The 1928 General Motors Strike

On March 26, 1928, 300 General Motors employees walked off their jobs in protest of wage reductions that would affect the Chevrolet and Pontiac trimmers.  The Chevrolet, Buick, Oakland, LaSalle and Cadillac lines struck “out of sympathy” and remained out until the former wage scale had been put back into effect.   The executive of General Motors (G.M.) was firm on its actions in wage cuts, shown by a statement issued by H.A. Brown, general manager, declaring:

“The scale in the Oshawa plants has always been in excess of that prevailing in the U.S.  The management has always been appreciative of its employees but due to the present labour situation should the men refuse to return to work, the company is in a position to fill vacancies and the production of the current month will be very little affected.”

(Oshawa Daily Times March 26, 1928)

Chevrolet and Pontiac men claimed they received their pay as usual on the Thursday, and on Friday they saw a notice on the bulletin board announcing the new scale of rates, reflecting a 40% cut in wages, effective as of that date.  This was the third cut in six months.

In response to the strike of the trimmers, Mr. H.A. Brown stated in a letter,

“The present difficulty with the trimmers has been given consideration by the executive of the Employees Association and action of the management has been upheld.  The action taken today, by the trimmers, caused management to consider each and every one as released from our employ and instead of dealing collectively, each case will be dealt with individually. We appreciate that many of these men are permanent citizens of Oshawa and own their own homes and have been unduly influenced by a small group who have radical ideas and for that reason our Personal Service Section will be  equitable as possible with individual cases.  Due to the present condition of the labour market in Canada we will have little, if any difficulty in filling the positions vacated.”

(Oshawa Daily Times, March 26, 1928)

At a general meeting held on Monday, March 26, 1928, more than 700 men assembled to hear the decision of the executive, composed of representatives from all departments affected.  The announcement was that when the new cut in wages was put in force, a representative from the men affected waited upon management and offered a 50/50 basis as a compromise.  Management refused to consider this, and therefore a decision was reached that the employees will not return to their work unless the former salary was forthcoming.  Other employees were temporarily laid off, unable to do their jobs while the trimmers were on strike.

Another mass meeting was held on Tuesday, March 27, 1928 at the New Martin Theatre.  The actual number of those on strike was estimated at 1800, comprised of both men and women employees.  At this meeting, Mr. Brown felt that the trimmers were not skilled labour, a feeling that was strongly contradicted by the men.  The trimmers felt that with the great profits of G.M., stated to be $210,000,000 in the previous year, there was no reason for the cut in pay.  After the meeting, strikers paraded from the New Martin Theatre; many of the men that attended the meeting at the theatre did not walk in the parade owing to the fact that many were only in “sympathy,” as stated in the Oshawa Daily Times on March 28, 1928. They marched to the head offices of G.M. in the middle of a snow storm, singing ‘Hail, Hail, the Gang’s All Here’ and other such songs.


At a final mass meeting that took place at the Armouries on Friday March 30, 1928, attended by every factory worker employee of General Motors of Canada Limited, a decision was reached to return to work the following Monday morning.  This decision was based on a letter from H.A. Brown Vice-President and General Manager of General Motors of Canada Limited, addressed Hon. Peter Heenan, Minister of Labour, and contained proposals that were satisfactory to the employees who had been on strike. A man named ‘Slim’ Phillips, the “backbone of the strike, and now the most popular man in the [amouries] hall” reportedly nearly fainted from nervous exhaustion from it all (Toronto Daily Star, March 31, 1928). The body of workers had been made member of the International Automobile Industrial Workers Union.   The pledge, approved by the workers was as follows: “We, the employees of General Motors of Canada, do hereby pledge ourselves to establish a trade union organization.  Furthermore we pledge ourselves to use every possible means to secure one hundred percent organization” (Oshawa Daily Times, March 30, 1928).

This article was originally written as a Historical Oshawa Information Sheet ©Oshawa Historical Society


Oshawa Daily Times, March 26, 28-30, 1928
Toronto Daily Star, March 27-31, 1928
General Motors Strike file, archival collection, Oshawa Museum

Blog Look Back – Top 5 Posts of 2019

Happy New Year! Throughout 2019, we shared 64 articles on the Oshawa Museum Blog, showcasing many different stories from our city’s past.

We’re planning our new and dynamic posts for 2020, but to start the year, let’s look back at our top 5 posts of 2019

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Asian History Month – Oshawa’s Chow Family

This post was written by Publication & Research Assistant Alex, celebrating May, Asian History Month.  During her six month contract at the OM, Alex was exploring Oshawa’s early Asian immigrants, looking at the families, who they were, the lives the led, and why they chose to settle in Oshawa. This research she undertook will be part of a future publication, looking at Oshawa’s unwritten history.

Where the Streets Get Their Names: Rossland Road

Two of our top five posts were about the stories behind Oshawa street names.  The first of the top two looked at Oshawa’s Ross family and how their name became memorialized on the street maps.

About the Elim Cemetery

A small, private cemetery is located at the corner of Winchester Road and Wilson Road, known as the Elim Cemetery. We researched the known history of this cemetery and those who are laid to rest here.

Where the Streets Get Their Names: William and Mary

The second of our two top street stories posts looked at the Kerr family, early settlers in what is today’s downtown Oshawa.

Sister Act: The story of Clarissa and Sarah Terwilliger

Rounding out the top five is a post written by Executive Director Laura Suchan about Oshawa’s Terwilligar Sisters, noted clairvoyants in their time. This post about two of Oshawa’s noteworthy women was originally posted in March, Women’s History Month.


These were our top 5 posts written in 2019; the top viewed post for the year was actually written a few years ago, Keeping Warm: The Ways The Victorians Did! This is the second year where this has been our top viewed post! Perhaps our readers have an interest in vintage bedwarmers or are looking for inspiration for keeping warm during the cold Canadian winter months!

Thank you all for reading, and we’ll see you all in 2020!

Do You Remember the Horse Drawn Milk Wagons?

By Melissa Cole, Curator

Before the explosion of large grocery stores that sell a wide variety of foods, the people of Oshawa enjoyed home delivery of local-made milk.  Some of these “mom and pop” dairies grew to become large and profitable businesses that incorporated the latest technology to produce their dairy products.


Small family dairies such as Gimbletts Dairy and Henderson/Cedardale Dairy began as an almost single person operation with milk being delivered straight from the farm to the local houses.  Milk would be delivered to homes using horse drawn wagons.

Cedardale Dairyb

Milk delivery started with the scoop and pail method.  The delivery wagon carried large containers of milk, and the delivery man had a convenient carrying container and a quart and pint measure.  He would deliver to the home, or housewives and children would take their own container to the wagon.  Milk would come directly from the cow and it was delivered to the customer.  In some cases these early dairies operated from a residence or farm of the delivery man.  The milk man either bought the milk from the farmer or had his own cow.  There were several small dairies that used the scoop and pail method.  Dairies such as the Cedardale Dairy, Cameron Dairy and the Harmony Dairy are examples of scoop and pail dairies.


Many older homes had a little cabinet built into the exterior of the home.  Each week they would leave a sign out stating whether milk was needed or not.  If milk was needed the empty bottles would be left in this cabinet, that was accessed both from inside and outside of the house.  The milkman would take the empty milk bottles and exchange them for bottles filled with fresh milk.

It wasn’t until the 1950s Oshawa’s dairies made the switch from horse drawn wagons to trucks.  However, some dairies began this move a bit earlier.  Riordan’s Dairy appears to have had the earliest mechanized delivery service in Oshawa as it purchased three trucks to replace the horses in 1942.

The era of home delivery began to end in the 1960s.  It was during this decade that the quintessential glass milk bottle was replaced with cardboard cartons.  These cartons were only sold in stores.

PicMonkey Image

In 2011, the Oshawa Museum had an exhibit which featured the history of Oshawa’s dairies.  Milk Stories: Remembering the Oshawa Dairies showcased different artefacts, photos and memories of our local dairies.

The Month That Was – January 1872

Canadian Statesman
Thursday, January 5
Sydenham Farm for Sale

One of the best farms in the County of Ontario, pleasantly situated in East Whitby, on the margin of Lake Ontario, and commanding a fine view of the lake and surrounding country, only half a mile from the wharf and warehouses at Port Oshawa, two miles from the GTR station, and three from the village of Oshawa.  It contains 200 acres of land, of the best quality, 140 under plough, and in a good state of cultivation, and suitable for grain or stock raising, being well watered, the Oshawa creek crossing the farm, along which are some 30 acres of river flats, unsurpassed for pasture.  The buildings consist of a comfortable frame house with verandah, having a lawn in front with shrubbery, and an excellent garden, well stocked with the choicest fruit, such as Pears, Plums, Cherries, etc.  Two large barns with stone basement fitted up for housing and feeding stock, with root houses complete, driving house and stables, shed and sheep houses.

There is also an orchard containing over 200 of the best grafted trees just coming into full bearing.

There is a mill site on the above property, which will be sold with the farm, or separately.

Such a place it seldom offered for sale, and should command the attention of any person wanting a first-class farm in a good locality.

Terms easy.  For particulars apply to the proprietor on the premises,

Thomas Guy
Oshawa, Nov. 15th, 1871


Ontario Reformer
Friday, January 5
Dancing School

Prof. Geo E. Moore will give instructions in step dancing to Misses and Masters at his Academy, Hyland’s block, every Saturday at two o’clock.  Instructions will also be given to ladies at five o’clock p.m. and at seven o’clock p.m. every Saturday. Terms- 25 cents per lesson.


In East Whitby, on the 3rd inst., Wm. Moon. Aged 71 years.
The funeral will leave the family residence, Broken Front, E.W. to-morrow (Saturday) afternoon, at 1 o’clock.


Ontario Reformer
Friday, January 19

The year 1872 contains 52 Sundays. September and December each begins on a Sunday; January, April and July on Monday. October is the only month beginning on a Tuesday. February begins and ends on Thursday; consequently we have five Thursdays, which will not occur again until the year 1900.  In the year 1880, February will have five Sundays which will not occur again until the year 1920.  The year 1871 began on Sunday and ended on Sunday.


A farmer named Thorburn recently took to a Detroit museum a curiosity in the shape of a ball of stripped snaked which he had unearthed in a bit of marsh.  In going into winter they had rolled themselves into a heap, being tangled and knotted like a net, and was without life or motion. Seven heads could be counted in the ball.


At the residence of the bride’s father’s, Oshawa, on the 17th inst., by Elder T. Garbutt, Mr. Sylvester Briggs, to Miss Amy Rogers, all of Oshawa.

jan 19 1872 p 1

Ontario Reformer, January 19, 1872; p 3.

Ontario Reformer
January 26, 1872

In Oshawa, on the 23rd inst., John Dickie, aged 84 years, 10 months, and 15 days.

In Oshawa, this morning, John Marshall, aged 61 years. Funeral will take place on Sunday inst., at 2 o’clock. Friends and acquaintances are respectfully invited to attend.

In Oshawa, on Wednesday last, Martin Quigley, aged 86 years.


Somewhere between Myrtle and Oshawa, on the Reach Road, on the 15th inst., a FUR COLLARETTE.  The finder will be suitably rewarded by leaving it at the Raglan Post office, or at this office.

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Ontario Reformer, January 26, 1872; p 3.


Early Woolen Enterprises in Oshawa

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

When I’m not sharing the history of Oshawa or giving tours of the site, I can usually be found with knitting needles and yarn in my hands. A voracious knitter with a dangerous yarn shopping habit, I’m rarely cold as I’m usually covered in wool.  Naturally, my interest is piqued when knitting or wool is mentioned in a historical context, like how I could not resist knitting the pair of socks from a pattern published in the local newspaper in 1916.  In Jill’s post from mid-November, she recounted that in the Sam Pedlar manuscript, the earliest business mentioned is Beagle & Conklin, purveyors of spinning wheels and handlooms in 1793.  Be still, my heart. This got me curious as to how many other woolly industries has Oshawa been home to through the years.


Knitting at an Culture Squared in 2016; thanks to Carla from the RMG for the photo!

Let’s start with Beagle & Conklin. Pedlar serves as the resource for this industry.  After arriving in Oshawa in the early 1790s, Benjamin Wilson was so taken with the area that he wrote letters to those whom he knew in the States, espousing the greatness of Upper Canada, and Beagle & Conklin arrived as a result of one of Wilson’s letters.  They established their business of making spinning wheels and handlooms around 1793.  As stated by Pedlar: “It has often been asked how came it about that Oshawa is such an industrial centre, in the light of its history it is easily accounted for. So long as shaft and pulley revolves in Oshawa’s busy works, may the names of Beagle and Conklin be kept in mind.”

A number of woolen mills, where wool is processed, have also been located in Oshawa through the years.  Perhaps the largest such industry was Schofield, who were located on Centre Street and in our community from 1892-1951. It is worth noting that woolen mills were often large employers of women, and this was indeed the case with Schofield.


The Oshawa Creek provided power to many of the early mills in our community, including Gorham’s woolen mill, located at what Pedlar called ‘The Hollow;’ he was referring to the area around what is today Mill Street.  The proprietor was Joseph Gorham, and this woolen mill was established in 1822, in the same vicinity of Dearborn & Cleveland’s grist mill.  Pedlar asserts, “this woolen mill so far as the writer has been able to learn is the third industry which utilized the water power of the Oshawa Creek.”  Before long, the Hollow was the home of E Smith’s distillery and Miles Luke’s tannery.  It is not known how long Gorham’s woolen mill was in business, but Joseph himself died in 1839, aged 50 years, buried at the Pioneer Memorial Gardens Cemetery.

An enterprising man, Samuel Hall was a prolific builder in our community, establishing factories, saw mills, helped with a store house and elevator at Port Oshawa, and a woolen mill north of the town.

The Oshawa Creek also provided power to Ethan Card, another woolen and carding mill established around 1842.  His was located at the ‘raceway,’ along the creek north of King Street, where the creek ‘races’ along. He was also laid to rest at the Pioneer Memorial Gardens, passing away in 1854.

If we look to the northern communities in Oshawa, there was the Empire Woolen Mill in Columbus.  It was located just outside the village, another mill that harnessed the power of the creek.  It was reportedly the largest mill in the area.  It was established in 1835 by Mathewson and Ratcliffe and was sold to the Empire Mills Company in 1850. According to information from Archaeological Services Inc., approximately 50 workers were employed by this business, many of whom were brought to the area from Lancashire and Yorkshire in England, and they resided either in boarding houses or small cottages.  The business moved in 1887, and a flood three years later washed away the mill’s dam.


Empire Woolen Mills near Columbus, c. 1883 (AX995.169.1)

Finally, we know our own Thomas Henry dabbled with wool. As per the 1851 agricultural census, amongst his other crops and livestock, he had 27 sheep with 100 pounds of wool.  An interesting note in the 1868 Vindicator tells us Thomas had an incident involving his sheep.  As reported:

Returned – Three of the sheep advertised by Mr. Thomas Henry, have returned home without their fleeces, but marked with a hole in the right ear.  If the man who was kind enough to shear them will be kind enough to return the fleeces and the two missing sheep, he will be paid for the shearing, but not for the marking.

Finally, memories shared by one of Thomas’s granddaughters, Arlie DeGuerre, gives a glimpse into how Thomas’s daughters would have passed time inside the house:

One can scarcely imagine the work it was to clothe and feed a family of 14 children, especially when all the yarn was carded and spun from the sheep’s wool and then woven into cloth right at home.  The big loom was in a corner of the kitchen and it seemed to never stop.  On into the later evening one could hear the shuttle go back and forth; one foot peddle go down and then the other as Mother Henry wove the cloth for trousers, shirts, and dresses and all the woolen cloth used in the home.  Elizabeth the second eldest girl became the seamstress.  She sewed nearly all the time.  The girls knit socks and mitts, pieced quilts, mended and darned socks during most of their spare hours.

Oshawa has long been known as a manufacturing community, the creek providing power to the early industries that became established here, many of which were woolen mills, preparing the fibres so that warm clothes could be made.