The history of Canada spans far more than the 150 years that we celebrate with the 2017 Sesquicentennial. We are a country built by a diverse population, and shaped by extraordinary events set against a vast natural landscape. Our new exhibit celebrates the 150th birthday of our nation by telling the story of London and Middlesex County from 1820 to 1920 - a small and localized portion of Canada’s history. “150 Years: 150 Artifacts” features unique objects and images from our permanent collection that represent key people, stories and events which shaped that century of Canadian history.
One of the most imposing, and heaviest artifacts in the exhibit is London’s first fire bell. The 700 pound bronze bell was ordered from A. Good of Buffalo, New York, and arrived in London in 1848 after being on exhibit at the Buffalo New York fair. The maker’s mark is cast on the outer rim along with the name of London’s Mayor, S. Morrill, Esq. It is believed that the bell was later moved to the new City Hall around 1854, and is now in the Fanshawe Pioneer Village Permanent Collection.
Be sure to check out the “Great Local Ideas” exhibit case where you’ll find an amazing invention patented in 1921 by London business owner Robert Greene. The “Twin Trail” roadway system saw a section of gravel...
While searching for a Christmas-themed image or object in our collection to write about I ran across an early advertising piece that immediately caught my attention. It is a cardboard image of a shoe - a beautiful red shoe decorated with flowers - and being a lover of both shoes and flowers I needed to investigate more.
Text printed on the shoe reveals that the card is from the J.P Cook Boot and Shoe Store located at 173 Dundas Street. Joseph Patrick Cook was the second generation of Cooks to operate a shoe store; his Irish-born father Philip had been a shoemaker in London since the 1860’s. Research shows the Cook’s had stores in at least three different locations on Dundas Street, between Richmond and Clarence, and in later years at 483 Richmond Street, just north of the Grand Theatre. In 1905 Joseph formed a partnership with C.J. Fitzgerald of Brooklyn, New York to establish the Cook-Fitzgerald Co. Ltd., a shoe manufacturing business located on the north side of Carling Street between Talbot and Ridout. The firm would later move to the southeast corner of Richmond and Bathurst streets.
This past season I worked on a part of our collection that I have to admit creeps me out a little bit. The idea that someone took the time to collect and create a wreath fashioned from human hair seems to me to be highly eccentric, not to mention strange! However, as I began to examine and carefully clean these Victorian oddities I gained a new appreciation for the artistic craftsmanship and the varied and intricate designs demonstrated in these works of art.
Examples of hair art or jewelry made from hair date back as far as the 12th century, but it was during the Victorian era that it became extraordinarily popular. Much of the increased interest can be attributed to two events - the death of Queen Victoria’s husband, Albert, in 1861, and the American Civil War. The war left thousands of mourning families looking for ways to respectfully honour their dead family members. Queen Victoria took mourning to a whole new level, dressing in black until her death in 1901. It is said she always wore a piece of jewelry made from Albert’s hair. It is during this period that mourning, and the social demonstration of mourning became fashionable.
Usually displayed in a place of honour in the parlour, a hair wreath could combine not only the tresses...