ArteFACTS – Oshawa’s First Steel Pan

By Melissa Cole, Curator

The Oshawa Museum recently received an incredible donation to our museum collection, a locally made Steel Pan/Drum.  This new artefact is a welcome addition to our collection as it supports our collection plan to encourage the collecting of artefacts that allow OM to engage with communities and cultures that are underrepresented in our existing collection.  Let’s take a look at this newly acquired artefact.

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Steelpans also known as steel drums or pans, when played collectively with other musicians, are known as a Steel Orchestra, also commonly known as a Steel Band.  A person that plays the Steelpan is called a pannist.

The steel drum accurately known as steel pan or pan, is part of the idiophone family of instruments and is actually not a drum, which is a membranophone.  They are the only instrument made to play in the Pythagorean musical cycle of fourths and fifths.  The pans are played with mallets, that have wooden handles and rubber ends.  The larger the size of drum, the larger the mallet head needs to be.

This particular steel pan was made and tuned by Carlyle Julal, who is a long-time member of Oshawa’s Club Carib.

Oshawa Caribs2

Not long after Club Carib got its start in 1966, they made a name for themselves by creating a steel orchestra.  Club Carib’s president at the time, George Kissoondath decided that their club needed something to celebrate Caribbean culture and bring it to Oshawa.  In 1971, Carlyle was approached with the idea of forming a steel band.  Carlyle, a native of Trinidad, West Indies had recently migrated to Canada.  As a steel band tuner, tutor and musical arranger, Carlyle was asked if he would consider forming a steel orchestra for the club.  With assistance from other Club members, they were able to obtain empty steel drums from the city dump.  At his home in Oshawa, Carlyle single handedly turned the empty steel drums from trash to treasure by creating musical instruments.

club_carib 1970s

The orchestra, known then as the “Oshawa Caribs,” had their first gig playing on a float in the 1971 Folk Arts Council parade, known today as the Fiesta Parade.  During the parade they stopped in front of Parkwood Estate to play Happy Birthday to R.S. McLaughlin who turned 100 that year.  After the parade they performed their inaugural performance which won them first prize at the parade!  They went on to other performances which included schools, shopping malls, church events and a formal recital at the Oshawa Public Library.   In 1996 the concept of another steel band for Club Carib re-emerged and the Oshawa Sounds of Steel was formed.  They continue to perform and entertain today at numerous fundraising and community and private events. Their most notable performances are during Fiesta Week at Club Carib’s Caribbean Nights pavilion and in the parade.

Lets take a look at the history and development of the steel pan.

First Pan

The instrument’s invention was a specific cultural response to the conditions present on the islands of Trinidad and Tobago.  Steel pan history can be traced back to the enslaved Africans who were brought to the islands during the 1700s.  They carried with them elements of their African culture including the playing of the hand drums.  These drums became the main percussion instruments in the annual carnival festivities.

In 1877, the ruling British Government banned the playing of drums in an effort to suppress aspects of Carnival which were considered offensive.  Bamboo stamping tubes were used to replace the hand drums as they produced sounds comparable to the hand drum when they were pounded on the ground.  These tubes were played in ensembles called Tamboo-Bamboo bands.

Non-traditional instruments like scrap metal, graters and dustbins were also used in Tamboo Bamboo bands.   By the late 1930s these metal instruments dominated the Tamboo Bamboo bands.  During World War II, the British Colonial government banned Tamboo Bamboo bands and forced people to look for other ways to make merry.  During WWII Trinidad was a refueling station for the United States and Britain and readily available were steel drums.  Constant pounding on these drums against the flat end left an indentation and the sound changed.  Through experimentation, coincidence, trial and error and ingenuity on the part of numerous innovators, the metal pan bands evolved into the steel pan family of instruments.

Oshawa Caribs Midtown Mall 1972 Cropped

The steel pan is now the National Instrument of Trinidad and Tobago, which is quite fitting for an instrument that was forged from the resilience of a people that were subjected to suppression and hardship.  If you are interested in discovering more about the Steel Pan, visit the Oshawa Museum’s exhibit: From Trash to Treasure: Oshawa’s First Steel Pan on display from February 27 until July 30 2018.

The steel pan was our featured artefact in January’s Podcast.  Visit our YouTube Channel for this and other video podcasts.


ArteFACTS: Bricks Before Lego

By Melissa Cole, Curator

One of the Oshawa Museum’s latest donations included three sets of Minibrix.  This unique toy reminds me of Lego.  The details given within the construction sets state that the Patentees and Manufacturers are the Premo Rubber Co. Ltd, of Petersfield in Hampshire. Premo was a subsidiary of the ITS Rubber Company, founded in 1919. The origin of Minibrix stretches as far back as 1934, when an American manufacturer ITS Rubber Specialties Company introduced its Build-O-Brik line. Those innovative little rectangles inspired the MiniBrix line from England’s Premo Rubber Company in 1935.  The first impression of any of the Minibrix construction sets surely has to be one of robust precision and of quality materials. The boxes are sturdy and even the smallest of sets are comparatively heavy by today’s standards. Like so many of the toys sold in the 1950s and 1960s, the boxes are colourful and very well illustrated.


A unique fact about Minibrix is the connection to Oshawa.  The sole Canadian supplier of Minibrix, was located here in Oshawa at 184 Bond Street West by the R.D. Fleck and Company Limited.   There is no building located there today, it would have been on the corner of Bond and Arena which is currently an empty lot.

The Minibrix and Tudor Minibrix Book, which were supplied with the sets, gives details of the various items that can be constructed from the materials for each individual set. The colourful illustrations and specific lists of the number of bricks and materials required, make the building of the items shown much easier.  The building sets were launched in 1935 as sets 0 – 7.


The rubber brown bricks were precisely made and interconnected with each other and are similar in size to today’s Lego bricks. Two lugs protrude from one face of the brick to fit into the two corresponding holes of a second brick.  A slight twist and push action secures the bricks together.   The main bricks measure 1” by 1/2” by 3/8”.

Minibuilders Club

Included with this donation was advertising flyers, within one of the flyers it says “Minibrix is a thoroughly hygienic toy.  All are washable and can be passed on from one child to another without risk.” Also included with the donation was a certificate to the Minibuilders Club.  This is similar to the Lego Club today.  The Minibuilders club encouraged the use and further purchases of the product. The MINIBUILDERS CLUB had its own badge and a clear aim: “MINIBUILDERS CLUB has been formed for the purpose of bringing together all owners of Minibrix sets, on the common ground of their interest in model building and architectural construction.”


The Month That Was – December 1872

All  articles are from the Ontario Reformer

December 6, 1872
A short time ago a horse was advertised in the Reformer as strayed.  It  had been missing for some weeks, and no clue to its whereabouts could be obtained till the day after the “ad” appeared, when the owner saw it and got his horse.  One day this week a man came in to advertise a steer which had strayed on to his premises.  Before the advertisement appeared in print the owner had his animal.  If you want anything made known bring your advertisement to the Reformer office.  We presume the reason why the last anumal was recovered so soon was, the “ad” was paid for in advance.

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December 6, 1872, page 1

December 6, 1872

In Oshawa, on the 3rd inst., the wife of Thomas Hopper, of a son.

In Oshawa, on the 4th inst, the wife of Mr. Parks, Bruce Street, of a son.

In Harmony, on the 3rd inst., the wife of Mr. Calston Horn, of a son.

In Oshawa on the 30th ult., the wife of Mr. Wm. Right, of a son.


On the 27th ult., by the Rev. Wm. Scott Mr Thomas Hoskin Jr., of Oshawa, to Miss Eliza Jane, eldest daughter of the late Mr. John Colman, of Darlington


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December 6, 1872, page 2


December 13, 1872
Terrible Conflegration (sic)
Oshawa ‘Chicagoed’
Fourteen places of business and seven dwellings destroyed
The fire supposed to be the work of an ifcendiary (sic)

The most fearful fire that ever took place in Oshawa was that of Sunday night last.  About ten minutes after seven, a fire was discovered in the clothing store of Mr. Geo. Hodder, and the alarm was immediately given.  The Fire Brigade was soon at the scenes of the conflagration, and at work; but, as usual, the water supply gave out, and the efforts of the firemen to confine the fire to the place where it originated proved unsuccessful.  Quickly the flames spread, and soon the adjoining stores were enveloped with the devouring elements.  It now became evident that the entire row of buildings, from Fitzmaurice’s drug store, around the corner, to Garth’s butcher shop, was doomed, unless a good supply of water could be obtained.  There were three engines at work, Oshawa No. 1 and 2 and the little chemical engine from the Hall Works, all doing well when they could obtain water.  When it became evident that the fire was likely to spread as it did, endangering the whole town, Mr. C.W. Smith procured a horse and went for the Whitby steam fire engine, having first made arrangements for a team to meet the engine on its way down.  Inside of an hour and ten minutes after Mr. Smith left for Whitby, the steamer was playing on the fire, procuring water from the well at Black’s corner.  And well did this little “Merryweather’ under the management of the noble Whitby Fire Brigade, do its work – nobly did the brigade work; and to-day the businessmen on the north side of King Street may thank the Whitby Fire Brigade for saving – with their engine – their property.  Just before the Whitby engine arrived, it was fully expected that the Gibbs block would go, as the heat from the burning buildings was intense.  In fact, in front of the Chisholm’s store, Blamey & Briggs’ store, and the top of Hind’s hotel, were on fire, but with the help of the ‘little chemical,’ the fire in the two  stores was put out, and Hind’s was saved by the Whitby engine.  All this time, the Oshawa Brigade, with old No. 1 and No. 2, was working as they always work – nobly.  But what is the use of a fire engine without water! The Oshawa Hook and Ladder Company worked like ‘all out doors’ as they always do. The citizens, with a few exceptions, worked as if the property belonged to the doing all they could to save goods from the doomed stores.  Men and boys ‘played horse’ and with wagons drew away the goods as fast as they could be loaded, to places of safety.

… The fire was, indeed bad; but how much worse might it have been.  A few accidents happened to the firemen and others, but none of a serious nature.  Let us be thankful that there were no lives lost.

…The persons who burst open Mr. Hoddor’s door distinctly state that the fire first started in the north-west corner of the shop, which would be as much as twelve or fourteen feet from the stove. What makes it certain that the fire could not have originated from any defect in the stove is, there was no fire in it from Saturday night; and the stove was cold when Mr. Hoddor left after closing.

There was no one in the shop, or, no one who had any business there, on Sunday but Mr. Hoddor’s boy, and that was about eight o’clock in the morning.

There appears to be no doubts whatever  but that the fire was the work of an incendiary; but who the scoundrel is yet remains a mystery. A jury was empaneled on Tuesday last, and an investigation proceeded with, before Dr. Clark, coroner, and is yet going on, privately. A great many persons have been examined, but no evidence has been adduced which will criminate anyone.  If any important is brought before the jury, we will make it known in our next issue.

Where to find them

The old customers (and as many new ones wish) of those of our merchants and business men who were compelled to move on Sunday night, on account of the ‘extreme heat’ will find them at the following places, for the present, where great bargains may be expected.

Trewin will be found in the store lately occupied by EB Wilcox, one door west of Wigg & Son’s furniture warerooms.

Dr. Deans will be found in the shop next door north of Taylor’s jewellery store.

Wm. Dickie will be found in the shop between Trewin’s and Gillett Bros.

JF Willox will be found up stairs, over W Lang’s store, one door west of Steele Bros.

JP Johnston will be found in part of H Wilkinson’s boot and shoe store, three doors east of Black’s hotel, till further notice.

R Fitchett will be found, on or after Monday next, in part of Keddie & Rice’s new store.

JJ Hall will be found at present at Hindes’ Hotel, where he will shave you as clean as he ever did.

Geo. Garth will be found in the place lately occupied by Mrs. Finney, next door to Shaw’s boot and shoe store.

J Barnard will be found two doors east of Black’s hotel.

JO & RH Henry will be found in the old stand, Simcoe St., next door to the Reformer Office.

The other parties have not, as yet, secured places.

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Giving Tuesday 2017

By Laura Suchan, Executive Director

This year Giving Tuesday, a movement for giving and volunteering taking place each year after Cyber Monday, will be celebrated on November 28.  As the unofficial start to the giving season, Giving Tuesday has become a day where charities, companies and individuals can join together to share commitments, rally for favourite causes and thank donors and supporters.

Givign Tuesday

The Oshawa Museum is highlighting donations to the Artefact Fund for this Giving Tuesday. As an external agency of the city, the Oshawa Historical Society receives an annual grant for the operation of the museum which covers general expenses including electricity, office supplies, insurance, accounting, salaries, promotion, etc.  However expenses related to artefact purchases, conservation work or exhibit development are often not covered in the operating budget.  With this mind the Board of Directors established the Acquisition Account in 1995 to fund those purchases not included as part of the museum’s operating budget.  Most of the funds in the account comes from donations and may be used to finance,

  1. the purchase of artefacts historically relevant to Oshawa
  2. the restoration or conservation of artefacts in the collection
  3. projects relating to improving the accessibility of the collection
  4. the purchase of items and services as deemed appropriate by the Board of Directors to support the above.

Our members and donors have told us repeatedly how much pride they take in the museum and its collection. Archivist, Jennifer Weymark, wrote the following about the impact of your donations to the Acquisitions Fund and what it means to our collection growth,

The majority of the time, we rely on the public to donate items to help our collection grow.  These donations are  important as they bring to us items that had been tucked away and are now available for the public to research.  We appreciate each and every donation.

However there are times when we come across items that will  enhance our collection, that have research value and that belong in the public domain and that are for sale.  It is then that we rely on donations to the Acquisition Fund to purchase these items for our collections. Thanks to the wonderful generosity of our members, we have recently been able to purchase  a wonderful marriage certificate dating back to March 21, 1872.  The marriage is between  George Lankin, a mariner from the Village of Oshawa and Mary Matilda Smith, a spinster from East Whitby Township.  While the names may not be familiar, this marriage license contains a wealth of important research information. Not only is it an important piece for those researching the family names of Lankin and Smith in this area but the license also tells us more about what early Oshawa was like.  It can be used to document local employment opportunities;  it is the first one I have come across the lists the gentleman as a mariner. The license also states that the Right Honorable John Baron Lisgar was the Governor General of Canada in 1872.

With each new acquisition we are able to add to our community history in unique and wonderful ways.  Acquisitions help the Oshawa Museum not only preserve  our history but strategically develop the collection for future generations.

Donations in the amount of $25, $50, $100 or more would help  us meet our goal. Please use this link to make a donation in any amount:  You can also send your donation by mail to Oshawa Historical Society, 1450 Simcoe Street South, Oshawa, Ontario L1H 8S8.

As Giving Tuesday draws near, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you all for your continued support.


ArteFACTS: The Walking Wheel

By Melissa Cole, Curator

One of our featured artefacts for Celebrating 60: Sixty Years of Collecting is our Walking Wheel, or Great Wheel, an earlier types of spinning wheel. The fiber is held in the left hand and the wheel slowly turned with the right. This wheel is thus good for using the long-draw spinning technique, which requires only one active hand most of the time, thus freeing a hand to turn the wheel. The great wheel is usually used to spin wool, and can only be used with fiber preparations that are suited to long-draw spinning.


The walking wheel is approximately five feet in height.   The large drive wheel turns the much smaller spindle assembly, with the spindle revolving many times for each turn of the drive wheel. The yarn is spun at an angle off the tip of the spindle, and is then stored on the spindle.   To begin spinning on a great wheel, first a leader (a length of waste yarn) is tied onto the base of the spindle and spiraled up to the tip. Then the spinner overlaps a handful of fiber with the leader, holding both gently together with the left hand, and begin to slowly turn the drive wheel clockwise with the right hand, while simultaneously walking backward and drawing the fiber in the left hand away from the spindle at an angle. The left hand must control the tension on the wool to produce an even result. Once a sufficient amount of yarn has been made, the spinner turns the wheel backward a short distance to unwind the spiral on the spindle, then turns it clockwise again, and winds the newly made yarn onto the spindle, finishing the wind-on by spiraling back out to the tip again to make another draw.


This particular artifact arrived at the museum in the late 1960s.  It originally belonged to Mrs. David Fleming who used this wheel for over 70 years of her life while she lived in a cabin north of Cobourg.   In the summer of 2011 Mrs. Fleming’s great grand-daughter came to see the walking wheel that her great grandmother had used.  While at the museum that day she provided me with a photograph of Mrs. David Fleming pictured beside her walking wheel and a poem that was written by Mrs. David Fleming on April 14, 1914 in Cobourg, Ontario.

I’m putting you away, my dear old wheel,
With an aching pain in my heart,
And in spite of all that I can do,
The tears from my eyes will start.

We’ve been friends for over 60 years,
Day by day I’ve walked by your side,
Drawing the threads of fleecy wool,
With a happy, contented pride.

And you and I together have made,
The yarn for mitts and hose,
Which kept hands and feet of my children warm,
Protected from frost and snows.

The years roll on with ceaseless tread,
And no change have they brought to you,
And I, dear old wheel, have grown old and gray,
And far from as good as new.

The bloom of youth has left my cheek,
And my step is less sprightly than then,
For I am some years past the mark
Of my three score and ten.

When I am gone, who will love you, my wheel,
As I so long have done,
And who will walk by your side and spin,
The wool as I have done?

Some ruthless hand may break and burn,
And put you out of the way,
And the thought makes me sigh with an ache in my heart,
As I put you away today.

The hum and buzz of you, dear old wheel,
Has been music in my ears.

~ Mrs. David Fleming, 1914