is a time of reflection of the year that has past and the year to come, I am excited for what 2022 has in store for me, especially if it means more museums.

Museum Resiliency

By Melissa Cole, Curator

As I write this month’s blog post, staff from the Oshawa Museum continue to work from home.  I reflect back to the date of March 13, 2020, the date when museums in our city, and across the province, shut their doors as a public health precaution due to COVID-19.  This measure resulted in a loss of self-generated revenue.

Throughout the last year I have seen and heard the impact that COVID-19 has had on museums throughout the province at Regional Museum Network virtual meetings, held with the Ontario Museum Association (OMA).  During the pandemic, museums were affected directly; for instance, there are museums where staff worked remotely and were able to re-open for a short period of time in the summer/fall of 2020, while other sites remain closed, and some museums faced staff redeployment.

Recently, the Ontario Museum Association invited museum networks across the province to meet with local Members of Provincial Parliament.  I was fortunate to represent the York-Durham Association of Museums and Archives at one of these meetings hosted by the OMA.  On March 11, the OMA and YDAMA, including colleagues from Markham and Oshawa, met with MPP Billy Pang (Markham—Unionville) in his roles as MPP and Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries and Dr. Michael Bonner to discuss the impacts of the pandemic and the recommendations put forth by the OMA for support to assist museums to participate in the province’s recovery. Museum representatives from the Oshawa Museum, Markham Museum and Canadian Automotive Museum spoke to our museums’ challenges, potential, and resiliency. 

Museums thought of unique ways to assist their communities to both survive and thrive in this new world of uncertainty and physical isolation.  Museums, that had the means to do so, in the YDAMA network continued to engage the public virtually, providing a safe space away from the pandemic, through the creation of digital content.  For some sites this was the first time producing digital programs and virtual activities.  I thought I would highlight a few examples of the unique programing offered by museums across York and Durham:

When students returned to school in the fall of 2020, once again museums adapted their curriculum school-based programs for virtual delivery.  At the Oshawa Museum, staff created three new virtual programs utilizing our collections and resources. 

The pandemic has shown that museums have an important role to play as integral members of their communities, as places for well-being and connection.  As each of the examples above demonstrates, in their own way, museums can serve their communities by providing a supportive and engaging space, even when our physical spaces are closed.

Reflecting on Museum Selfie Day

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

Social media trends never sleep, and every so often, there are trends, themes or days that I can’t help but jump onto (and who could have ever guessed Sea Shanties and Bernie Sanders would have taken off like they did in early 2021, but I digress).

Sometimes, these themes are a yearly tradition, and Museum Selfie Day is one of those days. Taking place on the third Wednesday of January, Museum Selfie Day “invites the general public to go to a museum and take a selfie. The day promotes awareness of great collections of work stored in museums” (from nationaldaycalendar.com).

In previous years, I ask the Visitor Hosts who want to participate to take pictures in their favourite exhibits, students we’re hosting and my museum colleagues will take part, and I spend the day running around the site looking for creative captions and interesting places around the houses to take a selfie.

Last January, we used the day as a chance to show off our storage spaces, hopefully demonstrating why the Oshawa Museum needs a new purpose built facility.

This year’s Museum Selfie Day looks different. We’re working from home, and I’m not able to run around the spaces I love looking for unique photo ops.

So how did we mark Museum Selfie Day 2021 if we aren’t able to be in museums? Jill had the clever idea to take selfies with mementoes from past museum visits, and so we grabbed museum catalogues from our bookshelves and took pictures.

People who work for museums, generally speaking, are museum lovers. We support museums in our community, we go on vacations and plan museum visits as must-sees. A year without travel means a year without visiting other museums. We were able to use Museum Selfie Day as a chance to reflect back on favourite museum experiences and to give shout outs to other museums we hold in high regard. Perhaps reflecting back on museum memories will be enough to hold us all over until we can safely visit museums once again!

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.     

Curator advice: MAKE SURE ALL ARTEFACTS ARE REMOVED EBFORE MOVING A HUTCH!

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.

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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.

Y.M.C.A.

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.

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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.

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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.


References:

Fox and Geese: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fox_games

YMCA Canada: http://ymca.ca/Who-We-Are/About-Us

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