Reflections from a Summer Student

By Grace A., Summer Student

I spent the majority of my summer at the Oshawa Museum researching the city’s early Jewish community. As Jennifer Weymark shared in her post, this project aligns with the greater plan to compile the stories that have not yet been told in our local histories. As she wrote, there has been a summer student (that’s me) sifting through census records, newspaper articles and other primary source documents, trying to piece it all together. In the beginning, I delved into the 1921 Census of Canada, looking for families in Oshawa who identified as Hebrew. I recorded names, birthdates, countries of origin, dates of immigration, language, and occupation. Using this information, I went to the Oshawa City Directory from the same year to get a little more personal. I found out which houses they lived in and the businesses they may have owned. I have to admit, I felt a little invasive. Everything I looked through was public record, but I couldn’t help but wonder what they would think and whether they would have approved of me playing private investigator.

The idea of informed consent was developed in the medical and biomedical community during the 1950s. While the concept has evolved over time, it’s rooted in the belief that there should be a process of communication between the physician and patient. To simplify it, the patient has to be fully aware of what they’re getting into before they receive treatment. Conversations about research ethics over the last few decades have been influenced by the basic notion of informed consent. For example, Karen L. Potts and Leslie Brown talk about informed consent in their essay titled “Becoming an Anti-Oppressive Researcher.” In their words, informed consent “highlights our commitment to the community, our relationships to it, the data, and the process.” These processes become complicated when you’re researching past communities. Most of the time, there is no opportunity to have an open dialogue between the researcher and subject in historical studies.

Ontario Jewish Archives, 1976-6-8

This summer, I learned that in the absence of this relationship there are still ways that museums can commit themselves to anti-oppressive research. On this project, we had many conversations about the archive. This is a particularly important consideration for a research project about the early Jewish community in Oshawa. During the time periods we studied, Jewish people in Canada faced anti-Semitism and experienced a great deal of adversity as a result of colonial violence. This considered, we have to be aware of how these structures are embedded in archived material. The Ontario Jewish Archives was immensely helpful both as a source of reliable information and a partner on this project. The photograph above is from their collection, and shows a group of Oshawa children and a Rabbi at a Cheder class from 1925. “Cheder Class” was one of many photographs from the OJA’s collection which helped to visualize the history of the early Jewish community.


Sources

Research As Resistance, Second Edition: Revisiting Critical, Indigenous, and Anti-Oppressive Approaches, edited by Leslie Brown, and Susan Strega, Canadian Scholars, 2015. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.proxy.queensu.ca/lib/queen-ebooks/detail.action?docID=6282047.

How Visual Art Can Help Narrate History

By Jessica R., Summer Student

As I come to the end of my summer job at the Oshawa Museum, I’m grateful I had the opportunity to apply what I have learned in university into real life research projects. I believe that the strongest take-away from my personal projects at the museum is the idea that we form our perspectives of history in relation to the evidence and research we view. I learned that there is a surprisingly strong co-dependency between literary history and visual art during each era. It seems self-explanatory for someone who is regularly involved with historic research. But for me, having this first-time experience to see the value of artefacts, architecture, and visual art was exciting. Art in any genre or style is usually focused on its aesthetic value, such as the art style, colours, or perspective. But no matter how abstract or grand the art piece is, it will always contain historical evidence of some sort.

I was assigned to work on uncovering and researching the backstory and meanings behind historical paintings and drawings by the late Canadian artist, ES Shrapnel. The process to find the history behind the paintings was fairly difficult at times. But I found through my research that combining the written information I found with my own examination of the art style and colours in the sketches added the missing pieces of information I needed to finish the background information or support the visualization of the author’s ideas. Besides being an excellent primary source of information, the prints I examined were also good examples of the trends within local artists of that time, and it showed how society was progressing in terms of art styles. I noticed that ES Shrapnel promoted his talents often in the Whitby Chronicle, saying he would hold lessons for anyone who was interested. The community was then able to create art which reflected the narrative of their own lives at the time because of artists like Shrapnel who encouraged this participation. Shrapnel’s networking abilities are still seen today using different, modern technological ways. As we draw parallels with today’s society, we can appreciate that this was one of the many ways that visual art can continue to have historic usefulness.

Whitby Chronicle, November 4, 1880, Page 03.

In general, visual art is a core aspect engrained in everyone’s culture, lifestyle, and community. I appreciate that it gives an additional view on historic communities that did not rely on written literature to depict their stories or actions. Visual art gives historians and researchers an opportunity to expand their knowledge and help us understand in our modern perspective how people co-existed with one another through history. I find the universal understanding of art in history helps expand the ideas of written language and can narrate a scene of moments that were never documented in words.

In conclusion, throughout my time at the Oshawa Museum, I felt greatly satisfied and fulfilled seeing local artists from our community contributing strong and impactful sources of information simply through visual art. With my research of the ES Shrapnel prints, it gave me a newfound appreciation for the artist and others of his time for their dedication to their passions. The beauty of visual art grows deeper than just the material used, but more with their significance in writing history. Visual art gives metaphorical colour to the incomplete paintings of society and its ideas. I hope that people in our community continue to keep making art, regardless of it pertaining to the landscape of our area, as it gives a glimpse of the artistic minds within in our community.

A University Student’s Entry on the Pandemic

By Jessica R., Summer Student

As I am writing this post, I have been working at the Oshawa Museum for almost a month. Unsurprisingly, I have yet to enter the museum. The reason that this is unsurprising pertains to the issue of COVID-19. Its newfound changes have caused me and the rest of the world to continuously adapt to its decisions. Since this blog aids in archiving and documenting local Oshawa history, I believe adding my perspective on how a university student lives within a pandemic could potentially be useful for documenting the experiences for future historians. I won’t be stressing statistical data since that is heavily documented and shared by our government and media.

March 2020 was the last time I entered a school. Since then, I have been attending school virtually. COVID-19’s continuous variation and ability to spread has stopped most in-person experiences and businesses from opening. As someone who enjoys being around others, stopping suddenly and staying home was a learning curve. I’m lucky to say that my quarantine periods were spent quite uneventfully since many experiences by others can vary in levels of stress and negative moments. Finishing high school felt rushed, confusing, and bittersweet, but I still carried optimism for recovery.

Once I finished high school in June 2020, I was on my way to experience all of my first year of university online. The self-teaching moments of self-discipline and independence gave me an overwhelming wave of stress that I, and many other first-year university students, endured in our first semester. Never going on campus while having the difficulty of not participating in clubs, making friends, and maintaining a daily schedule continues to make me feel a detachment from my university after my first year. It took many months for me to learn how to follow a virtual way of studying instead of the 12 years of in-person studying I had been accustomed to. By trying dozens of different methods just to study, I can say that I have achieved a level of stability that kept me afloat during online schooling.

In the second semester, I was feeling my efforts finally being rewarded and had seen my livelihood and marks improve. As the weather started to warm up and vaccinations started to increase, Ontario’s government promised a brighter future by the end of 2021. As the year continues with these changes, as may be expected, I had to continue to keep up with its pace. The tiredness I once felt when I was in lockdown was fading and I began to see opportunities of being productive again. By the end of June 2021, I decided that I was going to find a job again.

I honestly had no expectations of gaining a job with major career experience or one that fit my interests so soon. I give credit to my mom for being able to see a job application for my current position at the Oshawa Museum. If I’m being frank, this was one of the highlights of my whole year. I am an individual greatly swayed by my passions. So, being able to learn and communicate with people who share the same energy and passion encourages me to work hard and aid in exploring my community in depth. The people I had the pleasure of meeting at the Oshawa Museum have already exceeded my expectations and gave me hope for my future. Although I have only met them online, I’m becoming accustomed to the familiarity of seeing them on Zoom (another part of my life that has become somewhat normalized for someone my age). It sounds cheesy but I consider it a landmark for helping me feel capable of achieving the long-term goals I thought were out of reach during COVID-19.

One thing that the pandemic taught me is that stability in daily schedules is not as promised as we wish them to be. Being someone who values stability in my life, specifically in work and in school, COVID-19 completely shifted my perspective on change. I did a lot of self-reflection and endured times of emotional stress and hard times. However, I can also say that it did teach me more about how I view life, while also helping me realize the priorities I value most. Hopefully this post aids in painting the picture of the experiences I had in COVID-19. No two people’s experiences are the same, but collectively as a community, we have grown stronger together. I hope all the stories from our community, from the good to the bad, continue to be documented as we move forward to help us to reminisce and reflect.

Student Museum Musings – In My Own Backyard?

By Dylan C., Museum Management & Curatorship Intern

Being a resident of Whitby for the better part of 24 years, I have been encouraged through sport to view Oshawa as my rival, which has led to a rather lackluster attempt to learn what Oshawa has to offer. It wasn’t until recently, that life led me to discover the Oshawa Museum for my internship as part of Fleming College’s Museum Management and Curatorship program (MMC).

After only a couple weeks on site, I have gained a considerable amount of knowledge about Oshawa by exploring the waterfront trail and by learning the history of the harbour and the surrounding structures.

Although I have ventured into Oshawa via the waterfront trail from Whitby, or from riding near Oshawa Ice Sports after hockey, I never knew how extensive the trails were in Oshawa and how they bleed out into the city streets creating a somewhat hidden bike transit system. These trails are so extensive that Oshawa and the Durham region offer Cycle Tours. The Waterfront trail extends all the way to Toronto and easily connects to GO station stops. This network can provide residents of Oshawa with a greener alternative to their daily transit, at least in the warmer months of the year.

Both photos taken at Emma Street looking north to King, 1992 and 2016. The rail line is now the Michael Starr Trail

The museum has provided me with a platform to learn and explore Oshawa, but it also taught me how to explore. Without the direction from the museum I would not have known where to start my discovery of the city.

My Experience to Date

So far, the museum has been able to provide me with a wide range of experiences from photographing and cataloguing an archaeological collection, to providing supplementary research for an education program.  I have also been able to help install a Smith Potteries exhibit in Robinson House.

Smith Potteries Collection; Picture from Dylan C.

The archaeological dig was completed by Trent University Durham students in 2015 and uncovered 19th century waste pits surrounding Henry House. Cataloguing this archaeological collection has given me the opportunity to apply some of the skills I learned in the MMC program such as proper care and handling of artefacts, photographing, and detailed documentation practices. It has also provided me with insight into the life of the early inhabitants of the area by literally examining what was buried in their backyards. I’ve learned what animals they farmed and what items they had in their homes including ceramics, glass, nails and buttons. Handling these objects makes it easier to connect with the residents of the past because I am essentially documenting their garbage. The past owners did not bury these objects hoping that someone would dig them up 165 years later; they did it to simply discard their waste. For some reason this humanizes them more for me than even walking in their perfectly preserved homes. Perhaps, you can tell a lot about a person from their trash after all.

Cataloguing Station; Picture from Dylan C.

In the upcoming weeks I will be familiarizing myself with the museum’s database as I enter the information from the archaeological collection. I will also be working on a research project that explores the topic of audio transcriptions and engaging at-home volunteers. And lastly, I will be continuing my tour guide training as the museum adapts to the current COVID-19 regulations.

Student Museum Musings – Mia

By Mia V., Summer Student

Hi all! Since I’ve been fortunate enough to spend another summer here, I was able to pick up where I left off in researching post-WWII immigration and the resettlement of displaced people in Oshawa. So far, I’ve been kept busy digging through the archives and collections at the museum, as well as other ones nearby with a similar focus.

It was following a trip up to the Archives of Ontario that I became convinced that in-depth archival research is 1) never dull and 2) always worthwhile. For the first conviction, it was when I was casually sifting through a box of negatives that a very tiny photo of a postcard caught my eye. I took a closer look to see that it involved one party sending the other a very thinly veiled threat (but that’s a tale for another time)!

My second conviction came when I discovered the piles of information that Ontario’s archives had on one of Oshawa’s cultural communities that I had begun researching – the Slovak community. I was sure that they must have been active, given that the location of their heritage museum had once been in Oshawa. Unlike some of the other communities that were still active and that had plenty of historical material, there had not been as much information on them. The most I knew originally was that, given that there is still a Slovak Byzantine Catholic Church on Ritson Road, they must have once been quite present. It turned out that this parish had formed in February of 1952, with the church itself being built in January of 1955. Indeed, these post-war years had been full of renewed immigration to Oshawa, and Slovaks were did not prove to be the exception.

Slovak Church - google images
Slovak Byzantine Catholic Church, 464 Ritson Road South; photo from Google Streetview

However, it still wasn’t quite clear to me just how far back the history extended. In 1968, according to the Oshawa Reformer, the Slovak League in Oshawa (Branch 6) and the First Catholic Slovak Union (Branch 786) celebrated their 40th anniversary at the Slovak National Hall. These were centres of community activity that I had not come across in my research before, and so they helped to fill in some of the gaps. The celebratory event marking the milestone was attended by Slovak communities from across Ontario and also included local guests such as the M.P. Michael Starr and Jo Aldwinckle of the Oshawa Folk Arts Council – two names which have come up frequently in my research. It is for this reason – seeing all these common threads come together – that the search felt so worthwhile.

Mia at the AO
Mia at the Archives of Ontario for her research trip!

Going forward, this information from various archival sources will nicely complement what has been collected through oral history so far. As with before, if anyone has a connection to this period of immigration to the city, we would be glad to hear your stories! I’m looking forward to continuing my work over the following weeks, but, in the meantime, you are welcome to have a look through some of the posts at the Oshawa Immigration Stories website.


References

Mihal, Ondrej. Slovaks in Canada Through Their Own Eyes. Toronto: Slovak Canadian Cultural Heritage Centre, 2003.

“Slovaks celebrate anniversary,” Oshawa Reformer, May 8 1968, Archives of Ontario.