The Host Files: Taste and Scent of Community: The Oshawa Bakery and other Eastern European Groceries

By Mia Vujcic, Visitor Host

When we are asked to share something about our heritage or ethnic background, food is often the first thing that springs to mind. In a number of previous blog posts, I explored different aspects of the research behind Leaving Home Finding Home in Oshawa: Displaced Persons and Stories of Immigration (open now in Robinson House!). As the title hints at, this exhibit features some of the communities and institutions which made up the flourishing multicultural landscape in post-World War II Oshawa. Although they were far from family and the once familiar rhythms of their daily lives, newcomers to the city at this time would have had several options to shop for culturally specific delicacies and ingredients.  

One such location was the well-loved and remembered Oshawa Bakery. The Oshawa Bakery was founded in 1920 by Fred and Mary Shelenkoff. The Shelenkoffs (who in one newspaper article are described as Russian immigrants) arrived from the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv to Montreal after World War I. Soon afterwards, the family moved to Oshawa where they opened the Oshawa Bakery on the corner of Stacey Ave. and Court St. There they had the space to keep a stable, for their delivery horses, and sheds full of other farm animals. Their five children each helped out in the bakery from a very young age, taking on more responsibility as they grew up. The business grew as steadily as the city did around them, necessitating a move to Olive Ave. 

Black and white photograph of a long, white building, and writing on the side identifies it as the Oshawa Bakery Ltd.
The Oshawa Bakery; Oshawa Times, 27 January 1982

By 1930, at least another two local businesses in the city specialized in Ukrainian groceries. These co-operative grocery stores were located at 212 Bloor St. E and 598 Albert St. – close to the Ukrainian Orthodox and Ukrainian Catholic churches respectively. During the period of the Great Depression, community-based resources such as these businesses would have been invaluable. Many recent immigrants in the city at this time had been laid off but did not wish to apply for welfare, as they were not naturalized and feared deportation. In order to get by, Oshawa’s Ukrainians (and many others) took on odd jobs, and a number of families grew their own fruits and vegetables. Additionally, the existence of these co-operatives hints at and can be better explained by the deep labour history in the city. 

Ukrainian Co-op Grocery, managed by Fred Yakimchuk, highlighted; 1930 Oshawa City Directory

Despite facing hard times during the Great Depression and shutting down for a time, the Oshawa Bakery also introduced two initiatives to help individuals in need. Due to their store’s proximity to the Canadian Pacific Railway tracks, impoverished travellers, or “hobos” as Shelenkoff daughter Leta remembered calling them as a child, would often stop in. They never turned one away, always giving them some fresh bread. The bakery also arranged to sell bread for six cents (below the cost of production at that time) for two hours each day at six other stores in areas of the city heavily affected by poverty. 

Until the 1970s, the Oshawa Bakery had door-to-door delivery, for which they reserved eight wagons. Leta recalls that she and her sister “would get out [their] little red wagon on Easter Sunday and deliver hot cross buns” to each house. The business progressively expanded, employing 35 full-time and part-time bakers and office staff in the year 1980. Throughout the decades, the bakery was kept in the family. It closed in the year 1990 when two of the Shelenkoff children, Vera and Lida, were too old to be involved any longer. 

Black and white photograph of three people inside a bakery with trays of baked goods in front of them
Inside the Oshawa Bakery; Oshawa Times, 18 October 1980

A lot of nostalgia is centred around a community hub and neighbourhood landmark like this one – where generations of families worked, visited, and gathered for over half a century. As Leta remembers, “Children were always specially treated, and often sent home with a gift of a roll or sweet bun.” The bakery’s permanent location at Olive Ave. was just across from St. Hedwig’s Polish Catholic Church. The bakery became especially busy after Sunday Mass, as Helen Bajorek-Macdonald recalls from her childhood memories. The bakery would be “jam-crushed with bodies waiting their turn at the counter” in order to buy “bread in the Russian language, Ukrainian, English, or Polish.” 

Newspaper ad for the Oshawa bakery's 60th anniversary
Oshawa Bakery Ad; Oshawa Times, 30 October 1980, page 17

Today, of course, there are even more numerous options for getting a taste of cultural cuisines in Oshawa. These include multiple other ethnic-inspired bakeries and delis and others which are centered at the city’s multicultural halls – which of course make up the well-loved annual Fiesta Week festival organized by the Oshawa Folk Arts Council. Some of the regular Eastern European originating pavilions include: Lviv (connected to Lviv Hall, next to St. George the Great Martyr Ukrainian Catholic Church on Lviv Blvd.), Odesa (connected to the hall at St John’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church on Bloor St.), Krakow (connected to the hall at General W. Sikorski Polish Veterans’ Association at Stevenson Rd. N.), and Poznan (connected to the Polish Alliance Canada Branch 21 on Olive Ave.). 

During times of celebration, just as in periods of hardship, preparing, consuming, and sharing traditional foods from one’s heritage is a source of comfort. As Ukrainians are again faced with war and displacement, we are reminded of the continued plight and resilience of refugees around the world. 

The Host Files: The Coming of the Oshawa GO Station

By Adam A., Visitor Host

Everyday, thousands of people get up and in one way or another make their way over to the Oshawa GO Station. The overwhelming majority of these people are heading into Toronto.

Oshawa stands as the eastern terminus for the GO train’s Lakeshore East Line. However, this only became the case in 1995. The story of how the GO Train came to Oshawa begins much earlier.

Oshawa had been host to a rail station since 1856, when the Grand Trunk Railway came to town. While mainly a freight route, a passenger service was provided by Grand Trunk initially, then CNR after 1923, and VIA Rail after 1976.

In 1912, a station for the Canadian Pacific Railway was opened near their railyard, yet it closed in the 1960s, once again leaving Oshawa with one passenger rail service.

Black and white photo of a train station with a number of people in front of the station
C.P.R. Station, undated; Oshawa Museum archival collection

GO Transit was established by the Government of Ontario in 1967, and almost immediately there were many who recognized that Oshawa’s future prospects would depend on getting a station. Over the ensuing decades many promises to extend the rail line east to Oshawa were made, yet they consistently fell through. Most notable of these being the GO ALRT (Advanced Light Rail Transit) project of the 1980s, which would have provided an express light rail service between downtown Oshawa and the Pickering GO Station where one would be able to transfer on a regular GO Train.

Black and white photo of a train station, with two rail lines in the foreground
Canadian National Railway Station in Oshawa, 1970; Oshawa Museum archival collection

As per Premier David Peterson’s election promise, the GO Train did finally come to Oshawa in 1990. However, it did not yet have its own dedicated line or station building, and Oshawa was served by exactly one train each way per day, leaving Oshawa at 7:17AM and departing Union Station for Oshawa at 5:33PM. Perhaps this lacklustre limited service played a part in why the arrival of the first GO Train in Oshawa was greeted by only 150 of an expected 400-500 passengers.

The Lakeshore East Line was only properly extended out to the Oshawa train station in 1995. With a dedicated double tracked passenger line, GO could extend its regular service out to Oshawa, though plans for the line to extend to the Oshawa Centre and downtown ultimately fell through. During the early ’90s, the GO Train only ran east of Pickering during rush hour, but high demand following the opening of Oshawa GO brought hourly service out to Oshawa.

Colour photograph of a parking lot beside a train station. The train station has signs for VIA Rail and GO Transit, and there is a sign identifying the station as Oshawa
Oshawa Train Station, 2013; Dowsley Collection, Oshawa Museum archival collection

The site had previously been the station for the CNR’s passenger service, and had been modified for use by VIA Rail and GO Transit in the early ’90s. The site underwent additional renovations in 2009 to improve accessibility. Between 2015 and late 2017 the site underwent another major renovation which brought the site to its current form.

Host Files: History of Dr. F. J. Donevan Collegiate

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 Karen A., Visitor Host

The Olive B. French Manuscript was written by Olive French, a local Oshawa woman, in 1968. The Manuscript gives a detailed history of education in Oshawa from the early 1800s until present time (1967). But what of Oshawa’s education after 1967? What happened to Oshawa’s schools? After doing some research, I have been able to fill in the gaps completing the history of Oshawa’s schools to our present day (2017).

Dr. F. J. Donevan Collegiate, a high school which was built in 1957 in Oshawa was permanently closed in 2010 and was recently torn down. The last class graduated from Donevan Collegiate in 2010, and the rest of the students enrolled in the school were relocated to Eastdale Collegiate.

Donevan Collegiate, located on Harmony Rd. South and Olive Avenue, first opened its doors to students in 1958 with a maximum capacity to hold 840 students, grades nine to twelve. The school saw an expansion in 1962, creating a larger cafeteria, a larger library and more classrooms.

The school was named after Dr. Frederick James Donevan who was born on July 18th, 1880 in Gananoque, Ontario. The Donevan family settled in Canada in 1850, arriving from Ireland. Frederick was educated at the Gananoque High School, later graduating from Queen’s University in 1907, completing his Doctor of medicine and master of surgery. He became an intern at the Civic Hospital in Ottawa, and practiced as a doctor in Seeley’s Bay, Ontario and Smith Falls, Ontario. During World War I Frederick served overseas for four years in England and France with the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps.

After World War I, Dr. Donevan moved to Oshawa with his wife, Lydia Evangeline Emsley, and daughter, Constance Marie.  In 1919 Donevan set up a large and eventually successful practice in Oshawa.

Dr. Donevan was very active in the development of Oshawa’s education and the facilities which were being built. A member of the Board of Education for twenty two years, Dr. Donevan was first elected in 1926. He was chairman of the Board in 1931 and 1932.

There was much debate over the closure of the school, as parents, students, teachers and Board Trustees had varying opinions. Factors in deciding the fate of the school was the decrease in population starting in 2009, when only 628 students were enrolled. That number was expected to drop by 600 in 2010, and 436 by 2016. In the end the school was closed after fifty-two years. In 2016 the site of the school was up for sale, as the Durham District School Board concluded the land was a surplus and decided to sell the nearly 13.5 acre site. At the moment I am not certain who has purchased the land or what purpose it will be used for.

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Image © Oshawa Express, accessed from Possible Buyer for Donovan Site, April 21, 2016.


For more information on Dr. F. J. Donevan collegiate check out these articles:

If you are interested in reading the Olive French Manuscript go to: https://olivefrench.wordpress.com/

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 been celebrating Canada Day for the last 35 years. It is interesting the changes Canada has gone through over the last 150 years.

The progression from British colony to independent nation of the Commonwealth was not as simple as turning on a light. In 1867 the British North America Act created Canada with its first four provinces and it allowed for some level of autonomy. Canada as we know it has been developing ever since then.

It was not until 1947 that people were ‘citizen of Canada’ previously they had been British citizens. Changes such as this, the introduction of our own flag and anthem were all steps in creating an independent Canadian identity.

Provinces and territories have been added to create the physical layout of Canada that we know today. The last change occurring in 1999 with the creation of Nunavut.  That is 132 years of changes to get to the country we recognize today!

This year is the 86th anniversary of the Statute of Westminster. Though 64 years after Dominion Day, it also had significant impact on the Canadian government’s ability to act independently from the British government. It provided clarification to the Dominion’s legislative independence, particularly in regard to foreign policy. More changes would follow to allow Canada to further act independently of Britain. I always think of it as a significant action in Canada’s independence, but really it was another action in a gradual progression to the country that we see today.

As I was writing this I was shown this CBC video which helps to ask the question of how old Canada really is. It is really cool and it highlights more notable changes that have occurred in Canada over the last 150 years.


References & Resources:

http://www.pier21.ca/research/immigration-history/canadian-citizenship-act-1947

http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/constitution-act-1867/

http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/statute-of-westminster/

Celebrating 60: Our Favourite Things

This blog series comes from our dedicated and awesome Visitor Host staff, and topics range from favourite artefacts, thoughts on our latest exhibits, and anything else in between!

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Kathryn’s Favourite: Granny Cock Portrait

Harriet, you often catch me of guard when I am in front of you in Guy House in the board room; your piercing eyes are always calling my attention.

Your eyes speak volumes to me; Harriet your story is one of being so brave, and determined. Yet the deeper I consider your eyes you are trying to tell me something different aside from facts.

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The facts are impressive though; you a widow at age 59 travels in 1846 by boat from England to Canada and let me say you were an old woman by that year’s standards. Please excuse me Harriet! You travelled with your daughter and son-in- law  and yes, the voyage was exceptional long and miserable and yes, many people died from either small pox, dysentery or measles.

Then once you got here there were no fine shops to buy another pretty delicate lace bonnet that you cherished or even the fine slippers that you are wearing right now. That wool shawl would have been perfect here, warm and practical.

Harriet Cock, I know you were scared as your eyes really tell me so; however, who would not be afraid travelling in 1846 to a new world! You took the risk; you came here as a pioneer and believed in this country.  Our country, Canada

Granny Cock, thank you.

You are my treasured artefact and champion here at The Oshawa Museum.

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Caitlan’s Favourite: The Music Box

There are many very interesting artefacts throughout the houses at the Oshawa Museum. It is a treat to see them, especially when you know that they still work.  On a rare occasion one of our music boxes plays. It has not seized up, nor is it broken. Many items over time would have been damaged in one way or another preventing them for further use or are to delicate to risk trying to play. This item is an exception. Done with care a few times a year this music box fills Henry House with sound. This sets it apart from many other items in the houses.

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By playing the music box you can be given a small taste of what life would have sounded like at the time. Just the practice of winding it and knowing how much sound it would produce and for how long creates a greater depth of understanding of people’s lives. It is a favorite artifact of mine for this reason. It provides an understanding that cannot be presented simply in writing thereby creating a fuller understanding of the lives people lived.

Listen to one of the Music Box’s as the background music in this video!

Carey’s Favourite: Thomas and Lurenda Letters

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My favorite artefacts would have to be two letters, one from Thomas and the other from Lurenda. I love them so much because of the content of them, that being the marriage proposal and acceptance. It’s strange to think, at least now, that you would be able to propose to someone in this way, and with barely knowing the other person as well. Two letters led to one big family, which led to even more interesting letters between Thomas and his children. Seeing the start of the family in black and white makes you realize how much has changed between then and now.

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Read about Karen’s Favourite Artefact HERE

Be sure to visit our 2017 Feature Exhibit Celebrating 60: Sixty Years of Collecting and discover your favourite artefact!

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