Parkside Community Curator – Opening August 13

Did you attend Parkside Secondary School (1960-2014) and want to share some memories of your time there?

The Parkside High School Legacy alumni group is organizing a Community Curator exhibition at the Dundas Museum & Archives as part of their 2022 Commemoration Celebration Weekend (Aug.12-14th). The committee is seeking community contributions to build a more complete picture of the school’s impact and legacy.

Visit Upcoming Exhibitions to submit yours!

Victorian Fashion and its Influence on Modern Fashion

Happy #FashionFriday! Today I thought I would change things up for #fashionfriday and write a blog post about Victorian fashion its influence on modern fashion. Over the years we have seen many styles and trends come and go, from shoulder pads to Miami vice suits, and acid wash jeans. Many of these trends have been altered throughout the years but certain trends have always come back in fashion. Our latest exhibition, Silhouettes in Time, made me curious about how many  modern fashion trends have been influenced by  trends from the Victorian Era.

One of the most popular fashion trends that began in the late 1820s and continued into the 1830s was gigot sleeves or leg-o-mutton sleeves. This style of sleeve began slightly off the shoulder, where it puffed out before narrowing towards the lower arm. I cannot think of a more iconic modern dress with this sleeve style than the wedding dress of Princess Diana. While this style of sleeve was slightly adapted for more modern times, there is no doubt that big sleeves were popular during the 1980s!

Images from left to right: Princess Diana’s Wedding Dress, William Thomas Cain/Getty Images; 1830s dress on display in Silhouettes in Time/Dundas Museum and Archives; Red satin suit by Cache, American, c. 1986-88/ Fashion History Museum, Cambridge.

Another fashion trend that became popular during the early to mid-1800s was the peplum. A peplum was an overskirt that was attached to another garment like a dress, jacket or skirt, to highlight and accentuate a woman’s tiny waist.  During the 1830s and 1840s the peplum was a staple to have on any dress or jacket, and had many style variations from long and short to uneven designs. The peplum eventually went out of style, but throughout the 20th century the peplum continued to pop up as a style trend.

 Images from Left to Right: A c. 1880s dress with a peplum jacket and a bustle back on display in Silhouettes in Time/Dundas Museum and Archives;  A Burberry peplum dress/ The Peplum Through History, last modified November 10, 2012. Web.

Images from Left to Right: A c. 1880s dress with a peplum jacket and a bustle back on display in Silhouettes in Time/Dundas Museum and Archives;  A Burberry peplum dress/ The Peplum Through History, last modified November 10, 2012. Web.

However, during the 1980s the peplum reappeared with a vengeance in women’s party dresses, as seen in the above image of the Red satin suit by Cache, American. Today the peplum trend has again emerged as a fashion trend in dresses, tops and jackets.

Even though this blog highlights only two examples, pagoda style sleeves, corsets and lace are all influences from the Victorian Era that have appeared in modern fashion trends.

Don’t forget to join us at the Museum on Thursday, November 16, for the third instalment of our Silhouettes in Time Speaker Series, “The Path to Fashion” with Jonathan Walford. Jonathan is the Curatorial Director and Co-Founder of the Fashion History Museum of Cambridge. For more information on this event please visit our website.


Shawna Butts

Collections Assistant

Harry Potter and Itinerant Entertainment in Dundas

This advertisement from the Dundas True Banner May 21, 1858 announced a performance by Harry Potter!

Harry Potter in Dundas!

On May 21st 1858, there appeared in the Dundas True Banner and Wentworth Chronicle, an advertisement. This advertisement would be exciting for readers — especially young readers — today. Why? It announced that Harry Potter was coming to Dundas! And Harry Potter was a magician, known as the original American Wizard! The ad reported that Harry Potter would entertain audiences at the Town Hall the next night. Modern readers would be surprised — and delighted — to read of Harry Potter in a 19th century Dundas newspaper. While this appears to be a coincidence, we want to know more about this performer.

Who was Harry Potter, and why was he in Dundas?

To begin, we need to look at travelling performance in North America in the 1850s. Circuses were popular in this period, but not all rural towns and small urban centres were visited by these

groups. So, travelling performers staged shows in locales overlooked by circuses. These performers relied on curious audiences to keep them on the road. Often they used newspapers to announce their arrival in a new town. These advertisements captured the reader’s interest, while also highlighting the performer’s talents and skills. Harry Potter’s advertisement tells the reader to “look out for fun”. His performance would include “legerdemain (conjuring), sleight-of-hand, ventriloquism, and…Herculean feats.” It appears that Harry Potter wanted to further his professional reputation by visiting Dundas. But what about Harry Potter? Where did this magician learn his tricks?

Magic, or at least performance, appears to have run in the Potter family. Richard Potter was born in 1783 in Massachusetts to a slave named Dinah and Sir Charles Henry Frankland, the plantation owner. By the time he was 10, Potter was in England, working as a cabin boy for a Captain Skinner, who reportedly abandoned him soon after his arrival. Potter then joined a travelling circus, where he met a ventriloquist known as John Rannie. For over a decade, Potter and Rannie performed together throughout Europe and North America. They were known for their live drama, ventriloquism, and displays of magic. On one of their American tours, Potter met and married a free Black woman named Sally Harris. Sally also took part in the duo’s performances. Richard and Sally had three children – Henry, Jeanette, and Richard Jr., all born in the years from 1809 to 1816.

By 1811 Rannie retired, and Potter began his solo career. Potter was the first American-born stage magician and ventriloquist. Most of his performances were in the United States. One of the earliest records of Potter’s one-man show is an advertisement from an 1811 Boston newspaper.

This advertisement from a Boston newspaper in 1811 tells of Mr. Potter the Ventriloquist.

This advertisement from a Boston newspaper in 1811 tells of Mr. Potter the Ventriloquist.

As a result of his stage training and innate skill, Potter quickly achieved fame. By 1813 he charged twenty-five cents for admission, and could earn upwards of $4800 every two weeks. Potter accumulated enough wealth for his family to settle in Andover, and he retired from the touring circuit. Richard Potter passed away on September 20, 1835, leaving behind a professional legacy for one of his children.

It is believed that Richard Potter had a son who also pursued a career in entertainment. The eldest son of Richard and Sally Potter, named Henry, died in an accident at the age of 7. This leaves Richard Jr. as the most likely to have continued his father’s profession. Beyond the advertisement in The True Banner, there is little evidence for the life and career of Harry Potter. Unlike his literary counterpart, this Harry Potter does not seem to have achieved greater fame than his father.

Harry Potter, who visited Dundas in 1858, may have been the son of famed magician and ventriloquist Richard Potter. In the nineteenth-century travelling performers visited urban and rural centres alike, using advertisements to announce their arrival and their talents. Travelling performance defined entertainment in this period, and Dundas was no exception. We found no review of Harry Potter’s performance at Dundas’ Town Hall, but we hope that audiences enjoyed the work of the “original American wizard.”




This post was written by Emily Herron, our Archives Technician, a position made possible by a grant from Young Canada Works in 2015.

We acknowledge the financial support of the Government of Canada (Youth Employment Strategy) through the Department of Canadian Heritage for the Young Canada Works Program. Nous reconnaissons l’appui financier du gouvernement du Canada (Stratégie emploi jeunesse) par l’entremise du ministère du Patrimoine canadien pour le programme Jeunesse Canada au travail.



Mark Sammons and Valerie Cunningham, Black Portsmouth: Three Centuries of African-American Heritage. New Hampshire: University of New Hampshire Press, 2004.

“America’s First Black Magician, Richard Potter,” African American Registry,

Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Julie Wolf, “The 1st Successful American-Born Magician was a Black Man,” The Root,

“Mr. Potter, the Ventriloquist.” Boston Newspaper, 1811.