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.

The Lowry Collection

By Jennifer Weymark, Archivist

In 1996, Marjorie Lowry donated a photograph album filled with amazing images of Lakeview Park in the late 1930s. The photographs are a glimpse into the lives of a group of friends who spent the summer of 1938 at the lake. They can be seen playing on the beach, joking around with one another and just enjoying Lakeview Park.

Lloyd and Bill White (A996.20.97)

What was Mrs. Lowry’s connection to the photograph album? The connection is the White family, specifically Lloyd White, who can be seen in numerous photographs throughout the album. Lloyd was Mrs. Lowry’s paternal uncle.

Throughout the album, friends and members of the White family can be seen enjoying Lakeview Park and all the amenities the park offered. The album features photographs of bands who played at the Jubilee Pavilion, large picnics, and carnival rides. The majority of the photographs appear to be from the summer of 1938, just after Owen McCrohan and Tom Bouckley took over as proprietors of the Jube. It is a unique glimpse into the summer fun before the world faced war in 1939.

Ruth White at the Jubilee Pavilion (A996.20.98a)

The album is not only a snapshot of Lakeview Park in the late 1930s but also a photographic snapshot of the White family. The photographs show Lloyd, his sister Ruth, and his brothers Bruce and Bill (Mrs. Lowry’s father). The captions hint at some hard times in the family and also indicate that the Second World War would impact the family as we know for certain that Lloyd served overseas.

Personally, this photograph album is one of my favourites in the archives. I love the light-heartedness in the images. I thoroughly enjoy that this is one of the few photographic examples of the ethnic and racial diversity that has been a part of Oshawa for much of its history. Friendship, love, and fun are documented throughout the album, and that is why it is such a wonderful part of our archival collection.

Oak Crawford with The Tramp Band (A996.20.125)

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Owen McCrohan was married to Ruth White. We have corrected this oversight and apologize for the mistake.

Annotating a 52 year old article

The following article was originally written by Jo Aldwinkle and was published Mar 6, 1967, in the Oshawa Times. We have annotated the article to provide reference and make connections to the OM collection.

Attractive Bungalow Built in 1854 Withstands Inroads of Commerce and One-Way Traffic

The leaded, bevelled glass panel in the front door beams a welcome and a mellow atmosphere of gentle living enfolds you as you step over the threshold of one of Oshawa’s oldest houses.

Inside the Ellis home, c. 1970; photo from the Oshawa Museum archival collection (AX010.70.12)

Situated on the corner of Centre and Athol streets, the charming, bungalow-type house with its long French window and dark yellow shutters is owned and occupied by Miss Greta Ellis whose parents purchased the property at the turn of the century.

Greta Ellis was born 1888 in Oshawa, a daughter of Frederick E. Ellis and Mary Myrtle Henry (1866-1962); her maternal grandparents were Albert Henry (1837-1917) & Harriet Guy (1843-1866), making her great-grandparents Thomas Henry, Lurenda Henry, and Thomas Guy and Harriet Cock Guy.

Mary Myrtle Henry (1866-1962), photo from the Oshawa Museum archival collection (A017.20.77); of note, the photographer was Oshawa based C.L. Lewis 

Records show that the house was built in 1854 for a Doctor Joseph Clark and his wife, the former Elizabeth Cameron of Toronto. The house stood on an eighth of an acre of land which was neatly landscaped with winding walks, arbors and shrubberies.

The address for this home was 31 Centre Street South, NE corner of Centre and Athol.  Today, this is the location of Michael Starr Building/parking; the Clark-Ellis house is no longer standing.

Clark-Ellis House, c. 1970, from the Oshawa Museum archival collection (AX010.70.3)

At that time a wide verandah encompassed the house on all sides. Built of mud and straw bricks and covered with stucco inches thick and the gleaming outer walls are twenty inches thick and the gleaming floors are made of pegged pine.

In a day when a finished basement was almost unknown, Dr. Clark’s house was unique. His spacious basement was completely finished and divided to include a consulting room and office, approached by a side door, down a few steps; a large kitchen and laundry and sleeping quarters for the domestic held.  A dumb waiter transported food and dishes to a pantry above.

Oshawa’s eternal problem of mud and slush was even more aggravating in the days of board-walks than it is today and Miss Ellis recalled a story that she had heard in this regard concerning Dr. and Mrs. Joseph Clark.

“It was told,” Miss Ellis said, “that when the doctor and his wife walked out after dark and you must remember, there were no street lights, they had a maid carrying a lantern walking backwards before them to light their footsteps.”

About the turn of the century, Mr. And Mrs. Ellis purchased the property and added to it without changing the original plans.

The wide central hall gives a sense of spaciousness and the 33 foot long living room is well proportioned with a marble mantelpiece set between the French windows.  The doors are wide and heavily bordered and the skirting around the walls is 24 inches high.

Inside the Ellis home, c. 1970; photo from the Oshawa Museum archival collection (AX010.70.9)

A portrait of Elder Thomas Henry, Miss Ellis’ great-grandfather, dominates the room and portraits of her grandmother, the former Harriet Guy and great-great-grandmother, bear him company.

The portrait of Thomas Henry was donated to the Oshawa Museum as part of the Ellis estate. The portrait included with the original article is the same one now on display in the Henry House study. The OM does not have any portraits of Harriet Guy Henry in its collection; we have a digital copy of Harriet Cock Guy (her great-grandmother), and we have the life-sized Harriet Trevithick Cock portrait on display in the Verna Conant Gallery. If this is the same portrait being referred to in the article, it is unclear.

Thomas Henry, as displayed in the Henry House study, Oshawa Museum collection (A973.13.1)

From these gentle women, the late Mrs. Ellis inherited her skill in needle craft. Her daughter treasures a patchwork quilt, composed of pieces of silk, satin, and velvet, joined by fancy feather-stitching that her mother made for her trousseau.

Again, the artefact photographed for the article was donated to the OM as part of the Ellis Estate.  This quilt is in fragile condition and is not always on exhibit.  The needlework is indeed impressive.

Henry family quilt, in the collection of the Oshawa Museum (973.13.2)

Most beautiful of all are her decorative pieces of raised embroidery on crimson velvet. The examples shown depict white velvet roses with calyx, stems and leaves in shaded green chenille and a cluster of hydrangea, the flowers mounded high and each floret applied separately.

Mar 6 - Henry Articlee.jpg

Easter Greetings

Happy Easter from the Oshawa Museum!  Here’s a glimpse at Easter in our collection.

From the Oshawa Museum Collection


Postcards in the Archival Collection


An Easter display at Eaton’s in the Oshawa Centre, from the Oshawa Museum photography collection (A999.19.654-658)

Student Museum Musings – Ria

By Ria K., Co-op Student

Hello, my name is Ria, and I am this semester’s co-op student at the Oshawa Museum. I am currently in Grade 11, and attend O’Neill C.V.I. I chose to do my placement at the Oshawa Museum since it is an extremely different learning environment from what I am used to. History class is something I enjoy, as I am constantly learning, however history is much more exciting and engaging when I am experiencing a hands on learning experience, and not just listening to a lecture. Throughout my time as a co-op student, I will have many ongoing projects. One responsibility I find extremely interesting is researching and creating the monthly Month That Was blog posts.  Also, I have been passing a lot of time creating write ups on artefacts and posting them to the Oshawa Museum Tumblr. I hope to gain a lot of knowledge about how museums run, as well as gain new skills in researching, writing, and creating aesthetically pleasing displays. I am looking forward to spending the next four months at the Oshawa Museum!

Here is a selection of photos Ria has taken around the Museum!