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!

Who Was John Baker?

By Jennifer Weymark, Archivist

John Baker is an important part of Oshawa’s history, even thought it is entirely possible he never spent any time here. Baker was one of two slaves granted freedom from slavery, along with land and money, in the will of their master Robert Isaac Dey Gray, Solicitor-General of Upper Canada. His connection to Gray, along with being named in the will, resulted in Baker gaining a level of fame and notoriety. A quick search on the internet turns up a surprising amount of information on the man and his life.

In a publication on the early history of the town of Cornwall, Ontario, author Jacob Farrand Pringle wrote about Baker and provided information about the life of the man though to be the last surviving enslaved person of African descent in both Canada East (Quebec) and Canada West (Ontario).[1]   The Baker family can be traced back to a gentleman by the name of Cato Prime. Prime was native of Guinea, West Africa before being sold into slavery to John Low of New Jersey.  Prime had a daughter, named Lavine, who in turn had a daughter named Dorine, all of whom were slaves to the Low family. Dorine was given as a gift to Elizabeth Low, the daughter of John, and came with Elizabeth when she married Captain John Gray.  According to Pringle, Dorine was 17 years old when the Gray family brought her to Canada with them.

The Grays resided in Montreal from 1776 to 1784 when they moved to an area just east of Cornwall.  Dorine met and married Jacob Baker in Gray’s Creek, the area just east of Cornwall named for the Gray family. Baker’s history is unclear.  In an interview with a Toronto newspaper in 1869, John says that his father was a Dutchman; however, in his book on the history of Osgoode Hall, author James Hamilton states that Baker was a German Hessians who served with the British Army during the American Revolution.[2]  Either way, Baker was a free man while Dorine remained a slave to the Gray family.  According to Pringle, the Bakers had a large family.[3] The two eldest children, Simon and John, were born slaves as the law at the time stated that children inherited the status of their mother. Two daughters, Elizabeth and Bridget, were born free as laws had changed prior to their birth.[4] Upon the death of John Gray, Dorine and her sons became the property of Robert Isaac Dey Gray, the son of Elizabeth and John.

In that interview with the Toronto newspaper, Baker recounts his life with the Gray family. Referring to John Gray as Colonel, Baker spoke of how strict his master was.

“The Colonel had much property; he was strict and sharp, made us wear deerskin shirts and deerskin jackets, and gave us many a flogging. At these times he would pull off my jacket, and the rawhide would fly around my shoulders very fast.” [5]

Robert I.D. Gray was apparently less cruel to those he owned. After practicing law in Cornwall for a short time, he went to York and in 1797 was named the first Solicitor-General of Upper Canada. Gray took Simon Baker with him to act as his body servant.

In August 1798, Elizabeth Gray was granted 600 acres of property in Whitby Township.[6]  It is this property that connects the Baker brothers and Gray to Oshawa.  Robert Isaac Dey Gray and Simon Baker died when the ship they were travelling on, the Speedy, wrecked near Presqu’ile Point, Brighton Township. In his will, Gray finally granted the Baker family their freedom. Gray not only granted freedom to Dorine and her family, but he also made provisions for her future.  The will stipulates that £1200 from his real estate holdings be put into a fund for Dorine and that the interest be given to her annually.  He also left provisions in his will for Simon and John. To Simon, he left 200 acres of lot 11 in the second concession, as well as his clothes and a watch worth £50.  To John, he left 200 acres of lot 17 in the first concession along with £50. [7]  Land registry documents show that the property left to John was finally transferred to him on June 12, 1824.  John did not keep the property, as records indicate the lot was sold to Martin Sanford on June 14, 1824. The records are difficult to read, and it is unclear how much money John sold the lot for.[8]

 

john baker land registry

John Baker’s interview with the newspaper gives us glimpse into his life as a free man. After Gray’s death released Baker from slavery, he began to work for Justice William Dummer Powell.[9] While with Powell, he enlisted with the army and went to New Brunswick, fighting in the War of 1812.  According to Baker, he was with his regiment during battles at Lundy’s Lane, Fort Erie and Sackett’s Harbour. It appears that Baker was in the military until after the battle of Waterloo, where he apparently saw Napoleon and was not particularly impressed. From his interview with the Toronto newspaper, “I saw Napoleon.  He was a chunky little fellow; he rode hard and jumped ditches.”[10]

Once his time in the military ended, Baker returned to Canada and settled back in Cornwall. He worked in the area until age caught up with him.  Around 1861, he received a pension from the British government for his time in the military. John Baker died on January 18, 1871.

At the time of his death, Baker was believed to be the last person to been held in slavery in the Canadas.  Many Canadians do not know that slavery existed here.  Baker’s life helps us to better understand slavery in the Canadian context.


Endnotes

[1] Pringle, Jacob Farrand. Lunenburg or the Old District: its settlement and early progress : with personal recollections of the town of Cornwall, from 1824 : to which are added a history of the King’s Royal Regiment of New York and other corps; the names of all those who drew lands in the counties of Stormont, Dundas, and Glengarry, up to November, 1786; and several other lists of interest to the descendants of the old settlers.  Cornwall: Standard Print House, 1890. Page 319.

[2] Hamilton, James Cleland. Osgoode Hall Reminiscences of the Bench and Bar. Toronto: The Carswell Company Ltd. 1904. Page 132.

[3] Pringle, page 319.

[4] Cornwall Community Museum Blog, “The Emancipation of Cato Prime & John Baker,” Published September 10, 2016; accessed January 22, 2019 from: https://cornwallcommunitymuseum.wordpress.com/2016/09/10/the-emancipation-of-cato-prime-john-baker/

[5] Pringle, page 321.

[6] Ontario Department of Lands and Forests. Domesday Whitby Township.  Page 174. Note, Whitby Township at that time referred to what is today the Town of Whitby and the City of Oshawa. The land that was owned by Gray was located in what is today Oshawa.

[7] In Pringle’s book, he notes that the will leaves 200 acres of lot 11 of the first concession to Simon and 200 acres of lot 17 in the second concession to John. The Domesday records indicate that the grants were for lot 17 in the first concession and lot 11 in the second concession.

[8] Ontario Land Registry – Abstract/Parcel Book, Durham (40), East Whitby, Book 189. Page 289.

[9] Of note, this is the same judge that employed Thomas Henry at the start of the War of 1812.

[10] Pringle, page 322.

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.

ArteFACTS – Oshawa’s First Steel Pan

By Melissa Cole, Curator

The Oshawa Museum recently received an incredible donation to our museum collection, a locally made Steel Pan/Drum.  This new artefact is a welcome addition to our collection as it supports our collection plan to encourage the collecting of artefacts that allow OM to engage with communities and cultures that are underrepresented in our existing collection.  Let’s take a look at this newly acquired artefact.

017.12.1a, b, c, d_3

Steelpans also known as steel drums or pans, when played collectively with other musicians, are known as a Steel Orchestra, also commonly known as a Steel Band.  A person that plays the Steelpan is called a pannist.

The steel drum accurately known as steel pan or pan, is part of the idiophone family of instruments and is actually not a drum, which is a membranophone.  They are the only instrument made to play in the Pythagorean musical cycle of fourths and fifths.  The pans are played with mallets, that have wooden handles and rubber ends.  The larger the size of drum, the larger the mallet head needs to be.

This particular steel pan was made and tuned by Carlyle Julal, who is a long-time member of Oshawa’s Club Carib.

Oshawa Caribs2

Not long after Club Carib got its start in 1966, they made a name for themselves by creating a steel orchestra.  Club Carib’s president at the time, George Kissoondath decided that their club needed something to celebrate Caribbean culture and bring it to Oshawa.  In 1971, Carlyle was approached with the idea of forming a steel band.  Carlyle, a native of Trinidad, West Indies had recently migrated to Canada.  As a steel band tuner, tutor and musical arranger, Carlyle was asked if he would consider forming a steel orchestra for the club.  With assistance from other Club members, they were able to obtain empty steel drums from the city dump.  At his home in Oshawa, Carlyle single handedly turned the empty steel drums from trash to treasure by creating musical instruments.

club_carib 1970s

The orchestra, known then as the “Oshawa Caribs,” had their first gig playing on a float in the 1971 Folk Arts Council parade, known today as the Fiesta Parade.  During the parade they stopped in front of Parkwood Estate to play Happy Birthday to R.S. McLaughlin who turned 100 that year.  After the parade they performed their inaugural performance which won them first prize at the parade!  They went on to other performances which included schools, shopping malls, church events and a formal recital at the Oshawa Public Library.   In 1996 the concept of another steel band for Club Carib re-emerged and the Oshawa Sounds of Steel was formed.  They continue to perform and entertain today at numerous fundraising and community and private events. Their most notable performances are during Fiesta Week at Club Carib’s Caribbean Nights pavilion and in the parade.

Lets take a look at the history and development of the steel pan.

First Pan

The instrument’s invention was a specific cultural response to the conditions present on the islands of Trinidad and Tobago.  Steel pan history can be traced back to the enslaved Africans who were brought to the islands during the 1700s.  They carried with them elements of their African culture including the playing of the hand drums.  These drums became the main percussion instruments in the annual carnival festivities.

In 1877, the ruling British Government banned the playing of drums in an effort to suppress aspects of Carnival which were considered offensive.  Bamboo stamping tubes were used to replace the hand drums as they produced sounds comparable to the hand drum when they were pounded on the ground.  These tubes were played in ensembles called Tamboo-Bamboo bands.

Non-traditional instruments like scrap metal, graters and dustbins were also used in Tamboo Bamboo bands.   By the late 1930s these metal instruments dominated the Tamboo Bamboo bands.  During World War II, the British Colonial government banned Tamboo Bamboo bands and forced people to look for other ways to make merry.  During WWII Trinidad was a refueling station for the United States and Britain and readily available were steel drums.  Constant pounding on these drums against the flat end left an indentation and the sound changed.  Through experimentation, coincidence, trial and error and ingenuity on the part of numerous innovators, the metal pan bands evolved into the steel pan family of instruments.

Oshawa Caribs Midtown Mall 1972 Cropped

The steel pan is now the National Instrument of Trinidad and Tobago, which is quite fitting for an instrument that was forged from the resilience of a people that were subjected to suppression and hardship.  If you are interested in discovering more about the Steel Pan, visit the Oshawa Museum’s exhibit: From Trash to Treasure: Oshawa’s First Steel Pan on display from February 27 until July 30 2018.


The steel pan was our featured artefact in January’s Podcast.  Visit our YouTube Channel for this and other video podcasts.

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.