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.  In the early 2010s, Visitor Experience Coordinator Jill Passmore set out to transcribe the manuscript, which was made available to researchers through the blog olivefrench.wordpress.com.  During her transcription process, Jill shared some of her favourite ‘tidbits’ on the Museum’s Facebook page, which bear repeating here on our blog.  Be sure to check out the Olive French site and discover a little more about education and early life in Oshawa.


An anecdote about Beaton’s store: For some reason best known to them, Beaton’s had a display of chamber pots in the window of their china shop. A lady went by with two small children, around the age of four or five years old. When they saw what was in the window, they let it be known in good clear voices – “Oh, look at the jims,” “see all the jim’s”! Their mother decided that she would take the children by, on the other side of the street until Beaton’s changed their window decorations!
Jim’s is possibly a derivative of “Jimmy” and “Jimmy Riddle”, which is British slang for “urinating”


The birch rod, so popular in the early days was gradually ruled out of the schools. Some of the older scholars, on a few occasions had received broken fingers through its injudicious use. The strap became a popular way to emphasize obedience and to stimulate the lazy ones. As a rule the parents did not come to the school and complain about Johnny’s or Mary’s punishment. If a child deserved it he got no sympathy from “ma or pa.” Most children were told, “if you get a lickin’ in school you’re git another when you git home.”


One could scarcely imagine the health authorities of today tolerating a smelly place like Dick Hobb’s fish store (Simcoe Street South).


For the most part the common schoolteachers had only a common school education and no professional training. They were usually discharged soldiers or new comers who were ill equipped to take a more lucrative position. The teacher’s qualifications were his ability to keep order while his pupils memorized their lessons that he assigned to them from their textbooks and recited them to him.


Scholars [at DeMill Ladies’ College] were requested to bring with them, to the college, their own towels, table napkins and ring, one pillow and pillow cases, one pair of sheets and bed covers suitable for the season. They also had to bring a knife, a fork and a spoon, all these articles was to be marked with the owner’s name. They must provide themselves with clothing suitable for the season and were requested to wear inexpensive, neat and plain clothing. More thought was to be given to schoolwork than to dress.


Another escapade took place in Centre Street Public School in 1888 or 1889; this one was not serious but it emptied one of the rooms for a half of a day. One of the pupils, Maisie, aged ten years, whose father kept bees, thought she would see what could be done about a half holiday on a one nice day in the spring. She had no fear of bees whatever and could go out among the bee hives at her home and pick out the drones and the other bees did not attack her. It is believed that those insects are aware of it, when anyone is afraid of them. Drones are male bees and do not sting. At lunch time that day, she put a few drones in her pocket before she left to go back to school. After the bell rang and things got settled down in her room, she let the bees go. There was a near panic of course; no one else knew that the bees were drones. There was no need to dismiss the room; the room dismissed itself, teacher and all. How she ever dared to do a thing like that when Mr. Smith was principal was a question. She must have been brave. No doubt she was punished at school; the teachers wouldn’t have seen any joke about it like her father did. She happened to be my cousin, he was C.S. French.

Centre Street School in the 1920s; A004.14.3

In the earliest years when the High School was in the new building, report cards were not given to the pupils. Marks obtained on the exams were posted on the bulletin boards and the papers were handed back to the pupils. A record was kept in the office of each student’s marks, during the year. Before the final exams in the higher grades, the scholars were called individually to the office for an interview with the principal. He gave his opinion on the advisability of trying or not. A fee was charged for the departmental exams.


An amusing report was printed in the Vindicator April 7th 1876. It was the day of the trustee meeting and not one of them was present. “A number of the members had joined an elocution class and it had met on the same evening. Some very brilliant oration at the meetings was to be expected now. A new pump was needed at the school and it would be an excellent chance for brilliant elocutionary effect for the property committee.”

Also the following; at one time when there was no quorum and no meeting of the school board all of the trustees were attending an oyster supper. Someone suggested that it might be a good idea, on the night of the trustee meetings to give oyster suppers and invite the members of the board to attend. Perhaps they might be induced to transact the school business afterwards.

Volunteering in the Times of COVID

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

The COVID crisis hit Ontario in early March, and by March 13, the Oshawa Museum made the decision to close our doors to the public. Staff continued to work from home remotely, but essentially all volunteering came to a halt at that time. Museums benefit from volunteers in so many ways, from the volunteers who help at events, being wonderful ambassadors for the site, helping behind the scenes, and being just a wonderful complement to the staff.  To say we miss our volunteers is an understatement; their presence is missed every day.

Not all volunteering stopped, for as restrictions began to lift, we were able to safely accommodate and welcome back our garden volunteers, who have worked throughout the summer to keep the gardens around the museum looking their very best.

But, due to space constraints currently at the Museum, we cannot safely have volunteers on site because social distancing would not be achievable.  So, we started thinking about ways that we can have volunteer engagement and participation, but in a remote capacity. Enter the Audio Transcription Project.

Our archival collection is vast and varied: legal documents, photographs, diaries, newspapers, and a large collection of audio cassettes. Yes, that’s right. Audio Cassettes. In case this technology is a little before your time, we’re talking about these:

This collection features historical talks, oral interviews, and the like.  We saw this collection as a great starting point for creating at-home volunteer opportunities.

Staff began the project, digitizing the cassettes using a handy devise that turns the audio into an MP3. However, what is of great benefit is having a written transcript of the audio file.  This transcript not only is makes searching the content of the audio file simple and quick, it also makes an audio file accessible to those who are hearing impaired, thereby increasing accessibility to the collection.

The project is being facilitated over our Google Drive – volunteers can sign up for which audio file they want to work on, and the MP3s are accessible from that same online folder. In the month of August, when we launched the project, volunteers contributed over fifty hours to this project, and we are so very thankful for the work they are doing!

If you are interested in helping with this project, please email Lisa at membership@oshawamuseum.org


What we’ve learned!

In the 1980s, there was an interview with a Mrs. Mechin, and one of our volunteers has transcribed the audio. Within the interview, Mrs. Mechin, a Robinson descendant, talked about her history of employment:

MRS MECHIN: And, when Burt and I were sleigh riding, I was six and he was seven. And I was fitted the night before, and it was across the fields, there was a hill, a pastor field. And, halfway down the hill, there was a, a wooden fence. A rail fence. And, so we took a notion, we would take our sleigh and go to the top of this hill down. And, of course it went pretty fast, it’s just, just like ice, right? I see, I can see the sun shining on it now, just like diamonds you know. And, I-I sat down, I had long coat on, at the back, and he sat down at the front, he was gonna steer. Of course he sat on my coat, I guess my feet were around him, I don’t know, I can’t remember that but, I ran into the fence, and hurt my hand. So, then I was operated on, had the bone removed and diseased in 1917. That’s why I left Fittings, because my health wasn’t good… So, then I was home three months, or at least I was away three months. And, then I went to Hallett’s store and George [Hazelwood] interviewed me, and I got in the [General] Motors’ office. But, that was before the carriage business was settled up… And, I worked for the manager there… Ms.Keddy, was sick at the time, so I took over her, she used to write letters about the liens on the cars around the carriages… So, I took that job over as well. I did, that was in 1914, and I worked there for three years.

INTERVIEWER: You worked there during the war years?

MRS MECHIN: Well, I worked their four, four years, yeah. Mhmm. 1918

Percy Ibbotson, another Robinson descendant, shares his memories of Robinson House:

INTERVIEWER: We are now in the large north room on the main floor. Percy is going to tell us how he remembers this room.

PERCY: I remember, readily, that when this room was a barber shop, the poles were out in the front, we used to sit in the front steps, and I suppose catering to the traffic down to the beach, people coming and going, especially on the weekend. But, this room was used for some time, for some years, as a barber shop.

INTERVIEWER: And the entrance to the barber shop would be the door on the north side, which we are not using today.

PERCY: Double doors

In 1983, Rev. E. Frazer Lacey gave a presentation about the 150 year history of the congregation of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian, where he shared a story about Rev. Thornton during the 1837 Rebellion:

1837 was the year of the Mackenzie rebel, and Thornton was sympathetic to the cause, to the issue, he was for representative democracy, as he was also for free and open education, he was certainly against the family compact. And so here he was torn, loyalist in terms of British connection, but reformist in his social concern. The rebellion was put down, but Thornton received a real setback, troops of the loyalist cause, took a shot at him one night as he came home from a meeting.

The Month That Was – September 1864

All articles originally appeared in the Oshawa Vindicator

September 7, 1864
Page 2

Library, or Reading Room
As will be seen from a sketch of the proceedings at the several meetings held, a Mechanics’ Institute and Library Association has been organized for a second time in Oshawa.  It is to be hoped that the institution will be more successful this time than it was the first, and there is no reason why it should not.  The first one was a miserable affair and a large amount of property was sunk in it, in one way and another, but not by anybody looking after its affairs very closely or endeavouring to keep the institution up.  Nobody seemed to take any ordinary degree of interest in it, even as a library association, and it never was anything more.  Few meetings were held in connection with it, and in the course of time its library was neglected, suffered to go to ruin by want of usage as well as bad usage, and eventually sold for ‘a raere song.’ With this experience before then, no doubt the Directors of the newly organized association will pursue a very different course from that which resulted so disastrously to its predecessor.  Our village is tolerably well supplied with library works thro’ our Common School library that was, and which now is our ‘United Grammar and Common School’ library.  If there is any deficiency of reading matter in that library, it can be supplied by the United Board of Grammar and Common School Trustees in such a way as to give us one complete village library, all under one management. And now that the Grammar School has an interest in the School Library, there ought to be an additional sum of money voted towards procuring new and interesting works for the replenishment of its shelves every year. By doing this, there will be no need of the funds of the Mechanics’ Institute being used up, as those of the former one were, in purchasing a library, leaving an insufficient sum for other purposes of more importance. Let the whole of the funds be devoted to procuring a superior course of lectures, and other entertainments for the winter evenings, and providing a Reading Room containing a number of the leaving English, American, and Canadian papers, and the institution cannot fail to prosper.  But let its funds be used up in purchasing needless and expensive books, and it can hardly avoid, except by taxing somebody’s time and labor quite too severely, meeting with the fate of its predecessor.

Steam up – On Monday last steam was introduced for the first time into the new engine at E. Miall and Co’s cabinet factory, and the boiler and engine, etc. tested. The shafting is not yet all in position and consequently the machinery was not moved.  The engine is a fine piece of mechanism, for a first attempt, and is a good illustration of the capacity of Joseph Hall’s Mill and Job department.

September 7, 1864, page 1

Raft Ashore – On Monday morning last a large raft of square timber towed by the Steamer Hercules, went ashore and broke up near Port Oshawa.  The wind blowing from the lake at the time, the greater part of the timber was washed ashore.

September 7, 1864, page 3; for more on Mrs. PA Henry, read HERE

September 21, 1864
Page 2

The School House
The work of making the addition of 40 feet to the west end of the Union School House is rapidly approaching completion.  The mason work was completed some two weeks ago, and the roof has been put on and the floors laid.  Two small gables have been erected over each doorway in addition to the original plan as given out to contract, which will add considerably to the appearance of the structure, which otherwise would have had an exceedingly unpleasant look in an architectural point of view.  The new rooms will be very airy ones, the floor of the under story being two feet lower than that of the old portion, and the ceiling of the upper room being attached to the roof, giving it somewhat the appearance, overhead, of the Presbyterian Church.

Conviction Quashed – We find the following in the Chronicle’s report of the last Quarter Sessions: – “Conviction of John Stokes for selling liquor on Sunday. – In this case Mr. J. Stokes, hotel keeper, of Oshawa, appealed against the conviction of G.H. Grierson, the convicting magistrate, by which a fine of $20 was imposed for selling liquor on Sunday. There was no respondent’s name in the papers. Conviction quashed. Mr. Lyman English appeared for the appellant.”

Where was our Reeve when the case was called?

A New Grocery Store – A new grocery, provision and crockery store is to be opened out in a few days, in the store in Gibbs’ block, formerly occupied by L. Vancamp, and lately by Gibbs & Bro. The Proprietors are Messrs. Bremner & Urquhart.  Their advertisement will appear next week.

September 21, 1864, page 3

September 28, 1864
Page 2

Excelsior Machines – Two splendid pieces of mechanism left Joseph Hall’s establishment on Monday last for Hamilton. One was the Reaper and Mower to be awarded at the Provincial Plowing Match to the best plowman, as mentioned in our last, and the other a Thresher and Horse Power for competition at the Provincial Exhibition. – They are, doubtless, the two best machines of the kind ever manufactured in any part of the world.

Birth – At Whitby, on the 19th inst., the wife of William Laing Esq., Mayor of Whitby, of twin sons.

Died – At Whitby, on the morning of the 19th inst., deeply and deservedly regretted, Louisa Amelia, the beloved wife of William Laing Esq., Mayor of the Town of Whitby, aged 40 years and six months.

September 28, 1864, page 3

Student Museum Musings – The Oshawa Centre

By Mia V., Summer Student

Hi all! I’m very glad to be back for my third summer here at the Oshawa Museum. Over the past two months or so, I have been continuing to research and work on the upcoming exhibit, Leaving Home, Finding Home in Oshawa: Displaced Persons and Stories of Immigration. If you or someone you know have any connection to this period of post-World War II immigration, we would love to hear from you! Additionally, as you might know, we have an online exhibit where you can see some of the stories, documents, and photographs that have been shared with us so far: https://oshawaimmigrationstories.weebly.com/

Stefan Malish’s ID during his time working at Brompton and Paper. This is the back of the ID which features “useful information” such as conversion rates and tips on applying for Canadian citizenship.

The uncertainty of the past several months has made familiar places very strange! While running some errands at “the” mall – that is Oshawa Centre (or the OC) – for the first time in a while, I found myself wondering about its history, as one does…

The original 1956 logo for the Oshawa Shopping Centre as it appeared in the Toronto Daily Star on October 31st of that year. The mall was advertised as “Canada’s most beautiful shopping centre.”

Construction of the Oshawa Shopping Centre began on July 22, 1955, when the mayor “turned the first sod.” Doors opened on November 1, 1956, and eager anticipation was in the brisk morning air. The crowds waiting, apparently numbering 10,000 in all, were in for a day filled with fun prizes and gaining a glimpse of what this new construction – a “mall” – was all about.

Ax997.26.1: The Oshawa Shopping Centre ca. 1967. We can see an early phase of construction prior to the enclosing of the mall and addition of a Sears store.

While we have very much gotten used to waiting in lines for stores to open as of late, malls have seemingly always been the primary institution of North American consumer life. At this time however, in the early 1950s, they were a very recent innovation by Austrian Jewish architect Victor Gruen. Inspired by the quintessential European experience, where one strolled casually from shop to shop, Gruen invented the outdoor shopping mall with the intent of encouraging a more slow-paced and social experience.[1]

1968 Ad, as appeared in the Oshawa Journal, March 13, 1968 (A999.19.282).

One of the developers of the Oshawa Shopping Centre, John P. van Haastrecht, made similar connections between the necessity of the mall and a post-war society which had seen rapid changes – especially noting the impact of the suburbs and widespread ownership of cars. Oshawa was considered to be the perfect place for a mall – car ownership and average household income were both reportedly quite high in the city with a population just nearing 50,000. For that reason, the mall often boasted of being “one of the five outstanding Shopping Centres on the North American continent” when it first opened.

Over the years, we’ve all gotten quite used to the Oshawa Centre changing its face! If you’re like me, spending a lot of time at the mall growing up, you probably have quite a few memories attached to certain iterations of it.

In 1968, the mall was enclosed – a roof added over the existing stores – and Sears joined Eaton’s, Hudson’s Bay, and Loblaws as anchor stores. Three years later, in 1971, an office tower was added, along with Famous Players cinemas (both of which you can see in the above photos). Seven more years after that, the south end of the mall was added and a second level as well. In 1989, there were 125 new stores added and the theatre was renovated. Four years later, in 1993, the food court was transformed with a 1950s theme – its signature black and white checkered tiles and overall design calling back to the decade when the mall was built. Finally, most recently, there was the 2016 renovation. A whole wing was added with several dozen new stores and the overall look of the mall was redesigned as well.

Ax995.308.1b / East side of the Oshawa Centre, 1990s.

Of course, in very recent weeks, the social aspect imagined by the Oshawa Centre’s original developers is lacking, with all seating areas being closed off to encourage social distancing. Moreover, the impact of technology – or, more specifically, of online shopping – has also changed the reality of the mall as a social space. In any case, what becomes clear is that a building is never just a building – but rather more like a reflection of the society that built (and repeatedly changed!) it.


[1] Ian Bogost, “When Malls Saved the Suburbs from Despair,” The Atlantic (February 17, 2018), https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2018/02/when-malls-saved-cities-from-capitalism/553610/.

Newsworthy Affairs

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

One of our regular series on the blog is The Month That Was. The OM started the MTW feature at least a decade ago when we used ‘Facebook Notes’ to share these newspaper stories, and when the blog got off the ground in 2013, the series migrated to this forum.

I am very grateful when our high school co-op students have helped compile the posts for various months, because this series can take quite a bit of time between reading, transcribing, finding images, and scheduling the posts. A few students especially enjoyed this task when it meant using the microfilm reader in the archives, dusting off this technology relic, and yet still a mainstay.

Every so often, when tasked with writing the MTW, I get lost in the articles. My interest piques when I see a familiar name or read about a well known historical event. Last month, I couldn’t help but share with my colleagues when I read a marriage announcement:

Married

At the residence of the bride’s father by Rev. T. Henry, on Saturday evening, the 7th inst, Mr. Albert N. Henry and Miss Harriett T. Guy, both of Port Oshawa.

Oshawa Vindicator, June 11, 1862

Sadly, Harriett died in 1866 due to a typhoid epidemic in the community.

And while I thoroughly the catchy songs in the movie musical The Greatest Showman, we know in real life, PT Barnum was not the sympathetic hero he was portrayed as by Hugh Jackman. This was remarked on in 1865:

Barnum’s expressed design of exhibiting Tom Thumb in France, has called forth a good witticism from Ledru Rollin.  “Tom Thumb should exhibit Barnum,” said he, “for the latter is the greater curiosity.”

Oshawa Vindicator, December 6, 1865

Often, I laugh at what the newspaper deems worthy to print, giggling as I type it out for others to read. For example, in 1872, the Ontario Reformer had an article devoted to the calendar make up, as follows:

The year 1872 contains 52 Sundays. September and December each begins on a Sunday; January, April and July on Monday. October is the only month beginning on a Tuesday. February begins and ends on Thursday; consequently we have five Thursdays, which will not occur again until the year 1900.  In the year 1880, February will have five Sundays which will not occur again until the year 1920.  The year 1871 began on Sunday and ended on Sunday.

Ontario Reformer, January 19, 1872

And in our latest entry for the MTW, in the Oshawa-on-the-Lake column, the following was reported:

The lake water [can] get very cold, nevertheless, a number of campers take a regular morning dip. The first lady bather of the season is Mrs. Sparks of Toronto, who is visiting with the Misses King. She ventured out alone on Wednesday afternoon.

Ontario Reformer, July 11, 1902

There are, unfortunately, gaps in Oshawa’s newspaper history, and we are very fortunate when hard copies exist and are donated to the archives. Because of this, we have sometimes looked to surrounding community’s newspapers for news items about Oshawa.

Pupils of Mae Marsh Delight Big Audience at Masonic Temple

Parents and friends strained the capacity of the Masonic Temple, Oshawa, on Saturday afternoon, to see the dance recital presented by the Lillian Mae Marsh School of Dancing.  Picturesque costumes that would have qualified for a Broadway show and a smartly paced program held the interest of the audience.

Canadian Statesman, April 4, 1952

Perhaps the MTW that looked the farthest afield was April 1937. This was the month of the strike that saw the recognition of the auto workers union, and the strike itself made headlines in Canada and the US. As reported in Indiana,

Premier Hurls New Threat in Oshawa Strike
Oshawa, Ont., April 13 (AP) – A move by Canada’s minister of labor to mediate the Oshawa strike pivoted today upon consent by General Motors of Canada, Ltd.

Meanwhile, other developments added fuel to the already heated controversy of international scope: Hugh Thompson, John L. Lewis’s right-hand man in the Oshawa strike, asserted the US supreme court decision on the Wagner act would cast the United Automobile Workers’ union in the role of sole bargaining agent for the General Motors workers here and the in the United States.

Premier Mitchell Hepburn of Ontario accused Lewis of trying to become “economic and political dictator” of both the United States and Canada and declared that, if he came to Canada and sponsored any overt act, or if any of his aids should do so, they would be jailed “for a good, long time and there wouldn’t be any bail.”

Lafayette Journal and Courier (Lafayette, Indiana), 13 April 1937

When I randomly chose the Month That Was December 1872, I was highly interested to learn that it was during this month that a great fire affected downtown Oshawa, the paper remarking Oshawa had been ‘Chicagoed’ likening this disaster to the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. I’d recommend reading this month in its entirety, HERE.

Be sure to watch our blog on the first of every month for the latest edition of The Month That Was, and I hope you enjoy reading these posts as much as I enjoy researching and writing them!