Oxford County Archives: Beyond the Vault

Archives Blog

The History of Barbershops

Do you know why barbershop poles are red and white? Let's dive in to some barbershop history! 


By Megan Lockhart, Archives Technician

The month of November has become known for its role as a month of awareness for men’s health. Awareness is raised through the growing of facial hair, and thus the term “Movember” is used when referring to the tradition. In honour of Movember, we have our online exhibit The History of Facial Hair: A County Warden Gallery. It was a fascinating topic to research; for the exhibit I had to dive into the history of facial hair styles and trends. The exhibit includes a gallery of historical Oxford County Wardens modeling over twenty mustache and beard styles as well as sections on facial hair culture and barbershops.

Barbershops have a long and interesting history. The earliest record of the existence of barbershops dates back to 295 BC during the Hellenistic Period in Greece. There were shops located in marketplace where Greek men could go to have their hair and beards trimmed. Much like the hair salons and barbershops today, it could also be a social setting. The Greek men would A barbershop ad with a woman who got her hair cut.chat with other patrons or the barber and catch up on the latest news and gossip. The term “barber” comes from the Late Latin word “barbarius”, a derivative of “barba” meaning beard.

As time went on, the role of the local barber evolved. By the mid-1500s the skills of barbers were recognized by the medical profession. Due to the nature of their work, barbers were required to have advanced coordination of their fine motor skills, and to have working knowledge of razors, knives, and scissors. This led to the duties of a barber overlapping with medicine. By the 1600s, many barbers were now working as barber-surgeons or barber-dentists. Have you ever wondered why a barber pole is red and white? This is because barber-surgeons offered a bloodletting service. The red represents blood, the white represents bandages, and the pole itself represents the stick a patient would hold and squeeze to make their veins protrude in preparation for bloodletting. Barber-surgeons performed minor surgeries and applied leeches along with cutting hair and trimming beards. Barber-dentists offered teeth pulling services.

As medicine advanced and the role of physicians and surgeons became more specialized by the early and mid-1800s, barber-surgeons and barber-dentists became less common and the practice eventually ended. Barbers focused solely on cutting and styling hair from that point on. It may seem strange to visit your barber for a haircut and to have a tooth pulled, but this was a common practice for hundreds of years.

To learn more about the history of facial hair and barbershops visit the Archives’ online exhibit The History of Facial Hair: A County Warden Gallery.




Women At War

How did women contribute to the war effort and achieving victory during the Second World War? Read on to find out.


By Megan Lockhart, Archives Technician

Women’s contributions during the Second World War are often underrepresented in their portrayals by mainstream popular culture. There is a common misconception that women’s roles during the Second World War were limited to nursing. While I was conducting research and working through a number of archival records from the Second World War for a new online educational resource for high school students, I was fascinated by the records I found outlining the variety of essential roles women took on during the war years.Woman dressed in a blue jumpsuit holding up her fist and saying "we can do it"

There were numerous ways women contributed their time, finances, and skills to the war effort. Firstly, women kept things running smoothly on the Homefront. Manufacturing and the economy depended on women during the war. As men enlisted and were drafted, their jobs were left unoccupied. Who was left to replace them? The women who were left behind at home. These jobs required someone to fill them to keep production and the economy moving forward. Manufacturing changed during the war, many factories altered what they were producing to contribute to the war effort, making grenades and parts for military vehicles, not unlike how manufacturing companies have switched to producing masks and ventilators during the current Covid-19 pandemic. Women were responsible for filling these roles and helping to produce munitions, build ships, airplanes, and military vehicles. World governments began running campaigns recruiting women to work in factories which led to the creation of one of the iconic symbols of the Second World War: “Rosie the Riveter” and her accompanying slogan “We Can Do It”. Rosie’s image as a woman wearing a jumpsuit, her sleeves rolled up and hair tied back became symbolic of the women who patriotically took on the duty of factory work and labour that previously had been exclusively “men’s work” for the most part.

Another way women helped keep the economy afloat during the Second World War was through purchasing goods. With a large portion of the population away at war and unable to shop as they normally would, women on the Homefront were relied upon to “shop as usual” so local businesses and franchises could continue to make money. Ad campaigns encouraged women to buy clothes, shoes, handbags, gifts, and makeup as part of their “patriotic duty” and to “look pretty” to support the soldiers fighting on the front lines by keeping morale high. Adolf Hitler notoriously had a disliking for red lipstick so ads promoting women buying and wearing red lipstick to show their support for anti-fascism were commonly seen in newspapers.

An ad encouraging women to buy lipstick and look pretty for the war effort. A woman with makeup on is featured.

A "Beauty as Usual" ad featured in the Woodstock Sentinel-Review newspaper, WWII

Of course, women also had important roles in healthcare and nursing. Many women volunteered to train to become nurses with the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps and traveled across sea to nurse wounded and sick soldiers back to health on the front lines. These Nursing Sisters put their lives at risk and often had to live and work in atrocious and frightening conditions. They faced the danger of being captured, becoming wounded or even death. According to Veterans Affairs Canada, seventeen Canadian Nursing Sisters died while serving during WWII (and sixty-one nurses lost their lives during the First World War).

The Second World War was the first-time women were allowed to serve in the military in uniform in Canada. Women in the Royal Canadian Air Force often took on administrative roles, but some helped with packing and repairing parachutes, meteorological observations and reports, communications, and assisted with electrical and mechanical work on aircraft. Some women even performed intelligence operations such as analyzing photographs. The Canadian Women’s Army Corps had women take on many essential duties such as preparing food, medical aid, and repairing clothing; they also occupied the role of driving and maintaining military vehicles. In the Auxiliary Territorial Service, women were first given duties as cooks, clerks, and storekeepers. As the war years went on, their duties expanded and they drove military vehicles, delivered mail, operated radar, inspected ammunition, and some even joined anti-aircraft gun crews. Women also served in similar roles in the naval service.

Women in uniform sitting at desks.

Women performing administrative duties in the main office of the

Woodstock Advanced Driving & Maintenance School, 1940s

After conducting research into the numerous roles women took on during the Second World War, it became clear to me that the aid of women was essential during the war, and the federal government’s war efforts heavily relied upon their support. These women willingly gave up the comforts of their lives before to offer their support during the war years, often for extraordinarily little recognition from the federal government and society as a whole. So, when reflecting upon the First and Second World Wars, let’s leave some space in our collective memories to honour the sacrifices these women made in order for victory to be achieved.




Stanley Elden Edwards - WWI

A short biography and remembrance of Stanley Elden Edwards of Innerkip, who lost his life during the First World War.


By Liz Dommasch, County Archivist

The First World War (WWI) was a global war centered in Europe that began on July 28, 1914 and lasted until November 11, 1918. For a nation of eight million people, Canada’s war effort was remarkable. More than 650,000 men and women from Canada and Newfoundland served with over 66,000 giving their lives to cause, while over another 172,000 were wounded. Locally, a number of men across the County rose to serve their country and their crown, with a large number being killed while in action.

Stanley Elden Edwards, was the son of L.E. and Margaret Edwards, and was born on January 7, 1890 in Innerkip, Ontario. Prior to enlistment, he and his wife, Gladys Victoria Edwards, lived in Woodstock, Ontario and he worked as an electrician. He enlisted at Woodstock on January 28, 1915 and left for England in autumn of that year with the 1st Battalion. He fought in the trenches of France for over a year, before supposedly being killed and buried by an explosion of a shell on September 23, 1916. Although his family received official notice of his death in May 1917, his wife steadfastly refused to abandon hope that he was still alive, and had even received word that he was a prisoner of war in Germany suffering from loss of memory.

He is commemorated on the Vimy Memorial and his wife published the following poem in the newspaper, in September 1917, in memory of him:

In a cold and silent graveyard,

Where the trees and branches wave.

Lies a kind and loving husband

Who died the bravest of the brave.

The blow was great, the shock severe,

We little thought his death so near,

And only those, who love can tell,

The pain of not saying a last farewell.

(Daily Sentinel-Review – 22 September 1917, front page)

In October 1916, Lt. Frederick Averill Hall (killed in action on October 18, 1916) and Pte. Edwards comprised the sole subject of a display at the Rounds Studio on Dundas Street. The display consisted of two enlarged photographs of the men, as a remembrance of the two well-known Woodstock boys, who gave their lives.




Harley McCurdy - WWII

A short biography of World War Two veteran Harley McCurdy.


By Liz Dommasch, County Archivist

For the month of November, and in honour of upcoming Remembrance Day, we thought we would highlight some of Oxford’s Own. Today, we look back at Word War II and Veteran, Harley Daniel McCurdy.

Harley Daniel McCurdy was born on December 9th, 1921 to Joseph and Hannah (nee Pallister) McCurdy of R.R. #7, Woodstock, East Zorra Township. He attended Public School at S.S. No. 4 Tollgate Corners and Woodstock Collegiate Institute, before being employed as a plumber’s helper by the Woodstock plumbing and electrical business known as Harvey and Wilson.

On April 21st, 1942, Harley enlisted at the naval reserve in London, Ontario and was transferred to the H.M.C.S. Cornwallis in Halifax for basic training. He would later be assigned to the H.M.C.S. Mayflower where he took part in convoy duties on the North Atlantic and Great Britain coasts.

H.M.C.S. Mayflower was a Flower-class corvette that served mainly in the Royal Canadian Navy during the Second World War, but began her service with Royal Navy. She saw action primarily in the North Atlantic and along the British coast escorting. In April 1944 she took part in Operation Neptune, the naval aspect of the invasion of Normandy and on May 31st, 1944 she set out to escort the blockships from Oban, which would become part of the beachhead after D-Day.

On D-Day, Harley was involved in towing and sinking available Merchant Marine ships along the coast of Normandy so that large American battle ships could moor to them in support of the June 6th, 1944 landings. On October 19th, 1945 he was discharged.

Following his military career, Harley pursued his plumbing trade at Bickerton’s Plumbing, where he received his Master Plumbers Certificate. He operated his own Plumbing and Heating business for a period of time, before being employed by the Woodstock Public Utilities Commission and then finally the Oxford Regional Centre.

Harley McCurdy passed away on February 27th, 2012.

The Archives is honoured to house a collection of records related to the life and military career of Mr. McCurdy. For those seeking more information, please contact Archives Staff.




History of Halloween in Canada

How did Halloween traditions make their way to Canada? Read on to find out!


By Liz Dommasch, County Archivist

With Halloween soon approaching, I thought it might be fun to delve into the history of the holiday in Canada. Halloween celebrations were introduced to North America in the mid-1800s with the massive influx of Irish and Scottish immigrants who brought along their customs and traditions from Europe. These practices can be traced back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain that marked the end of the harvest and the beginning of winter.

One of the Halloween customs brought to Canada by Scottish and Irish Immigrants was the jack-o’-lantern. The tradition was derived from the 17th century myth of Stingy Jack. According to Irish folklore, Stingy Jack was a “drunkard and a cheat” who was refused entry into both Heaven and Hell, and therefore was condemned to roam the world between the living and the dead. With only an ember from Hell to light his way, he kept it in a carved-out turnip lantern and thus, was known as Jack of the lantern or Jack o’-Lantern.

Originally jack-o’-lanterns were hollowed-out turnips, beets or potatoes, carved to show a demonic face and lit from the inside by a candle. These vegetables were placed on doorsteps, or in windows, to frighten away Stingy Jack and other evil spirits. When Irish and Scottish immigrants came to Canada they brought the custom with them and adapted it to the native North American pumpkin. As the pumpkin is a larger and naturally hollow vegetable, it made the process of carving much easier!

The practice of wearing costumes and masks, can be traced back to Celtic Halloween customs, as a way to disguise oneself and ward off harmful spirits. Likewise, the practice of begging for offerings from a household dates back to the Middle-ages. Originally known as souling or mumming, the poor would offer to sing prayers for the dead in exchange for soul cakes. As Halloween celebrations became more secular, this practice was adopted by children who would sing songs, recite poems or perform tricks for nuts, fruit and coins. By the 19th Century, the practice of dressing children in disguise had become a popular yearly event.

In Canada, the first recorded instance of children dressing in disguise on Halloween was in Vancouver, B.C., in 1898, whereas, the first recorded use of the term trick or treat was in the Lethbridge Herald on November 4th, 1927, in reference to festivities in nearby Blackie, Alberta. By the 1920s trick or treating, along with Devil’s Night, had become commonplace across the country.

During the Second World War, trick or tricking waned, due primarily to sugar rations, but increased in popularity in the 1950s with the country’s economic growth and the rise of the suburbs (which made trick or treating door to door a lot quicker!).

On October 31st, many of us may remember asking for candy as well as spare change. In 1955, the Trick-or-Treat UNICEF campaign was introduced in Canada and remained until 2006. I fondly recall carrying the familiar orange collection box, in one hand, and my loot bag in the other, as we made our way across the neighborhood.

Archivist Liz with her sister dressed in costume for Halloween - circa 1985 

With the COVID-19 pandemic still occurring, this year will mark a historic Halloween as we find ways to still celebrate the holiday, while remaining safe and healthy. 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

In the meantime, please visit our website for some fun printable activity sheets related to the history and traditions of Halloween, that includes recipes, crafts, word scrambles and more!

Likewise, if you haven’t seen our video series on the Dark Tales of Oxford, please check out the County’s YouTube channel.

Happy Halloween!




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! 

Recent posts

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