Sweet Secrets

By Emily Beliveau, Digital Project Assistant

Cover image from the pamphlet 'Sweets,' from the Huron County Museum Collection, Object Id: 2005.0001.011

Cover image from the pamphlet ‘Sweets,’ from the Huron County Museum Collection, Object Id: 2005.0001.011. Original size: 18 cm x 11.4 cm.

We recently rediscovered this “Sweets” pamphlet while researching cookbooks and recipes for our upcoming exhibit Delicious. At first glance, it appears to be nothing more than a small newsprint booklet of candy recipes. Looking closer, its true purpose becomes clear: it’s a promotional vehicle for Lydia E. Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound, a herbal remedy marketed to cure all manner of womanly ailments.

Lydia E. Pinkham (1819-1883)  became a successful businesswoman by commercializing a home remedy to treat a variety of female health complaints, such as irregular menstruation, symptoms of menopause, nervous disorders, and childlessness. She started making her concoction in her kitchen in Lynn, Massachusetts, and eventually expanded the business into an international manufacturing enterprise with production centres in the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

Pages 8 and 9 of 'Sweets' pamphlet, featuring recipes for Crystallized Fruit, Fruit Cream, Cocoa Fude, Peanut Butter Fudge and testimonials regarding the use of Lydia E. Pinkham's Vegetable Compound and Blood Pills for treating suppressed menstuation.

Pages 8 and 9 of ‘Sweets’ pamphlet, featuring recipes for Crystallized Fruit, Fruit Cream, Cocoa Fudge, Peanut Butter Fudge and testimonials regarding the use of Lydia E. Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound and Blood Pills for treating suppressed menstuation.

Lydia E. Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound came in tablet or liquid form and contained black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa), life root (Senecia aureus), unicorn root (Aletris farinosa), pleurisy root (Asclepias tuberosa), and fenugreek seed (Trigonella foenum-graecum).  It’s effectiveness has never been medically proven. The liquid form contained 18% alcohol.

Pinkham’s remedies were aggressively marketed, making the Vegetable Compound the most popular among a multitude of other patent medicines. It’s direct woman-to-woman consumer marketing combined with published testimonials from users, led to its phenomenal success. In 1925, its most profitable year, sales of Vegetable Compound grossed $3.8 million.

By the time Pinkham died in 1883, she was a household name and one of the most recognizable women in America due to the ubiquity of her image in newspaper ads and on product packaging. After her death, her  family ran the business until 1968, when it was sold to Cooper Laboratories of Connecticut. Lydia E. Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound is still sold today as a herbal remedy.

Ad for Lydia E. Pinkham's Vegetable Compound from the St. John Daily Evening News, 17 April 1883.

Ad for Lydia E. Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound from the St. John Daily Evening News, 17 April 1883.


Further reading and additional resources: 

Biography and more Pinkham Pamphlets from Harvard University Library

Blog post about Lydia E. Pinkham from the Museum of Heath Care

Background information about patent medicine from the Smithsonian


A carpet sweeper for Christmas

By Emily Beliveau, Digital Project Assistant

Santa holding toy sweepers with children and ad text below

A 1910 Christmas ad for Bissell Toy Sweepers that appeared in Hardware Merchandising (Oct-Dec 1910, p. 943). Source: Internet Archive.

Need a last-minute gift idea for Christmas? How about a carpet sweeper? According to this 1910 advertisement, they are a great gift for both children and adults:

The Little Folk drop all other gifts to welcome Santa Claus and his Bissel Toy Sweeper. The lady of the house will appreciate even more than the children a gift of a genuine Bissel Sweeper. She knows there is none better and that it means a great saving of hard work for the coming ten years. We offer a large line to select from, varying in price from $2.50 to $5.00

Carpet sweepers were the forerunner to vacuum cleaners, but remained popular even after vacuums became widely available. They consist of a small box at the end of a handle with rollers and brushes inside to sweep up dirt and crumbs. Although vacuum cleaners have more cleaning power, sweepers remain popular for light-duty cleaning because they can be used quietly and without electricity.

Carpet sweeper resting against general store counter

Bissell ‘Standard’ carpet sweeper on display in the General Store exhibit in the History Hall, Huron County Museum. Object ID: M950.1255.001.

We have several carpet sweepers in the museum collection, one of which is on display in the General Store exhibit. Our display sweeper is a Bissell ‘Standard’ model from around 1919, some 40 years after sweepers were first invented. Melvill R. Bissell first patented the design in 1876, and the basic technology has remained the same since then.

Image from patent US182346-0, illustrating inner workings of carpet sweeper mechanism

First patent for a carpet sweeper, granted to M. R. Bissell in 1876. Source: Google Patent Search.

So if you don’t know what to buy for that special someone, consider how dirty their floor is and whether they could benefit from the timeless utility of a carpet sweeper. Santa approves!

Santa holding a carpet sweeper with ad text below

Christmas ad for Bissell carpet sweepers that appeared in the Christian Herald in 1913. (November 26, 1913, p. 1106). Source: Internet Archive.

If in doubt what to buy for Mother, Wife, Sister or Friend, remember that a BISSELL’S “Cyco” BALL BEARING Carpet Sweeper never fails to please and will be a daily reminder of the giver for ten years or more. It is handsome in design and finish, eliminnates the drudgery and confines of the dust, making it a most practical and appropriate gift. She needs a second sweeper to keep upstairs. Price $2.75 to $5.75. At dealers everywhere. Write for booklet showing our most popular styles. Bissel Carpet Sweeper Co. Grand Rapids Mich. “We Sweep The World”

The Last Public Hanging in Canada

By Emily Beliveau, Digital Project Assistant

7 December 1869.
Earlier this month, we marked the anniversary of the last public hanging at the Huron Gaol. One hundred and forty-five years ago, Nicholas Melady was executed for the murder of his father and stepmother. The hanging took place outside the walls of the Huron Gaol in front of a few hundred spectators. We believe this was the last public hanging in Canada. It’s often difficult to make these kinds of historical determinations with total certainty, but we make this claim because we don’t know of any other hangings that occurred between then and 1 January 1870, when the law changed to prohibit public executions.

Excerpt from the Canadian statute outlawing public hangings, Act 32-33 Victoria ch. 29.

Excerpt from the Canadian statute outlawing public hangings, Act 32-33 Victoria ch. 29, 1869. (Came into effect January 1, 1870.)

Public vs. private hangings
Until the law changed in 1870, executions in Canada were public events that were held outside of jail walls and attracted spectators. (For most of Canada’s history, the only legal method of execution was hanging, and the only crimes punishable by death were rape, murder, and treason.) When public hangings were abolished, private hangings continued. Private hangings occurred within the wall of the prison, which curtailed the crowd of potential spectators, but didn’t necessarily eliminate viewing possibilities. Enterprising citizens could perhaps catch a view from a nearby rooftop or other structure.

In 1976, capitol punishment was abolished in Canada by Bill C-84. The last executions to be carried out were in 1962 at the Don Jail in Toronto (a double hanging).

Confirming the claim
At the beginning of this post, I said we believe the execution of Nicholas Melady at the Huron Gaol was the last public hanging in Canada. Why can’t we say for sure? As I mentioned, it can be very difficult to verify claims about lasts, firsts, and other seemingly definitive events in the historical record, for a number of reasons.

We have a strong case to make, but with caveats. Canada in 1869, for instance, only included the present-day provinces of Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick. Public hangings may have occurred in areas that are now part of Canada, but were out of the jurisdiction of the 1870 law at the time. These are the kinds of things that complicate the certainty of such claims.

Further reading
In 2007, Carling Marshall-Luymes, an intern at the Huron Historic Gaol, wrote a series of blog posts about researching the last public hanging. Her work contributed to the exhibit that is on display in one of the first-floor cell blocks of the Gaol.

Read her posts here:
Blogging Behind the Bars
Canada’s last public hanging
Legislating an end to public hanging…a clarification
Why did Canada abolish public hanging?
Capitol punishment: Opinion in Huron County in 1869
Semi-public? Hoag Hanging, Walkerton, 1868

Remembrance Day 2014

By Emily Beliveau, Digital Project Assistant

115 years ago:
Canada sends troops to South Africa to fight with Britain in the Boer War (1899-1900). It is the first official dispatch of Canada troops overseas.

handkerchief commemorating the Boer War

Handkerchief with blue border from the South African War 1899-1900. EMPIRE WELDERG is written across top. Col. Baden Powel and Lord Methuen pictured in the top left corner; Gen. Gatacre and Gen. Hildyard pictured in bottom right corner; South African map in centre. The initials “RM” are embroidered in the lower left corner. Object ID: M951.0339.001.

100 years ago:
World War I starts. The 161st (Huron) Battalion, a unit of the Canadian Expeditionary Force was formed in 1916. We will be featuring much more WWI history related to Huron County over the coming years, following the 100-year anniversaries of various events.

victory medal front and back wwi

World War I artifact belonging to Gordon Cameron of Brussels who was born on July 3, 1897, and who died during World War I on August 27, 1918 in France.
This Victory Medal was awarded to British and Imperial Forces for Campaign Service during World War I. Never awarded singly, this Victory Medal was given to those who received the 1914 Star or the 1914-1915 Star, and to most of those who received the British War Medal. Over 6 million were awarded. Object ID: 2005.0027.409

95 years ago: 
Remembrance Day and Armistice Day are observed for the first time, marking the first anniversary of the end hostilities on the Western Front of World War I.


Canada at War by J. Castell Hopkins. Object ID: M951.0049.001. Image from a full-text scan available at the Internet Archive.

75 years ago: 
World War II starts. Over the past year, we’ve featured many images taken by J. Gordon Henderson at WWII air training sites in Huron County. A less-publicized component of the Henderson Digitization Project are the oral history excerpts that are also available online. Hear about wartime life in Huron County directly from those who were there.

Jeff Mellon on flight instructor liquor runs:

Donald Bruce on surviving a crash landing:

Transcripts and additional recordings available here.

Happy Halloween

By Emily Beliveau, Digital Project Assistant

Halloween postcard

Happy Halloween! Behold this postcard image from our collection featuring pumpkin-headed melon people cutting a cake to mark the day. Every year, I marvel at this image and wish that vegetable people were still a common Halloween motif. The postcard itself was sent on October 31, 1908 from Helen to Mrs. G. H. Green in Goderich, and is part of a series of Hallowe’en postcards by British publisher Raphael Tuck & Sons. These kinds of postcard images were very common during the postcard boom of the late 1800s and early 1900s, and if you’re looking for more, check out some additional examples from the Toronto Public Library’s Halloween postcard collection.