The Host Files: Taste and Scent of Community: The Oshawa Bakery and other Eastern European Groceries

By Mia Vujcic, Visitor Host

When we are asked to share something about our heritage or ethnic background, food is often the first thing that springs to mind. In a number of previous blog posts, I explored different aspects of the research behind Leaving Home Finding Home in Oshawa: Displaced Persons and Stories of Immigration (open now in Robinson House!). As the title hints at, this exhibit features some of the communities and institutions which made up the flourishing multicultural landscape in post-World War II Oshawa. Although they were far from family and the once familiar rhythms of their daily lives, newcomers to the city at this time would have had several options to shop for culturally specific delicacies and ingredients.  

One such location was the well-loved and remembered Oshawa Bakery. The Oshawa Bakery was founded in 1920 by Fred and Mary Shelenkoff. The Shelenkoffs (who in one newspaper article are described as Russian immigrants) arrived from the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv to Montreal after World War I. Soon afterwards, the family moved to Oshawa where they opened the Oshawa Bakery on the corner of Stacey Ave. and Court St. There they had the space to keep a stable, for their delivery horses, and sheds full of other farm animals. Their five children each helped out in the bakery from a very young age, taking on more responsibility as they grew up. The business grew as steadily as the city did around them, necessitating a move to Olive Ave. 

Black and white photograph of a long, white building, and writing on the side identifies it as the Oshawa Bakery Ltd.
The Oshawa Bakery; Oshawa Times, 27 January 1982

By 1930, at least another two local businesses in the city specialized in Ukrainian groceries. These co-operative grocery stores were located at 212 Bloor St. E and 598 Albert St. – close to the Ukrainian Orthodox and Ukrainian Catholic churches respectively. During the period of the Great Depression, community-based resources such as these businesses would have been invaluable. Many recent immigrants in the city at this time had been laid off but did not wish to apply for welfare, as they were not naturalized and feared deportation. In order to get by, Oshawa’s Ukrainians (and many others) took on odd jobs, and a number of families grew their own fruits and vegetables. Additionally, the existence of these co-operatives hints at and can be better explained by the deep labour history in the city. 

Ukrainian Co-op Grocery, managed by Fred Yakimchuk, highlighted; 1930 Oshawa City Directory

Despite facing hard times during the Great Depression and shutting down for a time, the Oshawa Bakery also introduced two initiatives to help individuals in need. Due to their store’s proximity to the Canadian Pacific Railway tracks, impoverished travellers, or “hobos” as Shelenkoff daughter Leta remembered calling them as a child, would often stop in. They never turned one away, always giving them some fresh bread. The bakery also arranged to sell bread for six cents (below the cost of production at that time) for two hours each day at six other stores in areas of the city heavily affected by poverty. 

Until the 1970s, the Oshawa Bakery had door-to-door delivery, for which they reserved eight wagons. Leta recalls that she and her sister “would get out [their] little red wagon on Easter Sunday and deliver hot cross buns” to each house. The business progressively expanded, employing 35 full-time and part-time bakers and office staff in the year 1980. Throughout the decades, the bakery was kept in the family. It closed in the year 1990 when two of the Shelenkoff children, Vera and Lida, were too old to be involved any longer. 

Black and white photograph of three people inside a bakery with trays of baked goods in front of them
Inside the Oshawa Bakery; Oshawa Times, 18 October 1980

A lot of nostalgia is centred around a community hub and neighbourhood landmark like this one – where generations of families worked, visited, and gathered for over half a century. As Leta remembers, “Children were always specially treated, and often sent home with a gift of a roll or sweet bun.” The bakery’s permanent location at Olive Ave. was just across from St. Hedwig’s Polish Catholic Church. The bakery became especially busy after Sunday Mass, as Helen Bajorek-Macdonald recalls from her childhood memories. The bakery would be “jam-crushed with bodies waiting their turn at the counter” in order to buy “bread in the Russian language, Ukrainian, English, or Polish.” 

Newspaper ad for the Oshawa bakery's 60th anniversary
Oshawa Bakery Ad; Oshawa Times, 30 October 1980, page 17

Today, of course, there are even more numerous options for getting a taste of cultural cuisines in Oshawa. These include multiple other ethnic-inspired bakeries and delis and others which are centered at the city’s multicultural halls – which of course make up the well-loved annual Fiesta Week festival organized by the Oshawa Folk Arts Council. Some of the regular Eastern European originating pavilions include: Lviv (connected to Lviv Hall, next to St. George the Great Martyr Ukrainian Catholic Church on Lviv Blvd.), Odesa (connected to the hall at St John’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church on Bloor St.), Krakow (connected to the hall at General W. Sikorski Polish Veterans’ Association at Stevenson Rd. N.), and Poznan (connected to the Polish Alliance Canada Branch 21 on Olive Ave.). 

During times of celebration, just as in periods of hardship, preparing, consuming, and sharing traditional foods from one’s heritage is a source of comfort. As Ukrainians are again faced with war and displacement, we are reminded of the continued plight and resilience of refugees around the world. 

The Host Files: The Coming of the Oshawa GO Station

By Adam A., Visitor Host

Everyday, thousands of people get up and in one way or another make their way over to the Oshawa GO Station. The overwhelming majority of these people are heading into Toronto.

Oshawa stands as the eastern terminus for the GO train’s Lakeshore East Line. However, this only became the case in 1995. The story of how the GO Train came to Oshawa begins much earlier.

Oshawa had been host to a rail station since 1856, when the Grand Trunk Railway came to town. While mainly a freight route, a passenger service was provided by Grand Trunk initially, then CNR after 1923, and VIA Rail after 1976.

In 1912, a station for the Canadian Pacific Railway was opened near their railyard, yet it closed in the 1960s, once again leaving Oshawa with one passenger rail service.

Black and white photo of a train station with a number of people in front of the station
C.P.R. Station, undated; Oshawa Museum archival collection

GO Transit was established by the Government of Ontario in 1967, and almost immediately there were many who recognized that Oshawa’s future prospects would depend on getting a station. Over the ensuing decades many promises to extend the rail line east to Oshawa were made, yet they consistently fell through. Most notable of these being the GO ALRT (Advanced Light Rail Transit) project of the 1980s, which would have provided an express light rail service between downtown Oshawa and the Pickering GO Station where one would be able to transfer on a regular GO Train.

Black and white photo of a train station, with two rail lines in the foreground
Canadian National Railway Station in Oshawa, 1970; Oshawa Museum archival collection

As per Premier David Peterson’s election promise, the GO Train did finally come to Oshawa in 1990. However, it did not yet have its own dedicated line or station building, and Oshawa was served by exactly one train each way per day, leaving Oshawa at 7:17AM and departing Union Station for Oshawa at 5:33PM. Perhaps this lacklustre limited service played a part in why the arrival of the first GO Train in Oshawa was greeted by only 150 of an expected 400-500 passengers.

The Lakeshore East Line was only properly extended out to the Oshawa train station in 1995. With a dedicated double tracked passenger line, GO could extend its regular service out to Oshawa, though plans for the line to extend to the Oshawa Centre and downtown ultimately fell through. During the early ’90s, the GO Train only ran east of Pickering during rush hour, but high demand following the opening of Oshawa GO brought hourly service out to Oshawa.

Colour photograph of a parking lot beside a train station. The train station has signs for VIA Rail and GO Transit, and there is a sign identifying the station as Oshawa
Oshawa Train Station, 2013; Dowsley Collection, Oshawa Museum archival collection

The site had previously been the station for the CNR’s passenger service, and had been modified for use by VIA Rail and GO Transit in the early ’90s. The site underwent additional renovations in 2009 to improve accessibility. Between 2015 and late 2017 the site underwent another major renovation which brought the site to its current form.

The Month That Was – June 1944

The Times-Gazette, 01 June 1944
Corvette Crew Is Welcomed

Gifts Presented At Civic Ceremony Monday At Peterborough

Peterborough, May 30 – “A sailor’s life is one of great hazard and whatever the fortunes of war may carry you, our thoughts and supplications will be with you. We hope that when the war ends you will come back to visit us, and meantime we will do all we can to help you,” said Mayor Hamilton, addressing the ship’s company of H.M.O.S. Peterborough at the welcoming ceremonies help in Riverside Bowl Monday evening.

There were six officers and 54 ratings of a crew that will eventually comprise upwards of 95 men present at the ceremony.

George McDonald, chairman of the Corvette committee, presented a box, of the same kind that every member of the ships company will receive, to one of the ratings called to the platform for the occasion, a sort of symbolic transfer of the equipment garnered by the committee to the men for whom it is intended. While many youngsters milled around the makeshift stand determined to be in on the unwrapping of the package, the sailor, a leading telegraphist from Verdun Que., proceeded to undo a large box of comforts which included face cloths, handkerchiefs, shaving soap, razor blades, toothpaste and toothbrush, comb, nail file, chewing gum, chocolate bars, tins of soup and still other gifts even unto woolen articles. While the sailor tried on a leather jacket, Mr. MacDonald commented humorously, “If it’s too large, he’ll wear it.” In a moment, however, he was able to announce with satisfaction, that the jacket did fit.

Ad for the Oshawa Rotary Fair
Canadian Statesman, 1 Jun 1944, p. 5

The Globe and Mail, 05 June 1944, 23.
Oshawa Public Schools

Require for Sept 5th, qualified lady assistants for grade positions. Must have at least 2 years experience. Initial salary according to qualifications and experience. Applications giving full particulars of qualifications and experience will be received up to and including Sat., June 10, 1944. No personal applications unless requested. W. Gordon Bunker. Business Administrator. Board of Education. Oshawa.

Black and White ad for War Work - Men and Women, Youths and Girls
Canadian Statesman, 1 Jun 1944, p. 5

Toronto Daily Star, 07 June 1944, 3.
Record RCAF Raid Helps Clear Path for Invaders

London, June 7 – (CP) – In a quick follow up to the great invasion-eve assault on the French coast, the RCAF bomber group set a record last night during its participation with the RAF in the attack on coastal defences.

Some 5,000 tons of bombs were dropped by the RAF and RCAF heavy bombers and at least 1,000 tons were dropped by the Canadians. Targets were roads, railways and bridges back of the beachheads, destruction of which would delay German reinforcements. …

The City of Oshawa squadron was the first back from the beaches in the morning. Group Capt. MacBrien led the first three Canadian squadrons, accompanied by Wing Cmdr. Lloyd Chadburn, of Aurora, Ldr. RA Buckham, of Vancouver, and Sqdn Ldr. Walter Conrad, of Richmond, Ont.

Toronto Daily Star, 7 Jun 1944, 8.
Robert beats, chokes him jeweler unconscious hour

Oshawa, June 7th- city and provincial police maintained a sharp watch over highways, rail and bus terminals last night and today for a man said to have been wearing the uniform of the US ferry command, who entered the jewelry store of Fritz von Gunten, 66. After beating and choking the proprietor the wanted man robbed the store of an undetermined amount of jewelry, police said.

Von Gunten is an awkward is in Oshawa General Hospital with cuts on his head and left hand and bruises about his throat and body. Police said he had been beaten over the head with a blunt instrument. Hospital officials said his condition was “improving.”

Inspector Wilbur Dawn of the Oshawa police said it would be impossible to assess the amount of jewelry stolen until the proprietor recovered sufficiently to check over his stock.

“We found Mr von Gunten lying in a pool of blood on the floor of his store.” Inspector Dawn stated. “His groans attracted the attention of the men in the lunch counter next door and they gave the alarm.”

James Edgar, who was painting the interior of the lunch counter, said: “ I heard an awful yell and came down from my ladder and looked into the Chinese laundry next door, but didn’t see anything.” Police said von Gunten was so badly beaten that he lay unconscious for over an hour before recovering sufficiently to call for help.

The jeweler told the police he had no warning of the assault. “The man came right in and struck me over the head and beat me before looting the showcases of rings and watches” he said.

*Note: This news event was also reported on by the Globe & Mail. They provided additional details such as the address to the store (125 King St.), and that the wanted man was seen boarding a TTC Bus for Toronto. It was Dr. FJ Rundle who gave details about the state of Mr. Von Gunten.

Black and White ad for movie times at Oshawa's Regent Theatre
Canadian Statesman, 8 Jun 1944, p. 3

The Times Gazette, 17 June, 1944
Freedom Our Birthright

Tomorrow Oshawa will celebrate the 729th anniversary of the signing of what has frequently been called, “the first Act of Parliament.” It was on June 15th, 1215, that King John, one of England’s worst kings, unwillingly signed the 48 articles of a document that during the ensuing few days was still further documented into 63 chapters of the Magna Charta. There remain now by four signed copies of the charter, but they are jealously guarded as something of priceless sentiment.

Apart from the peculiar circumstances of its origin this charter has been regarded through the years that followed its dramatic signing in the meadows of Runnymede, as a charter of wellnigh sacred principles. This is not to be wondered at, for it embodies the highest ideals of English liberty. We use the word ‘English’ advisedly for it was in England that this enunciation of the principles of the rights of free men was so harshly wrested from an unscrupulous, despotic monarch. On the clauses of its various chapters, our modern laws are based. Many additional laws have since been contributed to our wellbeing; but Magna Charts remains the standard towards which all British subjects, wherever domiciled, may look if they desire, as is their due, to draw themselves up and say, “I am free born.”

We must hold fast to this our heritage. During the stress of war we have willingly though temporarily, yielded some of our hard won freedom. But when peace returns, we must make sure that these are restored. For example, let us make sure that no one can ever delay, or deny justice to our citizens. Let us do our part also to ensure that the Four Freedoms of the Atlantic Charter of 1940 based in great measure on the Magna Charta, are not just pious hopes and eloquent phrases. The path of our forefathers since 1215 has been rough and rugged. Perfection lies still far beyond our vision. It is well that we celebrate anniversaries such as this – lest we forget. Human nature being what it is, unfortunately, we forget too soon. 

The Globe and Mail, Jun 21, 1944, 4.
Lloyd Chadburn dies of collision injuries
By Allan Nickleson

London, June 20th (CP).- Wing Commander Lloyd B Chadburn, a fighter ace who ranked with Canada’s greatest airman, was injured fatally a week ago in a collision while leading his wing on operations over France.

His plane exploded on impact with another aircraft which crashed in flames and a subsequent RCAF announcement said that the 24 year old Aurora, Ont., pilot, holder of a double DSO and the DFC, “died later of his injuries.”

The tall, quietly spoken Chadburn had a record of 14 enemy aircraft destroyed, three probably destroyed and eight damaged but you never would learn that from this ace who rose from the ranks. …

Chadburn’s first squadron was adopted by the city of Oshawa, which name it now bears. That squadron had the best Canadian record at Dieppe where Chadburn shot down one of the four aircraft the squadron destroyed without last to itself.

Black and White ad for Coca-Cola and Hambly's Beverages, using the imagery of a soldier and two young boys
Canadian Statesman, 29 Jun 1944, p. 5

Canadian Statesman, 22 Jun 1944, 1.
Dept. of Highways Post-War Program a Four-Year Plan

In the Ontario Department of Highways’ post-war program a four-year plan is being laid down by Minister George H. Doucett, calling for a total expenditure of $180,000,000 at $45,000,000 a year. Employment is expected to be given over the four years to at least 25,000 men.

It includes extensions to the existing Queen Elizabeth Way, east from Oshawa, ultimately to the Quebec boundary.

Work is now progressing east of Oshawa to Newcastle and plans are prepared to reroute the construction to fit in with the development of the St. Lawrence in Eastern Ontario…

You Asked, We Answered – The Photos in the Henry Hallway

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

For two weeks, at the end of April and beginning of May, I had given tours almost every day we were open. It was a wonderful return to how Spring at the Museum looked before COVID-19.

In the hallway of Henry House, there is a frame holding six Victorian era photographs, and it felt like on every tour, I was asked, “who was in the photos?” It pained me to say that I didn’t quite know. Two of them looked very Henry like (there is a distinct look to all the siblings), but beyond that, I couldn’t say.

A photo frame, holding six black and white photos of Victorian era people.

While closing up one day, and with our Curator’s permission, I took the photo off the wall to see who was in the photos.

I was very pleased that the two that I kept identifying as Henrys were, indeed, Henrys. George Henry (top right) was the son of Thomas and his first wife, Elizabeth. His wife was Polly Henry, and we’ve profiled her before on the blog. The couple would live out their lives in nearby Bowmanville.

Also photographed are James O. Henry (bottom left) and his first wife, Adelaide Hall (bottom right). James was Thomas’s eighth child, the second born to Thomas and his second wife, Lurenda. James and Adelaide had four children together before her death, and after her passing, James remarried and had one child with his second wife. He was an enterprising man, a farmer, photographer, and exporter of apples. He was reportedly the first exporter to Britain, his brand remained popular for many years.

There are three more photos depicting four people. Their identities are still, somewhat, a mystery, although, thanks to information in the archival collection and on the back of the frame, it is very likely they are members of the Hall family, Adelaide’s relatives.

I always appreciate it when I’m asked questions on tours that I don’t know the answer to. Even after 11 years of tours, there are still ones that will leave me without an answer, and this means I have the opportunity to learn something new myself.


Information on George and James from If This House Could Talk: The Story of Henry House (Oshawa Historical Society, 2012).

The Harry H

By Melissa Cole, Curator

The Harry H began its life chasing down German submarines in World War I and spent years in the Oshawa Harbour. It remained floating on the west wharf of the Oshawa Harbour until it could float no more. 

A long boat moored at a harbour. There is water in the foreground and trees in the background
The Harry H docked at the Oshawa Harbour; Oshawa Museum archival collection (A996.16.4)

In July 1916, five ships were sunk in New York by German submarines, spurring the navy to design an effective anti-submarine vessel. Steel was scarce, and because of that, a new ship was designed of wood, built for speed rather than strength.

The Harry H was built in 1918 in New York City and spanned 110 feet long. Its original name was the Subchaser SC-238. In 1922, David Sullivan purchased the ship, renamed it the Allen, and brought it to Oshawa. In October of 1925, the vessel was found abandoned by George Hardy. An “action for salvage” warrant was then issued by the exchequer Court of Canada for George Hardy for the towing fee to Toronto.

Two men standing on the deck of a boat moored in a harbour
The Harry H; Oshawa Museum archival collection (A996.16.3)

By 1933, the ship, re-named Harry H, had been in the hands of several different owners. During that year, it was seized by the R.C.M.P. for infractions to customs regulations. It was rumored that after the seizure, the R.C.M.P. used the ship for chasing Rum Runners on Lake Ontario.

Some confusion in the registration of the Harry H, as well as repairs, caused some to believe that the ship had been used as a Rum Runner herself. When owner David Sullivan brought the ship (then named the Allen) over to Oshawa Harbour, its New York registration was not closed; in fact, it was not closed until three years after the ship was found abandoned on Lake Ontario.

In June of 1934 there was a Court Order issued by the Registrar of Shipping in Toronto that the vessel be sold at public auction. She was bought by Stanley Grossett of Port Hope for $180. On October 2, 1934 the Harry H was sold to Oshawa resident William Leggott.

When Harry H was first found in Oshawa Harbour, it was noticed that the boat no longer had three engines. Instead, it had two. When the hull of the ship was inspected, it was found that the prop shaft had been plugged. In addition, the propellers of the ship were 9 inches shorter than the original 39 inches. It was customary then for Rum Runners to keep the propellers sharp for cutting through fishing nets dropped by patrol boats to catch Rum Runners. Harry H was no exception to this.

Harry H was found at the bottom of the Oshawa Harbour basin in the summer of 1965 due to a pump or battery failure. In the fall of the same year, it broke away from the dock during high winds. It was later found underwater next to a clay bank in shallow water at the Harbour. A mast, as well as part of the deck, showed through the water. They were later torn off by ice.

In August of 1978 a dredging operation by the Porter Dredging Company ended the life of the Harry H. Although the boat put up a good fight, tangling in the wire ropes in the 36 inch diameter auger that was used for the dredging, Harry H eventually gave in and the ship was destroyed.

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