The Importance of Context When Examining Photographs

By Jennifer Weymark, Archivist

When leading our primary source workshop, I often pose the question to students “Are photographs accurate depictions of the events they are showing?”  Typically, students respond with “yes, of course.”  I prompt them to reconsider that response and ask what tools do we have available that may make that answer incorrect. This leads into a discussion of photo manipulation with tools such as Photoshop and staged or propaganda photographs and how we must use our cognitive thinking skills when examining photographs to use as evidence of events.

I was fortunate to attend the 2021 Archives Association of Ontario virtual conference in May.  The focus of the conference was doing the work to move our archival collections from their colonial roots into a more inclusive future.  The opening keynote address was entitled “Reimagining Our Futures: Photographs of Sports at Indian Residential Schools” and was delivered by Janice Forsyth.  Dr. Forsyth is an Associate Professor at Western University who specializes in exploring sport’s relationship to Indigenous and Canadian culture.

During her talk, Dr. Forsyth shared an image of a hockey team comprised of students from a residential school.  This image, along with hundreds of others, was an integral part of her research. The image was a typical hockey team pose.  Two rows of children, the ones in the front seated, those in the back standing, all wearing their equipment and smiling for the camera. If you just looked at the image without digging any further, it could be used to support those who argue that residential schools weren’t all bad. However, Dr. Forsyth wanted to know more about the image and the students in the photograph and was connected with one of the students.

Upon speaking with a gentleman who had been one of the students in the photograph, Dr. Forsyth was provided with a great deal of context that altered the information the photograph provided. In the photograph, the students are shown wearing new equipment; however, according to the former student, that equipment was brought in to be worn only for the photograph. In reality, the equipment they were provided with was very old and offered very little protection. He sat with Dr. Forsyth and provided context for more images from the school, all of which highlighted how the photographs were not accurate representations of what sports were like at that school but were stylized to provide a palatable representation of residential schools.

When looking at any photograph, it is always beneficial to include as much context as possible as it is context that allows us to better understand the image we are looking at.

Passive Collecting vs. Active Collecting

By Jennifer Weymark, Archivist

Recently, I attended the Archives Association of Ontario conference.  This fantastic professional development opportunity never fails to inspire and highlight steps I can take to celebrate our community through the archival collection.  The conferences also provide me an opportunity to discuss issues we are facing and troubleshoot with other professionals in the field.

One of the sessions, a session that I was pleased to chair, examined the shift from passive collecting to active collecting.  Traditionally, many archives have waited for donations of collections to come to them – passive collecting.  This is how the archival collection here at the Oshawa Museum has developed. Beyond the very early days of the Oshawa Historical Society, when the members were working to gather a collection to fill a new museum, we have typically not been out in the community asking the public to donate their historic documents and photographs to the archives.

This passive approach to collecting has resulted in some very noticeable gaps in our collection.  It is only through a more active collecting approach will we correct these gaps, as well as prevent a future archival collection that does not accurately represent our community.

The first step in a more active collecting approach is to determine what the gaps in the collection are and begin approaching people or groups that may have items that fit that topic. We noticed that there was a lack archival holdings focused on the diverse population of Oshawa.  In order to address this issue, we first began with researching these communities and developing articles and media to share the information.  The sharing of the information helped us to develop connections with members of the communities that had been underrepresented in our holdings.  These connections have brought in new donations, donations that work to fill in the gaps. For example, our research into early Black history in Oshawa has led to a connection with Club Carib and a donation of items related to the history of the club.

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A018.27.8 – May 1972 – Oshawa Caribs at Midtown Mall

The second step is changing our collecting focus.  For quite a while, the focus was on collecting items that belonged to “prominent” members of the community. By shifting the focus to include collecting on simply members of the community, not just those who have been deemed “prominent,” we create a collection that preserves a more complete and accurate history of our community. We have recently accessioned a new collection of postcards related to a young woman who grew up in Oshawa.  The postcards, and accompanying photographs, were sent to Mary James (nee Riley) from family and friends and speak to the life of a young girl growing up in early 20th century Oshawa. It is a most interesting collection and one that helps fill in a gap related to the female experience.

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A019.1.23 – Mary Riley riding a bicycle. Date and location unknown

Finally, active collecting results an archival collection growing at a far faster rate than one that relies solely in passive collecting.  This growing collection is straining the already cramped storage space for the archival collection. This is just one of the many reasons the Oshawa Historical Society is pursuing a new, purpose built visitor and collections centre. The proposed building will have a larger space for the archival collection and will permit future growth of this important asset to our community’s history.

 

Flashback Friday – Henry House Through the Years

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

One of our commonly asked questions is about our houses and whether or not they were moved to Lakeview Park.  Visitors are often surprised to learn that the three museum buildings, Robinson House, Henry House, and Guy House, are still standing on their original foundations, or, simply put, they are standing where they were built over 150 years ago.  The three homes were built close together, close to the lot lines; the reason for this is unclear, but one could imagine it would have been handy having neighbours close by.

The documentary evidence for the houses not being moved is overwhelming.  Take Henry House: in our archival collection, we have the land deed which shows Thomas buying the land from his father in 1830.  The 1852 Census of Canada East/West, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia records the Henry family residing in a stone house on Lot 7 Broken Front East Whitby Township, and the 1871 Atlas of Ontario County is dotted throughout, representing building locations.  The Thomas Henry Memoirs also makes mention of the family living in a stone house by the lake.

We also have photographic evidence, and really, who doesn’t like a good, vintage photograph.

One of the earliest photographs that we have are from the Mackie family, who lived in the house from 1917 to the early 1920s.  In the photo below, Doug Mackie is pictured, sitting by the back door.

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This photo, as interesting as it is, does not provide any indication that house was located in Lakeview Park.

This panoramic photograph, however, does.

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Click on the photo to have it open in a new window.  It’s simply overwhelming the width of it and the amount of people being photographed! This is the General Motors Annual Picnic, August 1926, taken in Lakeview Park.  When you take a closer look:

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Henry House is unmistakable!

In the 1930s, Lakeview Park was the place to be, as evidenced by a fantastic photograph collection we have in the archives. Nicknamed the Lowry Lakeview Park collection, it is a series of photographs documenting summers at Lakeview Park, staff who worked at the pavilions, bands who played, and life at the time.  The Jubilee Pavilion opened in 1927, and this photograph of the south facade was taken only a few years later; look to the right of the pavilion, and Henry House is again unmistakable.

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This image of Henry House was captured in the Oshawa Telegram in 1937.

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The caption reads: Built from ballast of Kingston limestone, this house of Elder Thomas Henry, early harbormaster and president of the Oshawa Harbor Company, still stands in old Port Oshawa.  In the great days of the grain trade, schooners landing at Oshawa used to come back light from Kingston, or ballasted with the local limestone to be had there for the loading.  They would throw their ballast overboard to make room for the grain. Elder Henry thriftfully acquired enough of it to build the walls of his second home.

It was in the 1930s that Henry House was inhabited by Ned and Lina Smith; Ned helped care for the buffalo that lived in Lakeview Park for a short time and helped plant many trees in Lakeview Park.

By the 1950s, there was growing concern over the state of Henry House.  The Oshawa and District Historical Society was founded with the intention of creating a historical museum in the City.  Henry House was well suited to accomplish this task; permission was granted in March 1959 to use the home, and it opened to the public in May 1960.

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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.

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Polly Ann and George Henry


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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.

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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.

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Valerian

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.

 

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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.