An Audio Project Update

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

For a little over a year, the OM has been offering an at-home volunteer project. Our Audio Transcription Project is making our collection more accessible and user friendly. We are digitizing cassette recordings in the collection – volunteers can access the digital files online, and they have dedicated HOURS to transcribing, typing out word for word, what is said in the recordings.

As mentioned, this makes the collection accessible. If someone is deaf or has hearing loss, the written transcription will now be readily available. The transcriptions will also be easier to search thanks to the typed transcription and search functions with PDFs.

The transcriptions get completed and returned to the OM, and I’ve been reading through the files as they get submitted. Like with many items in the archival collection, it’s very easy to ‘go down the rabbit hole’ with these transcriptions as many recollections shared within are simply fascinating.

There are a few recordings with Robinson descendants who shared their memories from when Robinson House was their family home:

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

Alan Barnes was involved with the restoration of Robinson House in the 1960s before it opened as the Robinson House Museum in 1969. Through the years, the OM is often asked if we are haunted, and this is a decades old question, considering what Mr. Barnes had to say about it.

The house you know, had the reputation of being haunted, and I don’t think it was really haunted. I think it was some of the comings and goings of our less fortunate friends that went in with bottles and came out, rather staggeringly, that the kids saw the shadowy movements and assumed that it had to be spooks, so to keep the kids out, the building had been boarded up.

Stephen Saywell, in 1982, gave a talk on Oshawa’s educational history, but he also made the following, and rather prophetic, observation.

And Tom Bouckley has done a yeoman service to this city in the two books which he has written entitled Pictorial Oshawa and which I’m sure many of you have. And if you haven’t you want to have because someday, they’re going to be out of print and they’ll become collectors’ items.

Bouckley ended up publishing three volumes of Pictorial Oshawa and, sure enough, they have indeed become collectors’ items. (Shameless plug – Volume I was republished in 2010, a partnership between the OM, OPL, and RMG. You can buy your copy from the OM’s online website.)

Finally, I was delighted to find a little of my own family history in the audio cassette recordings. My grandfather’s second wife, my Grandma Doreen, was born and raised in Oshawa (she and my grandpa met while working at Duplate). Her father, George Trainer, was a barber in Oshawa, and my family donated some of his barber tools to the museum in 2010.

George Trainer

We have a recorded interview with “Ivan Richards, age 62, who lives at 20 Oshawa Boulevard South. They draw upon his own memories and those of his father, both of whom have lived in Oshawa all their lives.” In his reminiscences, Richards shared

You asked me about Cedar Dale. I know a lot about Cedar Dale having talked to people that have lived there for a great number of years, and what I said –when I should have been delivering mail, I was in the barber shop of George Trainer, and I think a story here comes to -to mind. We run into George Trainer to get your hair cut and a checkers game was on, they were playing checkers, Frank Sherwood and Trainer himself, and Ed Powers, and anyone that might want to come along and play a game of checkers this is where they played it. When you went in to get your haircut you waited until the game of checkers were over to get your hair cut. Now this was an honest fact, I seen many people sit down and wait until they got done their game of checkers and then George’d trim their hair.

I knew my step-great-grandfather was a barber – we had the clippers – but I was young when my grandmother passed away, so I didn’t think to ask her stories of her family of what growing up in Oshawa was like for her. To hear this story, and others that I’ve learned through this audio project, helps to illustrate the time and provide a glimpse of this community, how it’s grown, and what’s stayed the same.

If you would like more information about the Audio Transcription Project and how to get involved, please send me an email! High School Students – this is a GREAT way to earn community service hours! Email: membership@oshawamuseum.org

Or, you can visit the OM‘s website for more info.

Reflections from a Summer Student

By Grace A., Summer Student

I spent the majority of my summer at the Oshawa Museum researching the city’s early Jewish community. As Jennifer Weymark shared in her post, this project aligns with the greater plan to compile the stories that have not yet been told in our local histories. As she wrote, there has been a summer student (that’s me) sifting through census records, newspaper articles and other primary source documents, trying to piece it all together. In the beginning, I delved into the 1921 Census of Canada, looking for families in Oshawa who identified as Hebrew. I recorded names, birthdates, countries of origin, dates of immigration, language, and occupation. Using this information, I went to the Oshawa City Directory from the same year to get a little more personal. I found out which houses they lived in and the businesses they may have owned. I have to admit, I felt a little invasive. Everything I looked through was public record, but I couldn’t help but wonder what they would think and whether they would have approved of me playing private investigator.

The idea of informed consent was developed in the medical and biomedical community during the 1950s. While the concept has evolved over time, it’s rooted in the belief that there should be a process of communication between the physician and patient. To simplify it, the patient has to be fully aware of what they’re getting into before they receive treatment. Conversations about research ethics over the last few decades have been influenced by the basic notion of informed consent. For example, Karen L. Potts and Leslie Brown talk about informed consent in their essay titled “Becoming an Anti-Oppressive Researcher.” In their words, informed consent “highlights our commitment to the community, our relationships to it, the data, and the process.” These processes become complicated when you’re researching past communities. Most of the time, there is no opportunity to have an open dialogue between the researcher and subject in historical studies.

Ontario Jewish Archives, 1976-6-8

This summer, I learned that in the absence of this relationship there are still ways that museums can commit themselves to anti-oppressive research. On this project, we had many conversations about the archive. This is a particularly important consideration for a research project about the early Jewish community in Oshawa. During the time periods we studied, Jewish people in Canada faced anti-Semitism and experienced a great deal of adversity as a result of colonial violence. This considered, we have to be aware of how these structures are embedded in archived material. The Ontario Jewish Archives was immensely helpful both as a source of reliable information and a partner on this project. The photograph above is from their collection, and shows a group of Oshawa children and a Rabbi at a Cheder class from 1925. “Cheder Class” was one of many photographs from the OJA’s collection which helped to visualize the history of the early Jewish community.


Sources

Research As Resistance, Second Edition: Revisiting Critical, Indigenous, and Anti-Oppressive Approaches, edited by Leslie Brown, and Susan Strega, Canadian Scholars, 2015. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.proxy.queensu.ca/lib/queen-ebooks/detail.action?docID=6282047.

Profiling: Mike Starr

Hon. Michael Starr was born in 1910 as Michael Starchevski, to Ukrainian parents from the western region of Galicia. From Copper Cliff, Ontario, the family eventually moved to Montreal, to Toronto and then to Oshawa in 1921 where his mother had some Ukrainian friends. They settled in the south end of the city, close to factories as well as the Oshawa Creek. Michael attended Cederdale Public School, where his friend group was made up of others with Ukrainian or Eastern European background – many of whom also lived in the same area.

Michael entered the workforce in 1925 as a printer’s devil in order to help support his family (including his five younger siblings). However, his ambition for education remained high and he returned to complete an accelerated course at Oshawa Collegiate Institute (later named O’Neill CVI). This enabled him to work as a cost clerk at Pedlar People Limited, where he would gain increasing responsibilities over the years. As a result of his employer’s suggestion and with his father’s permission, he shortened his last name, Starchevski, to Starr in order for it to be more easily pronounced in English.

In 1933, during the Depression, he married Anne Zaritsky and they managed to live quite comfortably on his salary of just $15.00 per week.  They built a house at 25 Olive Ave. where they raised their son and daughter and continued to reside for the remainder of their lives.

In 1944, after several failed attempts, Starr was elected to the Oshawa City Council as an Alderman.  In the position, he is credited with making the City Board of Works into a modern and efficient department.  After five years on City Council, he sought and was elected as Mayor in 1949 and re-elected to this position in 1951.  During his three terms as Mayor, he oversaw many improvements in the City including the construction of the new municipal office-building, police station, fire hall and sewage disposal plant together with the annexation of a large section of East Whitby Township.  During this time, Mr. Starr managed to continue to work as Sales Manager for the Pedlar People Ltd.

In 1952, he was elected as the Member of Parliament representing the Progressive-Conservative party. In July 1957, Mr. Starr was appointed Minister of Labour in the Diefenbaker government.  This appointment made him the first Canadian of Ukrainian descent to be appointed to the federal Cabinet.   In September 1967, Robert Stanfield appointed Mr. Starr as interim opposition leader of the Party and House Leader until Stanfield took his seat.  In the federal election of 1968, Mr. Starr was defeated by a very narrow margin by Ed Broadbent, later national leader of the New Democratic Party.  With this election, Mr. Starr’s political career in elected politics ended.

The Starchevski family took part in Ukrainian social life in Oshawa, which included the Prosvita Society – a reading association where Michael’s father Matthew served as president. Other organizations were political groups such as the Ukrainian Labour/Farmer Temple and the Canadian Sitch Organization, which all served as centres for cultural activities such as musical and dramatic productions. The Prosvita Hall, for instance, sponsored a Ukrainian Athletic Club which excelled in softball. Mike Starr, the organizer, was willing to play any position and later served as coach and manager. 

The newer generation of Ukrainian immigrants revitalized community institutions, like churches and halls, and established their own. Still, the older community and the newer interacted, with the former helping the latter. Starr, who at this time was serving as Mayor of Oshawa, would welcome newcomers to the city. He would also present them with certificates upon successful completion of their contracts and help with finding other jobs or housing – overall leaving a very positive impression.

Victoria Szeczepanski, another participant in the Museum’s project who emigrated from Poland at this time, had a few remarks about her first impressions of Oshawa. She said the following:

My husband took English lessons at Central Collegiate, where Michael Starr welcomed us to Oshawa. He asked that the citizens of Oshawa treat the newcomers with respect. Some people treated us well, and with respect. Others looked at us as newcomers and would occasionally call us DP.

Looking around at certain landmarks – like the Michael Starr Building or the Michael Starr trail – it is easy to guess at his overall lasting impact on Oshawa. However, when hearing from members of the Ukrainian community, or from other cultural groups, it becomes even clearer. Each political success was considered a success for the whole community, especially since he was the first federal Cabinet Minister of Ukrainian descent. Indeed, his overall contributions to the political landscape – throughout his journey from City Alderman to Mayor to Minister of Labour in the Diefenbaker government, are fondly remembered.

Michael Starr died March 16, 2000 at the age of 89. He is buried at St. Wolodymyr and St. Olha Ukrainian Cemetery, located in south Courtice.

No matter where he was, it was said that Michael Starr was always thinking about the future of Oshawa.  In 1997, he told a story to the archivist for the Oshawa Museum. While driving along Highway 2, Starr said to his wife, “Anne, someday when you are driving through here it will all be lit up with houses and factories and everything.”  She said to him years later, “How in the world did you know this?”


Much of the text for this article was originally written by summer student, Mia, for a video podcast: Listen to Mia tell the story of Mike Starr here:

The Month That Was – September 1931

Vaudeville Revue for Grand Stand To Be Best Ever
Tuesday, September 15th, 1931 – The Oshawa Daily Times

The directors of the Oshawa Fair have gone to great lengths this year to secure entertainment of the highest calibre for the big exhibition which opens to the public tomorrow. The free entertainment which is being provided in front of the grand stand, in particular, will surpass anything formerly offered at the Oshawa Fair. Every afternoon and evening, in addition to the band concerts which are always popular at the Oshawa Fair, there will be vaudeville acts by outstanding artists and a musical revue which will be even greater than that which was presented last year. This musical revue, known as Webb’s Passing Parade Revue, is coming here for the third consecutive year, and it is announced as the biggest grand stand attraction ever seen in Oshawa. Many startling sensations in the way of special acts, with beautiful girls presenting singing and dancing numbers, and funny comedians keeping the ground in good humour, will be included in the program.

One of the main features of the revue will be the Great Lakes All Girls Orchestra, a musical organization of girls who have won a splendid reputation for themselves as musicians who can really play the best of music. The Resee Sisters, clever dancers, Mack and Sullivan, dancers and Singers, and other well-known entertainers will have a place on the program of the grand stand show, which is expected to pack the grand stand on both afternoons and evenings.

Port Perry Star, 17 Sep 1931, p. 5

Horse Race Revival at Oshawa Fair
Tuesday, September 15th, 1931 – The Oshawa Daily Times

After a year’s absence from the program of Oshawa Fair, this year’s Fair will see a revival of that popular sport harness racing, with some of the fastest trotters and pacers in the Dominion taking part in the trials of speed on Wednesday and Thursday afternoon. To make this revival of horse racing a success, the directors in charge have scoured the country to secure the entries of the best horses that could be lined up to compete, and each afternoon there will be two fast events, with handsome purses offered, and with the best three of five heats to count. The people of Oshawa and district showed in July that they were willing to support good horse racing, and so the Fair directors have tried to get the very best to satisfy that demand. Already many fast horses are on the ground, and have been showing their places on the race track, so that a large entry is assured in each of the four events which will feature the grand stand program for the Fair.

Storm Sewer Progresses
Wednesday, September 16th, 1931 – The Oshawa Daily Times

Construction of a new section of storm sewer on Simcoe Street, from Bagot to King is proceeding at a good pace and is providing work for about 25 men who would otherwise be unemployed. The new storm sewer has been laid for a distance of about one block and excavation work is now proceeding in the second block.

Canadian Statesman, 10 Sep 1931, p. 5

Subway Work Going Ahead
Wednesday, September 16th, 1931 – The Oshawa Daily Times

The paving work undertaken by the city’s Board of Works at the C.N.R. Subway on Simcoe Street South is progressing rapidly, while preparations for the laying of the lines of the Street Railway Company is also nearing completion. The present road, especially the approach to the railway crossing, is in a terrible condition and in its present state is a menace to the safety of all vehicles.

Mayor In Toronto
Wednesday, September 16th, 1931 – The Oshawa Daily Times

Mayor Ernie Marks was in Toronto today in connection with a meeting of the Associated Theatres organization of which he is president.

Grounds Beautiful
Wednesday, September 16th, 1931 – The Oshawa Daily Times

The fine appearance of the grounds at the Ritson Road Public School has been the subject of much favourable comment this fall. By means of well laid out flower beds and shrubbery the caretaker has greatly beautified the school surroundings.

Rides Were Popular
Friday, September 18th, 1931 – The Oshawa Daily Times

The ferris wheel, merry-go-round, whip and aerial swing did a rushing business in the Oshawa Fair midway last night. All these rides seemed popular with the large crowds which thronged the midway.

Repairing Silo
Saturday, September 19th, 1931 – The Oshawa Daily Times

Work of re-conditioning the silo at the City Farm, which was scorched in the recent fire which destroyed the farm barn with its contents, has been commenced. The silo was note very badly damages but on examination cracks and other faults were found in the concrete caused by the excessive heat from the flames.

Constructed Freight Platform
Saturday, September 19th, 1931 – The Oshawa Daily Times

In addition to the new freight shed which was recently turned over to the city by the Department of Public Works at the local Harbour, a lengthy substantial platform has been erected as an approach to the shed on the wharf side to facilitate the handling of freight.

Changing the Narrative – The Early Jewish Community in Oshawa

By Jennifer Weymark, Archivist

The Oshawa Museum is working on an exciting new project to celebrate Oshawa’s 100th Anniversary of becoming a city in 2024, a book on the history of Oshawa with a focus on research and stories that expand the traditional narrative.  The book will highlight aspects of our community that previous local history books did not.  It will be a book of unwritten stories, and it will help to tell a more accurate and inclusive history of our community. To that end, one of the focuses in the new book will be the arrival of the early Jewish community.  We are working with the Ontario Jewish Archives to research the Jewish families who arrived in Canada, when they arrived, where they settled, and the wonderful impact they made on those communities.  We have a summer student sifting through census records, newspaper articles, and other primary source documents, piecing together the story from a data perspective. The focus will also be on the cultural traditions celebrated by members of the Jewish community, and for this focus we are reaching out to the members of the local Jewish community for their help.

Oshawa Hebrew Congregation, 2021

For many years, the Oshawa Museum has highlighted and celebrated the Christmas traditions in our community, but this year we are looking to do something different. As a part of our research, we are working on a video project that will examine the family traditions of Hanukkah within the local community.

The aim is that the video will become a partnership between the Museum and members of the local Jewish community. The video’s vision is that it will highlight the history of the Jewish community in Oshawa and then turn to focusing on the holiday traditions that help make Hanukkah such a special time.

If you, or someone you know, would be interested in partnering with us and share your special family Hanukkah traditions, please reach out to us through email at archivist@oshawamuseum.org.