By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement
It never ceases to amaze that one research topic can lead down rather interesting roads. While researching Oshawa’s early Cornish settlers, I first discovered the story of John S. Larke. Larke was born in Cornwall, lived most of his adult life in Oshawa and died in New South Wales, Australia. His life was far from average and was fascinating to learn about.
John Short Larke was born on May 28, 1840 in Launcells, Cornwall, England to Charles and Grace (Yeo) Larke. Four years later, the family immigrated to Oshawa, where Charles worked as a miller. John received his education at Victoria College in Cobourg, graduating in 1861, before he took a position as a school teacher at Section School (S.S.) No. 7, East Whitby Township. His career in education would also include a tenure as principal at an Oshawa school.
From 1865 to 1879, John held an editorial interest in the Oshawa Vindicator, which was formally published under the auspices of “Luke and Larke.” This newspaper was known for its conservative leanings, as described in 1880:
It is an eight column folio, neatly printed and edited with marked ability, being an excellent country journal, a powerful exponent of the tenets of the Conservative party, and the oldest paper in the County of Ontario, being in its 24th volume
~John S. Larke, Canadian Biographical Dictionary, 1880.
In 1870, the Vindicator announced the marriage of John to Miss Elizabeth Bain, daughter of the late Richard Bain, Esq, married at the home of the bride’s brother. Four children would be born to the couple during their years in Oshawa: William, Frederick, Eva, and Percy.
John moved from the world of journalism to manufacturing when he took over as president and general manager of the Oshawa Stove Company in 1879. It was located at the corner of Bruce and Charles Streets, first being established in 1873. When operation of the company began, it had 30 employees, but due to larger competition, it unfortunately did not have great success. In the early 1890s, Larke was bought out by his partner, John Bailes, and the Oshawa Stove Company was eventually sold to William Cowan and the future Fittings Ltd.
While undertaking careers as a journalist and manufacturer, Larke also pursued his interest in politics. Throughout the 1870s and 1880s, Larke had become a fixture of the local Town Council. John served as both Reeve and Warden of Ontario County and in 1887, and he also spend time as Chairman of the Fire and Water Committee. In 1890, John tried his hand in provincial politics when he was the candidate for the Ontario Conservative Party, challenging incumbent Liberal Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) John Dryden to represent the riding of Ontario South. Dryden had been the MLA since 1879, and he would continue to represent Ontario South until 1905, winning the election against Larke in 1890.
By 1893 Larke headed Canada’s exhibit at the World’s Columbian Exhibition in Chicago, Illinois.
In 1894, John was chosen by the Honorable Mackenzie Bowell to represent Canada as the High Commissioner in Australia. The Town of Oshawa, appreciative of John’s service to the community, held a banquet in his honour before he and his family left Canada. In attendance were many of Oshawa’s noted community members, as well as Bowell himself. In November 1894, Bowell was the Minister of Trade & Commerce and acting Prime Minister; he would become the fifth Prime Minister of Canada upon the sudden death of John Thompson less than a month later. Speeches were delivered through the evening, and in his remarks, Larke said,
He could not leave the town of his youth, early labors and friends, which were the dearest ties a man could have, without feeling deep regret. He did not care to dwell upon that side of his leave taking as it was painful. He would rather turn to the more pleasant side; the gratifying pleasure of having the confidence and regard of the citizens of his native town.
~Dr. T.E. Kaiser, Historic Sketches of Oshawa, 1921, p. 127.
By order of the Prime Minister, W.R. Calloway, District Passenger Agent with the Canadian Pacific Railway Company, issued 4 tickets to the Larke family to Sydney N.S.W., at a total amount of $1108.83, and they sailed in January 1895. After arriving in Australia, the Sydney Morning Herald reported,
He intended to make his home in Australia, and was here for the sole purpose of furnishing merchants with information in regard to the possibilities of trade between these colonies and Canada. Several leading Canadian merchants proposed visiting these colonies for the purpose of satisfying themselves with regard to the prospects of trade.
~Sydney Morning Herald, January 9, 1895, page 7
John and his family did indeed make their home in Australia, passing away in Summer Hill, a suburb of Sydney, in 1910. He is buried in the Rookwood Cemetery. Thus ended the fascinating and whirlwind career of John S. Larke, a career in which he was able to dip into the discipline of teaching, journalism, manufacturing and finally politics.
Oshawa Museum, Historical Oshawa Information Sheets: John S. Larke.
‘John S. Larke, Oshawa,’ Canadian Biographical Dictionary, 1880; accessed from https://archive.org/details/cihm_08545
Dr. D.S. Hoig, Reminiscences and Recollections, 1933; accessed from http://localhistory.oshawalibrary.ca/pdfportal/pdfskins/hoig/hoig.pdf
M. McIntyre Hood, Oshawa: Canada’s Motor City, 1968, 63-64.
Dr. T.E. Kaiser, Historic Sketches of Oshawa, 1921; accessed from http://localhistory.oshawalibrary.ca/pdfportal/pdfskins/kaiser/kaiser.pdf
‘Other Foundries’, Industry in Oshawa online exhibit, accessed from https://industryinoshawa.wordpress.com/foundries/other-foundries/
Sydney Morning Herald, 9 Jan 1895, page 7; accessed: http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/page/1367966