Weddings, Bridal Style, and the Oshawa Museum

By Savannah Sewell, Registrar

Regardless of whether you got married last weekend or last century (applies to this context…I promise), I’m sure you remember a variety of dramas and joys surrounding your wedding. If you have upcoming nuptials in mind, be prepared, from what I hear; there is lots of confusion, drama, and stress associated with the planning and preparation for a wedding. Regardless of how much work or loss of sleep is involved in planning your wedding, they are incredibly important days in our lives and symbolize the union of two people who love each other very much. The history of western weddings are often a lot more complicated that most think; from wedding fashions to the decision making process of picking a date, every decision was made for a reason.

Visitor Experience Coordinator, Jill, in front of Henry House on her wedding day.

Down at the Oshawa Museum, we have the pleasure of being the backdrop for weddings year-round. The Oshawa Museum rests on the shore of Lake Ontario, and our three historic houses each hold a unique colour scheme and aesthetic. The museum is also located conveniently beside the Jubilee Pavilion, a hall and event space that has existed in Oshawa since 1927! All of this combined with the picturesque views, mature trees, and beautiful gardens, Lakeview Park and the museum continue to be the perfect background for a romantic day of love and the institutional norm of marriage.

Curator, Melissa, on the front steps of Henry House, on her wedding day.

Wedding photography is a complex academic conversation, intrinsically linked with the controversial conversation surrounding marriage itself, the ownership of others, and the traditional patriarchal contract of marriage. However, when observed from a historical perspective, I find that a more appropriate conversation surrounding its evolution, is actually of the desire to capture such a monumental moment in one’s life. As Walsh and Wade explain “wedding photographs and albums symbolically demonstrate the enduring centrality of ritual in contemporary America while addressing complex issues such as social change, gender, and economics.1 Photography for weddings is a long and complicated story, growing from staged and set photos, that were often taken on separate days to the wedding, to the lifestyle aesthetic that we see most often now.

Queen Elizabeth’s wedding day was fraught with complications and restrictions, including having to request extra clothing coupons from the British government for her dress, as World War II rationing was still in effect. However, one of the most interesting stories was the loss of her wedding bouquet. Interested individuals will notice that family photos taken on November 20, 1947 do not show Her Majesty holding her bouquet, as it was misplaced sometime after the departure from Westminster Abbey. Therefore, the bride and groom’s wedding portraits were completed on their honeymoon, days later, after another bouquet could be created. Photography at the time also lent only to posed photos in a space where light could be monitored and controlled. As the cameras changed and lent to transportation, so too did wedding photos. The first wedding daguerreotypes of the 1840s evolved into wedding albums and studio portraits. The “Wedding Boom” after the Second World War also influenced photographers to make the leap from military photography to weddings, and some would show up, take photos, and then attempt to sell them to the bride and groom without a prior contract. These events forced wedding photographers to leave their studios and create their memories with the couple at their wedding location.2

Mom and Dad on their wedding day, October 19, 1991. Oshawa This Week Collection, Oshawa Museum archival collection, A997.7.124

The Oshawa Museum is in possession of the Oshawa This Week Wedding announcement photo collection and, therefore, a representation of a large variety of wedding photographs from the past century that were published in the paper. To my surprise, while writing this blog, I clicked across my own parents’ wedding, as well as an assortment of other parents and community members that I have known my entire life.

A couple on their wedding day. Oshawa This Week Collection, Oshawa Museum archival collection, A997.37.3

Within the museum’s collection, we also have a large variety of wedding items, anywhere from wedding dresses, shoes, to certificates and photos. I have a particular interest in the wedding dresses within the collection, as they represent a variety of styles throughout the years. One of the most iconic symbols of the western wedding is the bridal gown. Typically, they are white or ivory, long, and somehow elaborate, depending on the style at the time. Queen Victoria, who was married on February 10, 1840, set a trend in wedding outfits for women. Prior to her wedding, women either wore their best dress, regardless of the colour, or designed and wore new dresses of colour depending on the fashion of the season. Queen Victoria’s large and extravagant white wedding dress led to a surge in the wearing of white dresses today. Coupled with the industrial revolution and the availability of such impractical materials, the full-skirted, white, or ivory look for brides is now the norm.3

Samantha Hill’s Australien, wedding dress. C. 1875 Oshawa Museum collection.

However, some brides chose to continue with fashionable colours. One of the most extravagant examples of that is a dress which belonged to Samantha Hill. She was married in 1875 in this rusty, orange dress, the colour at the time was called Australien. The colour was inspired by the colour and landscape of the Australian outback and used in dresses-making and fashion houses through late Victorian England.

Clarissa (Henry) Stone

One of the museum’s best-known families, the Henrys of our Henry House, had several weddings held within the home. The parlour would have been host to Henry House weddings, as it was the most lavishly decorated and designed for entertaining. One of the most interesting facts concerning the weddings of Henry family children and grandchildren is the timing of the weddings within the calendar year. Many were married around the Christmas holiday, either before or after. One marriage, that of Clarissa Henry, Thomas and Lurenda’s third youngest child, was married to Cassius Stone on December 22, 1868. Clarissa and Cassius are said to have wanted to be wed on Christmas Day itself, however, the church and priest were not available, so alternative plans were made. Some reasons for these Christmas season celebrations could have been the proximity to each other during the holiday season or that the crops were tended and the harvest chores were finished, so the family was available to enjoy celebration and merriment.

The Oshawa Museum is thrilled to have a variety of representations of both modern and historical weddings, the images and collection items provide an interesting context for weddings in Oshawa and Lakeview Park. Whether it is announcing your wedding in the newspaper, using the museum’s beauty as a photography backdrop, or having your wedding gown end up in our permanent collection, we love to love and are happy to be a part of anyone’s Big Day.


Citations

  1. Walsh, Michael James and Wade, Matthew. Soundtrack for love: wedding videography, music and romantic memory. Continuum 34:1, pages 14-31, 2020.
  2. “The History of Wedding Photography.” San Francisco Wedding Photographer. Accessed November 29, 2021. https://www.iqphoto.com/history.
  3. Ehrman, Edwina. The Wedding Dress. London: V & A Publishing, 2011.

Here’s to the Happy Couple

By Grace A., Summer Student

As a student at the Oshawa Museum, you will inevitably fall into the “rabbit hole” of newspapers. To be fair- I was warned. Before working at the museum, I didn’t know that most cities maintained an archive of old publications, and anyone could go through them. There’s an endless number of pages. Newspapers are an ideal primary source for any historian trying to uncover societies of the past. While they can inform research for meaningful and critical historic projects, they are also great for getting your fill of drama. I think that anyone who binged Bridgerton will understand the allure of keeping tabs on the social elite. What everyone seemed to want to know:

  • the decorations at Mrs. Smith’s dinner party,
  • when Miss Susan Brown will be returning from visiting her friend in New York City,
  • and, most importantly, who’s getting hitched.

Except instead of Lady Whistledown, gossip spread through the women’s section of the newspaper where people would pay to have their announcement in the social notes column. They probably wouldn’t have considered it to be “gossip” in the 1920s. It was simply the most convenient way to let everyone know what you were up to. For those of us who study the past, the detail that went into social notes is critical to connecting communities. By far, the most popular notes were wedding announcements.

Toronto Star, June 19, 1925

This clipping is from the Toronto Star on Friday, June 19, 1925, celebrating the union of Hannah Engel and Max Ambrose. Hannah was the eldest daughter of the prominent Oshawa businessman, Hyman Engel. As mentioned in the announcement, the couple returned to Oshawa after getting married at the Bay Street Synagogue. However, it’s clear that the article focuses more on how the couple got married rather than where. The answer: in style.

The paper reported specifically how Hannah was “prettily gowned in white georgette with veil and coronet of orange blossoms, carrying a shower bouquet of Ophelia roses and lily of the valley.” Her bridesmaids were equally decorated with chiffon and roses.

Canadian Jewish Review, July 6, 1928.

In this announcement, the bride wore “a white satin period gown trimmed with Chantilly lace and rhinestones.” The focus on attire was meant to entice women readers; there was news for men (the hard-hitting stuff) and women’s news (dresses, flowers and guest lists). An unintended benefit of gendered news is that we can now get a glimpse at how Oshawa women leaned into wedding trends throughout the Roaring Twenties. The construction of womanhood changed with the times, allowing women to loosen their corsets – or forget them all together. Instead of elegance, women began to favour a style that exuded youthfulness and ease. Dresses got shorter and less form-fitting, a kind of rebellion.

These photographs commemorate the wedding of Gladys Muriel Mowbray and William Richard Agar in on November 20th, 1920. Gladys was the sister of Adelaide McLaughlin, Robert Samuel McLaughlin’s wife. Her dress was understated, a result of the austerity years which effected many people in Oshawa after the war. If Oshawa women were sporting dropped waistlines and bob haircuts, it was not until later. Again, this was likely a matter of cost. The latest fashions were still exclusive to those who could afford them. This changed towards the end of the 1920s, when ready-to-wear clothing became more accessible to working class women. The museum has Gladys’s dress in the collection, along with the necklace and shoes that she wore on the day.

As hemlines shifted, so did women’s perspective on marriage. While there was no alternative, many young women mourned the independence that they gained in the years prior to getting married. After earning their own wage and spending nights on the town, married life consisted of domestic responsibility. Their husband and children came first. This was difficult for girls who were coming of age in the 1920s, a time where the social scene was a place to redefine gender. Suddenly, going dancing with friends, to the movies, and to sporting events was once again out of reach.

If women in Oshawa had any thoughts about married life, you wouldn’t know it from reading the women’s columns of newspapers at the time. On the contrary, wedding announcements described a young woman who was excited about georgette fabric, Ophelia roses and building a home in Oshawa. And she probably was, for better or for worse.


Sources

Canadian Jewish Review (Toronto, ON), July 6, 1928.

Soland, Birgitte. Becoming Modern: Young Women and the Reconstruction of Womanhood in the 1920s. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2000.

Toronto Star (Toronto, ON), June 19, 1925.

Museum Weddings

By Jill Passmore, Visitor Experience Co-ordinator

Facebook Memories can be a wonderful thing. Earlier this month, a memory popped up of my wedding party on the front steps of Henry House. Nine years ago this January, my husband and I got married in the schoolroom exhibit in Robinson House. Archivist Jennifer, who also got married in the schoolroom, inspired us to do the same. The benefit of being a staff member at the Museum also meant that I had the opportunity to go where few other wedding parties had gone – inside Henry House!

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While reminiscing, I also began to think about the other weddings that had occurred in the house, much farther in the past. If you were lucky enough to attend our Lamplight tour in December, you may have had the chance to hear the Durham Storytellers tell the “Ballad of Jennie Henry,” the story of her and her sister’s weddings in Henry House.

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Thomas and Lurenda Henry’s third daughter, Clarissa, married Cassius Payne Stone on December 22, 1868. Another service on Christmas day had Elder Tatton scheduled, dashing the couple’s hopes of being married on December 25. Nonetheless, they still celebrated their anniversary on Christmas Day.  Fifty years later, in 1918, they celebrated their Golden Anniversary on Christmas Day at the home of their son in Toronto.

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John & Jennie McGill

Jennie Henry, Thomas and Lurenda’s youngest daughter, married her husband, John Luke McGill, just a few years later on January 1, 1872. In the Victorian era, brides would wear a lace cap instead of a wedding ring; Jennie was the first bride in the Henry family to wear a ring. From then on, the family gave rings to replace the lace caps. I find it peculiar that there are (seemingly) no photos of either occasion, since there were many photographers in the family at that time.

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Throughout the years, there have been descendants of the Robinson and Henry families that have had weddings in and near their ancestral homes. I feel fortunate to be in good company.

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