By Jennifer Weymark, Archivist
For a number of years, I have been undertaking research into early Black history in the Oshawa area. This inquiry is part of a larger shift in our focus here at the Oshawa Museum.
Prior to 2011, there had been minimal research into the history of the Black population in Oshawa. Some initial work had been done examining census information but that was the extent. When we were approached to take part in Trent University’s inaugural Black History event, we realized how little time had been dedicated to this area of Oshawa’s history. The invitation to the event spurred a new project that helps to tell the history of a local family from the 1790s to today. It also helps to tell a more inclusive and, more importantly, a more accurate history of early Oshawa settlers.
This project signaled a shift in where we focus our research, to help fill the gap in our knowledge of our community. A great deal of research has been conducted on the many industries and industrialists who helped shape Oshawa; what was missing was looking into those who worked for the industrialists, those whose labour made the factories so successful, and telling their stories. It is the experiences of the “everyday person” who help to truly understand what the community looked like in the past and how it has evolved today. Currently, we are working to tell the history of women, those who arrived in Oshawa as Displaced Persons post WWII, the Indigenous population who called this area home long before European settlers arrived and those whose names may not be recognizable but who helped shape our community.
I presented a paper on the research into early Black history at the Canadian Historical Association’s annual conference at the end of May. The paper discussed how shifting our research focus not only helps to tell a more accurate history of the community but helps to make the past more relatable the current Oshawa residents, strengthening the sense of community and spurring interest in our past with those who may not have been interested previously.
For more information on the Andrews/Dunbar/Pankhurst family, please read our three part series from Black History Month 2014