Up until the summer of 2013, my answer to this question would have been clear cut “My favourite collection is the Garrow Collection”. This is a collection of letter written by an Oshawa resident from the Western Front during World War I. While I still find that collection fascinating and a truly wonderful teaching tool, I have to say that when it comes to my favourite collection, it is officially a tie.
In the summer of 2013, a box of letters, receipts and other paper odds and ends was donated to the archives. What made this collection so important is who the papers once belonged to – Thomas Henry.
Henry House, the former home of Thomas Henry, is an integral part of the Oshawa Museum. This new collection contained letters written to and from Thomas and his children. These letters give us personal insights into the family dynamics and how the family responded to events of the time period. It is in the letters that we learn more about the illness that left the matriarch of the family lame. We know that she visited a local doctor regarding her legs and her son Ebenezer sent countless suggestions for different balms and treatments to help her at least be comfortable.
The collection also helped to answer a question that had remained a bit of a mystery. The two earliest census records list the Henry’s as living in a one storey stone home. We can say definitively that this stone home was Henry House but we are left wondering when the second storey was added. The later census records do not indicate the type and size of home so we could not look to them to find the answer. Well, within the collection were several receipts for a variety of construction material purchased by Thomas Henry, the sort of material needed to build onto their home. These receipts seem to indicate that the second storey was added on around 1863. If only we had this information when we published the book on Henry House in 2012!
The information in these letters is incredible, so much so that we decided that our next publication will be on these letters and how they can help us to better understand the world that the Henry family lived in.