Dead Man’s Penny – Memorial Death Plaque

By Laura Suchan, Executive Director, and Jennifer Weymark, Archivist
This article was been edited from what originally appeared in the AGS Quarterly

 

The Government of Canada has designated the period 2014-2020 as the official commemoration period of the World Wars and of the brave men and women who served and sacrificed on behalf of their country. One of the most enduring examples of war commemoration  is the bronze “Dead Man’s Penny” seen on many gravestones in cemeteries across Canada. The plaques, resembling a large penny (hence their nickname), were given to families who had lost a loved one as a result of WWI.

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Garrow headstone in Oshawa’s Union Cemetery

Canada entered WWI on August 4, 1914 when the United Kingdom declared war on Germany. During the course of the war over 619 000 Canadians enlisted and almost 60 000 lost their lives.

In 1916, as the Great War waged on, the British Government felt there was a need to create a memorial to be given to the families of the war dead which would acknowledge their sacrifice. A committee was created and given the task of deciding what form this memorial would take; a bronze plaque officially known as the Next of Kin Memorial Plaque and a memorial scroll signed by the King was their decision.

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Memorial Scroll for Private Wilfred Lawrence Bancroft. Courtesy of the Whitby Archives

In 1917, a competition, open to any British born person, was held to find a design for the plaque. Instructions for the competition were published in The Times newspaper on August 13, 1917.  For example, any design had to include a symbolic figure, meaningful to British citizens.  Potential designs must also include the inscription “He died for freedom and honour” and provide space to include the name, initials and military unit of the deceased.

There were more than 800 entries submitted and Mr. Edward  Preston was the successful winner. His design, a 12 centimetre disk cast in bronze gunmetal, featured the figure of Britannia holding a laurel wreath beneath which was a rectangular tablet where the deceased individual’s name was cast into the plaque. No rank was included as it was intended to show equality in their sacrifice.  The required inscription “He died for freedom and honour” was inscribed along the outer edge of the disk. In front of Britannia stands a lion and, two dolphins representing Britain’s sea power.  A smaller lion is depicted biting into an eagle, the emblem of Imperial Germany.  With the conclusion of the war, over 1.3 million plaques were sent to grieving families throughout the British Empire. Plaques were sent to the next of kin for all soldiers, sailors, airmen and women sailors, airmen and women serving who died as a direct consequence of their service. Plaques were also sent to the next of kin of those who died between August 4, 1914 and April 30, 1919 as a result of sickness, suicide or accidents, or as a result of wounds sustained during their time of service.

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An example of the Next of Kin Memorial Plaque or Dead Man’s Penny. Photo courtesy of the Ontario Regiment Museum

The plaques soon became popularly known as “the Dead Man’s Penny”, or “Widow’s Penny” for their resemblance to the penny coin. There was no formalized etiquette for displaying the plaques.  According to Sam Richardson, assistant curator at the Ontario Regiment Museum, some families chose to do very little with the plaques, the memorial scrolls and King’s messages that came with them. Often these plaques would be hidden away in drawers or chests so as not to be reminders of their loved ones.  Others, however, went to great lengths to display it, with many families adding them to war memorials as they were built, or framed and mounted on walls in the family home or in a local community establishment the soldier was a part of, such as a church parish.  As time passed and military museums began to be established and grow, many descendants would also choose to donate the plaques to them.

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William James Garrow Jr., from the Oshawa Museum Archival Collection

The family of Oshawa resident William Garrow Jr.  decided a permanent home for his memorial plaque was most fitting and they chose to have it mounted into a gravestone.  Garrow was born on May 15, 1894 to William and Mary Garrow., the youngest of four children and the only surviving son.

At the time he enlisted, Garrow had been working as an upholsterer and living with his parents and two sisters in the family home on Albert Street. He enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) in Montreal on August 30, 1915 at the age of 21. He saw action overseas  in both France and Belgium.  Garrow joined up with the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry as a replacement on the front lines in December 1915.  He was fighting with the Princess Pats at that Battle of Mount Sorrell when he lost his life sometime between June 2–4, 1916. The family received official word of his death through a telegram. Although the final resting place of Pvt. William Garrow is unknown, he is memorialized as one of the missing on the Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium.

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The Next of Kin Memorial Plaque received by William Garrow’s family remains today  embedded in his tombstone in Oshawa’s Union Cemetery. It remains as a testament, over a hundred years later,  to a young man’s supreme sacrifice  and the depth of pride his family felt in his service to King and country.

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Publishing the Thomas Henry Correspondence Collection

By Caitlan M., Research & Publication Co-ordinator

In 2013 the museum received a box of jumbled up letters, receipts, and other pieces of papers which turned out to be a truly amazing donation as these papers were either written by or sent to a Henry family member. This became known as the Thomas Henry Correspondence Collection. Since receiving this collection, the idea of using the collection to help further understand the lives of the Henry family was always there but the time and resources were not available then.

Jump forward to a few months ago, a grant was received to hire a person to go through and create an annotated book. However, this book will only focus on the letters from a family member to family member. The idea is to go through and give the letters context; explaining the other names throughout the letter, the location from where it was sent from, any business ventures and all the other details.

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Thomas Simon (TS) Henry (A983.41.5)

For example there is a letter written from Thomas Simon (T.S.) and John Henry to their father, Thomas Henry. It was written in September of 1879, the sons mention they were not able to attend the Toronto Exhibition and later in the letter make a point of saying Thomas was there “to enjoy the Old Pioneer conflab.” This is all really interesting as the Canadian National Exhibition or CNE was originally called the Toronto Industrial Exhibition and its opening year was in 1879. Although his sons mention that Thomas was only at the exhibition to enjoy a conversation with the York Pioneers; a group of men formed to preserve York County’s early history, a history Thomas would have been a part of since he was a substitute in the War of 1812. The York Pioneers were at the Toronto Exhibition as they were moving a log cabin – the Scadding Cabin (originally known as Simcoe Cabin,) to its now permanent home.

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A001.7.6; letter to Thomas Henry from his sons George and TS.

I have also been making a point at looking at census records to see how the family continued to move around. Take George Guy, grandson to Thomas Henry, we have two letters written by him – from 1878 and 1879, both are written from Winnipeg. George was born in East Whitby, he headed west to find work sometime around 1878 and was able to purchase land in Morris, Manitoba. What’s interesting about him is two things happen in most of the census records; his location changes and his occupation changes.

  • 1881 Census: Location: Morris, Manitoba. Occupation: Cultivator
  • 1891 Census: Location: Morris, Manitoba. Occupation: Gram Buyer
  • 1905 Census: Location: Buffalo Ward 25, Erie, N.Y. Occupation: Carpenter
  • 1910 Census: Location: Buffalo Ward 17, Erie, N.Y. Occupation: Watchman – public school
  • 1920 Census: Location: Buffalo Ward 12, Erie, N.Y. Occupation: Engineer – public school
  • 1925 Census: Location: Buffalo Ward 12, Erie, N.Y. Occupation: Janitor
  • 1935 George dies, buried in Buffalo.

Although I am unsure why George moved around so much, I can’t help but wonder if it was to move closer to his new occupations.

The book will be published sometime in 2018 with the transcriptions of each of the letters and all of the annotations.


Transcription of above letter:

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Postcard sent to Thomas Henry from T.S.  and J. Henry (punctuation added during transcription)

Georgetown Sept. 8th 79

Dear Father

I am here today with Thomas. We are both well and healthy. We hope you are awe well as could be expected considering your age. I did attend the Toronto exhibition but expected to go to Ottawa the week after next. No doubt you was at Toronto to enjoy the Old Pioneer conflab to see Lawrence and the Princess and you could look ? on the Bay and imaginette great chougesuce(?) 1812 when you was a big boy in tall muddy York as you called it an you have a log cabin in the ? city. Did you see it?  I understood it is well put ?

 

*If you can add to this transcription or note any corrections, please leave a comment.

The Month That Was – November 1947

 

Nov, 1, 1947

POLICE NAB 3 IN $137,000 PAYROLL RAID
Boston, Nov. 1 (AP) – An escaped convict who jumped out of a fourth floor window in a drawn gun police chase was captured today and held for questioning with two other former prisoners in Boston’s day-apart payroll raids in which hooded gunmen snatched a total of $137,000.

George Hayes, 30, who broke out of State’s Prison Sept. 19, was taken after injuring himself gravely in a leap from a suburban Cambridge apartment house, police reported.

Another former convict was arrested in the same apartment building a short time later, making three ex-prisoners now held in connection with a Tuesday robbery of $29,000 from two firms.

Patrick Farina, third man arrested since the hold-ups, was charged with armed robbery in the $108,000 raid at the Sturtevant Division of the Westinghouse Electric Corporation.

 

Smashed Fence Most Serious Hallowe’en Prank
Chief of police Owen D. Friend said today that he “has seen a good many worse Hallowe’ens” and added that some of the acts reported were nothing more than childish pranks while others were criminal offenses against the public.

Possibly the near-full moon spreading its cool light over the countryside was a reason for Oshawa’s comparatively quiet 1947 Hallowe’en Police were a little busy but firemen had no calls and Fire Chief Westley R. Elliott remarked today, “I cannot remember when we last when through a Hallowe’en without a false alarm.”

Probably the most expensive breakage was done to a concrete and wooden fence recently constructed by Harry Cowley, 293 Gilddon Avenue. It was pure vandalism that resulted in damage estimated by the owner and police at nearly $100. Mr. Cowley said he had just completed the fence about ten days ago.

B. W. Haynes, 39 Park Road North, reported that a summer house in the backyard had been overturned. Although lifted clear of its foundation last night, it did not suffer extensive damage.

City fireman L. R. Little, 82 Oshawa Boulevard, said some destructive scalliwags tore part of the eave trough right off his house. “Just say,” jokingly quipped Mr. Little within hearing of the other firemen, “that I may suspect of my fellow workmen.”

Detenbeck’s Men’s Shop, King Street East, and Fred Guscott’s plumbing stockroom, 21 Church Street, received somewhat identical treatment when their windows were marked; the former with soap and Mr. Guscott’s with grey paint.

Rotten tomatoes and cucumbers were freely thrown about the property of Charles Carpenter, 215 Park Road South, and street lights along the unpopulated section of McMillan Drive were broken.

Motorists driving through the intersection of Mary and Hillcroft Streets last night were obliged to break down a tinny barrier of empty cans which caused a lot of noise and a few loud exclamations but no damage.

Chief A. J. Pierce of the East Whitby Township Police force reported the only damage he had investigated was the breakage of several large cement tile, the property of the Township.

 

DEER AT GOLF CLUB
Seventeen – year – old Jack Penfound, 39 McLaughlin Boulovard, strolling over the Oshawa Gold Club property yesterday afternoon, was surprised to see a buck deer springing across the links toward the west. He said it disappeared down around the creek bed. “It had beautiful antlers.” The boy stated.

 

Nov, 8, 1947

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Alexandra Park

In 1902, the Oshawa Athletic Association Limited was formed in order to purchase land to be used to promote community sports in the area.  Shares of the Athletic Association were sold for ten dollars each.  Names such as Cowan, Henry, McLaughlin, Robson, Sinclair and many others were supporting shareholders in this bold initiative.  As a result, six acres of land on the southeast corner of the present-day Alexandra Park were purchased.

Alexandra park

In 1905, the town council appointed a Board of Park Commissioners.  The mandate of this Board was to find and secure a site for sports and recreation, a fairground, and general Town Park.  Quick action was needed because the South Ontario Agricultural Society had plans to move its annual fall fair from Whitby to Oshawa.

Four properties were considered and a decision was made one year later.  It was decided that 19 acres of land adjacent to the six acres already owned by the Athletic Association would be purchased at a price of $150.00 per acre.

On August 13, 1906, the purchase was made.  On the same day, a 99-year lease was taken out on the six acres of land adjoining the 19 acres.  Together, the two pieces of land made up a park of 25 acres.  It was named Alexandra Park, in honor of Queen Alexandra, the wife of the then reigning sovereign, King Edward VII.

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Refreshment stand at Alexandra Park near the Grandstand circa 1918 (A983.28.11)

Soon, preparations for the fair began.  Six horse and cattle barns were built.  Buildings to house sheep and poultry were provided.  An exhibition building for the display of vegetables, fruits, grains, flowers and dairy products was also erected.  A special Ladies Building exhibited items of interest to women and provided space for financial headquarters.  Facilities were also provided for horse racing, motorcycle racing as well as for football, baseball, rugby and lacrosse.

The first “important” event to be held in Alexandra Park was the first Oshawa fair, which was held there in 1906, only a few weeks after the park had been acquired.  Both the baseball and lacrosse teams won their first games in the new park, and the opinion was expressed that “it was the best athletic grounds of any city or town in the province”.


References:

Newspaper clipping — History of Oshawa: Alexandra Park Was First of Public Parks Of    Oshawa.  By M. McIntyre Hood.  Undated

Sports Park Built on Trewin’s Hill,  By W. Ford Lindsay, Oshawa Times, undated.

Athletic Group Nucleus of Alexandra, By Wendy Corlett, Oshawa Times, January 10, 1981.

City of Oshawa Municipal Manual, 1956.  Page 119.

Oshawa Museum Archival Collection — Alexandra Park File

 

Street Name Stories: Building a Nation Part V: Durham and his Report

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

With the plethora of 150 commemorations taking place this year, I thought I could use my usual Street Name Stories blog series to throw another hat in the ring.  Looking at a map of Oshawa, there are a number of streets whose names are commonplace in the history of Canada.  Over the next five Street Name Stories Posts, I will look at street(s) whose namesakes helped contribute to the growth of Canada.  Missed the first four posts?

Part I looked at Oshawa’s Indigenous People
Part II looked at the early European Explorers
Part III looked at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham
And, finally, Part IV looked at the War of 1812 and figures of that conflict
As we know, the results of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759 was a completely altered political landscape.  New France was ceded to Great Britain; Britain found itself in debt over the Seven Years War and thought taxing its colonists in America would be a great way to solve this problem. Yeah, about that… Flash forward to the American Revolution.  The population of Canada grew steadily during the Revolution and afterwards as many who remained loyal to Britain moved to her closest colony. In 1791, the Provinces of Upper Canada and Lower Canada were created with the Constitutional Act.

The next forty or so years passed without major internal incidents.  There was, of course, the two-to-three years where we found ourselves at war against the Americans who were once again displeased with Great Britain. The War of 1812 had Canadians, First Nations, and British regulars joined against the Americans, and by December 1814, the Treaty of Versailles brought it to an end.

Repercussions from the Constitution Act of 1791 played themselves out in 1837.

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Battle of Montgomery’s Tavern, drawing by Charles William Jefferys. Accessed from the Canadian Encyclopedia

The people of Upper Canada at the time were displeased with the current form of government in place: an aristocracy, ruled by a powerful few.  They were nicknamed ‘the Family Compact’ and they wielded a lot of influence in politics at the time.

This feeling of discontentment from the farmers, labourers and tradesmen came to a head when on December 4, 1837, a premature call to rebel was given.  Between December 5 and 8, a group of about 1,000 rebels gathered at Montgomery’s Tavern in Toronto, and although this Loyalist militia quickly won initial small skirmishes in the city, the British forces were ultimately successful.  As a result, hundreds of men were arrested, some were sent to Tazmania, or Van Diemen’s Land, as punishment, and two men, Samuel Lount and Peter Matthews, were executed as a result of their involvement in the Rebellion.

At the same time, the people of Lower Canada were also discontent with the government, adding additional grievances of economic depression for French Canadian farmers in the 1830s, and rising tensions with the largely urban anglophone minority, all of which led to an armed insurrection between 1837-1838.  The two Lower Canada uprisings left 325 people dead, all of them rebels except for 27 British soldiers. Nearly 100 rebels were also captured.

The aftermath of the Upper Canada Rebellion, as well as a rebellion in Lower Canada, also in 1837, resulted in Lord Durham investigating the situations. Who was Lord Durham?

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Lord Durham, image from Library and Archives Canada (C-121846). Accessed from the Canadian Encyclopedia

John George Lambton, the 1st Earl of Durham was a politician, diplomat and colonial administrator.  He was born in London, England on April 12, 1792 to a wealthy Northumberland family.  Wealth opening up the doors that it does meant that Lambton was educated at Eton.  He was first elected to the House of Commons in 1813 and was raised to the House of Lords in 1828.  Upon the recommendation of Prime Minister Lord Melbourne, he was appointed Governor General and high commissioner to British North America.  He was tasked with reporting on the 1837 Rebellions.  Having spent less than six months in Lower Canada, he wrote the majority of his (now) famous Report on the Affairs of British North America, also known as the Durham Report, completed in January of 1839.

The Durham Report recommended the establishment of responsible government for the colonies, the merging of Upper and Lower Canada into a single political unit, which became the nucleus for modern-day Canada.  In 1841, the Province of Canada was created, Upper Canada and Lower Canada now known as Canada West and Canada East respectively.  Interestingly, Durham is not such a popular fellow in Quebec, as his report recommended the government-sponsored assimilation of French Canadians to the English language and culture. His particular assertion, that the French speaking population are people without history or culture, did not (and still does not) garner him respect within Quebec. Louis-Joseph Papineau, one of the top Lower Canada rebels, wrote his own response to the report, La Revue canadienne as Histoire de l’insurrection du Canada en réfutation du Rapport de Lord Durham (History of the insurrection of Canada in refutation of the Report of Lord Durham).

For a number of years, the government of the Province of Canada (Canada West and Canada East) met and was quite effective, however, by the mid-1860, it was clear that the system that was established by the Act of Union was no longer working.  Besides the political deadlock, other factors, including the desire to strengthen the colonies, the Fenian Raids, and the ongoing Civil War in the US, were factors for creating a new political union.

A series of conferences were held with the British North American colonies to discuss the creation of a country.  The Charlottetown Conference took place in September of 1864, followed by the Quebec Conference in October of that year.

At the Québec Conference, the delegates passed 72 Resolutions, which laid out a constitutional framework for a new country. The Canadian Resolutions outlined the concept of federalism — with powers and responsibilities strictly divided between the provinces and the federal government and they also outlined the shape of a national Parliament, with an elected House of Commons based on representation by population, and an appointed Senate, a framework still in place today.

The final conference was held in London in 1866, and on July 1, 1867, the British North America Act came into effect, creating the Dominion of Canada.

As for Lord Durham, he had been in ill health for much of his life, and he passed away in Cowes, England on July 28, 1840.

The Regional Municipality of Durham, the upper-tier municipality where Oshawa is located, is named for Lord Durham, as is Durham Street, located one street west and running parallel to Stevenson Road.