By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement
Maps fascinate me. I remember road trips with my grandparents, and in one of the pockets behind the front seats, there would be a Map Art atlas for the Greater Toronto Area; while they drove from Point A to Point B, I would study the maps. I found the Oshawa maps particularly interesting, partly because it was my hometown, but also because the subdivisions had themes. I could search and find the authors, the Arthurian Legend Streets, the birds, the flowers! Once I started working with Oshawa’s history, I began to appreciate the meanings and the stories behind some of our more well travelled arteries.
Simcoe Street is one such roadway. It is not only a major north-south road for Oshawa, but as a Regional Road, it also traverses through Scugog Township (Port Perry) and Brock Township, measuring almost 62 kilometres in length! I drive along Simcoe Street on a daily basis (save the odd weekend) because the Museum is located right at the foot of Simcoe Street, at its southern terminus at Lake Ontario.
Simcoe Street is not the best example to start with if I am looking to share the local histories behind Oshawa’s street names, but rather I will start with Simcoe because its story is one that is shared with other ‘Simcoe’ places in Ontario. It received its name from the first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada from 1791 to 1796, John Graves Simcoe. Simcoe was responsible for a number of improvements to the newly created province, including the first Act Against Slavery in all of the British Empire, the founding of York (Toronto) and laying the foundation for their road system, including the foundation of two major roads, Yonge Street and Dundas Street, and began the policy of granting land to settlers leaving the US after the Revolutionary War.
Basically, Simcoe was kinda a big deal.
Locally, Simcoe Street has been in use for almost 200 years. Samuel Pedlar makes note in his papers about a settler named George Hinkson who, “in the year 1828… underbrushed and blazed the Reach Road from the settlement on the 2d concession (now Oshawa) to the Widdifield Creek in the 4th concession.” Historically, Simcoe Street has also gone by the name Reach Road, perhaps because it eventually travelled north to Reach Township. Pedlar also talks of others in the 1820s who worked to clear the road from Oshawa to Prince Albert.
It feels like a very modern concern, to take issue with road conditions and road improvements, but it appears that in 1840s, a number of concerned citizens were writing to Robert Baldwin, Premier from 1843-46, about local road improvements. The main bone of contention was where to put improvements, with Oshawa citizens wanting to see Simcoe Street developed, which in turn would facilitate business from the Sydenham Harbour through the village of Oshawa and then to the northern townships; Peter Perry,of Whitby on the other side of the argument, advocated funds going towards a road leading north from Windsor Bay (Whitby). Ultimately money was given to both projects, but not before passionate letters from both sides were sent to Baldwin throughout the mid-1840s. I’m rather amused that road improvements were fought about over 150 years ago, and it still is today. It’s reassuring, perhaps, that somethings never change.
Simcoe Street was one of the the first paved streets in Oshawa, with the Asphalt Paving Co. of Windsor being awarded the contract in 1911. It was paved from the south side of Richmond and Dukes Streets (the story of these two streets could be told another day), to the south side of Athol Street. Also paved were Athol Street and King Street. This paving process did not impede businesses, and it drew crowds of by-standers to watch the modernization take place.
Simcoe Street is a major road for Oshawa and Durham Region, and it has been host to parades, celebrations, shops, restaurants, education,and culture; along Simcoe Street, one can find the Oshawa Community Museum, the Canadian Automotive Museum, and Parkwood (with the Robert McLaughlin Gallery being just off Simcoe). Simcoe and King form the Four Corners, the dividing line for north/south/east/west, but it is at the Four Corners that our community truly grew together, expanded, and flourished.