Oxford County Archives: Beyond the Vault

Archives Blog

Valuable Resource: Women's Institute Tweedsmuirs

An overview of a valuable local history resource, Women's Institute Tweedsmuir scrapbooks.

By Megan Lockhart, Archives Technician

Our Archives is filled with many community records that are invaluable resources for researchers in search of local history information. One such resource that may sometimes be overlooked by the average researcher are the Women’s Institute Community Tweedsmuirs. For those who do not know, a Women’s Institute is a community-based organization for women. It is an organization for women to join together, socialize, learn new skills, contribute to local charities and philanthropic work, and aid in the development of children’s education and community safety and health. In the past, Oxford County had several Women’s Institutes, it was common for a Women’s Institute to exist for each community or geographical area such as a Township. Over the years, Women’s Institutes have slowly been dissolving due to wanArchival boxes storing Brooksdale Women's Institute scrapbooksing membership.

Another important task that Women’s Institute members take on is the preservation of community history, often rural history in particular. The Tweedsmuir Community History Books in our collection are primarily scrapbooks, compiled into a series of volumes and contained with a binder, or bound in leather, wood, or a gold and blue cover. Some of the scrapbooks are organized by theme or are organized chronologically by year. Often one of the scrapbooks in the series will contain a history of the local Women’s Institute branch that compiled the history. The other scrapbooks will focus more on community history. These community history books contain valuable information including a history of the early settlers of the area, local farm history, history of businesses and industry, church and school histories, biographies of war veterans, village and town histories, and information on local events. The types of records included in the scrapbooks are written histories, maps, photographs, newspaper articles, letters, obituaries, birth and marriage announcement, anniversary and memorials programmes and more.

So how did this community history scrapbook initiative begin? Women’s Institutes in Canada began taking on the task of recording the history of communities, farms, and buildings in the 1920s. The Committee for Historical Research and Current Events was established in 1925. Susan Buchan, Baroness of Tweedsmuir, also known as Lady Tweedsmuir, was the wife of John Buchan, Baron Tweedsmuir, and Governor General of Canada from 1935 to 1940. By the 1930s, Lady Tweedsmuir took an interest in the Women’s Institutes of Canada. She was also an adamant supporter of the Women’s Institutes preserving community history, and she encouraged Ontario Women’s Institute branches to compile local histories into books similar to the projects undertaken by Women’s Institutes in England at the time. In 1940, Lady Tweedsmuir was widowed and the Women’s Institute community history books were named after her husband, which led to the creation of the “Tweedsmuir Community History Books” that we know today.

Portrait of Lady Tweedsmuir

Susan Buchan, Lady Tweedsmuir

Lady Tweesmuir Image Source: https://fwio.on.ca/tweedsmuir-history-books

Queen Victoria - 100 Years Since Her Reign

120th anniversary of Queen Victoria's death.

By Liz Dommasch, County Archivist

Following the death of her Uncle, William IV, in 1837, Queen Victoria succeeded to the throne at the young age of 18. During her 64 year reign, Britain rose to become a leading world and economic power, thanks greatly to the impact of the Industrial Revolution in the country and its technological advancements in steam power, mining, engineering and the development of a vast railway network. It was also during this period that Britain would initiate a period of imperial expansion into Africa and the Middle East, in order to bolster the already vast British Empire that included India, Australia, NNews article providing details on Queen Victoria's death. ew Zealand, and Canada.

She was an ardent imperialist and took an active interest in her colonial subjects. In fact, Queen Victoria favoured Confederation and acted as a unifying influence for Canada’s provinces. Known as the “Mother of Confederation” she staunchly believed that Confederation would reduce defence costs and strengthen relations with the United States. In 1857, she selected Ottawa as the Province of Canada’s capital and then chose it again as the national capital for the Dominion in 1867 as it stood on the border between English and French Canada and was sheltered from potential American Invasions. Although she never visited Canada, her name has been given to numerous public buildings, streets, communities and physical features.

In her personal life, she would propose to her cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha in October 1839. Thoroughly in love, they married the following year on February 10th, 1840 at St. James’ Palace. Interestingly, on her wedding day, Queen Victoria wore a white satin and lace dress that started the fashion for white wedding dresses that continues to this day. They would have 9 children together: Victoria, Albert Edward (future King Edward VII), Alice, Alfred, Helena, Louise, Arthur, Leopold and Beatrice. Their public image conformed to the 19th century ideals Newspaper article with details on the death of Queen Victoria.of domesticity; and images of Victoria, Albert and the children celebrating Christmas and vacationing together would influence broader parenting trends for years to come. Sadly, Prince Albert would pass away at Windsor Castle on December 14th, 1861. His death, deeply affected Victoria who began a decade long period of seclusion. Although she would begin to make public appearances once again in 1872, she would remain in mourning the rest of her life, wearing simple black dresses and white bonnets that led to her gaining the nickname: “the widow of Windsor”

Queen Victoria would herself pass away on January 22nd 1901 at Osborne House, on the Isle Wright following the custom of spending Christmas there. Her son and successor, King Edward VII, as well as her eldest grandson, Emperor Wilhelm II, were at her deathbed. Newspaper reports at the time stated that before news of her death reached London, a large crowd of people had gathered outside of Mansion House and began to sing the National Anthem and “God Save the Queen” with “a fervor proving how earnestly they wished for her recovery.” (W-SR, January 22, 1901). Her funeral was held on February 2, 1901 and throughout the commonwealth, it was declared a day of mourning with numerous services being held on her behalf. Following her death, the Canadian government decided that Victoria Day, which had been celebrated as the Queen’s birthday in Canada, since 1845, would become a national holiday to honour her role in the country’s formation.

With a reign of 63 years, seven months and two days, Victoria was the longest-reigning British monarch until her great-great-granddaughter Elizabeth II surpassed her on September 9th 2015.

Oxford County Council report re: Queen Victoria's death.

COVID-19 Through The Eyes of a Student

Read about the COVID-19 experience through the eyes of our Co-op student Gwendolyn as she discusses how her home life and school life has changed during the pandemic.

By Gwendolyn Grimoldby, CO-OP student at the Archives/high school student

I would have never imagined in my whole life that I would be living through a pandemic. Everything is looking so different and must be done differently, especially with school right now. For my school they have it set so we go to the school for half the week and the other half is online. When we are in the school building, we must wear our masks all the time except when it's lunchtime and we are eating. While eating at lunch we always have the same seat, I can't move from it, we also have to sign in and out for the bathrooms.

Now, there are some positive sides of school during COVID-19. For my school, we are doing one class at a time so you can put more effort or concentration on each class, which is a plus for me. However, being in grade 12 there are also a lot of downsides of COVID-19 during school - like not having group graduation, and probably no prom; those are things that you look forward to and we just don't get to experience because of COVID.

Right now, we are doing online learning only because Ontario is on lockdown. Online schooling is pretty good in my eyes because nowadays we're so used to just using the internet and using technological devices that it's sometimes easier to do the work online. Also, when you're in your own house working, you're comfy and you can just lay back and do your work. But there are downsides to working at home and doing online schooling. One of the downsides from my point of view is, I'm not motivated enough to do my schoolwork and get stuff done because I'm in my house - not in a building that's meant for school. I work in my bedroom, meant for relaxing and sleeping, so it's hard to get the work done. Also, with doing classes online it can be tricky because some classes are easy to do online, like Business or English, but some classes are tricky to do online, like Art or Photography, because you're not getting the hands-on help you need or the physical time in class. You have to work on things alone and communicating through email with teachers can be more difficult than communicating in person.

One of the classes that I found both easy and tricky with online learning is Co-op because a lot of the work that we do in class is all online, so it's easy in that sense, but being placed and trying to find a placement is the tricky part. You must do all of the Co-op work online for the most part and you don't get the same knowledge that you would if you were inside the buildings and working with the staff at your Co-op. So, in my opinion Co-op is a class that easy to do online but also, in some ways, hard to do online.

In my own time, the pandemic hasn't affected me too much because I'm normally in my house or going for walks so I'm not around a lot of people and I can still do those things. But one of the things I can’t do during lockdown while social distancing at home is seeing my friends, which really sucks because you need that in-person relationship and interaction, so we don’t go insane and feel isolated. But I’m grateful for the internet as we are able to FaceTime and talk through there so it helps. COVID-19 changed my life for good and for bad, but altogether my experience with COVID-19 hasn't been too bad. One thing I really want to do when COVID is all over and we go back to normal life is to go camping with my family and friends and just spend time with them. I also want to be able to travel and see the world.

A look back at household and medicinal recipes from the late 1800s and early 1900s

Homemade household cleaners and health remedies look very different today from how they did one hundred years ago. Take a trip back in time to see how people attempted to keep their homes and themselves clean and healthy.

By Liz Dommasch, County Archivist

Hello, 2021! We made it through 2020, and can hopefully look forward to some normalcy this year. As we wait for the COVID vaccine to be readily available, it’s more important than ever to ensure that we are keeping safe and healthy by ensuring that we keep socially distancing, continue to wear masks in public and of course always keeping surfaces and ourselves clean. With that said, I thought it might be fun to look back at a few household disinfectant and cleaning recipes, as well as homemade medicines, from the later 1800s and early 1900s to see how people over 100 years ago not only kept their homes clean and tidy, but how they attempted keep themselves healthy when faced with an ailment or disease.

The Home:

Uses of Ammonia – All housekeepers should keep a bottle of liquid ammonia, as it is the most powerful and useful agent for cleaning silks, stuffs and hats. In fact, it cleans everything it touches. A few drops of ammonia in water will take off grease from dishes, pans, etc. and does not injure the hands as much as the use of soda and strong An advertisement for ammonia.chemical soaps. – 1887-1924 Useful Household Hints by Just a Thought Publications, 1992.

Washing Fluid – ½ ounce ammonia, ½ ounce salts of tartar, 1 can Gillettes lye, 4 quarts boiling water (soft), use ¾ cup to a boiler. Use stone jar to mix. Put water on slowly, stand back as far as possible as it effects the eyes. Put in a gallon jar to keep. – L.N. McLean, Woodstock Cook Book, 1917.

An Agreeable Disinfectant – Sprinkle fresh ground coffee on a shovel of hot coals, or burn sugar on hot coals. Vinegar boiled with myrrh sprinkled on the floor and furniture of a sick room is an excellent deodorizer. – 1887- 1924 Useful Household Hints by Just a Thought Publications, 1992.

Care of Towels – One of the most important, yet most frequently neglected details of kitchen work is the care of towels and dish-cloths. A dirty dish-cloth breeds disease, as it is a hotbed for bacteria, and as it comes in contact with the dishes from which food is eaten, it will be readily seen how it may transfer disease germs to those who eat from them; the wiping only changes the evil from the dish-cloth to the towel. Always wash the dish-cloth, after using it, with soapy hot water, then scald, rinse in cold water and hang out in the sun if possible. - Public School Household Science by Adelaide Hoodless & M.U. Watson, Toronto, 1905.

Furniture Polish – Shave yellow beeswax in turpentine to make it a consistency of paste. When it is dissolved apply with a soft flannel to the surface to be polished and rub well. – Woodstock Cook Book, 1917.

The Refrigerator – A small dish of fine charcoal kept in the refrigerator and renewed every week will absorb the odors and keep everything fresh and clean. – Woodstock Cook Book, 1917.

To Remove Stains on Basin and Bathtub – Rub muriatic acid on the stained part and rinse with cold water. A little ammonia may be added to the rinsing water. Note muriatic acid is apt to injure the fittings; therefore, kerosene is better if the stain is not very bad. - Public School Household Science by Adelaide Hoodless & M.U. Watson, Toronto, 1905.

Medicinal Recipes:

***Disclaimer: Please do not try these recipes at home. There are no proven health benefits or cures related to any of these medicinal recipes. This is just a sample of historical recipes, that sometimes resulted in more harm than good. Those that are ill, should always seek advice from a medical professional.

For Headache – Pour a few drops of ether on one half ounce of gum camphor and pulverize; add to this an equal quantity of carbonate ammonia pulverized; add twenty drops of peppermint; mix and put in an open-mouthed bottle and cork. – Mrs. A.M. Gibbs.

For Sore Throat – Cut slices of salt pork or fat bacon; simmer for a few moments in hot vinegar, and apply to throat as hot as possible. When this is taken off, as the throat is relieved, put around bandage of soft flannel. A gargle of equal parts of borax and alum, dissolved in water, is also excellent. To be used frequently.

Fever and Ague – Four ounces galangal root in a quart of gin, steeped in a warm place; take often – Mrs. R.A. Sibley

Cholera Remedy – Mix in a small bottle equal parts of tincture of opium (laudanum), rhubarb, capsicum (red pepper, double strength), camphor, and spirits of nitre, essence of peppermint double strength. Shake will and cork tight. Dose: from five to thirty drops every fifteen minutes. Dose for children, from two to ten drops. – Mrs. Gardner.

To restore from Stroke of Lightning – shower with cold water for two hours; if the patient does not show signs of life; put salt in the water, and continue to shower an hour longer.

All medicinal recipes credited to: The Home Cook Book by the Ladies of Toronto and Chief Cities and Towns in Canada (Toronto, 1881 [first published 1877]: https://archive.org/details/homecookbook00stew/mode/2up

Image Credits: Influenza poster, 1918. Secretary of Board of Health and Chief Medical Officer of Health subject files. Reference Code: RG 62-4-9-450a.1 Archives of Ontario.

Ammonia Advertisement, Canadian Grocer. January – March 1919. https://archive.org/stream/cangrocerjanmar1919toro/cangrocerjanmar1919toro#page/n4/mode/1up

Happy Holidays From The Archives

2020 year in review from our County Archivist.

By Liz Dommasch, County Archivist

What a year this has been! It’s hard to believe that Archives’ staff have been working from home since March. We’ve definitely missed being in the archives with researchers and meeting the public during our normal various outreach programs. However, although our doors are closed, staff have certainly been keeping VERY busy this year.

Since staff and researchers aren’t able to access records on a regular basis, we had a find a way to make information available. With that said, we went to web and created a number of new online exhibits. In the spring we developed our online exhibit entitled Spanish Flu: Food for Thought that touched on popular foods and recipes from 100 years ago. In the summer we unveiled an exhibit on the history of the County Gaol which touches on its architecture, staff, and inmates as well as the five famous hangings that occurred there. In recognition of “Movember”, we created our quirky and fun exhibit on the history of facial hair that not only touches on the various styles of facial hair, but on the history of barbershops and the 1967 Norwich Beard Contest.

Since we weren’t able to visit schools or have students visit the Archives, we created a number of online educational programs and resources for students, teachers and parents. Our website now houses a large repository of downloadable worksheets Two children looking at a decorated Christmas tree.related to the archives, Oxford County history, and Halloween. We even have a special section entitled Christmas in the County that highlights Victorian Christmas traditions. Megan, our Archives Technician, also created printable education packages which feature the history of Black Settlers in Oxford and local archival records and photographs from the Second World War. If that wasn’t enough, she created a fantastic interactive online story entitled Pioneer Life in Oxford County that walks students through the challenges of daily life as an early settler in Canada.

For the puzzle lovers out there, we created some historic online puzzles that can be accessed from our website and we’ve been contributing weekly to our Blog that we started in July. We also now have our own playlist on Oxford County’s Youtube channel and have a number of pioneer and Christmas craft videos, as well as Megan’s series entitled Oxford’s Dark Tales delivered just in time for Halloween. Our Instagram page (@OxfordCountyArchives) has gained over 800 followers since its inception, and we hope everyone has enjoyed the fun and interesting content we’ve posted so far.

Although we haven’t been able to provide our usual talks and programs to community groups and long term care facilities, we have found ways to still interact with the public. As part of our Movember project, we were able to bring a physical exhibit into Woodingford Lodge for residents and staff to view, that even included some handheld facial props. Over the holidays we were able to drop off Victorian themed craft kits, as well, for the residents to make. We’ve found some creative ways to have a high school co-op student work with us remotely and we hope we can continue to find other ways for volunteers to contribute their time again with us. Likewise, in the New Year, we are hoping to provide virtual talks until we are all safely able to gather again.

Although things have been quite different and sometimes surreal this year, I’m proud of what the Archives staff have accomplished this year and I hope you have enjoyed the content we have been able to deliver. Staff are available by email and telephone and will continue to answer reference questions and accept donations remotely until we are able to safely return to the Archives. In the meantime, I hope everyone has a lovely and safe holiday season and let’s hope for the best in 2021.

Happy Holidays!

About this Blog

Welcome! Our blog provides a perspective on the Oxford County Archives beyond the vault and delves into the fascinating stories found within our collection. Get to know our staff, discover what we do at the archives and learn more about Oxford County's cultural heritage. Updates on our services, programs and events will also be shared right here on this blog! 

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Oxford County is taking steps to support our community's response to COVID-19 (coronavirus disease) and measures taken by Southwestern Public Health. We are monitoring our operations daily to ensure we are taking the right actions to protect our residents, employees and visitors. Get updates at www.oxfordcounty.ca/COVID-19