Celebrating New Years in 1880

In 2013, the Oshawa Museum received a phenomenal collection of letters and papers from the Henry Family.  In February 1880, George Henry wrote to his mother Lurenda, the first letter may have sent since the passing of his father Thomas in September 1879.  Within this long letter, he tells his mother how he spent the new year, saying,

We went from there by invitation to John Edgars to take Newyears dinner and assisted in disposing of a fine turkey & goose. I have another invitation to meet with them on honour of the old gentlemans birth day on the 11th  inst when another turkey is to be slaughtered. (all spelling as originally written).

Not many letters touch on the holiday season, but this letter provides a small glimpse at how one Henry child marked the beginning of 1880.

Image177 - Polly Ann & George Henry

Polly Ann and George Henry


Letter Transcription (all spelling and punctuation as written)

Harrow Feb 3.rd/80

Dear Mother

While in these parts the last few years I have been in the habit of writing to Father and you both but now must write to you alone. The change is so great that I scarcely know what to say. I know you have many sad lonely hours, your feeble state of health with so much suffering from your sore leg makes the days and nights drag heavily, I often dream of seeing Dear Father and rember with much pleasure the plesant visit I had with him at Orono a few days before I went to Montreal but no one can miss Father as much as yourself. I have often thought to loose a good faithful Husband or Wife must be like looseing a part of ones self, but such is life, and we have to bear it. We are all upon the great train mooveing, rapidly on to the great Depot of death stepping off one by one. we follow our loved ones so far and no further, when we give one long anxious lingering look but we see them no more, there is no return train or pasanger to report. all alone we walk through the dark vally and shadow of death with the blessed hope of the Saviour’s strong arm to lean upon, I was glad to hear your health is improving and hope you will be very careful of yourself. P. A. writes that she has Fathers history finished and wanted to see you. she had an answer from the Publishing house in Dayton Ohio about publishing Fathers history but not very encouraging she would like that the boys would invest $20.00 each towards the printing and take books for their pay and for me to pay the rest as she fears it will be a looseing matter. If you think favourable of it- you can speak to them as you see them and what is done should be done at once, I have a letter from Ebben they are all well he says you are to keep the oil painting of Father as long as you want it with you, P.A and I had a very plesant visit in Michigan we first visited Dr. Hayward & family found him quite comfortable in health but cant stand but very little fatigue, I gave him and wife your kind regards also Elder Sherman who is preaching there and they all wished to be kindly remembered to you assuring you their sympathy, and hope to see you again they talked much of the general loss and loneliness felt in Fathers death. We then visited Dr. Younghusband found them well and had a good visit with him and his good second Wife she apperes to be a splendid woman, I think, I never saw a man more if as well pleased to see a woman that was no kin to them as the Dr. was to see P.A. it was eighteen years since he saw her. he talked over his sojourn in Oshawa while she was editing the paper and how often he had become discoraged and felt he could not accomplish the task before him and of his often visits to our house and the good advice P.A always gave him with good encouraging words, and the written recommend when he left Oshawa, he said he owed more to her for his success in life from that time than to any being living. We also visited a family by the name of Fowler in Detroit a very fine family. our first acquaintance with them was at our place at home a relative of theirs at Bowmanville brought them to visit us. they are called one of the upper tens of Detroit, and generally travel and board during hot summer weather we had a fine visit with them. We went from there by invitation to John Edgars to take Newyears dinner and assisted in disposing of a fine turkey & goose. I have another invitation to meet with them on honour of the old gentlemans birth day on the 11th  inst when another turkey is to be slaughtered. from Mr.. Edgars P.A. went home and I came here and the second morning I started out on buisines I sprained my knee very bad & was laid up some time it is still weak and a part of last week and so far this week I have been very sick and confined to the bed most of the time until yesterday, to day I hope to be up all day and am able to write this letter. my sickness has been of the stomach. with fever and pain of body from head to foot. and I tell you I have been loansome. The lamenes-sicknes, and mud has not alowed me to do much I have not got to Cliffords yet but hope to soon. Hoping you are all well, with much love to you all. I remain as ever your son George


Student Museum Musings – Lauren

By Lauren R., Summer Student

In my time as a co-op student, a volunteer, and now as a working summer student I have learned that at the museum you never know what to expect when you show up for work. When I started my summer position this year I honestly had no clue what I was in for; I wasn’t sure what I was going to be doing and I had no clue what kind of projects I would be working on.

Despite this uncertainty, I was incredibly excited to start in my new position and I knew that no matter what I did I would love it (every project is exciting in its own way). This summer I got assigned a project that was even more exciting than I ever could have imagined! My summer project is to create a new audio tour for the houses! For this I will be looking at talking more about the families in the houses instead of just the houses  themselves. Also, I will be looking quite a bit at the heritage gardens of Henry House and adding this new information to the tour as it was not part of the original tour.


Woolly Lamb’s Ear

The Henry House heritage gardens is home to an assortment of interesting (and strange) plants. The Henry House garden is designed to display what an everyday garden would have looked like, similar to what the Henry’s themselves would have had. It is split into different sections depending on what the use of the plant is. There is one garden dedicated to tea, another to dyes and the last to herbs and plants that can be used for medical and other practical purposes. In the practical garden there are eight sections: practical, protection, serious conditions, culinary, insect control, healing, cough control, and calming.

So far, out of the many plants that I have researched and looked at in the garden, I have found four that continue to catch my interest. The first two belong in the healing section of the garden. The first plant is Yarrow (Achillea Millefolium). This plant is used to reduce blood pressure and, if the fresh leaves are put into a poultice, it can stop bleeding from cuts and scrapes and things of that kind. Another plant that is found in this portion of the garden is Woolly Lamb’s Ear. This plant is really cool as it feels fuzzy and is soft to the touch. The way that the Henrys may have put this plant to use would have been as bandages to keep cuts clean and covered, the soft texture of these leaves being non-aggravating to injured skin.



Another plant, in the calming section, that I find interesting is Valerian (Valeriana Officinalis). This plant would have been used to help prevent nightmares and to reduce anxiety. However, if too much is taken (or if it is taken for too long) it can cause some adverse side effects such as hallucinations, abdominal pain and headaches.  The final plant that catches my eye, or rather my nose, in our garden is Lemon Balm (Melissa Officinalis).  This plant is part of the tea garden. Lemon Balm is an incredibly versatile plant. It can be used as an extract to add flavour to dishes, added to a relaxing bath, applied to help soothe insect bites, used to make soothing teas (for headaches and nausea), lessen depression, eczema and it can even help allergy sufferers. In addition to all of this, Lemon Balm can help clean and heal wounds as it acts as an antiviral substance and will starve the bacteria in the wound of oxygen thereby killing it.



Lady Bug on Tea Plant

There are really some incredible plants in the Henry House garden. What is even more incredible is to think that all of these plants would have been used in some way by the Henry family in their everyday lives.

Opening up our Collection to the Digital World

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

A common saying among staff at the Oshawa Community Museum is that our Museum is one of Oshawa’s best kept secrets.  People in the community either know about us and have visited, they have heard of us, or, surprisingly, some people were not aware that Oshawa had a Museum.  I love being able to tell people about the Oshawa Museum, who we are and what we do.  When you love your job, it’s easy to rave about it.

I love sharing with our visitors that they are touring through Oshawa’s oldest Museum.  Henry House first opened as a stand-alone Historic House Museum in 1960; by 1985, the Museum expanded to three historic buildings all standing on their original foundations.  This means that we have been actively collecting the history of the City of Oshawa for over 50 years.

Textile storage on the upper floor of Henry House.  Behind every closed door is storage space!

Textile storage on the upper floor of Henry House. Behind every closed door is storage space!

When our visitors are on tour, only a fraction of the collection is on display, and behind closed doors, we have storage for the material history of Oshawa.  Feature exhibitions, like Tales from the Tracks: The Oshawa Street Railway (2013), Lights, Cameras, Lenses: A JourneyThrough the History of Photography (2010), and Mourning After: A Victorian Celebration of Death (2009 and upcoming 2015) provide us the opportunity to tell stories from Oshawa’s past and highlight the artifacts and photographs that help tell the story.

Mourning clothing on display in 2009.  The Mourning After will return in Spring 2015.

Mourning clothing on display in 2009. The Mourning After will return in Spring 2015.

Our collection contains over 25,000 objects and over 10,000 photographs.  While it is completely unfeasible to have everything on display for visitors to see, the internet and social media has made it possible to open our collection in several creative ways.

Firstly, if you haven’t explored our online database, I highly recommend checking it out.  This resource has made it possible to share portions of our collection to a wide audience.  You can search for objects or photographs using the various search functions, but I like clicking the ‘Random Images’ tab, and I’m frequently surprised by what images or objects will be displayed. Visit http://oshawa.pastperfect-online.com to explore this resource.

Oshawa Museum Virtual Collections

Oshawa Museum Virtual Collections

The Oshawa Museum has been active on Facebook and Twitter for over 5 years, and we use these resources to share interesting facts and information, but also to share our collection.  On the last Wednesday of the month, Curator Melissa Cole posts a ‘What is it Wednesday’ on Facebook, sharing images of unusual artifacts and encouraging our fans to guess what it might be.  Photographs from Archivist Jennifer Weymark’s collection make for perfect Twitter content, sharing #WinterWednesday and #SummerSunday images.  Archival photographs also made excellent #ThrowbackThursday content for our Instagram account.  Jennifer and Melissa also share their collection through a monthly podcast series, accessible from our YouTube Channel.

A salt cellar, our What is it Wednesday for January 2015

A salt cellar, our What is it Wednesday for January 2015

Finally, this blog and other blogs we maintain, have provided us a forum to share information about artifacts, documents,  and photographs from our collection.  As well, by sharing stories from Oshawa’s past, about people, buildings or businesses, we’re able to use images to help illustrate those stories.  Along with our main blog (this page), we also maintain:

Our mandate is to preserve and actively promote Oshawa’s history, and the world wide web and social media has made it possible to achieve this mandate on a much larger scale.