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.


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.

William Smith and the Conservative Demonstration of 1911

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

In 1911, Canada was a much different place.  Our Prime Minister was Wilfrid Laurier, a PM who when faced with large national issues, attempted to find middle ground between the expectations of English Canada and French Canada.  Often, the end result was displeasure by both sides.  Laurier faced many issues during his 15 years as Prime Minister that found him trying to maintain peace between the two passionate groups, including participation in the Boer War, the Manitoba Schools Question, and the Naval Service Bill, and ultimately it was the issue of reciprocity with the US that saw a change in government, bringing the Conservatives to power in 1911.

William Smith, From the Parliament of Canada's Website
William Smith, From the Parliament of Canada’s Website

For the riding of Ontario South, William Smith was elected as a Conservative Member of Parliament.  William, or Billy, Smith was a Columbus native who worked as a breeder, farmer, and importer.  His farm in Columbus was 267 acres, and Smith was regarded as a progressive and prosperous agriculturalist, not afraid to engage with the ‘improved methods’ of farming.  The south wing of the main house was originally an old inn known as the ‘West Country Inn’ and was a halfway house for farmers and traders.

When he was elected in 1911, he was no novice when it came to politics.  Smith was first elected as an MP in 1887 and was re-elected in a by-election 1892.  In the 1911 election, the main issue was reciprocity, or free trade with the United States.  The Conservative Party, led by Robert Borden, was staunchly against this, and fear of American influence and/or annexation was one argument they used against the Liberals.  The Conservatives won the election with a majority government, and a Conservative Smith won the local riding of Ontario South.  As reported in the Whitby Chronicle, the election of Smith and the Conservatives was indicative that “so far as this riding was concerned reciprocity had received a knock-out blow.”

The Conservative Demonstration, 1911; from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection
The Conservative Demonstration, 1911; from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection

The Conservative victory was celebrated throughout the riding.  Election night saw celebrations in Whitby, and the following day, “an automobile procession left Oshawa for Pickering, Brougham, Claremont, Ashburn and Port Perry.”  The parade in Oshawa was complete with the motorcade, men on horses, and bands, and the event was photographed as it made its way eastbound along King Street.  A number of the images were in turn made into postcards, five of which are part of the Oshawa Community Archives’ Postcard Collection.

The Conservative Demonstration, 1911; from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection
The Conservative Demonstration, 1911; from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection
The Conservative Demonstration, 1911; from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection
The Conservative Demonstration, 1911; from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection
The Conservative Demonstration, 1911; from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection
The Conservative Demonstration, 1911; from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection

Interestingly enough, the Oshawa Community Museum has an artifact in its holdings related to WIlliam Smith: this butter paddle, engraved with “John Smith’s Print, 1808,” owned by William’s grandfather.

960.54.2 - Butter Press owned by John Smith, dated 1808
960.54.2 – Butter Press owned by John Smith, dated 1808

The Conservative Demonstration postcard, and other postcards from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection will be on display in Guy House in April 2015 in celebration of Archives Awareness.  Be sure to visit!

“Yesterday They All Went Gathering Maple Leaves” – The National Flag Turns 50

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

Today, it is so synonymous with Canadian identity – wearing a maple leaf immediately identifies you as a Canadian.  It flies from sea to sea on flag poles, from masts, even on the sides of cars, and it has been sewn, adorned, and even tattooed.  It flies proudly in celebration, and is respectfully lowered in mourning.

From the Oshawa Times, February 15, 1965, page 1
From the Oshawa Times, February 15, 1965, page 1

The implementation of the Maple Leaf as the National Flag was not without controversy.  Canada had been a country for almost a century before we officially had a unique emblem of our own.  The flag was inaugurated on February 15, 1965, after years of heated and passionate debates.  Talks of a distinctive flag for Canada had been taking place for decades before Prime Minister Lester Pearson made it a priority, promising in the 1963 election to have a new flag for Canada within two years.  This promise placed a certain urgency on the issue, as no one before had placed a timeline on establishing a new flag.  John Diefenbaker, ousted as Prime Minister by Pearson in the ’63 election, was adamantly against the issue and proved to be the chief opponent throughout the Flag Debate.

PM Lester B. Pearson at a press conference for the flag, December 1964; from Library & Archives Canada
PM Lester B. Pearson at a press conference for the flag, December 1964; from Library & Archives Canada

Prominence was placed on the issue in mid-1964, and by that autumn, a committee was established to debate the issue and ultimately decide on a course of action.  There were thousands of opinions on what should or should not be included in the design, and several options were put forth.  Ultimately, it came down to two options: the ‘Pearson Pendant’ featuring three red maple leaves on white, bordered by two bars of blue, and a design by historian George Stanley.  Stanley’s design featured a single maple leaf centred in a white square, with two bars of red on either side.  It was Stanley’s design that was chosen by the committee, and on December 15, 1964, Parliament voted 163 to 78 in favour of adopting the red and white flag.  After Official Royal Proclamation on January 28, the new flag was raised for the first time at the Peace Tower at noon, February 15, 1965.

The Union Jack (above), and the Canadian Red Ensign, 1957-1965 (below), from Library & Archives Canada
The Union Jack (above), and the Canadian Red Ensign, 1957-1965 (below); from Library & Archives Canada

The Royal Proclamation described the new flag as such:

 “a red flag of proportions two by length and one by width, containing in its centre a white square the width of the flag bearing a single red maple leaf, or, in heraldic terms described as gules on a Canadian pale argent a maple leaf of the first”

As would be expected, the flag debate saw many come out in favour of the new design, and others were opposed to the change.  One of the strongest opponents, besides Diefenbaker, was the Royal Canadian Legion, who placed high regard on the traditions that were established with the Red Ensign design.

In Ottawa, at the official inauguration, Prime Minister Pearson expressed the following sentiments about the new flag, saying, “Under this flag may our youth find new inspiration for loyalty to Canada; for a patriotism based not on any mean or narrow nationalism but on the deep and equal pride that all Canadians will feel for every part of this good land.”

The first raising of the Canadian Flag at Parliament Hill, from Library & Archives Canada
The first raising of the Canadian Flag at Parliament Hill; from Library & Archives Canada

On February 15, while the new flag was being raised with the proper pomp and circumstance in Ottawa, similar ceremonies took place at provincial parliaments and local governments, Oshawa not excluded.  However, the ceremony at Oshawa did not go smoothly; it was unclear if there would even be a new flag to raise!  Due to high demand and low stock from suppliers, Oshawa did not receive its flag until 17 minutes before it was supposed to be raised!  In fact, due to the rush and uncertainty, two councillors were unintentionally uninvited to this ceremony.  Alderman Hayward Murdoch, Property Committee Chairman, took responsibility for this oversight, saying councillors were not notified on the Friday before because the flags had not arrived, and if there were not flags, there would not be a ceremony.  Ultimately, the flags arrived and were unfurled at noon.

Many schools and businesses may have been flying the Ensign or Union Jack on February 15 simply because the Maple Leaf flag was so difficult to attain because demand was so high.  Many banks commented that they were simply waiting for their flag to arrive and were flying the Ensign/Union Jack or leaving their poles bare until it did.  The Oshawa Times reported on who was flying what, and they remarked at the end of the article that the Oshawa Yacht Club at the lake had no flag flying, “nor did the Henry House Museum just up the street.”

The Union Jack flying in Memorial Park on February 15, 1965.  From the Oshawa Times, February 16, 1965
The Union Jack flying in Memorial Park on February 15, 1965. From the Oshawa Times, February 16, 1965

Perhaps the most endearing local story from February 15, 1965 came from Donovan Collegiate.  The art department ‘hastily put together’ a maple leaf flag that was proudly hoisted on the school’s flag pole; the following day, they were again hard at work, manufacturing a more sturdy flag that could replace the ‘rather flimsy original.’  Flimsy or not, instead of flying the Union Jack or flying nothing at all, Donovan students displayed the national spirit that Prime Minister Pearson hoped this new symbol would bring about.

Students at Donovan Collegiate raising their handmade flag, from the Oshawa Times, February 16, 1965
Students at Donovan Collegiate raising their handmade flag, from the Oshawa Times, February 16, 1965

As our flag turns fifty years young, it has given Canadians a chance to reflect on our country and what being Canadian means and represents.  The Maple Leaf is symbolic of so many things, including our history and heritage. Happy birthday National Flag!

Within my heart, above my home,
The Maple Leaf forever!

Remembering the Empress

By Lisa Terech, Youth Engagement / Programs

You would be hard pressed to find someone who is not aware of the Titanic disaster.  If there was ever any doubt, a certain blockbuster secured its place in infamy.  However, mention the ship, the Empress of Ireland, and recognition typically decreases.  This year marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Empress of Ireland, a disaster which took the lives of 1,012 people, and it remains Canada’s worst maritime disaster to happen in peacetime.  Commemorations have been taking place this week to mark the anniversary and to remember those on board.  There are hundreds of stories that could be told about the ship and her passengers; today I would like to share three.

But first, background.  The Empress of Ireland first launched in January of 1906.  She was constructed in England by the Fairfield Shipbuilding & Engineering Co. and was owned by the Canadian Pacific Steamship Company along with her sister ship, the Empress of Britain.  She had made hundreds of trans-Atlantic crossings before May 1914 when she departed Quebec for her first voyage of the year.  On board, there was 167 members of the Salvation Army, actors Laurence Irving and Mabel Hackney, and explorer/politician Sir Henry Seton-Karr.

The Empress of Ireland, photo from Site Historique Maritime de la Pointe au Pere
The Empress of Ireland, photo from Site Historique Maritime de la Pointe au Pere

In the very early morning hours of May 29, the Empress of Ireland collided with a collier, the Storstad, and sank to the bottom of the St. Lawrence River in only 14 minutes. There were 1,477 people on board; 1,012 did not survive.  The Empress is commemorated at the site historique maritime de la Pointe-au-Père, a museum in Rimouski, Quebec

The Irvings

Earlier this year, after perusing through our postcard collection, my attention was captured by a simple photograph of the profile of a man and woman, with the inscription, “Laurence Irving—Mabel Hackney in The Affinity (The Incubus).”

Laurence Irving (1871-1914) was a noted British actor and playwright, the son of Sir Henry Irving, who was also a noted actor and stage manager.  Laurence married Mabel Hackney (1872-1914) in 1903.  They would often appear on stage together.

Postcard of Laurence Irving and Mabel Hackney
Postcard of Laurence Irving and Mabel Hackney, Oshawa Community Archives Collection

The Affinity, or The Incubus as it was also titled, was a play the pair toured with during the 1909/1910 season.  It was based on Eugène Brieux’s Les Hannetons, and Irving translated the play himself.  Toronto’s Royal Alexandra Theatre advertised that they would be showing this production before the Spring of 1910, and it also showed in New York, with critics declaring it “one of the most entertaining plays of the season,” “well worth seeing,” and “punctuated by appreciative laughter.”

During the Spring of 1914, the couple embarked on a cross Canada tour, performing four shows: Typhoon, Unwritten Law, The Importance of Being Earnest, and The Lily.  The tour wrapped in late May, and the Irvings, anxious to return home to England, booked passage on the Empress of Ireland; the majority of their company were to sail a few days later onboard the Teutonic. The Irvings did not survive the sinking.

Grace Hanagan

On July 7, 1906, Grace Hanagan was born in Oshawa, a daughter to Edward James Hanagan and Edith Collishaw.  The family was residing on Metcalfe Street at the time, but they would later relocate to Toronto.  Edward was the bandmaster for the Salvation Army, and their family was destined for England for the Salvation Army’s third International Congress. Edward made a stop in Oshawa and visited with friends on his way to Montreal to board the ship. Grace was the youngest person to survive the sinking, and she was one of only four children to survive.  Her parents both perished.  Grace became the last living survivor of the Empress of Ireland before she passed away in 1995.

The Hanagan Family. Grace Hanagan, left, was 1 of 4 children to survive the sinking. She was born in Oshawa in 1906. Photo from http://www.empress2014.ca/
The Hanagan Family. Grace Hanagan, left, was 1 of 4 children to survive the sinking. She was born in Oshawa in 1906.
Photo from http://www.empress2014.ca/

May Blakeburn

May was born in 1890 in Sunderland, County Durham, England, the youngest of three girls.  In 1912, she travelled to Canada to work for the family of Walter Black in Halifax.  She had been in Canada for 18 months when she boarded the Empress of Ireland to return home.  She was travelling 3rd class and did not survive the sinking.

The Empress of Ireland is often referred to as the Forgotten Empress as the story is not known to many, but I have known about this disaster for many years. I wrote many a research paper in University about the Empress.  In my research, I happened across a newsclipping in the Halifax Herald from after the sinking, profiling passengers on board the ship from Halifax and area.  May was mentioned in this article, and it was said that she was ‘much liked by those who knew her.’

The Blakeburn family, circa 1895.  May Blakeburn, right, was 24 when she was on board the Empress
The Blakeburn family, circa 1895. May Blakeburn, right, was 24 when she was on board the Empress

May Blakeburn is the reason why I am drawn to the story of the Empress of Ireland and why I have known about it for several years.  May Blakeburn was my two-times great aunt (my grandmother’s aunt).

Today, we remember the Empress.

Oshawa Celebrates Canada Day

On July 1, 1867, The British North America Act came into effect on July 1, 1867, uniting the provinces of Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick as “One Dominion under the name of Canada. “

From the Oshawa Daily Reformer, 1927
From the Oshawa Daily Reformer, 1927

In Oshawa, the passing of the BNA Act was a relatively quiet affair, 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.   There was a parade along King Street and speeches were given in front of Gibb’s Store and Fowke’s. A picnic was held later in the day at Cedar Dale for those people of the community who did not go elsewhere such as the town of Whitby to celebrate.  It is estimated that 7,000 were present for the events in Whitby.

On June 20, 1868, a proclamation of Governor General Lord Monck called upon all Canadians to join in the celebration of the anniversary of the formation of Canada on July 1st.  The proclamation stated, “Now Know Ye, that I, Charles Stanley Viscount Monck, Governor General of Canada, do hereby proclaim and appoint WEDNESDAY, the FIRST day of JULY next, as the day on which the Anniversary of the formation of the Dominion a Canada be duly celebrated. And I do hereby enjoin and call upon all Her Majesty’s loving subjects throughout Canada to join in the due and proper celebration of the said Anniversary on the said FIRST day of JULY next.”

Oshawa residents observed this proclamation and celebrated the one year anniversary of Confederation.  The Oshawa Vindicator reported on July 8, 1868 that the 34th Battalion (later renamed the Ontario Regiment) assembled at 3 o’clock on Dominion Day on the Agricultural grounds in Whitby to receive a flag in the colours of the Queen.  The paper reported that “the attendance of spectators was immense, rendering it almost impossible to preserve sufficient space for moving the force.”

There was also a picnic held by the employees of the factories at Morris’s Grove on Dominion Day, and the Vindicator stated it was a success.  The picnic itself was slightly overshadowed by the presentation of the Colors, but nonetheless, attendance was still large.  There were games and a “friendly rivalry” between Foundry and Factory, and the Freeman family band played music throughout the day.  In the evening, the events continued in the drill shed where prizes were distributed, addresses were delivered and cheers given to the Queen, Messrs Miall, Glen, Whiting and Cowan, and to members of the committee.  Picnic attendees danced to the “late hour” to the music of the Freeman band.

Although not officially recognized as a holiday (it would be recognized as such in 1879), Oshawa residents celebrated Dominion Day in the years following confederation in similar manners.  Picnics were held, games were played, fireworks lit up the sky, and dancing continued into the night.  The 34th Battalion typically played a role in Dominion Day celebrations.

Canada’s Diamond Jubilee year was 1927, and both Canada and Oshawa celebrated this landmark.  The Oshawa Daily Reformer issued a special edition of their paper for June 30, commemorating 60 years since Confederation, particularly highlighting Oshawa’s achievements through the years.  In Lakeview Park, the Jubilee Pavilion was open for business on June 30th, 1927, with the official opening on Dominion Day.  The pavilion was named in honour of this landmark year.   Jubilee celebrations lasted for two days in Oshawa and included parades, sporting events, picnics, the playing of a speech from King George V, dancing, and fireworks.  The Ontario Regiment Band played, along with the Salvation Army Band, the Oshawa Kilties Band and the General Motors 75 member choir.  Dominion Day also included a commemorative ceremony for those who died during the Great War.  Memorial Park and Alexandra Park served as appropriate locales for Jubilee celebrations on Friday July 1, and on July 2, the party continued at Lakeview Park.

From the Oshawa Daily Reformer, 1927
From the Oshawa Daily Reformer, 1927

In 1967, the year of Canada’s Centennial, Oshawa appropriately celebrated this milestone.  The Oshawa Folk Festival had a Centennial Week celebration with events leading up to and including Dominion Day.  On July 1, there was a parade through to Alexandra Park and events through the afternoon, as well as events and fireworks at the Civic Auditorium.  Oshawa also took part in the “Wild Bells” program, with all church bells, factory whistles and sirens sounding when July 1 came in.  Hayward Murdoch, Oshawa’s Centennial Committee Chairman commented, “This seems like an excellent and appropriate way to usher in Canada’s 100th birthday.  We want to have as many bells, whistles and sirens sounding as possible.”

Celebrations for East Whitby Township took place in the Village of Columbus with the unveiling of a centennial plaque, a band concert, school choirs, barbeque and fireworks.

Oshawa also had a centennial house constructed at the corner of King Street and Melrose Street (just east of Harmony Road).  The project was coordinated by the Oshawa Builders Association, and profits of the sale of the home went to the Oshawa Retarded Children’s Association (now operating today as Oshawa/Clarington Association for Community Living).

In 1982, the name of the holiday was officially changed from “Dominion Day” to “Canada Day.”  Since 1984, Oshawa’s largest Canada Day celebrations have taken place in Lakeview Park.  In 1985, the opening of Guy House coincided with Canada Day festivities, and the opening of the new pier also took place on July 1, 1987.  In 1988, an elephant from the Bowmanville Zoo was part of the festivities, participating in a tug of war with city aldermen.  Canada’s 125th anniversary was in 1992, and the City organized a big party down at lakefront.  Every year, fireworks mark the end of the celebrations.

Canada Day at Henry House
Canada Day at Henry House

The City run Canada Day celebrations have been very successful over the years, drawing tens of thousands to Oshawa’s lakeshore.  They have also attracted a certain level of prestige, making Festivals and Events Ontario’s list of top 50 (later top 100) celebrations in 2004, 2005 and 2009.

Located in Lakeview Park, the Oshawa Community Museum takes part every year in Canada Day celebrations.  Over the years, the museum has had historical re-enactors, special displays, woodworking and blacksmithing demonstrations, and a Strawberry Social in the Henry House Gardens.  Currently, the Museum offers costumed tours of Henry House on Canada Day, and our Verna Conant Gallery is open in Guy House.


We will be open from 2-5 on July 1, 2013! Please visit!



The Oshawa Vindicator, 1868-1870, various editions
Oshawa Daily Reformer, June 30, 1927
Oshawa Daily Times, July 4, 1927
Oshawa Community Archives (Subject 0012, Box 0001, Files 0003-0006, 0011, 0015)