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 and erected 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 continue 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/

Blog Look Back – Top 5 Posts of 2020

Happy New Year! Throughout 2020, we shared 64 articles on the Oshawa Museum Blog, showcasing many different stories from our city’s past.  Many of our posts reflected current history with the COVID-19 pandemic – how the pandemic was affecting the Museum and how to archive a pandemic’s impacts.

We’re planning our new and dynamic posts for 2021, but to start the year, let’s look back at our top 5 posts of 2020

Family Tales and (In)Famous Taverns
Our summer student Mia shared her own family history with this blog post, looking at the history of the hotel located at 394 Simcoe St. S.

Spanish Flu in 1918 and COVID-19 in 2020
Our Curator, Melissa, examined how the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic impacted our community and contrasted it to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tales from Olive French
In the 1960s, a woman named Olive French began researching and writing a history of Oshawa’s early education, educators, and schools.  This manuscript was never published but was later donated to the archives. This post shares some interesting tidbids discovered while transcribting the manuscript

Do you Remember The Horse Drawn Wagon?
Before the explosion of large grocery stores that sell a wide variety of foods, the people of Oshawa enjoyed home delivery of local-made milk from local dairies.

You Asked, We Answered: Where are the Henrys Buried?
While on tour, our Visitor Hosts are often asked questions that they may not be able to answer in that moment. However, we take note of the questions and try to find the answers afterwards. One such tour was ‘where are the Henrys buried,’ and we shared the answer in this blog post.

These were our top 5 posts written in 2020, however, for the third year, our top viewed post was actually written a few years ago. Perhaps our readers have an interest in vintage bedwarmers or are looking for inspiration for keeping warm during the cold Canadian winter months, which is why Keeping Warm: The Ways The Victorians Did! is once again our top viewed post!

Thank you all for reading, and we hope to see you again in 2021!

Merry Christmas from the Oshawa Museum

From us at the Oshawa Museum, we wish those who celebrate a very Merry Christmas.

Please enjoy this passage from the classic Victorian story, A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens

“There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say,’ returned the nephew. ‘Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round—apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that—as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!”

Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

An Oshawa Yuletide

Amid the global pandemic, the Oshawa Museum realized holiday programming would look very different this year. We saw this as an opportunity to try something new and creative, and, in partnership with Oshawa based Empty Cup Media, we are excited to announce the premiere of An Oshawa Yuletide.

This short film, created in considerations of COVID-19 restrictions, celebrates the magic of a traditional Victorian Christmas experience! Follow Mary Cameron along as she helps the Henry family prepare for their Christmas celebrations in Victorian Oshawa.

“The OM made the difficult decision to cancel one of our most anticipated events of the year, the Annual Lamplight Tour,” says Oshawa Museum Executive Director Laura Suchan. “Christmas has always been a favourite time at the Oshawa Museum, and the spirit of this holiday is perfectly captured in An Oshawa Yuletide. We are very proud of this film and what was created by Colin Burwell of Empty Cup Media.”

The Oshawa Museum is pleased to present this short film to the community, and we hope you enjoy the film as much as we do.

Henry Grandkids – Thomas Eben Blake Henry and “The Great Desire”

By Jill Passmore, Visitor Experience Co-ordinator

Originally, I intended this blog post to be about the life of Thomas Eben Blake Henry, the next in the planned series about Thomas Henry’s grandchildren. Initial research online confirmed all of the things we already knew from old family group sheets in the Oshawa Museum archival collection, coincidentally prepared by Ina Henry, T.E.B.’s first cousin and third wife. Further research specifically conducted on newspapers.com opened my eyes to a life that could never have been conveyed in census records and other information on Ancestry.com.

We knew that T.E.B. had been an actor based on the 1901 Census. He is listed as living at the family homestead in Darlington (today Clarington) with his parents, George and Polly, wife Mabel and daughter Lola. So presumably, he would be acting locally. But where? How do we find records from local theatres – there aren’t any in the OM collection? How do you identify actors in photos when most are in costume and makeup?

Knowing that T.E.B. ended up living in California near a number of other Henry cousins, I started a search on the newspapers.com, a large newspaper database, instead of communitydigitalarchives.com, which hosts our newspaper collection and a small number of other Ontario archival collections. Now, another problem cropped up. Under what name do I search? Fully, Thomas Eben Blake Henry is a unique name; but, without anecdotal evidence of a nickname or shortened name, researchers are usually at a loss and must come to the sad realization that you will have to explore every option of someone’s name – depending on how bad you want the information.

I did a lot of this research at home, during my out-of-office days, during this time of COVID-19. With internet connections not being good at the best of times, dialing in to access our work computers can be a bit of a nightmare. Remember the old dial-up days of the internet, with lagging conversations, getting frustrated and hitting buttons ten times only to have everything catch up and go crazy on your screen? It’s like that sometimes. So when I hit the jackpot with my T.E.B. research, I don’t remember exactly what it was that I had in my search options besides T.E.B. Henry. Like most discoveries though, I came about it somewhat accidentally. What I learned led me down a rabbit hole I wasn’t expecting.

The Atlanta Constitution wrote on June 27, 1910, “T.E.B. Henry has written a very promising play…will make good in stock or in the high-priced houses.” Set to open at the Bijou Theater in Knoxville, Tennessee in early September 1910, reviews poured in throughout major Tennessee newspapers.

Bijou Theater, c. 2010; ©Brian Stansberry, from wikipedia.com

“No expense spared for the elaborate scenic equipment,” “equal in this respect to any Broadway production,” and “the dialogue is crisp, pointed and direct in its natural simplicity,” claimed the Knoxville Sentinel.

The Chattanooga Daily Times said, “strong, vital play, full of realism, action and gripping situations,” and “it is said that every heart full of a deep purpose and desire will find a note of sympathy wrung from it by the direct personal appeal of the drama.” Meanwhile, the Chattanooga News wrote, “devoid of all lurid, clap-trap sensationalism…deep, absorbing heart interest and intense dramatic strength,” and “story is told vividly, directly and forcibly, carrying the audience through every scene with such realism as to make the pictures a living memory to all who see them.” Later, they also said, “the story is one in which pathos and humor are properly blended,” and “the scenery and effects have been especially prepared by Scenic Artist Charles DeFlesh, who declares that it is one of the best with which his name has ever been linked.”

The Bijou was hoping to draw in more people to see the play, having it open during the 1910 Appalachian Exposition, which ran from September 12 – October 12. The Exposition demonstrated progress in Southern industry and commerce and promoted conservation of natural resources. Former President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, spoke at the Exposition, though it is unknown if he saw a performance of T.E.B’s The Great Desire.

The Chattanooga News, Chattanooga, Tennessee, Tue, Sep 06, 1910, Page 5.

A preview of the play attracted 3000 people on Monday, September 5, 1910. The play takes place in the Selkirk Mountains and “is symbolic of the eventual supremacy of the innate good or mankind over the lower and baser elements of its nature, attained through the intervention of a good man.” The Great Desire and its characters is actually based on T.E.B’s time spent in the Rocky Mountains at a mining camp sometime in the late 1880s or early 1890s. A synopsis provided by The Chattanooga News follows:

Roger McLeod, a frontier parson, a very similar parsonage to Ralph Conner’s creation, “The Sky Pilot,” visits an obscure hamlet in the Selkirk mountains in behalf of the propagation of Christianity. While engaged in his duties he falls in love with Lorraine LaRue, the daughter of Barton LaRue, over whom considerable mystery hangs, and who because of his silence upon [t]he subject enjoys the sobriquet of “Silent Barton.” The parson in the pursuit of his love-making incurs the wrath of Dan Boreland, a frontier suitor of Lorraine’s, and forces him before the latter’s eye to retract a statement he made in disparagement of Lorraine’s crippled sister Nellie.

After Boreland’s true character is shown, Lorraine repudiates him, and the interest in the plot is centered upon the outcome of a three-handed love affair between the parson and the two sisters, both of whom wish to renounce him for the other. In the last scene the crippled sister is killed by her own father in a wild frenzy occasioned by fear and superstition caused by the howling of a wolf before the door.

Upon her deathbed the girl unites the hearts of the parson and her sister, and her father and her mother. The latter had long existed in the woods as a witch, though supposed to be dead by LaRue, he having struck her in a fit similar to the one in which he killed his daughter.

An ad from the (Louisville, KY) Courier-Journal on September 18, 1910 described the play as “a thrilling tale of life in the northwest.” Evening performances cost – 15¢, 25¢, 50¢, and 75¢, while matinees on Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturday were 25¢.

It’s unknown at this time if the play toured and was shown at any other theatres.