Thursday, 19 January 2017




When visiting historic sites, I’m always trying to visualize what they might have looked like centuries ago, back when the surrounding area was devoid of parking lots, gift shops, and camera-toting tourists. Many of my fondest museum memories involve military demonstrations or costumed interpretation, which led me to wonder: when and how did re-enactment first begin? Read on to learn how historical re-enactments evolved from an early form of showmanship to an interpretive tool to animate historic sites.

Historic interpreters at the Fortress of Louisbourg in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Louisbourg highlights storytelling as an interpretive approach and immerses visitors in the 18th century French fort. Source.
Earliest Re-enactments

The origins of re-enactment date back to the Roman Empire, when re-enactment was a public spectacle involving the recreation of well-known battles. Just as contemporary gladiator films often depict hand-to-hand combat in a crowded amphitheatre, staged battles also served as public entertainment in Roman society. This tradition of dramatizing battles carried on into the medieval period, in which tournaments were fought with thematic elements from Ancient Rome. 

This lithograph by Edward Henry Corbould, titled The joust between the Lord of the Tournament and the Knight of the Red Rose, illustrates the Eglinton Tournament of  1839, a re-enactment of a medieval joust. Source.

Widespread Romanticism

By the 17th century, these historical displays had become popular in England, specifically as military re-enactments. Both during and after the English Civil War in the 1640s, re-enactments sought to demonstrate recent battles such as the battle at Blackheath in 1645.

Alongside the recreation of high profile military conflicts, the 19th century saw another shift as the Middle Ages were celebrated once more. In light of the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution, a fascination with the medieval era emerged and was perpetuated by shows that romanticized medieval jousts (not unlike the present-day dinner and tournament at Medieval Times). In this sense, nostalgia for centuries gone by informed a cultural phenomenon in Great Britain. But this longing for the glamour of the past did not completely eclipse the present, as the 1815 conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars inspired a public re-enactment of the Battle of Waterloo at Astley’s Amphitheatre in 1824. 

An illustration of Astley's Amphitheatre in London, published c. 1808-1810 and held by the British Library.  Source.

Celebrating Military Efforts

While re-enactment had become prevalent in the United Kingdom and the United States by the late 19th century, re-enactments now offered a way for military regiments to display specific, more recent conflicts, rather than reflect on the romanticism of past societies. In 1895, the Gloucester Engineer Volunteers re-enacted the famous British victory at Rorke’s Drift (1879).

American Civil War Re-enactment of the Battle of Chancellorsville in Spotsylvania County, Virginia. Source.
Not all regimental performances were sentimental or self-congratulatory, however. The U.S. 7th Cavalry Regiment re-enacted their defeat at the Battle of Little Bighorn within a year of its occurrence, meaning that the re-enactors were the actual survivors of the battle. In this case, the re-enactment was photographed, and its purpose was more educational than spectacular.

Education and Commemoration

After the American Civil War, veterans demonstrated famous battles to educate people on the conflicts and to pay tribute to their fellow soldiers who had been killed. This tradition developed into commemorative events whereby re-enacting groups continued to stage significant battles for an audience – the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg in 1913 was attended by 50,000 veterans, both Union and Confederate.

Also in the early 20th century, re-enactments gained popularity in Russia, with demonstrations of conflicts such as the Siege of Sevastopol (1854 to 1855), re-enacted in 1906. Alongside educating audiences, the re-enactments were a means of forming national identity through military commemoration. They perform similar functions today, as re-enactment groups often partner with historic sites to commemorate military anniversaries. (I myself had the chance to attend the re-enactments of the Battle of Queenston Heights at Fort George in 2012, and the Battle of York at Fort York in 2013, both for the Bicentennial of the War of 1812.) 

Today, re-enactments commemorate significant historical battles, such as the Battle of Queenston Heights (1812) in Niagara, Ontario. (Photo courtesy of Serena Ypelaar)

Despite its origins as a form of visually impressive entertainment, re-enactment has transformed into a storytelling technique we recognize at historic sites and commemorative events today. I'm looking forward to seeing how re-enactment will continue to change in the future!

Wednesday, 18 January 2017




Happy New Year everyone and welcome to the January edition of What's Happening Wednesdays! Today is #MuseumSelfie Day! Are you celebrating? Post your selfies on social media and continue reading this edition to explore five upcoming Canada 150 events and the resources you can use to stay up to date with events taking place throughout the year.

Throwback to one of my favourite selfies - on the roof of St. Peter's Basilica. 

1. Canada on Screen - Toronto International Film Festival 

Start the car! This commercial for Ikea Canada is included in Canada on Screen's list of 150 essential works of moving-images. Source.
TIFF and their partners are celebrating Canada's moving-image heritage through Canada on Screen, a program of FREE events, screenings, guest talks and more all based on a list of 150 essential works. This list, compiled from polls of industry professionals, includes animation, commercials, documentaries, features, shorts and television series. The program began in January, with works from the list included in TIFF's Canada's Top Ten Film Festival which runs from January 13th - January 26th. The events will continue throughout the year in Toronto and in other cities across Canada.

To learn more visit

Click here to download the full press release detailing when events will take place and the complete 150 list.

2. Winterlicious - City of Toronto

This year's Winterlicious includes culinary events celebrating Canada 150. Source.

The City of Toronto's winter celebration of all things food takes place January 27th - February 9th at more than 220 restaurants. As part of 2017's celebration, diners are invited to explore Canada's history through food, with ticketed culinary events such as Casa Loma's Celebrating 150 years of Canadian Cuisine and FUSE's Elements of Soul - 150 years of Caribbean Influence. At Casa Loma, visitors will enjoy Canadian dishes of the past and present while at FUSE diners will explore "contributions made by generations of Black Caribbeans to Canada's soul food and music offerings."

To learn more about the restaurants participating in this years Winterlicious and the special culinary events available visit

3. Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience - University of Toronto Art Centre

Kent Monkman's exhibit, Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience, begins at the University of Toronto Art Centre on January 26th with a reception from 6:30pm - 8:30pm. Through Monkman's artistic works and historical artworks and artifacts from other collections, the visitor explores Canada's history, from the present to 150 years before confederation, and First Nation's resilience. The traveling exhibit will premiere at the centre until March 4th.

Public lecture by Kent Monkman: February 1st, 2017, 4:30pm - 6:00pm, University College Room 140

Curatorial tour with Kent Monkman: February 4th, 2017, 2:00pm.

To learn more visit:

4. Our Journey - Spadina Museum

Spadina Museum asks visitors to contribute to Our Journey, on at the museum from February 4th - December 31st 2017. Source.
From February 4th - December 31st, 2017, the Spadina Museum invites visitors to contribute to Our Journey, an exhibit exploring the diversity of Canadians. Visitors are invited to share their family's origin and share some of their family story by creating stories and/or art that answers questions including: "When did you or your ancestors first arrive in Canada? What does indigenous Canadian mean to you? What is the best thing about living in Toronto?"

*The art map is free but there is a charge for admission to the museum.

To learn more about Spadina Museum and the project visit here and here.

5. My City My Six - Cultural Hotspot 2017  

This year, from May to October, the Cultural Hotspot program is highlighting and celebrating the arts, heritage, cultue, businesses and communities of East York. As part of the program comes My City My Six, a public art project celebrating Canada 150 and the diversity of Toronto. Torontonians are invited to submit six word stories that describe essential aspects of themselves and their lives. Submissions will be accepted from January through May after which a jury will select submissions to be displayed in the fall exhibit; the exhibit will take place city-wide in transit shelters, on billboards and in other public spaces.

To learn more about the Cultural Hotspot program and My City My Six visit here.       

Canada 150 Online Resources

Canada 150 events will be taking place across the country throughout the year! Here are some of the resources you can use to keep track of what's happening:

TO Canada with Love is the city of Toronto's Canada 150 program with information on exhibitions, celebration and commemorations. Check their event calendar throughout the year.

Ontario150 will give you details on how Ontario is celebrating it's and Canada's 150th anniversary.

The Government of Canada's Canada150 page will give you information on events, programs and social media links.

The University of Toronto has a website for it's Canada150 events, history and programming.

And of course there is social media! 

City of Toronto Historic Sites has released this summary of Canada 150 hashtags to help us follow along and participate with Canada 150. You can also follow the Government of Canada's Canada 150 accounts on twitter, instagram and facebook.

City of Toronto Historic Sites has produced this summary of Canada 150 hashtags. Source.
If you know of any additional upcoming Canada 150 events, online resources, or hashtags, please add your comments below!

Tuesday, 17 January 2017




In the latest instalment of exhibitions I wish I could go to we have Scraps: Fashion, Textiles and Creative Reuse at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. Scraps is currently on view until April 16, 2017. The exhibit highlighted, in one of the Cooper Hewitt’s small temporary exhibition spaces, is global in scope and features works from Italian label Riedzioni, founded by Luisa Cevese; Christina Kim, founder of dosa, inc., in Los Angeles; and Reiko Sudo, of Japanese textile firm NUNO.
Installation View of Scraps: Fashion,Textiles, and Creative Reuse.
Photo credit: Cooper Hewitt (source)
Each designer interrupts the typical mass production cycle at a different point to produce luxury products from the cast offs of a notoriously wasteful industry. While all three companies are commercially successfully, their approach towards their shared material, pre-consumer industrial textile waste created during garment manufacturing, and aesthetics differ dramatically. When placed together, they demonstrate differing but viable approaches to reducing waste in contemporary manufacturing.

NUNO textile Kibiso Stripe from 2008. Designed by Reiko Sudo. NUNO uses materials usually discarded in the silk production process to make their textiles.
Photo credit: Matt Flynn for the Smithsonian Institution (source)
dosa skirt, 2008. Desiged by Christina Kim. This particular skirt is made from material discarded during industrial garment making. There is also a line made from the discarded materials used to make these garments.
Photo credit: dosa (source)

Large rectangular bag and very small bag by Riedizioni. 2013.
Luisa Ceverse, under the label Riedizioni, uses the discarded edges off rolls of silk and other waste textiles to create patterns in polyurethane.
Photo credit: Riedizioni (source)

There are two niggling thoughts that demand I address them. The first is to point at the tapestries of Hannah Ryggen and the works featured in Soft Monuments at KODE in Bergen as other examples of textiles as a feminine medium for political art, in part because of its status as craft or otherwise outside art. But I’ll leave/challenge Natania to tackle that in a She’s My Muse.

The second thought is more a series of questions: where else could this exhibit live? Where can we celebrate and worry at contemporary society before it becomes history?

The featured creators in Scraps point towards an answer. These three designers were selected in part because of the longevity of their environmentally motivated design practice. [source] This history is also closely tied with the art museum and gallery sector. NUNO has a decades long affair with museum exhibitions, including another show at the Cooper Hewitt in 1990. [source] Riedzoni products slide nicely into that art museum store niche. [source] dosa, the newest of the three companies, has already done collaborations with LACMA and a Pulitzer Art Foundation

Installation view of dosa's floor pillows for the Pulitzer Art Foundation in St. Louis.
The pillows are patched together and some are dyed with tea!
Photo credit: Carly Hilo for the Pulitzer (source)
So we see two potential roles of palaces of art: exhibitors and incubators/clients. Inside of the museum exhibition, visitors are asked to contemplate objects outside of their immediate use value, to take a moment and consider the networks and systems that created them, move them, and inscribe them with value. In the case of new objects, this is one place where this can be done without the immediate question of how this thing can be bought and consumed, where we can take a moment to think about how we fit into larger systems and our actions reverberate out into the world.

Final notes: if you'd like more content, including traditional upcycling textile techniques, Scraps includes blog posts by textile researcher Magali An Berthon. It looks like the digital content is updated regularly, including today's post on greenwashing! If you're on the cusp of a closet clean out but don't want to contribute to landfill, try any of these charities and shops if you're in the Toronto area.  


Monday, 16 January 2017




Last weekend I paid a visit to the ROM, and there I came across the Franklin Exploration exhibition. This pop-up display is tucked away in the corner of the entrance of the ROM's Canadian gallery.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Franklin story, here’s some history. In 1845, Sir John Franklin, a member of the British Royal Navy and an experienced global explorer, was tasked with charting the Northwest Passage. At this time, British officials were keen to discover an ocean route to the Pacific via the North American Arctic. Franklin's ships HMS Erebus and HMS Terror set sail but never returned. At the encouragement of Lady Franklin, other explorers such as Francis Leopold McClintock and Charles Francis Hall searched for the lost expedition, but had little success. In 2014, the HMS Erebus was finally discovered, and in September 2016 the Terror was found. While there are still questions about what actually happened in the crews’ final days, we can begin to construct some answers. The pop-up display discusses both the past and present explorations of the Franklin expedition.

Sir John Franklin looking pensive. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

The exhibit is a double-sided pop-up with two touchscreens and a model of the Erebus shipwreck, and was created in partnership with Parks Canada. Seeing it was a moment of déjà vu for me, as I encountered the same one at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic the last time I was there nearly a year ago. Other museums across Canada are part of the Franklin network, including the Nattilik Heritage Centre in Gjoa Haven, Nunavut, close to where the ships were found. This widespread uniform exhibit emphasizes a carefully told national narrative. The Franklin expedition has been adopted as a Canadian story, and the attempts to recover the lost ships are now a part of that history.

In addition to telling the story of the Franklin expedition, the exhibit also focuses on contemporary efforts to uncover evidence of what happened. Videos on the exhibit's touchscreen describe the modern processes involved in finding and recovering the ships. A designated space on the pop-up wall emphasizes that unlocking this story is an ongoing endeavour. The Terror was found only last September, and now holds a space on the pop-up display; when I visited the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic’s display in January of last year, the Terror was yet to be discovered. I hope that the additional space still left on the display will be filled someday, but some stories will always have gaps.

A space on the pop-up. Photo credit: Sadie MacDonald

One aspect of this exhibition that I appreciated was the emphasis on Inuit perspectives. Inuit involvement in the Franklin story runs deep, as Inuit guides accompanied explorers in search of the lost expedition and provided valuable testimony on the ships’ whereabouts. In 1927, a report by the British Admiralty dismissed Inuit evidence on the Franklin expedition's fate as “not altogether trustworthy.” As the exhibit notes, Inuit oral history on the location of the ships has proven correct. In a video interview, Louie Kamookak, an Inuit historian, notes the efforts of Inuit in uncovering the ships and upholds the importance of oral history. The story of the Franklin expedition shows that oral history deserves more mainstream recognition as valid historical evidence. Museums ought to include more of this perspective in exhibitions, especially when discussing stories and cultures in which oral history plays an important role. The place of Inuit is reflected in the press release for the Franklin Exploration exhibition, which is offered in Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun.

Before the doomed expedition of 1845, Franklin undertook another previous ill-fated Arctic expedition lasting from 1819 to 1822 (it seemed to be a habit for him). During that journey, local Yellowknife leader Akaitcho warned Franklin from attempting to travel during winter, advice which Franklin disregarded. The ensuing expedition ended disastrously, with Franklin’s men resorting to eating their shoe leather and, in one notable case, other humans before being rescued by Akaitcho. Nonetheless, this expedition solidified Franklin’s reputation in British society as a heroic and hardy explorer, “the man who ate his boots”. His final fatal expedition immortalized him for good. While Franklin faces more criticism today, we still seem to find his tragic story of failure romantically captivating.

As I perused the display, other visitors came over in search of the Franklin Exploration exhibit, which they seemed eager to see. I imagine they were not clear as to its being a pop-up display. “That’s it?” a man asked skeptically. “There’s not much here,” said his friend. They didn’t bother to use the touchscreen function. It’s an incident which I think indicates that visitors to a large extent still expect to experience object encounters when in a museum.

A note recovered from the Franklin expedition as shown on the exhibit's touchscreen. Photo credit: Sadie MacDonald

This poses questions regarding the “aura” of objects. People come to a museum and expect to see something real, to bear witness to original objects apparently imbibed with history and meaning. Are pop-up displays like the Franklin Exploration a sufficient alternative? Objects related to the expedition can be viewed and interpreted in the exhibit's interactive touchscreen program. As indicated by my experience, visitors may not have the patience to go through the many pages on the program. While a nerd someone like me who is into museums and the topic of the Franklin expedition was engaged, it wasn’t enough for some visitors. Museums are more than their objects, but encountering those objects is an important part of a museum visit.

The past and present of the Franklin expedition is a Canadian story that continues to captivate and evolve, and we want to interact with that story. I had the opportunity to visit Westminster Abbey in London a couple of years ago, where there is a monument to Franklin. Someone had left a bright red lipstick imprint on the bust. There may not be anything in the pop-up Franklin Exploration exhibit worth kissing, but you can still interact with this story if you give it a shot.

The monument of Sir John Franklin at Westminster Abbey in a lipstick-free moment. Photo Credit: England and London - John L. Stoddard's Lectures

Friday, 13 January 2017




Happy New Year! With ever new year comes the hope to successfully organize and clean our homes. I've decided to start out 2017 with something easy but practical. It is something everyone can do and should do, if they are able: conserving family photographs and documents!

Over the holidays, I went back to my hometown to spend time with my family. Everytime I go home I go over old family photographs; not just the ones from 5 or 10 or 15 years ago but the ones from 50, 70, or 100 years ago.

Do you have any photographs like that in your home? What about letters and other documents that are just as old?

These aren't just objects to toss into a closet and forget about. These are exciting wonderful windows into our pasts and our family's history. Such things should be protected as much as possible, as you never want to lose them and the stories they have to share.

Photographs and documents can succumb to various types of damage: sun damage from improper storage, mould, water damage, tearing, fading, and more. Most damage the result of time and improper storage, especially because old materials often used in photography are actually not good for the items themselves.

Conserving your family photographs and documents is actually pretty easy!


1) Scanning

Scanning is the ideal way to protect your photographs long-term even though it is time consuming. If it's negatives or slides you will need a specific scanning machine for these. It is a good idea to have an external hard drive to protect the digital photographs, otherwise one bad day for your computer, it breaks, and they're all gone. The resolution that is best for future printing is 300 dpi, save it as TIFF or JPEG, and 24 bit RGB color. The other standard settings on a scanner are usually good for image downloading.

2) Re-photographing

Take new digital photographs of your old film ones, and store them as above in an external hard drive. However, I find there are often problems with light shining on the old photograph and it can become quite a hassle unless you set up an intricate lighting system.

Example of re-photographing. My sister snapped this shot of a photo of some of our Czech ancestors. Source: Shannon McLaughlin. 


Storage is probably the most crucial element for preserving family photos/documents yet it is also easily misunderstood. The best environment for photographs is a dark room-temperature room with 40% humidity; attics and basements are generally a no-no, as you don't want to store them in a damp location or somewhere that is prone to flooding/pest invasion (note: silverfish loove paper products!). Also remove any old materials that are harmful for photographs (glassine sleeves, often used to store old negatives, is bad for photographs).

Generally shoeboxes are fine for photographs, but for older more sensitive photos (hint: the century-old ones), archival standard storage materials is best. What is this? Archival quality storage material is more commonly known as acid-free/lignin-free, or storage materials that don't create harmful off-gassing or leaching, usually because they have been buffered to maintain a more stable pH. If possible, it is best to store photographs/documents flat with acid-free tissue between them. Carr McLean is a professional Canadian archival product company, however local craft stores will usually sell archival products and if not may know alternate locations.

Albums are a fine way to store photographs but you have to be aware of what kind of album it is! Self-adhesive albums, which we may remember as the ones with the plastic-y sheets that lay overtop the photographs, are one such example; as the years pass, it becomes more and more impossible to peel the plastic back without ripping the photograph (this is happening to me these days). Some tips:

-use photo corners instead (even though they can be frustrating)
-use acid-free paper photo albums
-separate pages with acid-free tissue

Note: store on a shelf so they aren't sitting on the floor and store away from food/water.

Examples of different types of archival boxes for your storage needs! Source.

Another Note: Make sure to use containers that are proper size, not only big enough but tight enough so the items don't shift too much. Don't overstuff it and again, acid or lignin free is your friend!


What if you stumble upon a photograph or document that is already moldy, stuck together, torn, has damaged binding, etc? (hint, if there are pests: isolate it in a quarantined room, and then try to decide if it is worth keeping!).

Contact a conservator or your local archives society for advice and aide! Normally, if proper storage doesn't do it you will need some extra help.

There are many methods out there on caring for your family photographs and documents. With the advent of the digital age, we should all try our best to preserve our family's older physical objects, if not for ourselves then surely for future family generations to look back on. Start your 2017 off with safe storage of precious family memories!


Thursday, 12 January 2017




Well, it’s the new year and do you know that means? Resolutions!

What's yours? (source)
While researching for this post, I initially wanted to see if museums were doing anything to help people with their resolutions or maybe an exhibit on the history of New Year’s Resolutions. Instead, I found an interesting report, Healthy Kids, Healthy Museums. Published in 2010 and focused on American and UK museums, this report profiles the “best practices at children’s museums that offer family-friendly strategies to combat the childhood obesity epidemic” (source).

While that may not sound fun, the museums they profiled developed fun, innovative, and creative programs and exhibitions aimed at getting families to think more about their lifestyles.

There are three important lessons in the report:

1. It is okay if its been done before - do not worry about whether or not someone else has done a certain activity. What matters is that the children engage with it and learn something.

So true (source)
2. Activities, activities, activities - children do not go to a children’s museum to read panels. They go to play (and learn through play). Hands-on learning with children has limitless possibilities and sometimes the simple ideas can be the most effective. The Portland Children's Museum created the Grasshopper Grocery and Butterfly Bistro, where children could grocery shop (with plastic, healthy foods) then 'create' a meal with these ingredients. 

3. Partnerships - museums form partnerships with numerous organizations for various exhibitions. Museums need to look in their community and see whom they can partner with to encourage an active, and fun, lifestyle for the children and youth of their community (can you say Color Run!)

Trust me these are fun, although the blue can be difficult to get off (source)

One of the most valuable parts of this report is "Replication Tips", which are included with every museum profiled. If you want to follow one of their examples they provide you with some insight into why they made certain choices and how you can learn from their experience (and remember size constraints are no excuse, you can always downsize the original concept!).

I recommend looking at this report because it is full of ideas, suggestions, and stories of success that museums can re-create.

This is one area where museums can create some fun activities that families, adults, youth, and children will enjoy. The trick is going to be making your activities relevant and fun enough that people want to go to after the New Year's Resolution fever has worn off.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017





The series of digital stories about Toronto history and culture which make up this project are the work of fifty-three Master of Museum Studies (MMSt) graduate students. The project was inspired by the 2015 Myseum Intersections – Telling Toronto’s Stories and invited each storyteller to select an object from local collections which has significance to Toronto’s past and present. The objects inspired the authors to connect historical events with contemporary context so that they tell stories about the multiple intersections that happen in the city.

Musings will be posting collected stories once a cycle. We hope that, after reading the stories, you will know Toronto a little bit better. And perhaps you will find similar stories in your own objects!

Our partners for this project, to which we are extremely thankful, are:
  • Archeological and Cultural Heritage Services
  • Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives 
  • John M. Kelly Library, St. Mike’s College, University of Toronto
  • Lambton House
  • Myseum of Toronto 
  • Ontario Jewish Archives 
  • Private Collection of Russian Artefacts 
  • Scarborough Archives 
  • Scarborough Museum 
  • The Multicultural Historical Society of Ontario 
  • The Real Canadian Portuguese Museum 
  • Toronto Botanical Garden 
  • Toronto District School Board Archives
Now, without further ado, object stories from Lambton House.



Have you ever gone treasure hunting in your home? Toronto's history may be buried there. It may sound silly, but you'd be surprised what you might find. As a city created from former townships and villages, Toronto's heritage is made up from the histories of these old municipalities. What may seem like an ordinary object to some may actually have great story to tell about one of Toronto's neighbourhoods. This was the case for the old sign that hung outside of Lambton House, a historic hotel and tavern in Toronto's west end community of Lambton Mills

Lambton House operated as a tavern and hotel for 140 years (photo credit: Anthony Badame, 2015).
The wooden sign hung outside Lambton House from around 1950 until at least the 1960s (the exact dates are unclear) and welcomed weary travelers from all over Ontario to the hotel. By this point, Lambton House was well established and respected in the community. Like the sign says, Lambton house is An Old York Landmark, referring to the former municipality of York which encompassed Lambton Mills. York legally became part of Metropolitan Toronto in 1953- around the time the sign was in use. Known for its good food and entertainment, Lambton House opened in 1848 and became a stop on the stagecoach route from Toronto to Dundas. The painted horse on the sign is a reminder of this period in Lambton House's history. Lambton House operated for 140 years until its closure in 1988. It was transformed into an interpretive centre by Heritage York in the early 1990s.

It was at some point between the 1960s and the closing of the hotel that the sign mysteriously disappeared. Madeleine McDowell, Membership Secretary for Heritage York and lifelong resident of Lambton Mills, recalls that many things went missing or were taken as souvenirs during this time. Years past and the sign became a distant memory; but, as luck would have it, the sign returned to Lambton House.

Now residing in an upstairs room, this sign hung outside of Lambton House in the 1950s 
(photo credit: Anthony Badame, 2015).
McDowell remembers the call she received one summer a few years ago from a man in Perth, Ontario. The man grew up in the area and wanted to bring his granddaughters for a tour of Lambton House to learn about her family history. Gladly, McDowell accepted. After the tour, the man presented McDowell with the sign. "I thought he was just showing it [to me]", she remembers. However, the man returned the sign to Lambton House, because he felt that's where it belonged. For preservation reasons, the sign now sits in an upstairs room in Lambton House. Excitingly, Heritage York is planning on recreating the sign in order to hang it outside. The Lambton House sign will once again welcome visitors to this treasured spot in Lambton Mills.

It is thanks to residents and former residents of Toronto, like the man from Perth, that Toronto's history is so rich. So what bits of Toronto's history are hiding in your house? You'll never know unless you look!

Works Cited

City of Toronto. (2015). A History of Toronto: An 11000 Year Journey. Retrieved from: M10000071d60f89RCRD.

Harris, D. (2014). Etobicoke History Corner: Lambton Mills Named for the Earl of Durham. Inside Toronto. Retrieved from: story/4576117-etobicoke-history-corner-lambton-mills-named-for-the-earl-of- durham/.

Heritage York. (2015a). Lambton House [website].

Heritage York. (2015b). Heritage York [website].

"Lambton Mills". (2015). Wikipedia. Retrieved from: _Mills.

Magel, R. (2008). 200 years Yonge: A history. Natural Heritage/Natural History Inc: Toronto.

McDowell, M. (2015). [Interviews October 13 October 27]. Lambton House, Toronto.

"York, Toronto". (2015). Wikipedia. Retrieved from:,_ Toronto.



Do you remember the anticipation surrounding Prince William and Kate Middleton’s marriage back in 2011? Perhaps you even bought a special commemorative memento. Even if you weren’t among those who did, the royal wedding wasn’t the first time Toronto obsessed over a royal event. Flashback to 12 May 1937 - Toronto was abuzz with coronation fever! From rallies to decorated shop windows at the Eaton Centre, no area of the city was bereft of celebratory spirit for the coronation of George VI and the Queen consort, Elizabeth. Needless to say, Torontonians embraced that coronation just as enthusiastically as they did the recent 2011 royal wedding. In honour of the 1937 coronation, a variety of bric-a-brac souvenirs were produced and sold, ranging from textiles to ceramics, but the most notable were commemorative plates.

The Lambton House, a small hotel along the Humber River, was not left untouched by the coronation fever gripping Toronto to the south. To commemorate the royal event, Louis Epstein, owner of the Lambton House at the time, commissioned Alfred Meakin, a manufacturing company in Britain, to produce porcelain plates depicting the newly minted royal couple to gift to his visitors, guests, and staff.

1937 Commemorative Plate from Lambton House celebrating the 1937 Coronation, Photograph. (2015). 
Photography by Bridget Collings.

According to local historian Madeline McDowell, Mr. Epstein gave this particular 1937 commemorative plate to the cook, Mrs. Shaw, to show his appreciation of her services to Lambton House. The plate depicts colour-transferred images of the royal couple amidst a crown, flags, and an English rose on the front with the manufacturer stamp and an inscription that reads “courtesy of Lambton Hotel” on the back.

‘Compliments of Lambton Hotel’ inscription on back of the plate, Photograph. (2015).
Photography by Bridget Collings.
In Fifty Years of Royal Commemorative China 1887-1937, M.H. Davey and D.J. Mannion explain that “royal souvenirs were made to be kept as a reminder of the event and reflect the popularity of the monarch of the day…they not only chronicle our national heritage, but represent, through their designs and inscriptions, part of our social history.” The Lambton House’s plate also commemorates a time in history when Toronto was part of the British Empire. The plate, with its depictions of English symbols and portraits of George VI and Elizabeth, would be proudly displayed in Torontonian homes and serve as a constant reminder of Toronto’s British cultural heritage.

Collecting royal memorabilia continues to be a passion for some Canadians to this day. Do you remember the excited Torontonians who were celebrating Prince William’s marriage to Kate Middleton by holding tea parties and buying souvenir china, and cooking dinner menus inspired by the wedding? Although the British monarchy doesn’t hold as much sway in the governance of Canada today, they remain an important icon in the lives of many Canadians.

One mystery yet remains to be solved regarding the 1937 commemorative plate at the Lambton House: How many were actually produced by Alfred Meakin for Louis Epstein to ‘dish’ out to esteemed guests, visitors, and staff?

To learn more about this 1937 commemorative plate, please visit the Lambton House.

Works Cited
Davey, M.H. & Mannion, D.J. (1988). Fifty Years of Royal Commemorative China 1887-1937. Hemel Hempstead: Dayman.



Before GPS, Google Maps, and Siri, other objects guided travellers on their journeys: plaques, signs, landmarks, and even trees. Instead of Siri’s voice giving travel directions, these objects would act as physical indications that travellers were on the right path. One such marker unique to Toronto and the greater area of south-western Ontario was the Horsechestnut tree. Commonly used in the 19th century to outline stagecoach routes, Horsechestnut trees lined the once main east-west highway for Southern Ontario and stood in front of stagecoach stations such as the Lambton House. 

Horsechestnut tree in spring. Source: [Horsechestnut tree in spring, Photograph]. (n.d.).
Retrieved from:
According to local historian Madeleine McDowell, Horsechestnut trees were presumably planted in a certain vicinity of stagecoach stations to inform the driver that he was close to a stop, and therefore it was time to slow down. Horsechestnut trees can still be found on streets that were once part of the old stagecoach route that ran east - west throughout Southern Ontario, particularly in front of old stagecoach stations.

The Lambton House was one such station along south-western Ontario’s old stagecoach route. Opening in 1848, Lambton House operated as a stagecoach station on Dundas Street until the advent of the railroad in the 1880’s. As one of the major stagecoach stops for Toronto, Lambton House had Horsechestnut trees lined along Dundas Street and in front of the house. Based on McDowell’s recollections, the last Horsechestnut tree on the street stood in front of Lambton House until it was hit by lightning in 2006. While this resulted in the tree’s demise, a piece of the tree is displayed in front of the entrance to the house to tell the story of Lambton House's history as a stagecoach station in south-western Ontario. 
The piece of the Horsechestnut tree on display at Lambton House. 
Source: A piece of Lambton House’s Horsechestnut tree, Photograph. (2015). Taken by Bridget Collings.
But why Horsechestnut trees?

McDowell recalls that the tree was used as a marker because it was not indigenous to Ontario, thus making it easy for drivers to spot amongst the foliage. Another reason is its very distinctive look: the tree boasts candle-like formations of white flowers in the spring and spiny husked chestnuts in the fall. Besides its looks, the history of how the tree came to Ontario is also pretty neat. 

Illustration of a Horsechestnut tree’s candle shaped blossoms and spiny husked chestnut.
Source: [Aesculus hippocastanum, Illustration]. (n.d.). Retrieved from: 
The story goes that in the early 19th century, British settlers planted the trees in Ontario to recreate the landscapes of their homeland. When Edward VI, the Prince of Wales, came for the ceremonial opening of Queens Park in 1860, he was greeted by over 500 Horsechestnut trees, icons of the British landscape, lining University Avenue, College Street, and Carlton Street.

Horsechestnut trees, like the one that once stood in front of Lambton House, was the original “GPS” and a prominent feature of Toronto’s natural landscape. While there are not as many Horsechestnut trees in the city today, see if you can spot a Horsechestnut tree while wandering around Toronto!

To see Lambton House’s Horsechestnut tree and learn about its role in Toronto's transportation history, please visit the Lambton House.

Works Referenced
Lambton House (n.d.). History of Lambton House. Retrieved from:

Canadian Tree Tours. (n.d.). Horsechestnut in Toronto. Retrieved from: 



Men’s Beverage Rooms, once a popular space in Canadian hotels, usually served working-class men as middle-class men often had their own liquor cabinets at home. [1] Lambton House, operating as a hotel from 1848 to 1988 in the former village of Lambton Mills, currently York, Ontario, featured one of these rooms on its main floor. Here men could come to eat, drink, and socialize.

The Men’s Beverage Room (Howland Room) at Lambton House, set up for the monthly Community Pub Night.
Image taken by Taylor Noble.

Local farmers would go to the Beverage Room for a celebration meal after receiving pay for their harvest. Farmers operated on credit and when they took their grain to the Lambton Mill, they would take some flour, the amount specified by their wife for home, pay off their credit debt, and have a celebration meal in the Lambton House Men’s Beverage Room. While there, these farmers would interact with a wide range of men, including teamsters, travelers, as the House was a stop for stagecoaches and others, fellow farmers, working men, veterans, and more.

Two men local farmers might have seen were Mr. Ostrander and a local veteran. The Ostranders of Brantford both came from loyalist families who received crown land grants and travelled through Lambton Mills often. Local historian and Membership Secretary of Lambton House, Madeleine McDowell remembers the Ostranders coming to town. When they arrived, Mrs. Ostrander, also known as Granny, would appear in fine clothes, every inch a lady. She and the children would eat in the dining room while her husband went to the Men’s Beverage Room. Women were not permitted, by law, to enter a Men’s Beverage Room and could be arrested if they did. Those who did, or attempted to, were seen as having low morals or were prostitutes. [2] As a result, if a family or couple was passing through, the man could go to the beverage room and his female companion would go to dining room.

Therefore, the farmers may have rubbed elbows with a man of a higher status, like Mr. Ostrander. However, he also could have socialized with veterans from the Boer or Crimean War. McDowell recalls the story of a veteran riding his horse to Lambton House, a common sight. What was unseen was that this man had lost both arms in the cavalry. Although McDowell is not sure in which war he was injured, she did recall that he would enter the hotel and go to the Men’s Beverage Room to socialize. He would grip his mug in his teeth, lift it up, and tip back his head to drink. When finished for the night, he would mount his horse and ride home. Although Men’s Beverage Rooms seem updated now because they did not permit women, they show how men socialized at the turn of the century. The Lambton House Men’s Beverage Room hosted teamsters, farmers, travellers, and the bourgeoisie. It was a place where men of different backgrounds and occupations could meet, eat, and drink.

1. Heron, C. (2003). Booze: A Distilled History. Toronto: Between the Lines, 284.
2. Ibid., 289.



It’s 1954. The children of King George Public School have been waiting all week for this moment. Their principle, Mel Bryce, enters the classroom, a large brown case in hand. The room, which had been buzzing with excitement, falls silent. Mr. Bryce walks to the back of the classroom, all eyes on him. He opens the case and places a large metal device on a back table. A few students whisper as he searches for an outlet and organizes his materials. Finally, he signals for the lights to be turned off and the students roar with applause.

What could cause so much excitement? Believe it or not, it is a history lesson…with a new twist!

But let’s start at the beginning.

Mel Bryce began his work at King George Public school in the York Township Board of Education in the 1930s. A lover of history, he wanted to find a way to bring history to life for his students. So he did what many today are using to engage the younger generations – he used the latest technology.

Delineascope Slide Projector, circa 1940s. Photo credit Taylor Noble.
In the 1940s, Bryce acquired a Delineascope slide projector made by the Spencer Lens Company. He believed that pairing local history lessons with images would be a more engaging experience for the children. Bryce put a call out to his colleagues and consulted various public and private collections, many of which are now in the City of Toronto Archives, to compile a large collection of historical photographs of York Township. He then went to Ryerson Press and had the images turned into glass mounted slides. By the time of completion, his collection had several hundred slides featuring images of historic buildings, landscapes, people, and events.

Lambton House membership secretary Madeleine McDowell describes how Bryce’s slide collection and presentations became a prominent fixture of the York Township community. During his tenure as principal, he helped hundreds of children learn more about their local heritage and roots. Bryce also gave lectures to adults outside of the school, and even had his images featured in J.C Boylen’s York Township: An Historical Summary 1850-1954.

In the early 2000s, Bryce’s daughter donated both the projector and slides to Lambton House. The slides are still used for children’s programing in their new home at Lambton House, as their educational value is twofold. McDowell observes that children are “absolutely fascinated” not only with the images on the slides, but the slides themselves. The collection is thus useful for teaching the history of York Township, and the history of media and technology.

It is amazing to think that after all this time the slide collection is still being used as an aid to help children engage with their local heritage. What is even more compelling is that Bryce’s project reflects many of the values of the Myseum of Toronto itself – using different forms of media to engage with Toronto’s heritage.