Black History Month

By Jill Passmore, Visitor Experience Co-ordinator

This month I have had the privilege of visiting a number of schools and community groups to discuss Black History in Oshawa. My first lecture at an elementary school brought a profound realization from a few of the students. “I thought Black History Month was just about famous people,” they said after hearing about the Andrews/Dunbar/Pankhurst family. My mind was blown. They got it!

One of the things we are most proud of at the Oshawa Museum is our ability to tell the stories of everyday people, people who thought their lives weren’t special or they had nothing to tell. As a historian, I can tell you that these are often the most wonderful finds.

Years ago while I was working on the Olive French Manuscript, I came across a teacher named Wealthy Ann Shipman. In all my time working at the Museum, I had never heard that name before. I thought it must be a mistake, after all, Wealthy is not a common name. Wealthy was a teacher at Harmony School No. 1 in the early 1830s, who married Ackeus Moody Farewell Jr. circa 1835. It is possible she may have been named after the mother of a family friend, Wealthy Dunbar Andrews, one of Oshawa’s earliest Black settlers. Wealthy Dunbar Andrews was born around 1795 in Vermont, whereas Wealthy Shipman was born in 1813 in Quebec.  At this time it is unclear when the Andrews family moved from Vermont to Quebec, but research is ongoing.

During Black History Month, we make it our responsibility to tell the public about five generations of the Andrews/Dunbar/Pankhurst family. Wealthy Dunbar married Peter Andrews – a black woman marrying a free white man, as he was enumerated in the 1810 U.S. federal census. In the next three generations, there were interracial marriages and children. By 1861, after the death of her husband in 1851, the census records Wealthy living with the Shipman family.  Her daughter, Mary, and her family live in a log cabin on land owned by Thomas Conant . Interestingly, we can see many uncommon names appearing in both family trees – Wealthy Andrews’ daughter, Mary, named two of her children Marietta (1865-1911) and Lafayette (1858-1886), perhaps named after Moody and Wealthy Farewell’s children Marietta (1839-1877) and Lafayette (1841-1854).

File552 - Mary Andrews Dunbar
Mary Augusta Dunbar (nee Andrews), 1835-1887

This month also gives us the opportunity to discuss things like bias with the students. For years academics have argued the early Black settlers have been dramatically under counted in Canadian census record. This family highlights the problems encountered when looking at census records.  The 1851 census records the family as being “Coloured Persons/Negro,” the 1861 census does not note ethnicity, the 1871 census records the family as being African, and the 1881 census records the family as being of Scottish and English descent. These records show how difficult it can be to research early Black history.

We’re half way through the month and have already spoke to over 150 students about what life was like for Oshawa’s earliest Black settlers; this number will likely double by the end of the month. It feels good to know that we’re telling this family’s story, but there will be more. There is more. Research always leads to more questions! To learn more about the family and see photos, search for Black History in the top right hand corner and click on the other articles!

Ways the Oshawa Museum is Changing the Narrative

By Jennifer Weymark, Archivist

There is a saying that “history is written by the victor” and this is certainly true when it comes to Canadian history.  So much of our history, on a local, provincial and national level, is written from the perspective of European colonial settlers. This narrow focus has greatly impacted how museum and archival collections have been developed and has created an historical narrative that is not entirely accurate.

Throughout Canada, museums and archives are working to find ways to move beyond the colonial settler focus of our collections and develop collections that more accurately showcase our history.  The Oshawa Museum is working to fill the gaps in our historical narrative, to include more voices and become more inclusive by telling the untold and under researched stories of our community.  In Oshawa, our local history tends to be told through a lens of focusing on the impact of the wealthy industrialists and the companies they ran.  This is certainly an important part of our local history, but it is a very narrow focus and leaves out so many other fascinating stories.

One of the ways we are changing the historical narrative is through our research into early Black history in Oshawa.  Oshawa has had a small Black population since at least 1850, and that population has continued to grow and flourish.  The research has focused on the experiences of one family, the Andrews/Dunbar/Pankhurst family, and examines how their experiences fit into the larger context of the history of Black Canadians.  Research like this widen the lens through which we look at our history and works to tell a local history that better reflects what the community actually looked like in the past.

IMG_1415
Black History Month Display at Hot Roots Festival Launch, 2016

Throughout the month of February, the Museum has been celebrating Black History Month by reaching out to the community to talk about our research.  In fact, over the past month, we have spoken to over 400 members of our community about this research.  It has been truly rewarding to share this research with so many people and help bring focus to the rich and diverse history of Oshawa.

The Importance of Continued Research

By Jennifer Weymark, Archivist

For a number of years, I have been undertaking research into early Black history in the Oshawa area. This inquiry is part of a larger shift in our focus here at the Oshawa Museum.

Prior to 2011, there had been minimal research into the history of the Black population in Oshawa. Some initial work had been done examining census information but that was the extent. When we were approached to take part in Trent University’s inaugural Black History event, we realized how little time had been dedicated to this area of Oshawa’s history. The invitation to the event spurred a new project that helps to tell the history of a local family from the 1790s to today. It also helps to tell a more inclusive and, more importantly, a more accurate history of early Oshawa settlers.

1851 Wealthy Census p2.jpg
Portion of 1851 Census of Canada West; lines 40-43 are for Wealthy Andrews and her three children. The enumerator has marked the column for ‘Colored person – Negroes.’  Wealthy and her family were one of two Black families living in East Whitby Township in the 1850s.

This project signaled a shift in where we focus our research, to help fill the gap in our knowledge of our community. A great deal of research has been conducted on the many industries and industrialists who helped shape Oshawa; what was missing was looking into those who worked for the industrialists, those whose labour made the factories so successful, and telling their stories. It is the experiences of the “everyday person” who help to truly understand what the community looked like in the past and how it has evolved today. Currently, we are working to tell the history of women, those who arrived in Oshawa as Displaced Persons post WWII, the Indigenous population who called this area home long before European settlers arrived and those whose names may not be recognizable but who helped shape our community.

PicMonkey Collage
l-r: Albert GD Pankhurst (1885 – 1977), Ward D Pankhurst (1888 – 1978), and Greta Pankhurst (1895 – 1983). They were the great-grandchildren of Wealthy Andrews

I presented a paper on the research into early Black history at the Canadian Historical Association’s annual conference at the end of May. The paper discussed how shifting our research focus not only helps to tell a more accurate history of the community but helps to make the past more relatable the current Oshawa residents, strengthening the sense of community and spurring interest in our past with those who may not have been interested previously.


For more information on the Andrews/Dunbar/Pankhurst family, please read our three part series from Black History Month 2014

Oshawa’s Black History: One Family’s Story, Part 1

Oshawa’s Black History: One Family’s Story, Part II

Oshawa’s Black History: One Family’s Story, Part III

Oshawa’s Black History: One Family’s Story, Part III

By Lisa Terech, Youth Engagement / Programs

Welcome back to the third chapter in the story of Oshawa’s Dunbar family.  Last week, I talked about George and Mary Dunbar and their children.  Their eldest daughter, Margaret, was their only child to live to old age.  Today, I would like to share Margaret’s story, as written by her grandson, RB Pankhurst in 1991.  He was researching his origins in Oshawa, and summarized his findings in a narrative which he shared with the Oshawa Community Archives.

 

“George Dunbar, barrel maker, moved from Lower Canada to work at the flour mill located just south of Oshawa and met and married Mary A. Andrews.  The union was to produce 5 children… the oldest being Margaret Serene, born in 1856.  Only Maggie will live to old age…

In 1881, young Henry Pankhurst worked for Tom Conant as a farm laborer, just four doors down the street from Margaret Dunbar’s house.  The proximity offered the opportunity for the two to meet, become acquainted, fall in love and marry.  The marriage met with the deep disapproval of the Pankhurst parents which would result in a permanent rift between son and parents and the animosity of the bride which would last throughout her life.  that branch of the family would not have communication with the remainder for a least two generations…  

'Family Homestead' on Cedar Street, in Oshawa.  This house is still standing today.
‘Family Homestead’ on Cedar Street, in Oshawa. This house is still standing today.

[Henry and Margaret had three children].  The first born, Albert George Dunbar Pankhurst, left the homestead in Cedar Dale heading west.  When World War I erupted he joined the 28th Canadian Infantry Battalion in Winnipeg, was decorated for bravery in action, was captured, escaped and was finally demobilized.  He returned to Cedar Dale, met and married Martha Wiggins in 1920.  His siblings remained unwed and lived to their late 80s in the homestead in which they were born.  Ward Pankhurst was sought after by the local townspeople for his sage advice on all things.  Greta Pankhurst was as genteel, quietly effective lady who supplemented his worldly knowledge with her understanding of the local events and her reliable memory of events.”

l-r: Albert GD Pankhurst (1885 – 1977), Ward D Pankhurst (1888 – 1978), and Greta Pankhurst (1895 – 1983)
l-r: Albert GD Pankhurst (1885 – 1977), Ward D Pankhurst (1888 – 1978), and Greta Pankhurst (1895 – 1983)

As earlier stated, the story of the Andrews/Dunbar/Pankhurst family is one that is important to us, and we are always interested in learning more about this family.  We’ve made research connections in Quebec and in the US for this family, and we are always adding to what we know.  If you have any questions or have information to add about this family, please leave a comment, or email membership@oshawamuseum.org.  We also have an outreach presentation about this family, and we are always happy to tell their story, simply contact the Oshawa Community Museum.

Oshawa’s Black History: One Family’s Story, Part II

By Lisa Terech, Youth Engagement / Programs

Last week, we introduced you to the Dunbar family, its matriarch Wealthy Ann, and provided a little background into why we started researching this particular family.  We continue the story, looking particularly at her daughter, Mary Augusta.

Mary Augusta Dunbar (nee Andrews), 1835-1887
Mary Augusta Dunbar (nee Andrews), 1835-1887

By the time the 1852 Census of Canada West was taken, Wealthy Ann Andrews had just become widowed, her husband Peter dying in 1851.  Wealthy is recorded as living with her daughter Mary, son Freeman, and granddaughter Frances.  Daughters Sarah and Elizabeth are recorded as living with other families, likely in their employment.  All members of Wealthy’s family have been recorded as ‘coloured.’  They comprise 6 of the 17 Black persons living in East Whitby Township, as per the census.

Portion of marriage license between George Dunbar and Mary Andrews
Portion of marriage license between George Dunbar and Mary Andrews

It was a wonderful surprise in 2013 when an archival donation of Thomas Henry papers contained a marriage certificate of one Mary Augusta Andrews to Samuel George Dunbar.  The marriage was witnessed by Wealthy and by Thomas Henry himself!  One lingering question we have of the marriage is whether or not it was inter-racial?  It is very likely that George is of Scottish descent, but we can only confirm three records about him: his marriage license, the 1861 Census, and his headstone in the Port Oshawa Pioneer Cemetery.  It is interesting that Mary Augusta married a man with the same surname as her mother’s maiden name; for now, we simply chalk it up to a coincidence.

George arrived in Upper Canada (Ontario) sometime between 1851 and 1855, and on December 10, 1855 he married Mary A. Andrews.  They had five children together: Margaret, Marquis de Lafayette (known as Lafayette), Albert, and twins Jennie and Marietta.  Only Margaret lived to old age; her story will play out in next week’s post.

MD Lafayette Dunbar, 1858 – 1886, left, and Albert Dunbar, 1861 – 1881, right
MD Lafayette Dunbar, 1858 – 1886, left, and Albert Dunbar, 1861 – 1881, right

Family history states that George was a barrel maker when he lived in Lower Canada and he moved to Cedar Dale to work at Alexander Small’s grist and flour mill. Sons Lafayette and Albert were later photographed as employees of the Cedar Dale Works.  Lafayette was not only a labourer in Oshawa, but before he died was a landowner and a lawyer.

Tracing the family through the Censuses proved to be an interesting exercise.  Due to poor quality of the 1861 Census, it is unclear what the family listed their background as, however, we do not believe they were recorded in the ‘Colored Persons, Mulatto or Indian’ column which appeared on the census.  In 1871, after the death of George in 1866, the census notes that the family is of African origin.  The 1881 census states that Mary is English and the children, much like their father George, are Scottish.  What is the reason for the discrepancy in background, we cannot say for certain.

George, Mary, Lafayette, Albert and Jennie all lie in the Port Oshawa Pioneer Cemetery, one headstone commemorating their grave.  Marietta is buried along with her son, Alfred.  Wealthy and her daughter Elizabeth are also laid to rest in the cemetery, although they do not have a marker.

Dunbar headstone Side 1: M.D. Lafayette / Dunbar / died June 3 / 1886 / aged 28 years 3 mo’s 23 days / Mary A. / wife of George Dunbar / died Oct. 31, 1887 / aged 52 years / 4 months / & 24 days / Side 2: S.G. Dunbar / died May 30, 1866 / aged 35 years 7 mo / Dunbar / Side 3: Albert E. Dunbar / died Nov’r 8 / 1881 / aged 20 years / 9 mo’s 23 days / Side 4: Jennie E. Dunbar / died / April 27 1880 / aged 15 years 9 days
Dunbar headstone
Side 1: M.D. Lafayette / Dunbar / died June 3 / 1886 / aged 28 years 3 mo’s 23 days / Mary A. / wife of George Dunbar / died Oct. 31, 1887 / aged 52 years / 4 months / & 24 days / Side 2: S.G. Dunbar / died May 30, 1866 / aged 35 years 7 mo / Dunbar / Side 3: Albert E. Dunbar / died Nov’r 8 / 1881 / aged 20 years / 9 mo’s 23 days / Side 4: Jennie E. Dunbar / died / April 27 1880 / aged 15 years 9 days
Annis Headstone In / memory of / Marietta Dunbar / beloved wife of / Alfred T. Annis / died May 13, 1911 / aged 46 y’s 27 d’s / Alfred Ernest / Annis / died Feb 28, 1913 / in his 23rd year
Annis Headstone
In / memory of / Marietta Dunbar / beloved wife of / Alfred T. Annis / died May 13, 1911 / aged 46 y’s 27 d’s / Alfred Ernest / Annis / died Feb 28, 1913 / in his 23rd year