Having Fun with Toys or Becoming a Miniature Adult: Victorian Era Children’s Toys

By Sarah P., Summer Student

I have always been fascinated with artefacts from a young age. Now that I am surrounded by them at the Oshawa Museum, I thought it would be valuable to highlight objects that have intrigued me. On my first day on the job, I was shown a portion of the museum’s collection of toys from the Victorian Era. These incredible artefacts led me on a journey to explore children’s toys of this time.  My intention was to gain some perspective of what it was like to be a child during this era. During the Victorian Period, which was from 1837 to 1901, young adolescents were finally being acknowledged as individuals who had to be properly considered, unlike previous generations. Even with greater recognition from society concerning youth, there was still the widely held expectation that children would labour on family farms and conduct chores in their home. Unlike today, where most youth have time for playing, Victorian Era children did not experience a substantial amount of time for levity. In the Victorian Era, society began to recognize the importance of fostering both the mental and physical success of youth, and they realized that could be achieved through playing with toys.

Sepia photograph of a young girl holding a doll. She is standing behind a chair, and there is another doll placed on the chair
Sepia photograph of Edith Lura Sudgen, holding a doll while another doll is placed in a chair, c. 1895. Oshawa Museum archival collection, A971.32.53

The toys that were in the possession of these children were created with the intention of molding them into adults. This sense of preparation through play was evident in the gendered nature of these playthings. The toys aimed towards young females included dollhouses and dolls. These helped girls practice the skills of mothering by playing house using their dollhouse and caring for their doll as if it was a baby. They also played with items that replicated domestic objects, such as miniature sewing machines and irons. Young girls were playing with these objects for fun, not understanding they reinforced their future roles of wife and mother.

Toys for young boys were focused on cultivating traits of leadership, imagination, and inquisitiveness. There was an expectation placed upon young males to be adept in science and engineering. These playthings reinforced these subjects so that they would pursue these fields when they grew up. Some of the objects that were commonly endorsed for boys to play with were toy soldiers and trains. Toy soldiers in particular were intended to inspire young boys to be interested in the military, learn to follow orders, and to be intrigued in becoming a soldier later in life. Just like young girls, society was influencing these boys through their toys to foster traits that were perceived as the male ideal.

I believe children inherently want to play, and the Victorian Era brought forth the vast variety of toys that we have to this day. One Victorian Era toy that particularly caught my interest was the stereoscope, which reminded me of the viewfinder that I had when I was young. The stereoscope uses a card with two almost identical images that, when viewed by the stereoscope, allows the viewer to see an almost 3D image of the picture. I remember being so fascinated by the images I saw in my viewfinder when I was young. I think it is amazing that I shared this sense of wonder with young children from the Victorian Era who looked at images on their stereoscope. If you want to see a stereoscope, feel free to come to Oshawa Museum where we have one on display in Henry House!

Stereoscope made of wood and metal. The metal components are where the viewer's eyes would be, and the wooden components are where the stereoview card would sit, and the handle for holding the stereoscope.
Stereoscope made out of wood and metal; Oshawa Museum collection, 963.14.1abc

Sources Consulted:

Oshawa Museum Facebook Livestream – January 2022 Sunday Funday LIVE: Toys: https://fb.watch/eA6UmP1mac/

Boston Children’s Museum Article: https://bostonchildrensmuseum.org/about/collections/victorian-era-play-1837-1901

Boston Children’s Museum Photo, Dollhouse furniture, Late Empire c.1875: https://bostonchildrensmuseum.org/about/collections/victorian-era-play-1837-1901

Egham Museum Photo, Victorian toy soldiers: http://eghammuseum.org/toy-soldiers-just-childs-play/

ArteFACTS: Bricks Before Lego

By Melissa Cole, Curator

One of the Oshawa Museum’s latest donations included three sets of Minibrix.  This unique toy reminds me of Lego.  The details given within the construction sets state that the Patentees and Manufacturers are the Premo Rubber Co. Ltd, of Petersfield in Hampshire. Premo was a subsidiary of the ITS Rubber Company, founded in 1919. The origin of Minibrix stretches as far back as 1934, when an American manufacturer ITS Rubber Specialties Company introduced its Build-O-Brik line. Those innovative little rectangles inspired the MiniBrix line from England’s Premo Rubber Company in 1935.  The first impression of any of the Minibrix construction sets surely has to be one of robust precision and of quality materials. The boxes are sturdy and even the smallest of sets are comparatively heavy by today’s standards. Like so many of the toys sold in the 1950s and 1960s, the boxes are colourful and very well illustrated.


A unique fact about Minibrix is the connection to Oshawa.  The sole Canadian supplier of Minibrix, was located here in Oshawa at 184 Bond Street West by the R.D. Fleck and Company Limited.   There is no building located there today, it would have been on the corner of Bond and Arena which is currently an empty lot.

The Minibrix and Tudor Minibrix Book, which were supplied with the sets, gives details of the various items that can be constructed from the materials for each individual set. The colourful illustrations and specific lists of the number of bricks and materials required, make the building of the items shown much easier.  The building sets were launched in 1935 as sets 0 – 7.


The rubber brown bricks were precisely made and interconnected with each other and are similar in size to today’s Lego bricks. Two lugs protrude from one face of the brick to fit into the two corresponding holes of a second brick.  A slight twist and push action secures the bricks together.   The main bricks measure 1” by 1/2” by 3/8”.

Minibuilders Club

Included with this donation was advertising flyers, within one of the flyers it says “Minibrix is a thoroughly hygienic toy.  All are washable and can be passed on from one child to another without risk.” Also included with the donation was a certificate to the Minibuilders Club.  This is similar to the Lego Club today.  The Minibuilders club encouraged the use and further purchases of the product. The MINIBUILDERS CLUB had its own badge and a clear aim: “MINIBUILDERS CLUB has been formed for the purpose of bringing together all owners of Minibrix sets, on the common ground of their interest in model building and architectural construction.”


The Host Files: Caitlan’s Favourite Toy

This blog series comes from our dedicated and awesome Visitor Host staff, and topics range from favourite artifacts, thoughts on our latest exhibits, and anything else in between!

By Caitlan M., Visitor Host

As our Toys and Games exhibit has just ended, I can’t help but think of my favourite toy who I could never bare to see leave. When I was about 2 years old my Nan took me to Marineland where I become obsessed with Orca whales, this lead me to finding my forever best friend – a stuff animal orca whale. I gave him the most original name possible, Whale or Mr. Whale for those fancy occasions he likes to attend. Today I like to think I was just calling him Whale because that’s what he was and my parents thought that’s what I named him, chances are I just wasn’t creative.

Throughout my childhood Whale would follow me where ever I went. If I wasn’t holding him, he would either be beside me or in the same room. I couldn’t sleep when he went to the drycleaners, or as my mom called it a holiday for him. Over the years Whale has been on every vacation I have been on, and I can remember when I went to Europe to visit family when I was 14 and my dad asked if Whale was coming with us. Going through the sassy know-it-all stage in my life I just gave my dad that look of ‘of course he is coming with us’, my dad then asked if Whale would be going in my suitcase – why my dad would ask me this I will never know, what if my suitcase would get lost or stolen then Whale would be lost to me forever. I can remember getting some weird looks from security and flight attendants, they probably thought it was a bit weird seeing a teen with a stuff animal but Whale quite enjoyed looking out the window during the flight. At the end of the day, to me Whale was another member of the family and I didn’t care what people thought.

I find it sad that these toys do not have the love they once had. Yes they are being taken care of and will continue to be taken care of but some of these toys could have easily been a Whale to some other little girl or boy. Whale has seen/been through practically everything I have. He has gone blind in his left eye (well his left eye has fallen off) and his tail is very fragile, but he continues to live on my bed ready to give me a comforting hug when needed.

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!

The Host Files – The Gift of Play


By Carmela D., Visitor Host

When I was a child, my favourite toy was my red Easy Bake Oven.  It’s exciting to think back at those simpler days.  I would plug it in my playroom’s “House” section, in anticipation of playing “grown-up” and creating a scrumptious dessert.  I would often bake chocolate cakes.  I would serve them on my play dishes. I would then wash all of my dishes in the kitchen sink.  I felt like I was a mini version of my mom, who spent a lot of time in the kitchen.

easybakeoven copy.jpg

Today, my daughter has a purple Easy Bake Oven and we spend time together baking, sometimes even with her friends.  The baking options have expanded from simple cakes to layered cookies, cake pops, cupcakes, and more.  It seems more complicated from when I was little, but it is still a fun way to play the “Mommy” role.

Interestingly, I don’t really bake in my adult life, but I hang onto those fond memories in my playroom and cherish the continued Easy Bake memories with my precious daughter. My son is more than welcome to join us, but he generally chooses not to.  Perhaps it instilled a confidence in me and love of the kitchen because I am a really good cook and seem to entertain a lot.

On display until April 2016: The Gift of Play: Toys of Yesterday

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