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. “
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.
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.
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)