Ways the Oshawa Museum is Changing the Narrative

By Jennifer Weymark, Archivist

There is a saying that “history is written by the victor” and this is certainly true when it comes to Canadian history.  So much of our history, on a local, provincial and national level, is written from the perspective of European colonial settlers. This narrow focus has greatly impacted how museum and archival collections have been developed and has created an historical narrative that is not entirely accurate.

Throughout Canada, museums and archives are working to find ways to move beyond the colonial settler focus of our collections and develop collections that more accurately showcase our history.  The Oshawa Museum is working to fill the gaps in our historical narrative, to include more voices and become more inclusive by telling the untold and under researched stories of our community.  In Oshawa, our local history tends to be told through a lens of focusing on the impact of the wealthy industrialists and the companies they ran.  This is certainly an important part of our local history, but it is a very narrow focus and leaves out so many other fascinating stories.

One of the ways we are changing the historical narrative is through our research into early Black history in Oshawa.  Oshawa has had a small Black population since at least 1850, and that population has continued to grow and flourish.  The research has focused on the experiences of one family, the Andrews/Dunbar/Pankhurst family, and examines how their experiences fit into the larger context of the history of Black Canadians.  Research like this widen the lens through which we look at our history and works to tell a local history that better reflects what the community actually looked like in the past.


Black History Month Display at Hot Roots Festival Launch, 2016

Throughout the month of February, the Museum has been celebrating Black History Month by reaching out to the community to talk about our research.  In fact, over the past month, we have spoken to over 400 members of our community about this research.  It has been truly rewarding to share this research with so many people and help bring focus to the rich and diverse history of Oshawa.


Profiling: Polly Ann Henry

By Laura Suchan, Executive Director

Recently Stoney Kudel, President of the Oshawa Historical Society, and I completed a project annotating the memoir of Reverend Thomas Henry. The memoir published in 1880, one year after Thomas’ death, was written by Polly Ann (P.A.) Henry his daughter in law.  As the Oshawa Museum works towards telling a more inclusive view of Oshawa’s history, we thought it was important that information regarding Polly Henry was included in the annotated version of the memoir. Historian David McCullough says, “History is no longer a spotlight. We are turning up the stage lights to show the entire cast.” His quotation emphasizes the reality that history is generally told from the perspective of one sector of society and it is imperative as historians and those entrusted with the stewardship of our community’s history, that we look to tell our story with a broader, more diverse approach.

Polly Ann Henry

Polly Ann Henry

Pauline (Polly) Ann Hayward Henry, was an accomplished photographer and author in her professional life and a loving mother and wife to her family.  Pauline was born to Reverend Joshua and Lydia Barker Hayward in Lowville, New York in 1825. Not much is known about Polly’s early life. Census records indicate she was the second youngest in a large family.  Her father, who Polly states died in 1840 after “twenty-three years of laborious work in the Gospel field” most likely was known to Thomas Henry. The Christian Palladium has several notices of Reverend Hayward  preaching in New York state during the 1830s and it is quite possible he and Thomas were acquainted.  Polly marries the third son of Thomas and his first wife Elizabeth (Betsey) Davis, George Henry in Porter Niagara, New York June 24, 1846. Polly and George settled on a farm by the lakefront in Oshawa and counted as their neighbours members of the Robinson and Guy families.  Soon two sons, Roland and Chauncy, were added to their family . By 1861, the family had moved to Bowmanville and were living in a 1 storey, frame house. They now had 2 more children, daughter Ella Jane and son George.  A fifth child, Thomas Eben Blake, was born in 1868.

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Polly Ann and George Henry

Polly Ann was, at least for a time,  a professional photographer. Whether she had any formal training is unknown however she had a studio in Bowmanville which she ran for a short time as well as a studio in Oshawa which was sold in 1865 to another portrait photographer. The Pennsylvania State Special Collection Library has in its collection two portraits taken by Polly. [1]

PA Henry Oshawa

The reverse of a photograph taken by PA Henry. Note, her location is Oshawa, CW (Canada West) telling us the photo was taken pre 1867

Most of the details regarding the writing and publishing of Thomas Henry’s memoir are lost to history.  Perhaps Thomas was following in the footsteps of several of his contemporaries, men such as Elder Abner Jones, Joseph Badger and Joseph Ash, who had published memoirs.  Or perhaps it was his daughter in law Polly that suggested to Thomas that he share his stories of spiritual development, plentiful travel and church leadership with family members and his friends in the church.

Just a few short months after Thomas’ death in September 1879, Polly had Thomas’ memoir completed and was researching publishing options. The only reference to the memoirs in the Henry collection comes from a letter written by George Henry to his step-mother Lurenda Abbey. In it George writes, “P.A. (Polly Ann) …. has Fathers history finished and wanted to see you, she had an answer from the [Publisher] – my house in [Dayton] Ohio about publishing Fathers history but not very encouraging.”[2]  The Ohio publisher referenced in the letter was most likely the Christian Publishing Association, headquartered in Dayton which published many of the Christian Church publications including the Herald of Gospel Liberty.  As a frequent contributor to the publication, Thomas Henry was likely known to the publishers. Interestingly enough, it appears they declined to publish the memoirs.  Polly’s next idea was to have family members contribute funds towards the publication costs, as noted by George “ [she] would like that such of the boys invest $20.00 each towards the printing and take books for their pay and for me to pay the [rest] as the fears if will be looseing matters. If you think favourable of it you can speak to them as you see them and what is done should be done at once.”[3] Unfortunately we don’t know if the family members gave any money towards the publication of the memoir or if it was George, as he feared would happen, who paid for the publishing. The Memoir of Thomas Henry was published by Polly in 1880 and printed by Hill & Weir, Steam Printers of Toronto.


Original Thomas Henry Memoir (l) and the recently published annotated memoir

After the memoir was finished we don’t hear much about Polly. She and George continued to live in Bowmanville where he became a successful fruit dealer. George passed away on March 6, 1892 of complications from diabetes. In  the 1901 census Polly is shown as living in Bowmanville with her son Thomas, his wife and three grandchildren.  Polly passed away on January 2, 1913 in Essex County Ontario.

Where those who walk shall sleep no more
The sleep of death. Are they not there?
Prophetic whispers answers, “There!”
Where those who love, their loved ones meet.

~From a poem written by Polly Henry


[1] Rethinking Professionalism: Women and Art in Canada, 1850-1970 Hardcover – Apr 11 2012 by Kristina Huneault pg 164. Photos are part of the William C. Darrah Collection of cartes de vistas.

[2] Letter from George Henry to Lurenda Henry, February 3, 1880, Original in the Archival collection of the Oshawa Museum

[3] Letter from George Henry to Lurenda Henry, February 3, 1880, Original in the Archival collection of the Oshawa Museum

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


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

Dead Man’s Penny – Memorial Death Plaque

By Laura Suchan, Executive Director, and Jennifer Weymark, Archivist
This article was been edited from what originally appeared in the AGS Quarterly


The Government of Canada has designated the period 2014-2020 as the official commemoration period of the World Wars and of the brave men and women who served and sacrificed on behalf of their country. One of the most enduring examples of war commemoration  is the bronze “Dead Man’s Penny” seen on many gravestones in cemeteries across Canada. The plaques, resembling a large penny (hence their nickname), were given to families who had lost a loved one as a result of WWI.

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Garrow headstone in Oshawa’s Union Cemetery

Canada entered WWI on August 4, 1914 when the United Kingdom declared war on Germany. During the course of the war over 619 000 Canadians enlisted and almost 60 000 lost their lives.

In 1916, as the Great War waged on, the British Government felt there was a need to create a memorial to be given to the families of the war dead which would acknowledge their sacrifice. A committee was created and given the task of deciding what form this memorial would take; a bronze plaque officially known as the Next of Kin Memorial Plaque and a memorial scroll signed by the King was their decision.

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Memorial Scroll for Private Wilfred Lawrence Bancroft. Courtesy of the Whitby Archives

In 1917, a competition, open to any British born person, was held to find a design for the plaque. Instructions for the competition were published in The Times newspaper on August 13, 1917.  For example, any design had to include a symbolic figure, meaningful to British citizens.  Potential designs must also include the inscription “He died for freedom and honour” and provide space to include the name, initials and military unit of the deceased.

There were more than 800 entries submitted and Mr. Edward  Preston was the successful winner. His design, a 12 centimetre disk cast in bronze gunmetal, featured the figure of Britannia holding a laurel wreath beneath which was a rectangular tablet where the deceased individual’s name was cast into the plaque. No rank was included as it was intended to show equality in their sacrifice.  The required inscription “He died for freedom and honour” was inscribed along the outer edge of the disk. In front of Britannia stands a lion and, two dolphins representing Britain’s sea power.  A smaller lion is depicted biting into an eagle, the emblem of Imperial Germany.  With the conclusion of the war, over 1.3 million plaques were sent to grieving families throughout the British Empire. Plaques were sent to the next of kin for all soldiers, sailors, airmen and women sailors, airmen and women serving who died as a direct consequence of their service. Plaques were also sent to the next of kin of those who died between August 4, 1914 and April 30, 1919 as a result of sickness, suicide or accidents, or as a result of wounds sustained during their time of service.

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An example of the Next of Kin Memorial Plaque or Dead Man’s Penny. Photo courtesy of the Ontario Regiment Museum

The plaques soon became popularly known as “the Dead Man’s Penny”, or “Widow’s Penny” for their resemblance to the penny coin. There was no formalized etiquette for displaying the plaques.  According to Sam Richardson, assistant curator at the Ontario Regiment Museum, some families chose to do very little with the plaques, the memorial scrolls and King’s messages that came with them. Often these plaques would be hidden away in drawers or chests so as not to be reminders of their loved ones.  Others, however, went to great lengths to display it, with many families adding them to war memorials as they were built, or framed and mounted on walls in the family home or in a local community establishment the soldier was a part of, such as a church parish.  As time passed and military museums began to be established and grow, many descendants would also choose to donate the plaques to them.

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William James Garrow Jr., from the Oshawa Museum Archival Collection

The family of Oshawa resident William Garrow Jr.  decided a permanent home for his memorial plaque was most fitting and they chose to have it mounted into a gravestone.  Garrow was born on May 15, 1894 to William and Mary Garrow., the youngest of four children and the only surviving son.

At the time he enlisted, Garrow had been working as an upholsterer and living with his parents and two sisters in the family home on Albert Street. He enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) in Montreal on August 30, 1915 at the age of 21. He saw action overseas  in both France and Belgium.  Garrow joined up with the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry as a replacement on the front lines in December 1915.  He was fighting with the Princess Pats at that Battle of Mount Sorrell when he lost his life sometime between June 2–4, 1916. The family received official word of his death through a telegram. Although the final resting place of Pvt. William Garrow is unknown, he is memorialized as one of the missing on the Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium.

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The Next of Kin Memorial Plaque received by William Garrow’s family remains today  embedded in his tombstone in Oshawa’s Union Cemetery. It remains as a testament, over a hundred years later,  to a young man’s supreme sacrifice  and the depth of pride his family felt in his service to King and country.

Publishing the Thomas Henry Correspondence Collection

By Caitlan M., Research & Publication Co-ordinator

In 2013 the museum received a box of jumbled up letters, receipts, and other pieces of papers which turned out to be a truly amazing donation as these papers were either written by or sent to a Henry family member. This became known as the Thomas Henry Correspondence Collection. Since receiving this collection, the idea of using the collection to help further understand the lives of the Henry family was always there but the time and resources were not available then.

Jump forward to a few months ago, a grant was received to hire a person to go through and create an annotated book. However, this book will only focus on the letters from a family member to family member. The idea is to go through and give the letters context; explaining the other names throughout the letter, the location from where it was sent from, any business ventures and all the other details.


Thomas Simon (TS) Henry (A983.41.5)

For example there is a letter written from Thomas Simon (T.S.) and John Henry to their father, Thomas Henry. It was written in September of 1879, the sons mention they were not able to attend the Toronto Exhibition and later in the letter make a point of saying Thomas was there “to enjoy the Old Pioneer conflab.” This is all really interesting as the Canadian National Exhibition or CNE was originally called the Toronto Industrial Exhibition and its opening year was in 1879. Although his sons mention that Thomas was only at the exhibition to enjoy a conversation with the York Pioneers; a group of men formed to preserve York County’s early history, a history Thomas would have been a part of since he was a substitute in the War of 1812. The York Pioneers were at the Toronto Exhibition as they were moving a log cabin – the Scadding Cabin (originally known as Simcoe Cabin,) to its now permanent home.


A001.7.6; letter to Thomas Henry from his sons George and TS.

I have also been making a point at looking at census records to see how the family continued to move around. Take George Guy, grandson to Thomas Henry, we have two letters written by him – from 1878 and 1879, both are written from Winnipeg. George was born in East Whitby, he headed west to find work sometime around 1878 and was able to purchase land in Morris, Manitoba. What’s interesting about him is two things happen in most of the census records; his location changes and his occupation changes.

  • 1881 Census: Location: Morris, Manitoba. Occupation: Cultivator
  • 1891 Census: Location: Morris, Manitoba. Occupation: Gram Buyer
  • 1905 Census: Location: Buffalo Ward 25, Erie, N.Y. Occupation: Carpenter
  • 1910 Census: Location: Buffalo Ward 17, Erie, N.Y. Occupation: Watchman – public school
  • 1920 Census: Location: Buffalo Ward 12, Erie, N.Y. Occupation: Engineer – public school
  • 1925 Census: Location: Buffalo Ward 12, Erie, N.Y. Occupation: Janitor
  • 1935 George dies, buried in Buffalo.

Although I am unsure why George moved around so much, I can’t help but wonder if it was to move closer to his new occupations.

The book will be published sometime in 2018 with the transcriptions of each of the letters and all of the annotations.

Transcription of above letter:


Postcard sent to Thomas Henry from T.S.  and J. Henry (punctuation added during transcription)

Georgetown Sept. 8th 79

Dear Father

I am here today with Thomas. We are both well and healthy. We hope you are awe well as could be expected considering your age. I did attend the Toronto exhibition but expected to go to Ottawa the week after next. No doubt you was at Toronto to enjoy the Old Pioneer conflab to see Lawrence and the Princess and you could look ? on the Bay and imaginette great chougesuce(?) 1812 when you was a big boy in tall muddy York as you called it an you have a log cabin in the ? city. Did you see it?  I understood it is well put ?


*If you can add to this transcription or note any corrections, please leave a comment.