The Oshawa Harbour – Part II

By Melissa Cole, Curator

Through the Great Depression and the Second World War, the harbour was a focal point of shipping for Oshawa, including huge supplies of coal, which was the primary means of heating homes in Oshawa during that time. 

In the 1930s the harbour continued to expand, and with the opening of the Welland Ship Canal with eight locks, this opened up Lake Ontario to larger ships, increasing business for the harbour in Oshawa.  Due to a serious flood in 1937, the coal piles and roads around the harbour were significantly damaged.  A new west pier was constructed by the firm William Bermingham and Sons of Kingston, Ontario.  The new pier was 1,082 feet and was constructed 42 feet west of the old structure.  In 1939, the outer harbour was dredged to a depth of 24 feet and the inner harbour and turning basin to 22 feet. 

The harbour in the 1930s

Unfortunately, the improvements that were being made to the harbour had a negative impact on the shoreline along Oshawa’s waterfront.  The shoreline was receding and the original breakwater was extended inward.  Portions of this cement wall can still be seen along the shoreline. 

The Thomas Bouckley Collection, The Robert McLaughlin Gallery.

In 1959 the St. Lawrence Seaway opened with excitement from the shipping community.  Unfortunately, it would soon be discovered that the lock system and sections of the seaway were not large enough to handle the anticipated ocean-going vessels.  These issues were not a concern for Oshawa; as the harbour continued to expand, due to municipal growth, Oshawa officials lobbied for a commissioned port.  Michael Starr, MP for the Ontario County riding, was instrumental in getting the Oshawa Port commissioned under an act in Parliament.  Federal money would continue to flow if they became a federal port. 

The new Harbour Commissioners Act, 1960, was proclaimed in 1962 with an autonomous body of commissioners – two federal appointees and one City appointee.  The Oshawa Harbour Commission was one of seven commissioned deep-sea ports in Canada.  At the time, Hamilton and Toronto were governed by their own acts, which were passed through Parliament much earlier. 

The first meeting of the commissioners took place at the Genosha Hotel on December 12, 1960.  Their first order of business was staff and land holdings.   Staff of the harbour at the time included a wharfinger, who managed the wharf, and a harbourmaster, who booked ships.  The first Harbour Commission also set out to create a yacht basin, a project that would become very controversial over time.

The port area was bordered by a line 600 feet east on the north of Harbour Road, 3000 feet south into Lake Ontario, west to Simcoe Street South, and 600 feet east on Farewell Street. (See image from 1960) 

Large tracts of land in the port area were either purchased or acquired and included the Second Marsh and surrounding land, such as the Beaton Properties and the former Gifford Farm, where the original Port Oshawa Pioneer Cemetery was located.  In the 1990s the City of Oshawa obtained ownership of the Second Marsh Lands and continued to work in collaboration with the Central Lake Ontario Conservation Authority, Ducks Unlimited Canada, and Friends of Second Marsh.

Two decades later, a major recession hit Canada, and the Oshawa Harbour suffered along with the rest of the country.  Competition was increasing from other modes of transportation. Through good years and bad, ships continued to call in at the Oshawa Harbour for goods of all types bound for destinations all over the world.  According to an article from the Oshawa This Week, in 1992 the Oshawa Harbour handled over 52 ships; one shipment included 22,000 tons of steel products from Lasco Steel (Gerdau).  That year, the first ship arrived on April 17, 1992 and its captain was welcomed with the traditional top hat ceremony.

In 2012, it was announced that the Oshawa Harbour Commission would become a Canada Port Authority.  The Port of Oshawa was the last port in Canada to be overseen by a harbour commission.  Between 1999 and 2001, 17 other ports in Canada became Canada Port Authorities. Oshawa couldn’t make the transformation because of an ongoing land dispute that was finally dealt with in a 2010 settlement agreement between the City of Oshawa and the federal government. 

In 2014, the City of Oshawa acquired the land located on the southeast corner of Simcoe Street South and Harbour Road, land that was returnted to the City as part of Oshawa’s settlement agreement with the federal government and the Port of Oshawa.  The Larry Ladd Harbour Trail on the City harbour lands opened to the public on July 1, 2018.  Designed with accessibility in mind, the Larry Ladd Harbour Trail comprises a pedestrian bridge and walkway and is an important link to the Waterfront Trail, Second Marsh and Oshawa Museum, as well as to Lakeview Park. 

On June 18, 2019, the Oshawa Port Authority became amalgamated with the Hamilton Port Authority, known today as the Hamilton Oshawa Port Authority (HOPA Ports).  Over the past decade, the Port of Oshawa has handled more than 500 vessels carrying over 3 million metric tonnes of cargo.  The Port handles an average of $23 million worth of cargo annually from salt and steel products to sugar, asphalt and grain. In 2020, HOPA, completed a Land Use plan for the harbour lands in Oshawa.  You can learn more through this link:

In 2021, the Oshawa Museum is excited to partner with the Hamilton Oshawa Port Authority to share the story of the Oshawa Habour in a new exhibit, From Ship to Shore: Looking at Oshawa’s Relationship with Lake Ontario. 


Missed the first part of the Harbour History? Read it here:

https://lakeviewparkoshawa.wordpress.com/2020/07/31/the-oshawa-harbour-part-1/

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