Where The Streets Get Their Name – Ontario Street

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

In case you haven’t heard, 2017 is a big milestone year for Canada, as this year marks the 150th anniversary of the signing of the British North America Act, or to put it very simply, it’s Canada’s 150th birthday. The BNA Act (today known as the Constitution Act) created the Dominion of Canada which today has grown to ten provinces and three territories.  In 1867, our modest country was comprised of only four provinces: Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia.

Our province is also celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. Before officially becoming named the Province of Ontario in 1867, Quebec and Ontario were united as the Province of Canada, comprised of Canada West (today Ontario) and Canada East (Quebec).

Why am I rehashing a Canadian History 101 course in this post? Today, we’re looking at the story behind Ontario Street, a street found in the heart of our downtown core.

The name Ontario and its usage is much older than the province itself.  Let’s go back to pre-historical times, pre-history meaning the period of time before written records. Before European arrival, the Indigenous people called this land home for thousands of years.  Prior to 1700, the area was inhabited by the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) First Nations, and their name for the lake they lived by was skanadario, meaning ‘beautiful water.’  Another possible root for the word may be from the Wendat (Huron) word Ontarí:io, meaning ‘great lake.’  When the Province of Ontario was created in 1867, it was named after Lake Ontario.

Usage of the name Ontario in this area pre-dates Confederation.  The County of Ontario was created in 1852 and it was the ‘upper-tier municipality’ in which Oshawa was located.  It was in existence until the mid-1970s when county lines were redrawn and the Regional Municipality of Durham was created.  The County of Ontario was comprised of the following townships:

  • Brock, with communities including Cannington, Vroomanton, Pinedale, Sunderland, Wick.
  • Mara, community centres were: Gamebridge, Brechin, Atherley, Udney and Rathburn.
  • Pickering; Community centres: Pickering, Dunbarton, Green River, Balsam, Claremont, Brougham, Altona.
  • Rama; Community centres: Floral Park, Longford Mills, Cooper’s Falls, Washago.
  • Reach; Community centres: Port Perry, Manchester, Saintfield, Utica.
  • Scott, whose communities included Zephyr, Sandford, Leaskdale, Udora.
  • Thorah, community centers: Beaverton.
  • Uxbridge; Community Centres: Uxbridge, Goodwood.
  • Whitby and East Whitby; Community centres: Oshawa, Whitby, Brooklin, Ashburn and Myrtle.
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Detail of Tackabury Map showing Ontario County, on display in Henry House.

On display in Henry House is a map from 1862.  I’ll often encourage visitors to find Oshawa on this map, and instinctively, they start looking within the limits marked as Durham, because that’s where we are today.  Instead, we can be found on the eastern edge of the County of Ontario. For several reasons, that map may be one of my favourite artifacts in the Museum, but I digress.

To discover the history of Oshawa’s Ontario Street, we turn to documents in our archival holdings, like maps and directories.  The earliest such document in the archival holdings is the 1869-70 County of Ontario Directory, and it lists a number of people who made their home on Ontario Street.  It is safe to say that this street is older than 1869, but how much older is hard to say without the historical evidence.

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Corner of King and Ontario Streets in 1920 (left) and 1995 (right)

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2 thoughts on “Where The Streets Get Their Name – Ontario Street

  1. Hi Lisa. I enjoyed your post about Ontario Street. I went to live at 85 Ontario St. In 1941 when I was 6 months old and remained a resident of Ontario Street until 1960 when I married and moved to my own residence. My parents rented the house all those years. Our entertainment was going down to the end of the street to the Armouries on a Friday or Saturday night and listening to the army band practise. There was a chip wagon on the corner , beside the Queens Hotel and the owner did a booming business from the residents of Ontario Street. Another form of entertainment was sitting in our front porch/ veranda, which no longer exists on that house, , watching the drunks stagger home each night from the Queen’s Hotel😃 There was a lumber yard across from the house …I think it was called Cohen’s but could be wrong about that and when they closed each day and the employees went home, it became the playground for the kids on the street……dangerous but it was all we had.. Funny that your post should come today when I was having lunch with another ” Ontario Street girl.” , Janet Ayres. We were reminiscing about the fact that both of our childhood houses are still standing on Ontario Street.
    Our next door neighbour was an Italian immigrant family name Del Agnese ,who started Perfection Bakery. They eventually had two stores in downtown Oshawa, one on Simcoe Street and one on King Street East where Riley’s now stands. They also had another one in downtown Whitby. Truly a successful immigrant story to be remembered in today’s trying times when some are reluctant to welcome immigrants.
    Anyway, just wanted to comment and let you know your post was appreciated.

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