Anniversary Years for Two Oshawa Polish Landmarks

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

This year, 2022, marks anniversary years for two of Oshawa’s landmarks of importance to the Polish community. Branch 21 of the Polish Alliance of Canada is celebrating 100 years, while St. Hedwig’s Catholic Church is commemorating its 70th anniversary.

Oshawa’s Polish community grew throughout the early years of the 20th century. In August 1922, 19 Polish residents met at the home of Stanisław Leśniak to discuss establishing a Polish organization in the community; this came to realization in September of that year when the Polish Society of Fraternal Help was established. The first president was Józef Mazurkiewicz.  The group changed their name to the Polish Society in Oshawa in 1924. 

In 1925, the organization decided to build a Polish hall, and construction began shortly afterwards at 219 Olive Avenue.  All members donated $10 towards construction, and an interest-free loan from members was also approved. Fundraising initiatives looked outside the Polish community as well with a door to door collection.  The hall was completed in 1928, and this year, 2022, saw improvements to the façade of the hall.

Red brick building. At the top, it is flying a Canadian flag and a Polish flag, and there is a sign at the top centre reading "Polish Alliance of Canada" and a sign in the right window reading "Poznan"
Polish Alliance Hall on Olive Avenue

A number of community groups began operating out of the hall, including a library, choir, Polish language school, and amateur theatre group. As well, a Polish Veterans group started their base operations from the hall. During the Second World War, the group supported Poland and organized fundraising towards a relief fund. Members of the United Polish Relief fund visited each Polish family in Oshawa, held dances, and organized banquets, raising over $1800 towards the cause.

In April of 1944, the Polish Society of Oshawa decided to join the National Polish Alliance of Canada; they merged with another Branch in Oshawa, Branch 16, and together became Branch 21 of the National Polish Alliance of Canada. Wincenty Kołodziej was the first president of Branch 21.

Building with beige stucco facade and brick detailing around the bottom. It has signs reading 'Polish Alliance of Canada' and 'Poznan,' and there is a Canadian flag and a Polish flag
Polish Alliance of Canada, Branch 21 Hall, 2022; photo taken by OM Staff

Branch 21 has actively participated in Oshawa’s annual Fiesta Week for decades with dancing and traditional food being served. They operate as the “Poznań Pavilion.”

St. Hedwig’s Roman Catholic Church was built in a number of stages. There had been talk in Oshawa’s Polish community of establishing a Polish church since the late 1920s; by the 1950s, the work began. Before the establishment of St. Hedwig’s, Catholics in the community worshipped at St. Gregory’s or Holy Cross (which was built between 1940-1945). In 1952, the first mass for the Polish parish was celebrated, taking place at the Polish Hall at 168 Banting Avenue, and immediately after the mass, St. Hedwig of Silesia was chosen as the patron of the parish. That same year, a plot of land was purchased at Olive Avenue and Central Park Blvd., and fundraising began. The cornerstone was blessed in 1954, which was when the first mass was celebrated in the ‘lower church’ (basement).

A yellow brick church with a tall steeple at the front of the building. There is a large white cross to the left of the building, and there are many stairs and railings going to the front doors. There are many clouds in the sky.
St. Hedwig’s, 2021; taken by OM Staff

Construction of the upper church began in 1960, and the church was blessed by Archbishop Philip Pocock on June 25, 1961. He remarked in his homily, “The new church is now blessed and set aside for divine purposes. This means that you the parish have given it to God. Today He has accepted it. You have put your offerings, sacrifices and prayers into it. I offer my congratulations to the Pastor and parishoners for a job well done, in building this beautiful temple to Almighty God.”  There were approximately 700 people in attendance for this dedication mass.

In the 1970s, Pope John Paul II visited the church; at the time, he was a cardinal and not yet the Pope.

The church offers services seven days a week in Polish and an English mass on Sunday.

Since the early years of the 20th century, Oshawa became a place of settlement for Eastern European settlers. The longevity of several community hubs, including the Polish Alliance and St. Hedwig’s church, is a legacy of the hard work and dedication of the early settlers and of those who continue with them to this day.

To learn more about Oshawa’s Eastern European communities, particularly the stories of the Displaces Persons who arrived after the Second World War, visit the OM and see our exhibit, Leaving Home, Finding Home in Oshawa: Displaced Persons and Stories of Immigration.

You Asked, We Answered: Summer 2022

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. Here are a few questions we’ve been asked this summer and their answers.

What is the roof of Henry House made of?

The roof at Henry House is made from cedar shingles. It was last replaced in 2013, and the lifespan of these shingles is at least 25 years (according to my Google skills). Here is a side by side comparison from 2011 and then November 2013, not long after it was replaced.

Beams of drive shed – where are they from?

The Drive Shed! The Drive Shed was a 50th anniversary project for the Oshawa Historical Society. The idea for an additional exhibition area was launched in 2007 during the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Oshawa Historical Society.  The  Board of Directors wished to commemorate this milestone with a permanent, tangible addition to the museum complex and the City’s lakefront property. The Drive Shed is a timber frame structure, built by students from Fleming College, Haliburton Campus. The opening for the Drive Shed was celebrated in September 2009.

A brown wooden building with prominent triangular roof. There are sliding barn doors, and glass doors behind them. It is winter with snow on the ground
Drive Shed, Winter 2013

What was style of the sash in the community room?

In A Carrying Place: Oshawa’s Indigenous Story, there is a sash, on loan from the Oshawa-Durham Métis Council.

A woven sash - it is predominantly red with blue, white and yellow also featured. The sash is in a display case with other items surrounding it
Métis sash, and other items on display from the Oshawa Durham Métis Council

The origins of the sash reflect the diversity of the Métis experience. The finger-weaving technique used to make the sash was firmly established in Eastern Woodland Indigenous Peoples Traditions. The technique created tumplines, garters and other useful household articles and items of clothing. Plant fibers were used prior to the introduction of wool. Wool and the sash, as an article of clothing, were introduced to the Eastern Woodland peoples by Europeans. The Six Nations Confederacy, Potowatami and other First Nations of the area blended the two traditions into the finger-woven sash.

The French settlers of Québec created the Assomption variation of the woven sash. The sash was a popular trade item manufactured in a cottage industry in the village of L’Assomption, Québec. The Québécois and the Métis of Western Canada were their biggest customers. Sashes were also made by local Métis artisans. Sashes of Indigenous or Métis manufacture tended to be of a softer and loose weave, frequently incorporating beads in the design.

The sash was used by the Métis as a practical item of clothing. It was decorative, warm and could be used to replace a rope to tumpline if none were available. The sash has been the most persistent element of traditional Métis dress, worn long after the capote and the Red River coat were replaced by European styles. The Métis share the sash with two other groups who also claim it as a symbol of nationhood and cultural distinction. It was worn by Eastern Woodland Indigenous Peoples as a sign of office in the 19th century. It was worn by French Canadians during the Lower Canada Rebellion in 1837. It is still considered to be an important part of traditional dress for both of these groups.

A display case with several items, such as a red sash, a doll, and a fiddle inside. Behind there is a large Métis flag: blue with a white infinity symbol
Inside A Carrying Place: Oshawa’s Indigenous Story; this display features items from the Oshawa Durham Métis Council

Are the three families still around today?

Yes! Every year, we get people coming into the museum and saying that they are descended from either the Henry, Robinson, or Guy families. Because Guy House was a triplex for many years before becoming the Museum’s admin building, we will also have visitors tell us that they, or someone they know, lived in Guy House in the past.

Six Caucasian people, four standing, two sitting, posed for a photograph. The two seated people are holding a large book, and behind the group, there is a framed, painted portrait of another Caucasian man
Henry descendants presenting Isabelle Hume with the Henry Family Bible, c. 1990 (AX994.62.1)

Thanks for visiting!

Having Fun with Toys or Becoming a Miniature Adult: Victorian Era Children’s Toys

By Sarah P., Summer Student

I have always been fascinated with artefacts from a young age. Now that I am surrounded by them at the Oshawa Museum, I thought it would be valuable to highlight objects that have intrigued me. On my first day on the job, I was shown a portion of the museum’s collection of toys from the Victorian Era. These incredible artefacts led me on a journey to explore children’s toys of this time.  My intention was to gain some perspective of what it was like to be a child during this era. During the Victorian Period, which was from 1837 to 1901, young adolescents were finally being acknowledged as individuals who had to be properly considered, unlike previous generations. Even with greater recognition from society concerning youth, there was still the widely held expectation that children would labour on family farms and conduct chores in their home. Unlike today, where most youth have time for playing, Victorian Era children did not experience a substantial amount of time for levity. In the Victorian Era, society began to recognize the importance of fostering both the mental and physical success of youth, and they realized that could be achieved through playing with toys.

Sepia photograph of a young girl holding a doll. She is standing behind a chair, and there is another doll placed on the chair
Sepia photograph of Edith Lura Sudgen, holding a doll while another doll is placed in a chair, c. 1895. Oshawa Museum archival collection, A971.32.53

The toys that were in the possession of these children were created with the intention of molding them into adults. This sense of preparation through play was evident in the gendered nature of these playthings. The toys aimed towards young females included dollhouses and dolls. These helped girls practice the skills of mothering by playing house using their dollhouse and caring for their doll as if it was a baby. They also played with items that replicated domestic objects, such as miniature sewing machines and irons. Young girls were playing with these objects for fun, not understanding they reinforced their future roles of wife and mother.

Toys for young boys were focused on cultivating traits of leadership, imagination, and inquisitiveness. There was an expectation placed upon young males to be adept in science and engineering. These playthings reinforced these subjects so that they would pursue these fields when they grew up. Some of the objects that were commonly endorsed for boys to play with were toy soldiers and trains. Toy soldiers in particular were intended to inspire young boys to be interested in the military, learn to follow orders, and to be intrigued in becoming a soldier later in life. Just like young girls, society was influencing these boys through their toys to foster traits that were perceived as the male ideal.

I believe children inherently want to play, and the Victorian Era brought forth the vast variety of toys that we have to this day. One Victorian Era toy that particularly caught my interest was the stereoscope, which reminded me of the viewfinder that I had when I was young. The stereoscope uses a card with two almost identical images that, when viewed by the stereoscope, allows the viewer to see an almost 3D image of the picture. I remember being so fascinated by the images I saw in my viewfinder when I was young. I think it is amazing that I shared this sense of wonder with young children from the Victorian Era who looked at images on their stereoscope. If you want to see a stereoscope, feel free to come to Oshawa Museum where we have one on display in Henry House!

Stereoscope made of wood and metal. The metal components are where the viewer's eyes would be, and the wooden components are where the stereoview card would sit, and the handle for holding the stereoscope.
Stereoscope made out of wood and metal; Oshawa Museum collection, 963.14.1abc

Sources Consulted:

Oshawa Museum Facebook Livestream – January 2022 Sunday Funday LIVE: Toys: https://fb.watch/eA6UmP1mac/

Boston Children’s Museum Article: https://bostonchildrensmuseum.org/about/collections/victorian-era-play-1837-1901

Boston Children’s Museum Photo, Dollhouse furniture, Late Empire c.1875: https://bostonchildrensmuseum.org/about/collections/victorian-era-play-1837-1901

Egham Museum Photo, Victorian toy soldiers: http://eghammuseum.org/toy-soldiers-just-childs-play/

Student Museum Musings – Introducing Sarah

By Sarah P., Summer Student

Hi, I’m Sarah! You’re probably thinking, haven’t I already read about a Sarah at Oshawa Museum? Well, I am the other Sarah who will be working at the museum this summer. I am attending school right now completing my B.A. in History and a minor in Anthropology. I am really excited to be a part of this team as I have always loved history from a young age, and now I have the great opportunity to work with artefacts! My hope is to pursue a career in archiving or public history in general after I am finished university, counting the days honestly. For a while now, I have been doing volunteer work involving education and transcribing, which I really enjoyed! I love hearing historical accounts as it provides an opportunity to hear people’s personal history. I am very excited to be a part of the inventory and archiving project of the collection in the attic of Robinson House with our curator Melissa and Sara, a fellow summer student.

A black, plastic, folding camera, with a handle on top and a round lens with silver metal surrounding it.
008.1.85: Drepy plastic folding camera

I wanted to highlight some of the awesome artefacts we have at Oshawa Museum that are some of my current favourites. I have always enjoyed photography ever since I was in high school and was in awe of the museum’s extensive camera collection.  It’s amazing! I particularly loved seeing the Drepy Camera made by Pierrat, as I have never seen a camera like that before in person. I couldn’t help thinking, good luck taking a selfie with this camera! Another interesting find was a special chamber pot. It was interesting to learn that the fabric on top of the lid was to silence the sound of going to the loo. I am not so sure the fabric was the most sanitary thing, but it sure was interesting! I am eager to learn more about museums and archiving while working at the Oshawa Museum with such a knowledgeable team. I look forward to writing again about the numerous discoveries I make while being immersed in this fantastic historical environment!

970.48.8abc, Chamber Pot, Royal Semi-Porcelain: AJ Wilkinson

July 1 Retrospectives

By Jill Passmore, Visitor Experience Coordinator

When working on specific projects, I always like to see how different events affected the Henry, Guy, and Robinson families. Read on for some trivia and perspective on modern Canada Day celebrations.

Upon taking a closer look at how people in Oshawa celebrated Dominion Day, I wondered who lived in the Museum homes when Confederation occurred.

In 1867, Thomas and Lurenda were married for 37 years. Likely, their children Joseph, Jesse, Clarissa, William, and Jennie were still living at home. Despite being in their early and mid-twenties, Joseph, Jesse, and Clarissa were unmarried. William and Jennie were 18 and 15 years old.

(Ruth) Eunice Robinson and Richard Welch were married for eight years with two young children at home. Connie was 7, Vicars was six, and Hedley would be born in September 1867.

James Guy and Rachel Luke were married for 15 years with six children living at home from 15 – 4 years old.

William and Jennie Henry were probably friends and went to school with Frederick August Guy. I wonder if Jennie babysat for the neighbouring kids or if that was even a thing back then.

A big picnic was held somewhere in Cedardale (up the street from the Henry farm), and Thomas and Lurenda might have took the children there.

Dr. D.S. Hoig attended Centre Street School in 1867 and remembered no recognition of the event. According to him, teachers may have thought it an experiment as there had been rumours of unification many times before, and it took a few years to produce textbooks with new maps.

In 1868 there was a similar picnic just north of Union Cemetery in Morris’s Grove. Games and races included:

  • flat race – 100 yards
  • boys foot race – 100 yards
  • three-legged race – 100 yards
  • short race – 100 yards
  • foot race – 500 yards
  • sack race – 100 yards
  • girls race (under 14 years of age)
  • hurdle race – 6 hurdles, 3 feet high, 1000 yards
  • standing jump
  • running jump
  • running high jump
  • running hop step & jump
  • putting heavy stone – weight 21 pounds
  • putting light stone – 6 pounds
  • tossing the caber
  • pitching quoits

There were so many children near the three OM houses that they might have played similar games and races at the 1867 picnic.

In 1869, a picnic and games started at 10 am, with a reunion and strawberry festival at 7:30 (the newspaper article doesn’t say morning or afternoon, so presumably evening.) The entrance fee was 10 cents per person so that everyone could come. Women served strawberries, ice cream, soda water, and other refreshments, and the musical program consisted of songs (both humorous and pathetic – according to the original article), duets and choruses. Address and a patriotic poem were read by local orator Edward Carswell with fireworks at 10 pm.

In 1870, the festivities began early with morning Reveille at 8 am. The Fire Brigade (in new uniforms) and Regiment Band paraded to the Post Office (area – probably the Armouries) to test various fire engines before the crowds.

At 9 am of the same year, the ‘Grand Union Picnic’ was held at Annis’s Grove (same as 1869.) The Clearwater Quadrille Band provided other music throughout the day; games included a foot race match between Oshawa and Whitby with a $25 prize. Visitors also played croquet and football, with swings provided. Fireworks were purchased in Toronto.

While people in the present still celebrate Canada Day, there is an undertone of quiet embarrassment among some. It feels uncomfortable being as patriotic and observing as I once did, with all of the Indigenous atrocities coming to light over the last few years. However, I am thankful I have my son’s birthday to celebrate, so the focus isn’t entirely on Canada Day.

This year, the Oshawa Museum will have Henry House open for tours, with costumed interpretation. As much as we are Indigenous allies, three of the OM’s most significant artefacts are the houses here in Lakeview Park, and there is no way of ignoring that. So if you decide to celebrate Canada Day this year, we hope to see you at Henry House – our first time in two years, opening on July 1st.


From the blog archives:

Oshawa Celebrates Canada Day

On July 1, 1867, The British North America Act came into effect on July 1, 1867, uniting the provinces of Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick as “One Dominion under the name of Canada. “ In Oshawa, the passing of the BNA Act was a relatively quiet affair, even though it had been designated … Continue reading “Oshawa Celebrates Canada Day”

Canada: 150 Years… or is it?

This blog series comes from our dedicated and awesome Visitor Host staff, and topics range from favourite artifacts, thoughts on our latest exhibits, and anything else in between! By Sarah C., Visitor Host This year is Canada’s 150th birthday!  It has been 150 years since Canada became a Dominion. But oddly enough, we have only … Continue reading “Canada: 150 Years… or is it?”

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