Canada: 150 Years… or is it?

This blog series comes from our dedicated and awesome Visitor Host staff, and topics range from favourite artifacts, thoughts on our latest exhibits, and anything else in between!

By Sarah C., Visitor Host

This year is Canada’s 150th birthday!  It has been 150 years since Canada became a Dominion. But oddly enough, we have only been celebrating Canada Day for the last 35 years. It is interesting the changes Canada has gone through over the last 150 years.

The progression from British colony to independent nation of the Commonwealth was not as simple as turning on a light. In 1867 the British North America Act created Canada with its first four provinces and it allowed for some level of autonomy. Canada as we know it has been developing ever since then.

It was not until 1947 that people were ‘citizen of Canada’ previously they had been British citizens. Changes such as this, the introduction of our own flag and anthem were all steps in creating an independent Canadian identity.

Provinces and territories have been added to create the physical layout of Canada that we know today. The last change occurring in 1999 with the creation of Nunavut.  That is 132 years of changes to get to the country we recognize today!

This year is the 86th anniversary of the Statute of Westminster. Though 64 years after Dominion Day, it also had significant impact on the Canadian government’s ability to act independently from the British government. It provided clarification to the Dominion’s legislative independence, particularly in regard to foreign policy. More changes would follow to allow Canada to further act independently of Britain. I always think of it as a significant action in Canada’s independence, but really it was another action in a gradual progression to the country that we see today.

As I was writing this I was shown this CBC video which helps to ask the question of how old Canada really is. It is really cool and it highlights more notable changes that have occurred in Canada over the last 150 years.


References & Resources:

http://www.pier21.ca/research/immigration-history/canadian-citizenship-act-1947

http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/constitution-act-1867/

http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/statute-of-westminster/

Street Name Stories: Building a Nation Pt. II, The Explorers

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 Post, I will look at street(s) whose namesakes helped contribute to the growth of Canada.  In Part I, we looked at Oshawa’s Indigenous People who have called the our country home for thousands of years.

The earliest Europeans to arrive at North America were the Norse who settled for a time at L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland; their stay was brief and did not make an overall impact in the settling of Canada.  Their story is an interesting footnote, but it is generally regarded as just that rather than the next chapter of our story. That chapter begins in the late 1400s.  At the turn of the 16th Century, a slew of European explorers began to take to the high seas and ‘discover the new world.’  In 1497, John Cabot arrived at Canada’s Atlantic coast and claimed it for England, and less than 40 years later, the French explorer Jacques Cartier sailed the St. Lawrence and in turn claimed it for France. Several attempts to colonize and settle in this ‘newly discovered country’ were made and generally unsuccessful; the climates were harsh and disease was prevalent. Nevertheless, trading posts and companies were also established, and in 1608, Quebec City was founded by Samuel de Champlain.

Champlain is an interesting figure in our history.  He was an explorer and cartographer who created many early maps of what is today Quebec and Ontario.  He established good relationships with the Huron (Wendat) peoples, relationships that helped the French settlers survive the Canadian winters.  In turn, hostile relationships with the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) were forged as the Wendat and Haudenosaunee were already opponents.  Champlain would travel back and forth across the Atlantic a number of times in his life, and he died in Quebec City in 1635.  New France would grow and thrive over the next century until the Battle of the Plains of Abraham.  More on that next month.

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Statue of Samuel de Champlain located on Dufferin Terrace, Quebec City

Cabot Street and Cartier Avenue are found southeast of King and Stevenson; other explorers in that neighbourhood include Frobisher Court (English explorer who sought the northwest passage), Valdez Court (Spanish naval man who first circumnavigated Vancouver Island),  and Vancouver Court and Street (another British explorer who navigated around Canada’s Pacific Coast and namesake for Vancouver Island and the City of Vancouver).  Champlain Avenue is found directly north of Highway 401 between Thickson Road in Whitby and Stevenson Road in Oshawa.


Want to know more about these early explorers? 

The Dictionary of Canadian Biography has in-depth looks at Cabot, Cartier, and Champlain.

For a more ‘readers digest’ version, the Canadian Encyclopedia gives an excellent overview of their lives and expeditions (Cabot, Cartier, and Champlain).

Archives Awareness Week: 1867/1967

By Jennifer Weymark, Archivist

This article originally appeared on the Durham Region Area Archives Group website to celebrate Archives Awareness Week. This annual event, held across Ontario from April 3-9, 2017, is designed to raise awareness of the many resources that can be found in archival collections around the province.


This year marks the 150th Anniversary of Confederation. The year will be filled with celebrations, retrospection and imagining where this country will be in another 150 years. To begin the celebration, member institutions of DRAAG have looked through their holdings to find the most interesting item from 1867 and 1967 in their collections!

On August 26, 1867 an Oshawa resident by the name of T.N. Gibbs received a telegram from John A. Macdonald.  The telegram is rather significant, not only because it was sent by Canada’s first Prime Minister, but it talks about the first election after Confederation.

Gibbs was not new to politics but this election would be his most notable. He ran against Reformer backed George Brown and Liberal John Sandfield Macdonald.  While Gibbs won, it was widely accepted that he do so by corrupt practices.

Gibbs was the only successful Conservative candidate in this area.  This meant that he acted as the local confidante for Sir John A. Macdonald. So much so, that we have another little note sent to Gibbs by Macdonald in our collection.

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A960.19.5 (60-D-19); from the archival collection of the Oshawa Museum

Canada celebrated the 100th Anniversary of Confederation on a large scale. Locally, Oshawa joined in on the celebrations as well. Between beard growing contests, NHL exhibition games and special performances, the City marked the anniversary in a prominent way. Students in Oshawa schools spent a good part of the school year preparing for a Centennial Celebration held at the Civic Auditorium. The program included songs and dances, art work and projects that highlighted the differences between life in Oshawa in 1867 and 1967. The grade 7 and 8 students from E.A. Lovell School actually put on a performance showing the differences in physical training in 1867 and 1967. In the archives, we have the binder that was developed to outline all of the activities Oshawa schools engaged in related to the Centennial.

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Be sure to visit the Durham Region Area Archives Group website to see what gems are in archives from around our Region and to learn more about local archives!

Oshawa in 1867

What was our community like 150 years ago?

 

In 1867, the people of Canada were participating in the growth of a new country.  They were concerned with the Confederation Bill, Fenian Raids, as well as George Brown representing reform.  Oshawa was still a village in 1867, and the people in it had a strong interest in the politics and events which happened outside of the community as evidenced by the news stories found in the Oshawa Vindicator.  The newspaper always reported what was happening within the community so that everyone could remain informed about upcoming and past events or notes of interest.

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Many of the villagers of Oshawa played an active role in the January 7th council election in the community.  During Election Day there were a number of close calls for electors who were voting for either S.B. Fairbanks or W.D. Michael, the two candidates for the Reeveship.  A number of electors had to climb over fences and through windows in order to cast their votes for either candidate before the polling booth closed and votes were counted.  Silas Fairbanks won his campaign for Reeve with 175 votes while W.D. Michael became Deputy Reeve with 172 votes.  E.B. Wilcox, J.W. Fowke and D.F Burk were elected as councillors.  D.F. Burk withdrew after being elected and Mr. Wall took his place.

Fairbanks

Within the community, people were close knit and participated in numerous socials and activities that were planned by various groups and organizations.  For instance, the Mechanics Cornet Band secured the services of an instructor and leader and then canvassed the village for funds and encouraged honorary members to join for 30 cents per month.  The money would help pay for music, uniforms and instruments.  Not only did the Mechanic Cornet Band begin in 1867, but the Young Men’s Christian Association was also started.  A meeting was called for September 6th, for young men of Protestant denomination to get together for the purpose of organizing the new YMCA in Oshawa.  On one occasion there were so many people at the social held at Mr. Pake’s home that the floor gave way.  Luckily a cellar did not exist below the floor so that it only dropped by a foot.  There were few injuries.  On other occasions there were musical evenings planned.  One such evening was held at the Son’s Hall where solos, duets and quartets were performed.  Vocal and instrumental demonstrations were also performed by Oshawa’s best amateurs.  The highlight of that particular evening was an account of his life given by P. Benson Sr. through the use of illustrated panoramic views.  It must also be noted that throughout the numerous socials and other events held in Oshawa, the 34th Battalion and the volunteer militia were constantly kept ready for active service against the threat of an attack by Fenians.

On August 15, 1867 citizens were able to participate in the excursion of the season.  A boat ride aboard the Corinthian which started in Colborne, picked up passengers in Oshawa at 7:15 a.m., and arrived in Niagara Town at 10:00 a.m.  At this stop the passengers boarded a train to take them to Niagara Falls.  Passengers then had a number of hours to pursue the many entertainments available at the Falls.  At 4:15 p.m. they reboarded the train and were steaming towards Charlotte by 5:00 p.m.  They arrived in Charlotte at 10:00 p.m. and eventually arrived back in Whitby by 5:00 a.m.  This trip was advertised as a moonlight sail on Lake Ontario.  Single tickets were $1.50 and double tickets were $2.50.

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Joseph Hall Works, Archival Collection of the Oshawa Museum (A987.25.3)

Oshawa also became renown through the industriousness of members of its manufacturing community.  W.H. Pellow and A.M. Walton, who opened a general hardware business in 1867, also manufactured a cheese vat which won a special prize at the Provincial Exhibition.  The Joseph Hall Works manufactured the Gordon Printing Press, which by the end of 1867 was winning admirers from various community printers outside of Oshawa.  As part of the early closing movement merchants entered into an agreement to close places of business at 7:00 p.m. throughout the year except in June, July and August when the businesses would remain open until 7:30 p.m.

There were a few fires and other accidents in the village.  In December slight tremors were felt from an earthquake that affected the eastern portion of the Dominion and New York.  There was a heavy snow storm at the end of April as well as a lightning storm which destroyed the chimney, stove and some windows in the home of John Sykes.  Mr. Atkinson, the druggist, reported the temperatures everyday from outside his store.  On Saturday August 18, it was 88 degrees Fahrenheit.

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Simcoe Street Methodist (United) Church, from the Archival Collection of the Oshawa Museum

New businesses such as the general hardware business of W.H. Pellow and A.M. Walton opened.  Buildings such as the new Methodist Church, on Simcoe Street, were built to accommodate the growing population of Oshawa, which in 1867 was 3 500.

Dominion Day in 1867 was a relatively quiet affair in Oshawa, even though it had been designated as a celebration of Confederation for the country.  The day started with the firing of guns and ringing of bells and many houses flew flags.  A picnic was held later in the day at Cedar Dale for those people of the community who did not go elsewhere to places such as the town of Whitby to celebrate.


Above taken from Historical Oshawa Information Sheet

References:
The Oshawa Vindicator, January 2, 1867.  Vol. XII, No. 18 to December 25, 1867.  Vol. XIII, No. 17.

 

Displaced Persons and Oshawa: A Memory Book Project

By Jennifer Weymark, Archivist

This summer the Oshawa Museum is undertaking a new and very important, oral history project.  The focus of the project is to collect the memories of those who arrived in Oshawa as Displaced Person after the Second World War.

The conclusion of World War II saw mass movements of people like the world had never seen before.  Canada opened its borders to help find homes for those who had no home to go back to.  Oshawa was considered an enticing place for many from the Ukraine and Poland as there was already a large, established community from these countries in the city.  It is these stories, memories and experiences of those who arrived in Oshawa that we at the Museum are working to collect and share.

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While Oshawa is known for its industrial past, it has a rich cultural history that should not be overlooked.   The people who arrived in Oshawa after the Second World War helped to create the Oshawa of today.  They brought with them traditions, celebrations and of course food that are have become a part of Oshawa.

The aim is to learn about what life was like in Oshawa for those who came as refugees of World War II. Where did they live before the war?  How was the boat ride over? Why did they settle in Oshawa? What were their experiences once they arrived in Oshawa?  The answers to these questions and more, will help us to learn more about Oshawa during this pivotal time in history and to learn about the impact of the war on a more personal level.

The information collected will become a part of the archival record and will be the basis of a museum exhibit.  If you came to Oshawa as a refugee after World War II or you know someone who did, please consider taking part in this project.  We have developed a workbook to collect the memories and it is available to download.  If you don’t wish to download the booklet, please contact the Museum and we will happily send one out to you.  Museum staff is more than willing to come out and speak to people or groups about the project and to work together to collect these important memories.

Download the Displaced persons in Oshawa Memory Booklet.