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.


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.


Student Museum Musings – Gabby

When I first started my co-op, I knew I would be here during the change of exhibits within Robinson House. What I did not know is how active I would be in the instillation. I expected to take predetermined artefacts and put them in predetermined places. However, what I got was almost the exact opposite.

Melissa Cole has been super amazing and allowed me to pick multiple of the artefacts that are going into the exhibit. I have chosen cameras, pottery pieces, medical instruments, photos and even quotations.

Student Museum Musings 1

The entire process is much harder then it seems. You would think that it is as simple as picking some artefacts and laying them out nice and pretty; while that is actually what happens, it is hard. “The bigger artefacts go in the back and the smaller in the front, right?” Wrong. “These two are similar colours so they go on the same side.” Nope. “I can do this in half an hour and then get to the other project I am working on.” You wish.

Student Museum Musings 2

While figuring out how to best display artefacts is difficult, so is choosing them. While some artefacts have dear little places in our own hearts, we also have to consider which artefacts the community wants to see. I may love one for one reason where someone else dislikes it for the same reason.

Student Museum Musings 3

The other aspect of picking artefacts that makes doing so difficult is that there are so many. I want to pick them all. If I could, I would put all 300+ cameras on display. However, that is an insane number of cameras and so only nine or ten can actually go out! That is only 3% of that entire collection. See where the difficulty lies?

Another cool thing about the new exhibit is how the two halves of my co-op are coming together. I get to promote it on social media, and even design activities for visitors to do while taking tours!

Student Museum Musings 4

I hope that all of you who come to see the new exhibit Celebrating 60 Years enjoy viewing it as much as I enjoyed helping with its creation. This amazing exhibit runs from April to November 2017.

Logo for OMA copy

Student Museum Musings – Peter

My name is Peter McKenzie.  I am an intern from Trent University, conducting an internship here at the Oshawa Museum.  Having nearly completed my required 100 hours, I am able to reflect on my time here.  Having majored in anthropology, and soon to be attending a museum curatorship program, the chance to work at a local museum immediately caught my interest.  The staff have been very kind.  Understanding my interest in museum studies, they have been accommodating enough to give me a broad experience of museum tasks, from accessioning fascinating artifacts to assisting with social media productions to designing small exhibits to guiding tours of the houses.  Guiding the tours has become my absolute favourite experience at the museum (especially at Henry House).  Getting dress up in nineteenth century attire, and lead groups through the houses, is an immersive and fun experience.  Not only have I been able to learn so much more about Oshawa’s history, but I get to pass all that I’ve learned on to the museum’s guests.  The Oshawa Museum has a wealth of interesting historical knowledge, a delightful charm, and a wonderful staff.  I had an amazing time interning here, and know I’ll have to visit again soon!

PicMonkey Collage

Kindergarten in the Victorian Age

By Jill Passmore, Visitor Experience Co-ordinator

Some days it feels as if my world revolves around education in Oshawa, from a historical perspective as well as from the present. My daughter will be entering Senior Kindergarten this week and that has gotten me thinking about how different it was when I was that young and even how different it was when my parents were in school.

In Junior Kindergarten last year, my daughter was learning about architectural styles of castles, space, life cycles of butterflies and how to make vermicomposters. I clearly remember naptime, playing with wooden blocks and story time in a circle. There were no computers, no iPads to record students’ memories and no one even thought about composting!

Before the kindergarten system was established, student sat in rows of seats according to their grade level. The youngest sat on benches in front of the other student’s desks, their feet barely touching the ground. With all of the other students begging for attention from the teacher, the little ones often got overlooked. Research into the education and psychology of young children only began to occur in the late nineteenth century. Most people thought that educating the young was a waste of time. According to the Oshawa Museum’s Olive French Manuscript “Some of the doctors in the 1860s/70s were noticed to have said that small children, even up to the age of seven or eight, should not attend school. They should be home and allowed the freedom of play in the fresh air and sun. This would build up stronger constitutions and also relieve the overcrowding in the schools.”

Students of the South Simcoe Street School, c. 1926, A983.4.5.3

Overcrowding was an issue for Oshawa schools from the beginning. Buildings in downtown Oshawa such as the Disciples Church and Sons of Temperance Hall were often pulled into service as classrooms when space was needed.

Eventually, Centre Street School underwent a complete reconstruction and renovation and in 1923 the school would have “twenty four rooms, including facilities for a Kindergarten and a spacious auditorium. The restructuring of the school would cost the School Board $175 000.”¹ Olive French claims the school was built for $220 000 and accommodate 700 students. It would be another twenty four years before a second kindergarten class would become operational at Ritson Road School. Kindergarten classes were added to most other schools in Oshawa during the 1950s; South Simcoe School in 1950, 1952 at Simcoe Street North (Dr. S.J. Phillips), and 1953 at Coronation, duke of Edinburgh and Woodcrest Public Schools.

Not a lot is known about the local kindergarten curriculum at that time. Miss Greta Ellis taught kindergarten out of her home in the early 1920s before being hired by the School Board in 1924. Miss Ellis would play the piano; later while she taught, her assistant would play.²

Today I’m wondering what the School Board of the past would have thought about paying their new Kindergarten teachers to supervise naptime. I’m not sure if I’d have liked going to school in the late nineteenth/early twentieth century’s. Many of the schools in Oshawa’s past were quite poorly constructed, dim, draughty, and inadequately supplied. I think I’ll stick to my happy naptime memories of the 1980s and see what 2017 brings for my daughter.

  1. Ross, J. Douglas. Education in Oshawa. 1970.
  2. French, Olive. Education in Oshawa. Unpublished manuscript. 1967.