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.

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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

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.

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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!