Donated collection at NCAM celebrates renowned Canadian costume designer Suzanne Mess

NCAM staff and donors look at records from Suzanne Mess Collection. Pictured left to right: Katie Kennedy (NCAM Curator); Barb Henderson; Valerie Russell; Abigail Miller (NCAM Archivist).
Cobourg, ON – January 30, 2024 – The Northumberland County Archives and Museum (NCAM) is pleased to announce the addition of a new collection, honouring the late Suzanne Mess, a celebrated Canadian costume designer. This collection, donated by the estate of Suzanne Mess, features over 22 linear feet of records, highlighting the histories of the Mess, Osler and Inkster families.

In 2019, Suzanne’s friends Valerie Russell and Barbara Henderson reached out to NCAM to assess the large collection, which spans three generations and includes 120 years of personal and professional photographs, letters, military records, sketches and memorabilia. Lakeshore Genealogical Society generously contributed to the purchase of supplies to safely rehouse the collection at NCAM. After carefully assessing and cataloguing all the materials over the past five years, the collection has opened to the public this month, in honour of the fifth anniversary of Suzanne’s passing.

Black and white photo of Suzanne Mess knitting while sitting on the porch of The Cedars with a woman and two gentlemen

"We are deeply honoured to receive this incredible donation from the estate of Suzanne Mess,” states NCAM Curator Katie Kennedy. “This collection is a treasure trove for researchers interested in the Osler family, Canadian military, local heritage, and arts and culture. It provides an invaluable opportunity for our community to connect with a significant local family and ensures Suzanne’s legacy will be preserved and shared with future generations.”

Black and white photo of The Cedars

The Suzanne Mess collection serves as a testament to her illustrious career and longstanding impact on the international stage and her deep and enduring local connection. Suzanne was not only a trailblazer in the field of costume design but was also a cherished member of the Northumberland arts community.

Suzanne spent her summers in the family home in the east end of Cobourg – lovingly referred to as The Cedars. The collection is a love letter to this designated heritage property, which was retained in the family from 1898 to 2013 and featured in hundreds of family photographs across 100 years.

Suzanne Mess sits on the porch of The Cedars with her dog

“Suzanne started working for the New York City Opera in the 1950s and went on to design costumes for theatre and opera companies all around the world,” states Barb Henderson. “She was an international treasure. When she decided to move back to The Cedars in Cobourg later in life, she generously donated her time and expertise to local Northumberland productions. She elevated our work and helped raised the bar for performances in the area.”

Community members interested in viewing the Suzanne Mess collection are invited to please contact the NCAM team to schedule an appointment. For more information about NCAM, please visit

A new facility for NCAM is currently under construction in Cobourg to house the expanding collection. The new Archives and Museum, located alongside the Golden Plough Lodge Redevelopment, is part of an innovative design that shares the same building as the new long-term care home. This partnership will increase access to cultural activities for long-term care residents, visitors, and staff, and will offer enhanced programming, exhibition and research space at NCAM. For updates on the construction of the new facility, please visit: