By Sara H., Summer Student
As my summer at the museum is wrapping up, it has been the perfect time to reflect on my time at the museum and how much I have learned about museums and Oshawa’s history. My last blog post talked about past industries in Oshawa that were featured on the Discover Historic Oshawa website. When looking through the website to find places to talk about, I came across the entry for the Lancaster Hotel.
Last summer, I was the Heritage Engagement Intern at the McLaughlin Library. When I was learning about the Oshawa City Directories, Nicole, the awesome Local History Librarian, gave me the name “Lancaster” to look up. The directories collection covers many years, but it was not until 1936 that I came across “Lancaster.” Charles Lancaster was listed as the president of the Commercial Hotel, located at 27-29 King St. W.; his wife, Ellen was also listed, as well as Kenneth and Reginald G. who lived at the same address. In 1941, Kathleen N. was listed as a stenographer at General Motors and as living at the same address. Kenneth’s name disappeared between 1937-1943, but I didn’t think much of it as I assumed he moved away. In 1944 however, his name was listed with a new title, RCAF (Royal Canadian Air Force). In 1945, Kenneth’s name was gone but a new name was added, another Charles. In 1946, Kenneth was still missing, but Charles had married M. Joyce, and Reginald had married Gertrude. I kept looking through the rest of the directories and noticed other changes with the family, but Kenneth never reappeared.
1944 Directory (Lancaster entries from 1944 Vernon’s City of Oshawa Directory, Internet Archive) and 1946 Directory (Lancaster entries from 1946 Vernon’s City of Oshawa Directory)
George Kenneth Lancaster was born on May 29, 1918 in Birmingham, England. His parents were Charles and Ellen Lancaster, and he had two brothers, Reginald Graham and Charles George, and one sister, Kathleen. The family owned and operated the Commercial Hotel from 1936-1975, and changed the name to Lancaster Hotel in 1957. Kenneth Lancaster attended Oshawa Collegiate & Vocational Institute from 1932-1937 for Junior Matriculation (high school diploma), and from 1937-1938 for a 1-year special commercial certificate. Kenneth was a professional magician and a member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians. His hobbies included skiing, swimming and photography. He worked as a commercial traveller (travelling salesman) for Carlton Cards in Toronto from 1938 until October 1941 when he was called up to the R.C.A.F.
I figured that Kenneth was probably in his early 20s and enlisted to fight in the Second World War. I assumed he studied and maybe worked at the Lancaster Hotel for a bit before going off on his own and working at Carlton Cards. His temporary absence from 1937-1943 worried me, but it made sense that he moved or started his training during that time. Seeing his name again in 1943-1944 was a relief, but I did have a nagging feeling at the back of my mind that something else caused his disappearance. Once I searched his name, “George Kenneth Lancaster,” the first search result I was met with was a page from Canadian Virtual War Memorial. Flying Officer George Kenneth Lancaster, son of Charles and Ellen Lancaster, was killed in action on June 13, 1944 at the age of 26. Kenneth is buried at the Poix-de-Picardie Churchyard in France with the rest of the crew. Their names are Flying Officer John Frederick Wyllie, Flying Officer John Samuel Ritchie, Flying Officer George Kenneth Lancaster, Pilot Officer Douglas Idris Davies, Pilot Officer James Edward Byers, Pilot Officer Mungo William Couper, and Sergeant William Duncan.
I found a copy of Kenneth’s World War II Record and Service File on Ancestry, and through these I was able to create a more complete picture of his life. I saw the forms he had filled out, complete with his signature, and one where he listed his hobbies useful to the R.C.A.F. as “professional magician and photography.” I saw the forms where he listed his father as who to contact in case of causality and his mother as the sole beneficiary of his will. I saw the forms that confirmed who his siblings were, who his parents were, where he attended school and where he lived. And finally, I saw the report created concerning his death and the letters sent to his parents notifying them of the renumbering of Kenneth’s grave and awarding their son the Operational Wings and Certificate in recognition of the gallant services rendered by Kenneth.
I found out that we both attended the same high school, albeit 81 years apart, and lived in Oshawa. Kenneth was 26 when he died, and many of his crew members were around the same age, which is close to the age of my friends and I. Even though I did the majority of my research last summer, reviewing it and finding out more information about Kenneth, the crew and his family made me think more about what life was like during the Second World War and how families, like mine and Kenneth’s, would have had to deal with it and the constant stream of loss. Even though I have no connection to the Lancaster family, I still felt a great deal of sadness upon learning about Kenneth’s death and I cannot imagine what his family must have felt when they learned. This experience made me realize that you can make connections with individuals even with the barrier of history in between; and even though the hotel is no longer standing, the lives and stories of the people who lived and worked there are still available to us.
Ancestry.com. Canada, World War II Records and Service Files of War Dead, 1939-1947 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry Operations, Inc., 2015. Original data: Service Files of the Second World War―War Dead, 1939–1947. Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, Canada. George Lancaster file, pages 153-210. Accessed from: https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/9145/images/44485_83024005549_0573-00153?treeid=&personid=&hintid=&queryId=17b1eb71bc87746257e717e899cac81f&usePUB=true&_phsrc=kIK8&_phstart=successSource&usePUBJs=true&_gl=1*16ykklw*_ga*MjAwMjk3NTQ2Ny4xNjU5NDQyOTM1*_ga_4QT8FMEX30*MTY1OTQ0MjkzNS4xLjEuMTY1OTQ0MzMwNC4w&_ga=2.22429499.1230264848.1659442937-2002975467.1659442935&pId=202
Canadian Virtual War Memorial – https://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/remembrance/memorials/canadian-virtual-war-memorial/detail/2847022
Commonwealth War Graves – https://www.cwgc.org/find-records/find-war-dead/casualty-details/2847022/george-kenneth-lancaster/
Discover Historic Oshawa: Lancaster Hotel – http://discoverhistoricoshawa.com/listings/lancaster-hotel/
Find a Grave –
Graves Registration Report, Commonwealth War Graves – https://www.cwgc.org/find-records/find-war-dead/casualty-details/2847022/george-kenneth-lancaster/#&gid=1&pid=1
Oshawa’s Book of Remembrance, Oshawa Public Libraries Heritage Collection – https://images.ourontario.ca/oshawa/details.asp?ID=3688171&n=1