50 Years of the Robinson House Museum

Today, October 25, marks Robinson House’s 50th birthday of being a museum! To celebrate this anniversary, we’re looking back at the history of this home.

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Robinson House is the youngest of our three museum buildings, constructed in the mid-1850s for members of the Robinson Family.  For many years, it was believed that the construction was overseen by John Robinson, the patriarch, however, research in the early 2010s has proven this to be untrue.  In fact, John may have never stepped foot in the home which is his namesake, having moved to Iowa and re-settling there sometime in the 1850s.  The original inhabitants of Robinson House were John’s wife Ruth, their daughter Eunice, her husband Richard, and their family.

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Robinson House later was owned by Eunice’s brother Cornelius, arguably the Robinson with the strongest ties to the home and certainly well remembered by those in the community.  Douglas Mackie, a child living in Henry House in the 1910s, remembered Cornelius as such:

“The face and figure of Cornelius Robinson remain shadowy to me except for his long grey beard. But I do remember his lantern. He would walk from Robinson House, as it is called now, to our place in the evening, carrying this lantern. Our farm lanterns were ordinary everyday lanterns designed to shine light from all sides, but his was a beautiful red one, with one side shielded by a metal reflector, to light his way while walking.  He would talk and talk long after my brother and I were put to bed. Oddly enough, I can’t remember if he was married, had a family, or was a bachelor. If the thought ever crossed my young mind it seemed to me he lived alone.”

Dr. Hoig also paints a picture of this man, describing Cornelius as “a very dark man who wore earrings and lived in the white brick house where the road turns east along the water front.”

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Upon Cornelius’s death in 1921, the house was passed to his daughter, also named Eunice.  After a number of decades, the house sat vacant, a shadowy place for children who grew up around Oshawa-on-the-Lake.

“It was more of a mystery to the kids of the area. We would dare each other to go into the Robinson House, because in the winter months no one tended to live in the house. We would climb up to the main level. For some reason on the main level of the house there was a pile of leather cuttings. The kids used to dare one another to get pieces of leather to prove their entry into the house. You were really brave if you brought back a piece of leather!” ~Douglas Mackie

“It was a place we didn’t go near for fear it would fall on us, or a ghost would appear.” ~Darlene Williams

“Once we discovered an entry into the house, it became our playhouse. We swept out the old kitchen and it seems to me that there was an old bed. I remember telling my Mom about the fun we were having over there. She told me not to go on the bed in case it had bedbugs. That was enough to scare us for a while. ~Linda Cory Bazowsky

Eunice died in Toronto in 1963 and the City of Oshawa purchased the home the following year with the intention of demolishing the then-derelict house and improving the park land.  The Oshawa and District Historical Society saw potential in the building and put forth a number of proposals to save the building; the City transferred ownership to the ODHS in 1965 for the purpose of restoration and use as a museum.  The society already operated the Henry House Museum and saw potential in Robinson House as being a Centennial project.

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One of the largest stumbling blocks was fundraising for the restoration, however, this project was truly championed by Verna Conant who wrote letters, advocated, and truly spearheaded the fundraising initiatives.  A building permit was issued in 1967, and on October 25, 1969, the Robinson House Museum officially opened to the public.

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One of the earliest exhibits in the Robinson House Museum was the tavern. For decades, it was believed Robinson House was once an inn and tavern, and this exhibit reflected that believed myth.  While it makes an interesting story, Robinson House was never an inn or tavern.  Other long-time favourite exhibits were the Children’s Discovery Gallery, the General Store Exhibit, and the one-room Schoolhouse exhibit.

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Today, Robinson House is our exhibition space.  The upper storey is home to our permanent exhibit A Carrying Place: Oshawa’s Indigenous Story, while the bottom floor is used for feature exhibition space.  The Oshawa Museum celebrates the history of our city, and this history is certainly diverse! Past feature exhibits have included Tales from the Tracks: Oshawa Railway, Mourning After: The Victorian Celebration of Death, Community Health in the 20th Century, Celebrating 60, and currently on display is The Vintage Catwalk.

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For the last 50 years, Robinson House has been an important part of the Museum, and the house itself is one of our most important (and arguably our largest) artefact. Happy birthday, Robinson House Museum!

The History of Lot 6, Broken Front Concession

Guy House and Robinson House, two of our Museum buildings, reside on Lot 6, Broken Front (BF) Concession.

1867 Centennial Map

The recorded history of the lot begins on May 19, 1821 when the patent for 200 acres of land was granted to Charles Annis.

The patent to a parcel of Crown Land was granted to settlers who were successful in fulfilling their settlement agreement such as clearing the land in a specific time period.  The agreement had to be completed before the patent could be granted, and this process could take several years.

Just two years later, Charles sold the 200 acres to Levi Annis.  The complete 200 acre lot was sold two other times before it began to be divided up and sold.  On October 3, 1845 David Annis sold the north 50 acres to John Shipman.

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The following year, Annis sold 58 square perches to John Robinson; this is just under half an acre.  It was on this parcel of land that Robinson House was built.

The Sydenham Harbour Company first appears on the land registry records in 1847, when David Annis sells 2 acres, 3 rods and 15 paces to the company.  Just one year later a portion of the land was then sold to the Grand Trunk Railroad.  In just under 30 years, the lot has changed from being farm land to the arrival of industry.

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The Guy name does not appear in the records until 1861 when ¼ acre was sold to James O. Guy by Samuel Phillips and ½ acre was sold to him by Daniel Conant.

The end of the 1800s saw the arrival of another well known Oshawa business.  In 1894, the Oshawa Sydenham Company transferred through an agreement a part of their land to the Rathbun Company, who began the Oshawa Railway Company.

The Town of Oshawa appears on the registry in 1904 with a deal between the town and Thomas Conant.  The agreement is a sewer grant which permits the town to lay pipe underground on Conant’s property.

The annexation of Cedardale began with Gordon Conant granting part of the lot to East Whitby Township for $400 in 1921.  The following year, the annexation process was on-going and resulted in part of the lot now becoming the property of the Town of Oshawa.

The 1930s saw a by-law, #2034, passed that allowed part of the lot to be used for industrial sites.  The following year, the town also devised a plan to widen Simcoe Street, thus making use of part of the lot once again.

The transformation of the lot into park land began in 1951 when the lot, along with all residences and road allowances, was annexed to the City of Oshawa.

Student Museum Musings – Nadia

By Nadia, Social Media Co-op Student

If I could summarize my first couple week at the Oshawa Community Museum in one word, it would be “welcoming.” The atmosphere is very friendly and the staff members made me feel like a part of the team.

Although my first day was primarily accessibility training, I enjoyed being in the workplace rather than school. The tour my supervisor, Lisa Terech, gave me was both intriguing and informative. In just a short period of time, I learned a lot about Oshawa that I would not have known otherwise. I love working in such a historically significant site.

My favourite aspect of my time so far was reading through Oshawa’s old newspapers starting from the 1960s. On the contrary, anything old and vintage fascinates me, however; the style of writing and the information given diverge from modern day journalism. When I was reading through old hockey articles, I found out about Bobby Orr’s origins with the OHL. It was truly amazing to find the roots of his success from the newspapers. When I searched through photographs of Oshawa, I found many of him in his old uniform. My favourite place in the museum is the closet full of old cameras. Yes, a closet. Since I do photography on my recreational time, the abundance of cameras mesmerized me.

Currently, I am into my third week at the Oshawa Community Museum. I am beginning to get used to the routine here. I am also honored to have big responsibilities, such as creating a logo for the Mourning After: The Victorian Celebration of Death (Spring 2015 exhibit). From my co-operative experience, I hope to discover if a career in media or journalism is the right path for me. I believe the Oshawa Community Museum is the best place for me to figure this out.

Below are photographs from around the Museum that Nadia has taken with her captions! Enjoy!

Robinson House, c. 1856
Robinson House, c. 1856
Reflections of Oshawa exhibit in Robinson House
Reflections of Oshawa exhibit in Robinson House
Before the Canadian national anthem was created, students started the day by singing “God Save the Queen”
Before the Canadian national anthem was created, students started the day by singing “God Save the Queen”
Hand-dyed wool
Hand-dyed wool
Henry House exterior
Henry House exterior

Once Upon A Time

By: Karen Albrecht, Visitor Host 

Some people say a picture is worth a thousand words, but here at the Oshawa Community Museum our stories are priceless. If you have ever visited the museum you will understand what I mean, if not then let me tell you how we make Oshawa’s history come to life.

The houses of the Oshawa Community Museum
The houses of the Oshawa Community Museum

I began volunteering at The Oshawa Community Museum (OCM) up until this summer when I was taken on as an Occasional Visitor Host.  This summer I learned Oshawa’s past through shadowing tours and giving tours. The most important aspect I learned from watching tours and giving tours, is that no two tour guides are alike. For, each tour guide delivers a tour their own way and each guide modifies their tour depending on age and group size. All of these conditions (age, group size etc.) allow guides to give special personalized tours that are relevant to you and your group.

Starting at Robinson house tour guides will tell you the story of John Robinson, a cobbler,  who lived in Oshawa with his wife and children, and it was his children that ultimately called Robinson House their home.  Upon entering the house guests will enter rooms which all have different exhibits in them. From this unique set up of different exhibits throughout the house, guests will always find that even after their 3rd or 4th visit they are still learning about Oshawa’s past.

Karen inside Henry House
Karen inside Henry House

Henry House (my favourite house), comes next. In this house the story of Thomas Henry and his family come alive. What surprised me and still surprises me, is that every tour guide tells a different story of the Henry’s and their home. From a family with many children,  to ghosts, to sleeping beauty and her spinning wheel, guests will never know what information they are going to learn.

The best part of the job is hearing from all of the wonderful guests! While on tour guests and guides discuss not only Oshawa’s history but also the history of their life in Oshawa. This personal connection makes everyone feel comfortable and, in my opinion,  gets your tour guide talking. For example, when I took a tour of an older couple through Henry house they kept mentioning how they have antiques in their house that resemble the ones in Henry house. Being curious I asked about them and shared my own grandparents background with them. My grandparents live in an old farm house just north of Port Perry, and they too have many antiques.

My best advice I can give to any new visitors would be to ask as many questions as possible and make connections that your tour guide can reflect on. If you are a returning guest, then simply inquire about the little details; you will learn lots of new information that adds on to what you already know.

Photo by L. Bazowsky
Photo by L. Bazowsky

It does not matter if you have been to the OCM once, never or a hundred times, the stories always change. From my little experience I’ve heard various  tours which highlight various information. That’s why the OCM is my favourite place to come learn about Oshawa’s past. No matter how many times you have visited the museum, once upon a time… always changes.

Memories of Lamplights Past

For over two decades, the signature event at the Oshawa Community Museum has been our Lamplight Tour.  Henry House, our traditional Victorian home, is lit with oil lamps, in Robinson House, the General Store exhibit is ready to party like it’s 1899, Father Christmas makes an appearance, and there is food, drinks, and music to be enjoyed.

OCM Staff took time to reflect on their favourite memories from the Lamplight Tour.

Laura Suchan, Executive Director
My favourite memories of Lamplight are of my children participating in the schoolroom activities.

Dylon, left, in 2004, and Tyler, right, in 2008.
Dylon, left, in 2004, and Tyler, right, in 2008.

Jennifer Weymark, Archivist
My memory of Lamplight was the year that (OHS Member) Don Sloman dressed as Father Christmas.

Don Sloman dressed as Father Christmas, 2000 Lamplight
Don Sloman dressed as Father Christmas, 2000 Lamplight

Melissa Cole, Curator
My favourite memories are the years that Anderson CVI students participated.  In Henry House, they dramatized the Henry Family getting ready for the wedding of Jennie Henry.

Anderson CVI Students, at 2004 Lamplight
Anderson CVI Students, at 2004 Lamplight

Jillian Passmore, Visitor Experience Co-ordinator
I don’t necessarily have a favourite memory of Lamplight, but to me, the smells of Henry House, from the greenery, to the cloves, and the lamp oil, help to begin the holiday season.  Lamplight is the beginning of Christmas.

Jillian decorating the tree in Henry House, 2009 Lamplight
Jillian decorating the tree in Henry House, 2009 Lamplight

Lisa Terech, Community Engagement
My favourite memories are of my first Lamplights, my first as a volunteer where I was in the General Store, and the first as a staff in the Henry House Kitchen.  Since 2010, I am the staff member in the Kitchen, and I love talking about preparing the plum pudding!

Preparing plum pudding, 2010 Lamplight
Preparing plum pudding, 2010 Lamplight

We hope that you’ll join us for this year’s Lamplight Tour and make memories of your own!
Saturday, December 6, 2014
6-8pm