Tea Time at the Museum

By Jill Passmore, Visitor Experience Co-ordinator

Victorian Teas at the Museum, as we know them now, began my first summer at the Museum, 2003. A small team of volunteers who were involved with the Oshawa Historical Society’s Social Committee wanted to get this project off the ground with staff support; Linda Calder, Kay Murray, and Mary Ellen Cole took the lead. Later Kay and Mary Ellen would go on to receive the Volunteer of the Year award for their efforts with the teas.

Occasionally, the Museum held teas prior to this on a smaller scale. There was no continuity in dates, times and prices. One of the longstanding themes is Mother’s Day. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, it was customary for moms to receive complimentary admission and “an old fashioned gift from the Sydenham Country Store.” For the cost of regular admission, one would receive tea and scones in the garden from 1 – 5 pm. In 2001, a local trio of women called The Hamstrings provided entertainment. They would go on to perform at many Museum functions after this. As we moved into the second decade of the new millennium, the focus had changed to pay homage and celebrate moms and other special people in ones life, since family dynamics have changed so much in the last while. We do however like to feature historical Oshawa Moms. At place settings, we have highlighted women from the Henry, Guy, Robinson, McLaughlin, and Conant families with their photos and highlights of their lives.


In my time at the Museum, I feel like we have tried every other theme for a tea as well. One year we tried monthly themed-teas. For example, a Snowflake Tea in January, Valentines in February. Each month we tried to match desserts and flowers to the designated theme. We have had Strawberry Socials, Mad Hatter Teas on a Friday the 13th and even a Mourning Tea during the first iteration of the Mourning After exhibit! We served funeral cakes instead of scones and were able to dye tablecloths black!

Stories from the Homefront Tea, 2004

As time has passed, we have gotten quite proficient and our service and style has come a long way. This mean that as we offered a more elegant setting and catering (our own!), we were able to increase the cost of our Victorian Teas. In the early days, Museum staff would charge per item; snacks and drinks cost 40¢ for cookies, 50¢ for scones, 75¢ for lemonade and $1 for coffee, tea or herbal tea (and free refills!) Later the cost would increase to $5 for adults and $3.50 for children and by 2005, $10 for adults, $8 for members of the Oshawa Historical Society, and $4 for children. This price held steady until 2013 when the cost was raised to $15 for adults, $10 for OHS members and $7.50 for children. The price for tea at the Museum is very reasonable. A team of dedicated volunteers prepares all of the food and desserts (as much as possible), which are served on china settings, three-tiered plates, with linen tablecloths and napkins.

What kinds of things do we serve for tea? Our volunteers schooled me on how to prepare cream cheese and cucumber and watercress sandwiches on Wonder THIN white bread. Did you know that you can get a good three or four more sandwiches our of a loaf of bread if it’s sliced thinly? It’s true! Some of our staples include typical tea sandwiches – tuna salad, cream cheese and cucumber, egg salad; but we also incorporate seasonal specialties like cream cheese and cranberry on a green wrap, sliced for Christmas pinwheels, and ‘Coronation Chicken Salad’ that is said to have been served at Queen Victoria’s coronation.

In the early 2000s, after a few successful trial runs, the Museum began to serve weekly garden teas in the backyard of Henry house during the summer. In the summer of 2005, we hosted 156 people, 169 in 2006 and 116 in 2007. Like many things though, popularity is cyclical. We decided to begin offering summer teas, one a month in July and August, serving two sittings – one at 11:30 am and one at 1:30 pm, adding in dates and sittings as necessary.

60th Anniversary Diamond Tea

Some of the more memorable events I have been on hand for are the Victory Tea we held for participants of the Stories from the Homefront project in 2004, and the Diamond Anniversary Tea, which celebrated the 60th Anniversary of the Oshawa Historical Society in 2017.

If you’ve never come for tea at the Museum before, I highly recommend it. We are currently booking for monthly Tea & Talks, held on the last Sunday of the month, and 2019 Christmas Teas.

Student’s Museum ‘Musings’ – Caitlan

Since the last time, I told you that I was starting to work on the Robinson Book. So far, so good! The first rough draft has been printed and we have begun the first round of editing – So far everyone seems to enjoy it! Also I told you how I never did tours with my morning co-op and how I was afraid to mess up. I was quite surprised to find how much the information was in my head. Although my first tour was nerve racking, now when I go on a tour my mouth just seems to work on its own!

Robinson House on a lovely summer day
Robinson House on a lovely summer day

The book and tours were not only my first here at the museum; last Thursday was the museum’s first summer garden tea. It was also my first tea and it went perfectly. The sky was clear and blue, it was not too hot plus all the guests had really big smiles on their faces! Setting up and taking down all the tables was a bit hard, as I do not exactly have a whole lot of strength, but the food definitely made up for that! Towards the end of the tea when some of the guest left for the tour I was caught a couple times by Laura Suchan stuffing my mouth full of the leftover sandwiches. In all truthfulness, they were absolutely delicious and I just could not help myself (the cucumber and cream cheese is my favourite!)  Although I am not the type of girl that likes to wear dresses or skirts and having to wear the costumes is really awkward for me, the amount of fun I am having here is definitely worth it!

Lastly I have begun to transcribe letters we received that the Henry family wrote. One really stood out to me so far. It was written by George to his mother, Lurenda, shortly after Thomas’ death. George talks about how much it hurts to lose a father but it hurts even more to see his mother in pain. George continues on with this beautifully well-written metaphor on life. He says life is like a “great train” that we’re all “stepping off one by one”. That there is no return train and “all alone we walk through the dark vally and shadow of death with the blessed hope of the saviours strong arm to lean upon.”  At the end of the letter he writes “I remain as ever your son George”. While reading this letter you just become lost in his words and you could sense his pain he had after losing his father. The letter was absolutely heart breaking to read yet so incredibly beautiful. 

Letter from George Henry to his mother Lurenda, 1880.
Letter from George Henry to his mother Lurenda, 1880.

12 Reasons Why Drinking Tea is Wonderful

As our summer tea season is quickly approaching here at the Oshawa Community Museum, I thought I would take some time and share why I think tea drinking is just so wonderful. Whether you like Earl Grey or English Breakfast or prefer Peppermint or Green, tea is full of health, social and delicious benefits. Here are 12 reasons why drinking tea is wonderful:


1)      Tea, when consumed in moderation could have positive health results. According to Time Magazine, along with helping protect against cardiovascular and degenerative diseases, research suggests that the antioxidants in tea might also help ward off certain types of cancer.


2)      Tea comes in all sorts of flavours and types. Real tea is derived from the plant Camellia Sinensis and includes only four varieties: black, white, green and oolong. Anything else that is herbal, isn’t technically considered a tea because it’s infused with different plants. Nevertheless, when you visit a tea shop (whether technically tea or not) you are presented with all sorts of flavours, colours and types and there is bound to be one that will suit any taste bud.


3)      Tea has little to no calories, but tons of flavour. You can still brew a robust, full flavoured tea without having to consume a lot of calories. What this means? Tea is ideal for those trying to watch their waist line or trying to lose a few pounds.


4)      Tea is popular. Now, normally popularity isn’t a good deciding factor on whether or not something is awesome, but the facts about tea’s popularity shouldn’t be ignored. According to the Tea Association of Canada, Canadians drink almost 9 billion cups of tea each year, which in 2012 equals out to about 380 million dollars in hot tea sales. On a global scale, tea is considered the most consumed drink sitting behind water. Why is this important? Simply put, it means you can buy tea almost anywhere. Its popularity means you don’t have to go searching too far to find a cup of tea.


5)      You can individualize tea. Whether you take it with sugar and milk, or just milk or just lemon or you prefer iced tea. If you like dishwater tea or prefer a strong tea, one of the reasons tea is so great is that it can cater to your own unique taste.


6)      Tea has a long and interesting history. How many beverages can say they have been part of large political protests? Tea is a drink that has been so intertwined into the social and political fabric of many countries that its history makes for an exciting and interesting tale.


7)      Tea has procedure, tradition and proper etiquette. For example, it is inappropriate to lift the saucer when drinking tea, this is considered rude and not proper behaviour for a tea. Furthermore, there is a whole meal dedicated to tea, whether it is low-tea or high-tea.


8)      Drinking tea means cleaning fewer dishes. Regular tea drinkers will tell you that are never suppose to wash a tea pot. Apparently the tannins in tea stick to the pot and over time will make your tea better and better.


9)      It’s cheap! Yes, specialty teas can be disastrous on your wallet, but if you choose to stay with a traditional Orange Pekoe, each cup will cost you literally cents to make.


10)  Drinking tea is the perfect social drink. Doctors recommend letting tea cool before consuming, because drinking extremely hot beverages could have negative effects on your oesophagus. This means that you have to let your tea sit before consuming, giving you time to converse, shoot the breeze, and gossip.


11)  You can grow your own tea. Here at the Oshawa Museum we take advantage of the space we have behind Henry House and grow our own tea. This allows you to know how fresh the tea is and pick the flavours that you like best.


12)  Finally, tea is wonderful because you can enjoy it here in the Oshawa Community Museum’s Victorian gardens during our summer teas!

Quite picturesque!
Quite picturesque!

There you have it 12 reasons why tea is just wonderful. Why do you think tea is a wonderful?


Come visit us and enjoy your cup of tea on July 25 or August 8 or August 22 for our summer Victorian Teas in the garden. Cost is $10 for OHS members and $15 for non-members. Or join us on July 21 for a tea + talk, where Joyce O’Connell will be discussing how quilting has changed since the 1900s. Cost for tea + talk is $20 a person. Please note reservations are required for all teas, call museum for details.

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