On Wednesday July 21st, I visited an Anglican holy order, the Sisterhood of St. John the Divine, in Toronto in order to access their archives. The order used to own the Bishop Bethune private girls school in Oshawa, and thus they had primary documents related to my research into the school which could help me better determine the school’s purpose and who exactly attended it. The visit was one that I was looking forward to, not only because of the benefits for my research and because it would enable my possibly unhealthy obsession with mundane things from the past, but also because being able to experience history first hand, something that my time in school had never given me the opportunity to do.
The sisterhood was very welcoming to me, and I had a nice time talking with the archivist about the various materials they had to offer me. I was looking specifically at things related to the Bishop Bethune school, but from what I could glean, the sisterhood was involved in other educational ventures outside of city of Oshawa, throughout the province and country. It was overall a very enjoyable experience for me as I was able to dig through various records and even copies of the school magazine for my research into Oshawa’s educational past.
The most interesting thing in the collection, however, was the school’s ledger. It was a giant book that was over 100 years old, having been first written in when the sisterhood took control of the school in 1889. It’s probably the oldest thing I’ve ever touched, and it gave me a bit of a thrill to be able to just be able to go through it and get a window into how people lived over 100 years ago.
Perhaps I’m being a little too subjective, but I still get such a thrill from experiencing history, no matter how I experience it. Getting that glimpse into the lives of people who lived even just a hundred years before me is still very exciting for me, and this visit to get a window into the past like that was an incredible experience.
As I come to the end of my summer job at the Oshawa Museum, I’m grateful I had the opportunity to apply what I have learned in university into real life research projects. I believe that the strongest take-away from my personal projects at the museum is the idea that we form our perspectives of history in relation to the evidence and research we view. I learned that there is a surprisingly strong co-dependency between literary history and visual art during each era. It seems self-explanatory for someone who is regularly involved with historic research. But for me, having this first-time experience to see the value of artefacts, architecture, and visual art was exciting. Art in any genre or style is usually focused on its aesthetic value, such as the art style, colours, or perspective. But no matter how abstract or grand the art piece is, it will always contain historical evidence of some sort.
I was assigned to work on uncovering and researching the backstory and meanings behind historical paintings and drawings by the late Canadian artist, ES Shrapnel. The process to find the history behind the paintings was fairly difficult at times. But I found through my research that combining the written information I found with my own examination of the art style and colours in the sketches added the missing pieces of information I needed to finish the background information or support the visualization of the author’s ideas. Besides being an excellent primary source of information, the prints I examined were also good examples of the trends within local artists of that time, and it showed how society was progressing in terms of art styles. I noticed that ES Shrapnel promoted his talents often in the Whitby Chronicle, saying he would hold lessons for anyone who was interested. The community was then able to create art which reflected the narrative of their own lives at the time because of artists like Shrapnel who encouraged this participation. Shrapnel’s networking abilities are still seen today using different, modern technological ways. As we draw parallels with today’s society, we can appreciate that this was one of the many ways that visual art can continue to have historic usefulness.
In general, visual art is a core aspect engrained in everyone’s culture, lifestyle, and community. I appreciate that it gives an additional view on historic communities that did not rely on written literature to depict their stories or actions. Visual art gives historians and researchers an opportunity to expand their knowledge and help us understand in our modern perspective how people co-existed with one another through history. I find the universal understanding of art in history helps expand the ideas of written language and can narrate a scene of moments that were never documented in words.
In conclusion, throughout my time at the Oshawa Museum, I felt greatly satisfied and fulfilled seeing local artists from our community contributing strong and impactful sources of information simply through visual art. With my research of the ES Shrapnel prints, it gave me a newfound appreciation for the artist and others of his time for their dedication to their passions. The beauty of visual art grows deeper than just the material used, but more with their significance in writing history. Visual art gives metaphorical colour to the incomplete paintings of society and its ideas. I hope that people in our community continue to keep making art, regardless of it pertaining to the landscape of our area, as it gives a glimpse of the artistic minds within in our community.
As a student at the Oshawa Museum, you will inevitably fall into the “rabbit hole” of newspapers. To be fair- I was warned. Before working at the museum, I didn’t know that most cities maintained an archive of old publications, and anyone could go through them. There’s an endless number of pages. Newspapers are an ideal primary source for any historian trying to uncover societies of the past. While they can inform research for meaningful and critical historic projects, they are also great for getting your fill of drama. I think that anyone who binged Bridgerton will understand the allure of keeping tabs on the social elite. What everyone seemed to want to know:
the decorations at Mrs. Smith’s dinner party,
when Miss Susan Brown will be returning from visiting her friend in New York City,
and, most importantly, who’s getting hitched.
Except instead of Lady Whistledown, gossip spread through the women’s section of the newspaper where people would pay to have their announcement in the social notes column. They probably wouldn’t have considered it to be “gossip” in the 1920s. It was simply the most convenient way to let everyone know what you were up to. For those of us who study the past, the detail that went into social notes is critical to connecting communities. By far, the most popular notes were wedding announcements.
This clipping is from the Toronto Star on Friday, June 19, 1925, celebrating the union of Hannah Engel and Max Ambrose. Hannah was the eldest daughter of the prominent Oshawa businessman, Hyman Engel. As mentioned in the announcement, the couple returned to Oshawa after getting married at the Bay Street Synagogue. However, it’s clear that the article focuses more on how the couple got married rather than where. The answer: in style.
The paper reported specifically how Hannah was “prettily gowned in white georgette with veil and coronet of orange blossoms, carrying a shower bouquet of Ophelia roses and lily of the valley.” Her bridesmaids were equally decorated with chiffon and roses.
In this announcement, the bride wore “a white satin period gown trimmed with Chantilly lace and rhinestones.” The focus on attire was meant to entice women readers; there was news for men (the hard-hitting stuff) and women’s news (dresses, flowers and guest lists). An unintended benefit of gendered news is that we can now get a glimpse at how Oshawa women leaned into wedding trends throughout the Roaring Twenties. The construction of womanhood changed with the times, allowing women to loosen their corsets – or forget them all together. Instead of elegance, women began to favour a style that exuded youthfulness and ease. Dresses got shorter and less form-fitting, a kind of rebellion.
These photographs commemorate the wedding of Gladys Muriel Mowbray and William Richard Agar in on November 20th, 1920. Gladys was the sister of Adelaide McLaughlin, Robert Samuel McLaughlin’s wife. Her dress was understated, a result of the austerity years which effected many people in Oshawa after the war. If Oshawa women were sporting dropped waistlines and bob haircuts, it was not until later. Again, this was likely a matter of cost. The latest fashions were still exclusive to those who could afford them. This changed towards the end of the 1920s, when ready-to-wear clothing became more accessible to working class women. The museum has Gladys’s dress in the collection, along with the necklace and shoes that she wore on the day.
As hemlines shifted, so did women’s perspective on marriage. While there was no alternative, many young women mourned the independence that they gained in the years prior to getting married. After earning their own wage and spending nights on the town, married life consisted of domestic responsibility. Their husband and children came first. This was difficult for girls who were coming of age in the 1920s, a time where the social scene was a place to redefine gender. Suddenly, going dancing with friends, to the movies, and to sporting events was once again out of reach.
If women in Oshawa had any thoughts about married life, you wouldn’t know it from reading the women’s columns of newspapers at the time. On the contrary, wedding announcements described a young woman who was excited about georgette fabric, Ophelia roses and building a home in Oshawa. And she probably was, for better or for worse.
Canadian Jewish Review (Toronto, ON), July 6, 1928.
Soland, Birgitte. Becoming Modern: Young Women and the Reconstruction of Womanhood in the 1920s. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2000.
The Oshawa Museum is working on an exciting new project to celebrate Oshawa’s 100th Anniversary of becoming a city in 2024, a book on the history of Oshawa with a focus on research and stories that expand the traditional narrative. The book will highlight aspects of our community that previous local history books did not. It will be a book of unwritten stories, and it will help to tell a more accurate and inclusive history of our community. To that end, one of the focuses in the new book will be the arrival of the early Jewish community. We are working with the Ontario Jewish Archives to research the Jewish families who arrived in Canada, when they arrived, where they settled, and the wonderful impact they made on those communities. We have a summer student sifting through census records, newspaper articles, and other primary source documents, piecing together the story from a data perspective. The focus will also be on the cultural traditions celebrated by members of the Jewish community, and for this focus we are reaching out to the members of the local Jewish community for their help.
For many years, the Oshawa Museum has highlighted and celebrated the Christmas traditions in our community, but this year we are looking to do something different. As a part of our research, we are working on a video project that will examine the family traditions of Hanukkah within the local community.
The aim is that the video will become a partnership between the Museum and members of the local Jewish community. The video’s vision is that it will highlight the history of the Jewish community in Oshawa and then turn to focusing on the holiday traditions that help make Hanukkah such a special time.
If you, or someone you know, would be interested in partnering with us and share your special family Hanukkah traditions, please reach out to us through email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All articles originally appeared in The Oshawa Vindicator
August 6, 1862, Page 01 Petroleum Experiment to Determine its Comparative Illuminating Power with Gas and Candles (From the Scientific American)
It is not the difference in price per gallon between two burning fluids, or other agents employed in artificial illumination, that determines their respective cost for use. One burning fluid, such as a mixture of alcohol and turpentine, that costs only sixty cents per gallon, may be more expensive than sperm oil costing one dollar and a quarter; because the latter possesses three times the illuminating power of the former. It is well known that refined petroleum has lately driven all other burning fluids out of use, and one reason for this is its very low price. But, as we have already stated, this cannot determine its economy- its comparative illuminating power must also be known, to form a just estimate of its cost. Heretofore this has been unknown, but now we have a most valuable contribution to science in the record of a series of experiments conducted by Professor James. C. Booth, and Mr. Thomas H. Garret, of Philadelphia, and published in a later number of the Journal of the Franklin Institute.
Page 02 The War Memphis, July 28
Gen. Grant has ordered Gen. Sherman to take possession of all unoccupied dwellings, stores and manufactories for the Government, and also where the owners are absent rebels, to collect their rents for the Government. The Military Commissions has commenced taking a list.
The guerillas captured prominent citizens of Haywood county on Saturday, for selling cotton. One was shot dead while attempting to escape. The rest were taken to Mississippi.
Price has got 25 cannon across the Mississippi near Napoleon, and is endeavoring to cross his whole army. The rebels say Price is command Missouri, Hindman, Arkansas, and Magruder to be over both. The Union forces are ample to check them.
Washington, July 30
There is a report hero through contraband sources to the effect that large bodies of rebel troops are crossing the James River, South. The contrabands say they are evacuating Richmond.
Paris, Ky., July 30.
Yesterday a party of over 200 guerillas from Boone County under Col. Bullet, demanded the surrender of Mount Sterling, Ky. This being refused they attached the place but were repulsed by the Home Guards. During the retreat, the guerrillas were met by a party of the 8th Kentucky Volunteers under command of Major Braclit, who drove them back towards the town where they were again attacked by the Home Guards. The result was a complete stampede of the guerillas who lost all their horses, 8 killed and 48 taken prisoners. The number of wounded is not known.
Cairo, July 30.
The steamer “Platte Valley,” from Memphis, brings the news of the capture of the despatch boat “Sallie Wood,” by rebels 150 miles above Vicksburg. The rebels had a masked battery and succeeded in hitting her steampipe, disabling her. They took quite a number of prisoners and destroyed the boat. The “Queen of the West” was also fired into on her way up. Two or three were killed and several wounded.
Oshawa Grammar School This institution proceeds with its fall session on Monday the 11th inst., and will, for the future, be carried on in the old English Church, near the western limits of the corporation. The Court House, where it had been located for the at six months, was found a very inconvenient place, owing to the proximity of the lock-up., and the interference with studies caused by taking prisoners through the school room. We are gratified to learn that our Grammar School gives promise of success in the hands of Professor Lunsden, to which success the move to the Church building will add materially.
The Temperance Society The meeting on Friday evening last, for the appointment of Officers of the above mentioned Society, was not so largely attended as it ought to have been. The following chief officers were appointed:
President, A. Farewell, Esq., Secretary, P. Thornton, Treasurer, C. R. Cook.
Very little other business was transacted, except to make arrangements for the next meeting, which, it was decided, should be held on the evening of Friday the 15th inst. It is expected that Rev. J. Smith, of Bowmanville, will be present and speak at next meeting. At the close of the lecture, some further arrangements for the enlargement and success of the Society will be made.
Page 03 Oshawa Shoe Factory
Oshawa, through the enterprise and liberality of her chief citizens, is becoming celebrated for manufacturers of various kinds. Among these is the shoe factory of Messrs. Thompson & French. This establishment was commenced in December last, with a few hands and two machines. The proprietors are both practical men; Mr. Thompson being thoroughly acquainted with the leather trade, having previously been engaged in the tanning business; and Mr. French is one of the first manufacturing hands in the Province. -They have all the machinery and conveniences necessary to a large business, which is steadily on the increase.
August 13, 1862, Page 01 Drugs and Dysentery in the Army
One of our friends writing from the army, says: – “We have a number of sick in our division; their disease is principally diarrhea and intermittent fever, and the worst of it is, that all the drugs in God’s kingdom won’t cure them. I have had some experience in that line, having been hospital steward for the last six months; and I am fully convinced that if they would throw away their medicines and adopt the Water-Cure, the Grand Army of the Potomac would be better able to cope with traitors, because of the health of the men.”
There is truth in this. We have never seen a case of diarrhea that would not succumb to the syringe; and drugs produce intermittent fever instead of curing it.
The Tribe Prize Strawberries From personal inquiries, and from letters and comments of the press, we judge that a little explanation is necessary. In the first place, we fully believe all that has been stated about the good qualities of these new seedling strawberries, not only from the repeated reports of competent and entirely disinterested gentlemen acting as judges, but from actual observations of the growth of the plants at many different times, and testing of the quality of the fruit by our own taste, year after year, when we had no idea of giving them to the subscribes of The Tribune.
Page 03 Enticing to Desert
The Captain and Mate of the City of Madison, a schooner plying between Toronto ad Oswege, and principally owned by Messrs. F. W. Cumberland and Lewis F. Grant, of the Northern Railway of Canada, have been committed to stand their trial at the ensuing Assizes, on a charge of enticing British soldiers to desert. It became known that several missing men of the 30th regiment, stationed at Toronto, had reached the United States by this schooner, and on four more being missed on Wednesday last, it was determined to search the vessel. The result was the finding of the four men secreted in the hold. The schooner was to have sailed in the evening. The Captain and Mate, who are Americans, and four other hands, were taken into custody, and examined at the Police Court.
August 20, 1862 Page 01 Fruit as Medicine
The present year promises to be an excellent fruit year, and if so, we may congratulate the public on the prospect. Ripe fruit is the medicine of nature. Nothing could be more wholesome for men or child, and altho’ green fruit is, of course, almost as fatal as so much poison, the ripe is fully as thorough a health restorer and health preserver. Strawberries are certainly abundant in this direction, and have been for a long time. They are quite cheap, and being a favorite with all classes, constitute a popular luxury. But who can compute the amount of general health promoted by this relish for strawberries? Who can imagine how many pills that relish throws out of the market; or, in other words, to what extent that pills prepared by Mother Nature and sugar-coated, as it were, to render them more palatable, crowd out of use those prepared by the chemist and apothecary?
Page 02 Arrival of THE GLASGLOW Cape Race, Aug. 15.
The steamship Glasglow, from Liverpool, on Wednesday the 6th, via Queenstown 7th inst., passed Cape Race at 3:30 p.m. to-day, en route to New York. She was boarded by the Press yacht, and her news obtained.
The steamship Norweigan from Quebec, arrived at Londonderry on the 5th.
The steamship Great Eastern, from New York, was off Queenstown on the 5th.
The City of New York, from New York, arrived at Queenstown on the 6th.
Page 03 The New Comet
Within the past few evenings an object of unusual interest has made its appearance in the northern portion of the heavens, and has been noted with interest by several of our citizens. It is the second comet of 1862, discovered first by Prof. Tuttle, of the Cambridge, U.S. observatory, on the night of the 18th of July last, but now first apparent to the naked eye. Its distance from the polar star is about eight degrees, being on a line with the two “pointers” of the “plough,” from the neared of which it is distant about twice as far as the pole. It is also on a line with the two principal stars in the body of the Little Bear. In brilliancy it resembles a star of the third magnitude, but when examined closely has a hazy appearance; while the tail may be with difficulty perceived streaming nearly in the direction of the pole.
Diseased Cattle In the report issued by the Registrar-General of Scotland, he calls the attention of the public to the fact that ever since pleuropneumonia broke out among cattle of this country, a few years since, the returns of mortality show that carbuncle, a disease formerly very rare, had become comparatively common. Dr. Livingstone observed in Africa that if the flesh of animals which die from pleuropneumonia is eaten, it causes carbuncle in the persons who eat it, and that neither boiling nor roasting the flesh, nor cooking it in any way, gets rid of the poison. It is true that if such cattle are ever sold for food they are killed before they fall victims to the disease naturally, but still the poison is in them. The report suggests, as a subject for inquiry, whether the new form of disease which we term diphtheria may not be partially induced by the use of diseased flesh.
August 26, 1862, Page 01 The War Washington, Aug. 20.
A special despatch to the Times says that Mr. Stanton stated today that the order for drafting to fill up the old regiments would be enforced without fail by the 1st of September. The old regiments which have not been recruited up to the full strength before that time, will be filled by draft.
Sedalia, Mo, Aug. 20.
Advices from the west are to the effect that the Confederate forces under Coffee, Quantrel, Cockwell, Tracy and others which were lately menacing Lexington, are in full retreat southward. – They are 4,00 strong and have 2 spiked cannon, captured from Major Foster, at Lone Jack on Friday last.
Nashville, Aug. 20.
Col. Hefferon, of the 15th Indiana Regiment, proceeded to Gallatin to-day without orders, with a force of 250, who had been posted at a bridge. He made a number of arrests of civilians. While Col. Hefferon’s party were gone on this expedition, the guerrillas burned the bridge. He made a number of arrests of civilians. While Col. Hefferon’s party were gone on this expedition, the guerrillas burned the bridge at Landorsville, and captured 14 men.
House Burned The frame dwelling house of Mr. Robert Karr, on the Reach Road, about four miles north of Oshawa, was totally consumed by fire on the afternoon of Friday last. At the time of the accident no person was in or about the premises, Mr. Karr being at work in the harvest field on an adjoining lot, and Mrs. Karr having about half an hour previously gone up to her father’s – Mr. James Shand. The first alarm was given by a number of small children who were on their way home from school.