Memories Revived by Museum Opening

Originally printed 24 May 1960

Nostalgic memories and pioneer history intermingled at the opening of the Oshawa & District Historical Society’s Henry House Museum last Saturday.

As the years rolled back in the peaceful aura of the Henry House, persons were heard to comment: “Why we had one of those in our home when I was young,” or, “that baby carriage, my mother wheeled me in one just like it, she said it handled beautifully.”

The pioneer days of which Henry House is representative, do not seem so long ago.


Starr Cuts Ribbon

Labor Minister Michael Starr cut the ribbon that officially opened the Henry House museum.  He led the group of special guests who were the first to enter the museum to sign the register.

Among the official party who spoke prior to the opening of the museum were Mayor Lyman A. Gifford and TD Thomas, MPP.

Hon Brian Cathcart (sic), minister of travel and publicity for Ontario, gave a brief address prior to the opening.

He expressed the appreciation of Premier Frost and of the Ontario Provincial Government for the very great effort put forth by Mrs. Conant in the establishment of the museum.

Verna Conant shaking hands with the Rt Hon Michael Starr as Hon Bryan Cathcart stands to the side, 21 May 1960

Museums Increasing

The minister at the Ontario government is encouraging the establishment of local museums in the province. More than 100 museums are already in existence.  A half dozen were opened last year and 25 or 30 will be opened this year.

He praised his staff member James Gooding, whom he said was very helpful, and who has provided much of the liaison work for the establishment of this museum.

The speaker stressed the importance of those present in impressing upon others the value of making contributions of their time and effort to help build a better province and a better Canada.

The first exhibit at the Henry House Museum

To Change Displays

Articles on display in the museum will be changed periodically.  At present on display is a parlor, set up in the manner of the early residents of the district. Many of the articles in this room are heirlooms lent to the museum by the descendants of the Henrys.

Another room displays some of the implements used on the early farms in the community. Antique uniforms, weapons, books, and pictures are also on display.

The children who were on hand at the opening day, and also on Monday, seemed to thoroughly enjoy this step into the past.

Verna Conant

By Jennifer Weymark, Archivist

Born on April 23, 1888, Verna Conant (nee Smith), was delivered by one of the first women doctors in Canada, Elizabeth Smith Shortt,  who was one of her father’s sisters. Verna was the only daughter of Mr. and Mrs E. D. Smith, the same family which is associated with the company that produces a wide range of fruits, jams and other products. The Smith family was very active in their local community. For example, her mother was the first president of the Women’s Institute of Canada and her father was a MP in Ottawa. Verna followed in their footsteps and became involved in a variety of local groups.

Verna and Gordon Conant
Verna and Gordon Conant

In 1912 Verna married Gordon Conant. In a newspaper article published in the Oshawa Times, Verna recounted a fascinating story from their courtship. When they began dating, she used to drive from her home in Winona to Hamilton to pick up her then boyfriend, Gordon, at the train station.  What made this trip to the train station unusual is that the train would often arrive very late at night, generally after midnight.  It was not considered proper for a young lady to be out by herself at that time of night, so she would wear male attire so that her actions would be less conspicuous. Concerning her late night travels, Mrs. Conant stated: “My parents allowed me to go meet Gordon, but I sometimes wondered what they thought of me going out like that”.

While raising a family, Verna became active in a large number of organizations in Oshawa, including the Oshawa General Hospital, where she became honorary president of the women’s auxiliary, the Women’s Institute, the Oshawa Historical Society, and the Girl Guides. In addition to serving the community in a voluntary way, Verna spent the year of 1937 as the township tax collector when her husband became Ontario’s attorney general. Unfortunately she resigned after one year when the obligatory social events from a MP’s wife began to take up too much time.

Verna Conant
Verna Conant

After her husband’s death, Verna continued with her interest in the community, particularly with the St. John Ambulance, which she served in many capacities and which in 1978, invested her with the title Dame of St. John. She died in 1992 in her 104th year.

During her long life, Verna maintained a collection of scrapbooks highlighting the achievements of the many organizations she was heavily involved with.  Many of these scrapbooks can be found in the archival collection at the Oshawa Community Museum.


The month of March is celebrated as Women’s History Month in the US, UK, and Australia.  Canada celebrated Women’s History Month in October to coincide with the anniversary of the Persons Case.

In honour of the international celebrations of Women’s History Month, we are proud to share the story of Verna Conant, a true force in Oshawa’s history.

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