The Pedlar Papers in the Classrooms

By Jill Passmore, Visitor Experience Coordinator

The Pedlar Papers are an amazing resource, and we are lucky to have them at the Museum. Samuel Pedlar was an early historian who personally interviewed descendants of our earliest European settlers in Oshawa. His unpublished manuscript tells countless anecdotes, contains vital statistics and is a who’s who of Oshawa’s past.


Recently, I have embarked on a teaching partnership with Attersley Public School. I visit the school biweekly to bring local history into the classrooms there. After discussing why the ancestral Wendat and Mississauga First Nations chose to settle here, we move on to early settlers – a key component to the Grade Three Ontario Curriculum.

Using the Pedlar Papers, I created and index of businesses mentioned in the manuscript. The index includes the name of the businesses, years of operation, location, associated names, what they produced and any notes that I had during my research.

From here, we were able to discuss the types of businesses that were in Oshawa in its earliest years and move through nineteenth century. For example, the earliest business mentioned is Beagle & Conklin, purveyors of spinning wheels and handlooms in 1793. We talked about why this business would have been important to early settlers and why they would have settled at the lakefront. Later we discussed the relationship between the Hollow and the Oshawa Creek, the businesses (mills and distilleries) located there. Of the first ten businesses Pedlar lists, three are distilleries and one is a tavern. The kids got a kick out of that! The others are Beagle & Conklin, the Farewell’s pearl and potashery, the Annis Saw Mill, the Mail Stage Company, the Robson-Lauchland tannery, and the fuller furniture factory.

1911 FI Map

Following this, the students examined copies of the 1911 Fire Insurance Map and education artefacts. They looked to see if the artefacts they had might have been produced at a business located on their map. Some managed to match their straight pens to schools and a nurse’s cap to the hospital, which is listed as the Oshawa Public Hospital on this map (circled).

This kind of learning, without using a textbook, is imperative for the current generation of students. Teaching them to extrapolate information and use critical thinking skills will take them into the next decade of their education.

For more information on booking education programming from the Oshawa Museum, please call Jill at 905-436-7624 ext. 106 or email programming[at]oshawamuseum[dot]org

Oshawa’s Two Queen’s Hotels

The old Queen’s Hotel was established in 1874; it can be seen in the 1921 City Directory but is no longer there in the 1923. This fits with the information that shows the hotel closed at the start of the 1920s. The upper storeys of the building remained open as the Queen’s Apartments for some time after that. The building fell into disrepair during the 1960s and 70s and was eventually torn down in 1987.

The second Queen’s Hotel does not appear in the City Directories until 1935. Prior to becoming the Queen’s Hotel #2, the address was home to a fish market, a shoe repair, a music store and a tailor. It is likely that these hotels were never the same ‘business’, but rather it is likely that someone thought to capitalize on a well known name when they opened the second Queen’s Hotel in the 1930s.

The black and white photo is in the archival collection of the Oshawa Museum; the colour photographs are from the Bill Miles digital collection.

Oshawa’s latest hotel, a Holiday Inn, has been built and recently opened at Simcoe and Richmond, the site of the second Queen’s Hotel.

Trick-Or-Treat – Halloween at the Turn of the Century

Although the history of Halloween can be traced back to Celtic celebrations approximately 2000 years ago, the more secular traditions that we associate today with Halloween began during the late 1800s.


From the archival collection, three sisters dressed for Halloween, early 20th century (A019.1.20)


By the start of the 20th century, Halloween had all but lost most of its superstitions and religious overtones.  At this time, Halloween became a community event where neighbours would get together for corn-popping parties, taffy pulls and hayrides.  Party goers would play games such as apple-bobbing or snap apple.  The object of snap apples was to take a bit out of an apple suspended by string.  To make it more difficult, it was sometimes played with the apple tied to one end of the stick and a lighted candle on the other end of the stick.  The stick would be hung to the ceiling by a string tied to the middle and the whole thing was then twirled.  The player was to bite the apple and avoid being burned by the candle.


The parties were an opportunity for dancing and spending time with those one may have fancied.  Another popular game made use of apple seeds to determine who would “get the girl.”  Two young men who fancied the same girl would stick an apple seed on each of her cheeks.  The one whose apple seed fell off first would “lose the girl” to the other suitor.


Practical jokes were also part of these celebrations.  Children would make scary noises in the dark, soap windows of neighbouring homes and perhaps even hide animals from their owners.  Just as it is today, this aspect of the Halloween celebrations was not welcomed by those affected by the pranks.


Aspects of the superstitions that were once an important part of the celebrations were and are still a part of the Halloween celebrations.  For example, the act of dressing up in costumes was based on the belief that spirits of the dead walked with earth on Allhallows Eve, and costumes would protect ones’ identity from these wondering spirits.

The Month That Was – November 1872

All articles originally appeared in the Ontario Reformer

November 1, 1872
The Ontario Government

The acceptance of the position of Premier of Ontario by the Hon. Oliver Mowat – which we had barely room to announce in our last issue – is a circumstance which has given the greatest satisfaction to the great majority of the people of this Province. As an upright, honest, and talented gentleman, Mr. Mowat enjoyed the confidence of the entire community and it is therefore a matter for congratulation that upon the retirement of the Hon. Mr. Blake from the position of Premier of Ontario, his successor is one so eminently fitted for the position.  When in public life as a member of the Canadian parliament, previous to Confederation, Mr. Mowat evinced marked ability in the discussion of public affairs and transaction of public business; as Vice Chancellor, he commanded the respect and esteem of all who were brought into contact with him in his official capacity.  Of course it is not to be expected that the selection of Mr. Mowat as Premier is looked upon with favor by the Conservative party as a whole. …There are some… who are forced to accept the situation with very wry faces.  Sir John’s organists especially feel particularly flattened out by the recent change….

Hon. Mr. Mowat has personally sacrificed a great deal by the step which he has taken in the interest of the public; and it is gratifying to know that in his new position he will have abundant support while working for the well-being of his fellow citizens and country.

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November 1, 1872, page 1

November 1, 1872
Whitby expects her steam fire engine to arrive to-day. It is to be tested to-morrow.  If the little town of Whitby is to have a steam fire engine, why can’t Oshawa have one.


November 1, 1872
Lost! – A young man in this place went to a surprise part a few evenings ago, and after escorting his “fair gazelle” to her home in the north-east part of the town, he started for his own dwelling. After wandering around for a considerable time he found himself at the GT Station, when he should have been up near the foundry.

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November 1, 1872, page 3

November 8, 1872
Mr. Gibbs Whines

Mr. Gibbs furnishes the last number of his penny whistle with an article headed, “Mr. Mowat’s Resignation,” in which he expresses his feats that the “amiable mould” in which Mr. Mowat’s character is cast will result in disaster; and that Brown rule will become absolute in the Ontario Legislation.  He bewails the injury likely to result to the jndiciary (sic) on the account of the precedent of Mr. Mowat, hinting that although the judicial career of the new Premier is without spot, that his resignation and elevation to the Premiership must necessarily open the way to those still on the Bench for dishonest and partial decisions.  His ideals concerning the precedent, &c., are only second hand; we have had them served up a dozen times already in that Government subsidized slandering machine, the Mail.

The chief inventive to Mr. Gibbs’ whining about precedent and Mr. Mowat’s leaving the Bench is based upon the fear that, now Mr. Mowat has returned to public life, South Ontario may, through the ex-judge’s consent, have an opportunity at no distant day of sending their present expediency tool to the wall.


November 8, 1872
Ulyses (sic) S. Grant has been re-elected President of the United States, beating Horace Greeley by a large majority of votes.  This result was pretty generally expected by outsiders who observed the progress of the campaign, and we deem the election satisfactory.  While formerly entertaining high respect for the “white coated philosopher,” we have no sympathy with his recent contradictory moments, and deem that his defeat is precisely what he deserves for recreancy to principle.  His elevation to the position of President would not likely prove beneficial either to his own country or the interest of Britain.  Grant has plundered, but he is not so dangerous as a chief magistrate as we believe Greeley would be if elevated to the position.


November 8, 1872
The dinner given to Father Shea on Thursday evening of last week, at Hobbs’ Hotel, was one of the best ever got up in Oshawa; so we have been informed. The Oshawa House is getting a big reputation for providing good dinners and suppers.

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November 15, 1872, page 2

November 15, 1872
The two burglars, Pearson and Green alias Clifton, who were “sent up” for breaking into Larard’s Jewellery store, have both been sent to Penitentiary for two years.


November 15, 1872

At Port Oshawa, on the 11th inst. Joseph H. Henry, (sic) second son of TS Henry, aged 19 years [     ].  The funeral sermon will be preached in the Christian Church, Oshawa, on Sabbath next, at Eleven o’clocl, by Elder Tatton.
*This is referring to Joseph Phineas Henry – his middle initial was reported incorrectly.

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November 15, 1872, page 4

November 22, 1872
A meeting of the No. 1 Fire Brigade will be held this (Friday) evening, at half-past seven o’clock. A full attendance is requested


November 22, 1872
The Newmarket Brewery was consumed by fire on the night of Wednesday last. There was also, on Wednesday, a large and destructive fire at Brantford.


November 22, 1872
Stanley, the discoverer of Livingstone arrived at New York, on Wednesday last, by the Cula, and was escorted up the Bay by delegates from the Geographical Society and Herald Club.  Doubtless he will have grand times for a season.


November 22, 1872
The weather has been very cold the last few days.  Reports come from every quarter of plenty of snow, but in our streets the dust is flying most disagreeably as in the middle of summer. If it keeps so cold we would like to hear the merry “tingle, tingle” of the sleigh bells.

50 Years of the Robinson House Museum

Today, October 25, marks Robinson House’s 50th birthday of being a museum! To celebrate this anniversary, we’re looking back at the history of this home.


Robinson House is the youngest of our three museum buildings, constructed in the mid-1850s for members of the Robinson Family.  For many years, it was believed that the construction was overseen by John Robinson, the patriarch, however, research in the early 2010s has proven this to be untrue.  In fact, John may have never stepped foot in the home which is his namesake, having moved to Iowa and re-settling there sometime in the 1850s.  The original inhabitants of Robinson House were John’s wife Ruth, their daughter Eunice, her husband Richard, and their family.

File1292 - Cornelius

Robinson House later was owned by Eunice’s brother Cornelius, arguably the Robinson with the strongest ties to the home and certainly well remembered by those in the community.  Douglas Mackie, a child living in Henry House in the 1910s, remembered Cornelius as such:

“The face and figure of Cornelius Robinson remain shadowy to me except for his long grey beard. But I do remember his lantern. He would walk from Robinson House, as it is called now, to our place in the evening, carrying this lantern. Our farm lanterns were ordinary everyday lanterns designed to shine light from all sides, but his was a beautiful red one, with one side shielded by a metal reflector, to light his way while walking.  He would talk and talk long after my brother and I were put to bed. Oddly enough, I can’t remember if he was married, had a family, or was a bachelor. If the thought ever crossed my young mind it seemed to me he lived alone.”

Dr. Hoig also paints a picture of this man, describing Cornelius as “a very dark man who wore earrings and lived in the white brick house where the road turns east along the water front.”


Upon Cornelius’s death in 1921, the house was passed to his daughter, also named Eunice.  After a number of decades, the house sat vacant, a shadowy place for children who grew up around Oshawa-on-the-Lake.

“It was more of a mystery to the kids of the area. We would dare each other to go into the Robinson House, because in the winter months no one tended to live in the house. We would climb up to the main level. For some reason on the main level of the house there was a pile of leather cuttings. The kids used to dare one another to get pieces of leather to prove their entry into the house. You were really brave if you brought back a piece of leather!” ~Douglas Mackie

“It was a place we didn’t go near for fear it would fall on us, or a ghost would appear.” ~Darlene Williams

“Once we discovered an entry into the house, it became our playhouse. We swept out the old kitchen and it seems to me that there was an old bed. I remember telling my Mom about the fun we were having over there. She told me not to go on the bed in case it had bedbugs. That was enough to scare us for a while. ~Linda Cory Bazowsky

Eunice died in Toronto in 1963 and the City of Oshawa purchased the home the following year with the intention of demolishing the then-derelict house and improving the park land.  The Oshawa and District Historical Society saw potential in the building and put forth a number of proposals to save the building; the City transferred ownership to the ODHS in 1965 for the purpose of restoration and use as a museum.  The society already operated the Henry House Museum and saw potential in Robinson House as being a Centennial project.


One of the largest stumbling blocks was fundraising for the restoration, however, this project was truly championed by Verna Conant who wrote letters, advocated, and truly spearheaded the fundraising initiatives.  A building permit was issued in 1967, and on October 25, 1969, the Robinson House Museum officially opened to the public.


One of the earliest exhibits in the Robinson House Museum was the tavern. For decades, it was believed Robinson House was once an inn and tavern, and this exhibit reflected that believed myth.  While it makes an interesting story, Robinson House was never an inn or tavern.  Other long-time favourite exhibits were the Children’s Discovery Gallery, the General Store Exhibit, and the one-room Schoolhouse exhibit.

robinson house opening 1

Today, Robinson House is our exhibition space.  The upper storey is home to our permanent exhibit A Carrying Place: Oshawa’s Indigenous Story, while the bottom floor is used for feature exhibition space.  The Oshawa Museum celebrates the history of our city, and this history is certainly diverse! Past feature exhibits have included Tales from the Tracks: Oshawa Railway, Mourning After: The Victorian Celebration of Death, Community Health in the 20th Century, Celebrating 60, and currently on display is The Vintage Catwalk.


For the last 50 years, Robinson House has been an important part of the Museum, and the house itself is one of our most important (and arguably our largest) artefact. Happy birthday, Robinson House Museum!