By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement
The community of Cedardale was located in Oshawa along Simcoe Street, south of Bloor Street. One cannot speak of this village without talking about the Conant family, a long-standing and renowned family in Oshawa’s history. A number of streets in the Simcoe/Wentworth/Bloor area have been named after this family. Today, we’ll look at the namesake of Thomas Street, Thomas Conant.
Thomas Conant was born in Oshawa on April 15, 1842. His father was Daniel Conant, who built the first mill in the Oshawa area and was also involved in the Rebellion of 1837. Thomas was the great grandson of Roger Conant, one of the first settlers to arrive in the Oshawa area, in 1792.
Thomas Conant was educated at Eddytown Seminary, near New York. He returned home to administer his father’s property, but shortly after he became involved in the American Civil War. His father, Daniel, encouraged him to take advantage of the opportunities that could be found in the United States. Thomas left for New York on June 18, 1864, and later went on to Philadelphia, Washington and Baltimore, visiting Northern Armies. It is reported that as many as 80 000 Canadian men went to the United States during the Civil War, lured by the prospect of money an adventure. Thomas was horrified by the suffering he saw in the army hospitals, and when asked if he wanted to enlist he declined.
When in the United States, Thomas Conant met with President Abraham Lincoln. Thomas’ first impression was that Lincoln was a very awkward man. Although it is unknown what they spoke about, Thomas was granted a pass to go and where ever he wanted in Virginia and the area of Washington.
Eventually, Thomas returned to Oshawa, where he lived until he began to travel. He travelled around the world twice, visiting many exotic places. At a time when transportation was still fairly primitive, this was quite an achievement. He regularly contributed articles to several newspapers, including The Oshawa Vindicator and the Toronto Globe. These newspapers published letters from him, describing the places he visited.
In addition to his newspaper articles, Thomas Conant also wrote books. His works include Upper Canada Sketches (1898) and Life in Canada (1903).
Thomas lived in the Conant family home, known as “Buenavista,”a brick mansion located on the corner of Wentworth and Simcoe Streets in Oshawa. It was torn down in November 1985 to make way for a 43 unit townhouse development by the Durham Region Non-Profit Housing Corporation. Thomas was also an avid reader, and his private library, located in his house, consisted of 6000 volumes.
Thomas married Margaret Gifford, and in 1885, a son, Gordon Daniel Conant, was born. Mr. G. D. Conant was very dedicated to public service and held many prominent positions, including Mayor of Oshawa and Premier of Ontario. Thomas Conant died in 1905, at the age of 63. He is still remembered as an outstanding citizen.
Above biographical information on Thomas Conant from Historical Oshawa Information Sheets.