The Gift of Play – Favourite Toys from Days Gone By

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

I have a younger sister.  She’s awesome. However, we’re very close in age, with only 20 months separating us.  Because of this age closeness,  at Christmastime, we would often receive the same gift, only in different colours.  This was the same for Barbies.  Kate, with her fair hair, would receive the blonde Barbie herself, while I, with my darker complexion and brown hair, would receive Barbie’s darker haired friend.  This was okay with me though, because everyone had Barbie, but her best friend Midge was unique.

Ski Fun Barbie and her friends, in all their ’90s glory!

One Christmas, we received the Ski Fun Barbies, with Kate getting Barbie, dressed in pink, and I received Midge, dressed in blue.  I loved her.  I’m not sure if it was her bright blue outfit, that she was ready for fun in the snow complete with her fur lined jacket, or the fact that she was a less common doll, but this gift sticks out for me as one of my favourite toys.

Barbie has been a part of the cultural landscape since 1959.  She was invented by Ruth Handler and named for her daughter Barbara.  Ken was introduced in 1961, and a plethora of friends came after that.  She has been beloved by many and disputed by others.  For better or worse, Barbie is here to stay and she be continue to be either loved or loathed.

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Barbie, c. 1959, from the Smithsonian Institute, National Museum of American History

Like many childhood playthings, Midge and other Barbies didn’t last the test of time.  The toy that has been well loved for over 30 years is Stitch.  Who is Stitch? He was the first gift I ever received, given to me by my father when I was born.  This teddy bear has seen the good times, the bad, and has moved with me from my parents house to university, to my new home in Oshawa.


Teddy bears are such a staple in childhoods, and their ‘origin story’ is almost as well-known as the toy itself.  It appears around 1902/1903, a few firms were developing these stuffed animals; New York based Morris Mitchum was inspired to create his bear after seeing a political cartoon that appeared in the Washington Post.  US President Theodore Roosevelt was on a hunting trip in November 1902 when he was presented with a black bear, tied to a willow tree.  He was encouraged to shoot it (as is the purpose of hunting trips), however, ‘Teddy’ deemed it too unsportsmanlike to shoot the tied bear; Clifford Berryman editorialised this moment with his cartoon.

Teddy Roosevelt cartoon, refusing to shoot a teddy bear

It seems counter-intuitive that a bear, a large, dangerous, predatory animal, has been made cute and cuddly and an ever popular child play thing, however the bear is often a protector for young children, something that is clung to, a defender from nightmares, perhaps.

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964.3.3 – Teddy Bear in the Oshawa Museum Collection

There are some wonderful teddy bears on display as part of our latest exhibit: The Gift of Play: Toys of Yesterday.  This exhibit is open until April 2016.  If you haven’t had a chance to see it, please visit the Oshawa Museum before it closes, and when you’re on tour, tell your Visitor Host about YOUR favourite toy growing up!

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