Oxford County Archives: Beyond the Vault

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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!

Christmas Baking

Spice up your holiday baking this year with some historical recipes from 1917!

By Liz Dommasch, County Archivist

'Tis the season! It’s Christmas baking time! I thought it might be fun to continue on our theme of recipes and share a few that were published in the 1917 Woodstock Cook Book compiled by the Ladies of St. Mary’s Church:

Fruit Cake

1 ½ pounds currants, 2 pounds raisins, 1 coffee cup butter and 1-3 cup lard, 2 coffee cups brown sugar, ¼ coffee cup milk, 1 ½ teaspoons soda, 5 eggs, ½ wine glass brandy, ½ wine glass maple syrup, ½ pound citron peel, 1 pound almonds, 2 halves lemon peel, 1 teaspoon each of cinnamon and cloves, 3 ½ coffee cups flour. Bake in a slow oven.

  • Submitted by Mrs. A.W. MooreLittle girl holding a plum pudding recipe.

Christmas Pudding

1 pound raisins, 1 pound currants, 1 pound yellow sugar, ¾ pound suet, ¾ pound bread crumbs grated fine, 1 cup flour, 8 bitter almonds chopped fine, 8 ounces candied lemon, citron and orange peel cut fine, juice and grated rind of 1 lemon, 8 eggs and a wine glass of Brandy (not necessary). Steam for several hours

  • Submitted by Mrs. F. Millman

Peppermint Creams

2 cups of white sugar, 1 tablespoon glucose, ½ cup water, flavor with oil of peppermint. Boil unto it forms a soft substance, when dropped in cold water; add flavoring and beat until thick and creamy. Dropped on buttered paper.

  • Submitted by Mrs. C.N. Murphy.

Aunt Lizzie’s Sugar Cookies

2 cups granulated sugar, 1 cup lard and butter mixed, 2 eggs, 1 cup sour milk, 1 teaspoon soda (heaping), 1 teaspoon ginger, ½ teaspoon grated nutmeg, mix with spoon and put enough flour so that it won’t stick to hands; roll ½ inch thick. Bake in moderate oven.

  • Submitted by Mrs. Angus Morrison

Ginger Cookies

1 cup molasses, 1 cup lard, 1 cup brown sugar, 1 teaspoonful each of ginger and soda, ¼ teaspoon cloves and cinnamon; dissolve soda in half cup of boiling water; flour enough to make a soft dough. Cook in rather a quick oven.

  • Submitted by Margaret Toohey

Christmas this year may looking a little different, thanks to COVID-19. However, we hope that you are able to find ways to still celebrate the holiday, while remaining safe and healthy. Hopefully you can carry on some of your family traditions, such as holiday baking. Do you have a favourite family recipe or memory associated with this time of year? What will be your plans for this year?

The Archives would love to hear your stories of how you chose to celebrate this year, as part of our ongoing documentation of the pandemic. Please send any stories, photographs, artwork, etc. to archives@oxfordcounty.ca

Image credit: https://olddesignshop.com/2015/12/victorian-girl-baking-plum-pudding/

Spanish Flu Christmas Dinner Menu

Thinking of adding some new recipes to your Christmas dinner this year? Try out one of these Spanish Flu era recipes!

By Liz Dommasch, County Archivist


Currant Wine – To every gallon of juice add 1 of water, and 7 pounds of sugar. Let it remain in vessel securely covered for 3 weeks. Skimming every other day, then jug and seal.


Split Pea Soup – Soak peas overnight, put on to boil. Take one onion, one carrot slice, one slice thick bacon, one slice turnip. Fry in a little butter until brown, add to peas and boil. Strain.

Salad – 4 lettuce leaves, 4 stalks celery, 2 apples, 1 very small carrot, 1 very small beat, 1 dozen English walnuts, 1 dozen almonds, 2 dates, 2 teaspoons sugar; put through grinder, serve with lemon juice.


Roast Turkey, Oyster Filler – Select Turkey weighing from 10 to 12 lbs., draw and rinse it out with several waters. Make a dressing of 1 quart stale bread chopped fine, 2 eggs, 3 tablespoons butter, 1 teaspoon sage, 1 pint small oysters or large ones chopped into small pieces. Stuff body of breast with dressing, sew up, rub turkey over with butter, salt and pepper, put in covered roasting pan with about 1 cup soup stock.

Good Mashed Potatoes – Boil desired quantity of potatoes until well done, then drain well, mash thoroughly, season with salt add sufficient hot (not cold) milk and a generous piece of butter, beat all together until of a creaming appearance, keep warm, best to serve at once.

French Peas and Carrots – Select small carrots, boil in water until tender; mix 1 can of peas with carrots. Make a cream sauce of butter and thicken with flour, add a little milk and butter and season with pepper, salt and parsley. Before serving add ½ cup cream.


Mince Meat – 1 tongue, 1 pound raisins, 1 pound currants, 1 pound suet, 4 pounds apples, ½ pound citron peel, 1 pound brown sugar, 1 quart brandy, 1 quart cider, 1 ounce allspice, 1 ounce cinnamon, 3 nutmegs, 2 teaspoons mace, 1 lemons and 4 oranges.

Soldiers’ Fruit Cake – ½ cup butter, ½ cup brown sugar, 3 eggs, ½ cup sour milk, ½ cup molasses, 2 cups flour, 1 teaspoon soda (dissolved in hot water), 1 cup fruit (raisins, currants or dates), 1 cup nuts chopped, 1 teaspoon spice. Cover top with brown sugar and ½ cup chopped nuts before baking. This serves as icing.

Recipes: Woodstock Cook Book. The Ladies of St. Mary’s Church, 1917.

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