Early Woolen Enterprises in Oshawa

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

When I’m not sharing the history of Oshawa or giving tours of the site, I can usually be found with knitting needles and yarn in my hands. A voracious knitter with a dangerous yarn shopping habit, I’m rarely cold as I’m usually covered in wool.  Naturally, my interest is piqued when knitting or wool is mentioned in a historical context, like how I could not resist knitting the pair of socks from a pattern published in the local newspaper in 1916.  In Jill’s post from mid-November, she recounted that in the Sam Pedlar manuscript, the earliest business mentioned is Beagle & Conklin, purveyors of spinning wheels and handlooms in 1793.  Be still, my heart. This got me curious as to how many other woolly industries has Oshawa been home to through the years.

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Knitting at an Culture Squared in 2016; thanks to Carla from the RMG for the photo!

Let’s start with Beagle & Conklin. Pedlar serves as the resource for this industry.  After arriving in Oshawa in the early 1790s, Benjamin Wilson was so taken with the area that he wrote letters to those whom he knew in the States, espousing the greatness of Upper Canada, and Beagle & Conklin arrived as a result of one of Wilson’s letters.  They established their business of making spinning wheels and handlooms around 1793.  As stated by Pedlar: “It has often been asked how came it about that Oshawa is such an industrial centre, in the light of its history it is easily accounted for. So long as shaft and pulley revolves in Oshawa’s busy works, may the names of Beagle and Conklin be kept in mind.”

A number of woolen mills, where wool is processed, have also been located in Oshawa through the years.  Perhaps the largest such industry was Schofield, who were located on Centre Street and in our community from 1892-1951. It is worth noting that woolen mills were often large employers of women, and this was indeed the case with Schofield.

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The Oshawa Creek provided power to many of the early mills in our community, including Gorham’s woolen mill, located at what Pedlar called ‘The Hollow;’ he was referring to the area around what is today Mill Street.  The proprietor was Joseph Gorham, and this woolen mill was established in 1822, in the same vicinity of Dearborn & Cleveland’s grist mill.  Pedlar asserts, “this woolen mill so far as the writer has been able to learn is the third industry which utilized the water power of the Oshawa Creek.”  Before long, the Hollow was the home of E Smith’s distillery and Miles Luke’s tannery.  It is not known how long Gorham’s woolen mill was in business, but Joseph himself died in 1839, aged 50 years, buried at the Pioneer Memorial Gardens Cemetery.

An enterprising man, Samuel Hall was a prolific builder in our community, establishing factories, saw mills, helped with a store house and elevator at Port Oshawa, and a woolen mill north of the town.

The Oshawa Creek also provided power to Ethan Card, another woolen and carding mill established around 1842.  His was located at the ‘raceway,’ along the creek north of King Street, where the creek ‘races’ along. He was also laid to rest at the Pioneer Memorial Gardens, passing away in 1854.

If we look to the northern communities in Oshawa, there was the Empire Woolen Mill in Columbus.  It was located just outside the village, another mill that harnessed the power of the creek.  It was reportedly the largest mill in the area.  It was established in 1835 by Mathewson and Ratcliffe and was sold to the Empire Mills Company in 1850. According to information from Archaeological Services Inc., approximately 50 workers were employed by this business, many of whom were brought to the area from Lancashire and Yorkshire in England, and they resided either in boarding houses or small cottages.  The business moved in 1887, and a flood three years later washed away the mill’s dam.

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Empire Woolen Mills near Columbus, c. 1883 (AX995.169.1)

Finally, we know our own Thomas Henry dabbled with wool. As per the 1851 agricultural census, amongst his other crops and livestock, he had 27 sheep with 100 pounds of wool.  An interesting note in the 1868 Vindicator tells us Thomas had an incident involving his sheep.  As reported:

Returned – Three of the sheep advertised by Mr. Thomas Henry, have returned home without their fleeces, but marked with a hole in the right ear.  If the man who was kind enough to shear them will be kind enough to return the fleeces and the two missing sheep, he will be paid for the shearing, but not for the marking.

Finally, memories shared by one of Thomas’s granddaughters, Arlie DeGuerre, gives a glimpse into how Thomas’s daughters would have passed time inside the house:

One can scarcely imagine the work it was to clothe and feed a family of 14 children, especially when all the yarn was carded and spun from the sheep’s wool and then woven into cloth right at home.  The big loom was in a corner of the kitchen and it seemed to never stop.  On into the later evening one could hear the shuttle go back and forth; one foot peddle go down and then the other as Mother Henry wove the cloth for trousers, shirts, and dresses and all the woolen cloth used in the home.  Elizabeth the second eldest girl became the seamstress.  She sewed nearly all the time.  The girls knit socks and mitts, pieced quilts, mended and darned socks during most of their spare hours.

Oshawa has long been known as a manufacturing community, the creek providing power to the early industries that became established here, many of which were woolen mills, preparing the fibres so that warm clothes could be made.



Addendum: October 2020 – I was looking in our database at the Thomas Henry Correspondence Collection, a donation received in 2013 and has been written about before on the blog. I was very delighted to see this as part of the collection:

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Unfortunately, this slip of paper is undated and has no additional context, but Thomas Henry is named on this receipt for 10lbs (or 1.0lb) of yarn. A surprise like this was worthy of an addendum to this post.

A Columbus Hallowe’en

Originally appeared in the Whitby Gazette Chronicle, November 15, 1928

On the evening of Nov. 2nd about 85 children, young people and adults, from Columbus gathered in the town hall for a Hallowe’en party.  The hall was decorated with cats, owls and pumpkins, and orange and black streamers.  The “Horror Hall” and “Fortune telling” attracted much attention.  Three judges from Oshawa, Mr. and Mrs. Rodd and Mr. Parrott awarded the costume prizes to Elma Ross for the best child’s costume and Miss D. Clugston for the best adult costume.  The evening was then spent in games.  Mrs. Harold Hayes, Mrs. Clarence Hayes and Mrs. Bromell were the hostesses.  Following the games a delightful lunch was served, composed of sandwiches, cake, pie, candy, etc. At 11pm all left for home.

Our teacher, Miss Appleby, wishes to thank all who in any way contributed to the success of the party, and to those who helped clean the hall.

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From the Oshawa Museum’s archival collection

Where the Streets Get Their Names – Columbus Road

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

Located north of the recently opened 407 East Extension is the Village of Columbus and Columbus Road.  As one might imagine, this east-west artery in north Oshawa takes its name from the Village of Columbus, however, this hasn’t always been its name. The 1877 Atlas of Ontario County refers to this street as Church Street (a name still in use through the 1980s) and the Concession between 6 & 7, and for many years, it was simply known locally as Concession 7.

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1895 County of Ontario Atlas map of Columbus; note the main east-west road is named ‘Church Street’

Understanding the history of this street name and its changes requires an understanding of municipal changes through the years, namely the fact that in 1974, the Township of East Whitby was annexed by the City of Oshawa. In the 1980s, the City was undertaking a review of street names, prompted by the expansion of emergency and 911 services.  During this process, a number of streets were found repeated in the former East Whitby Township and City of Oshawa.  It’s a wee bit problematic when emergency services are needed, and it is unclear if they are needed at Alma Street by the hospital or Alma Street in Raglan.  At this time, the City of Oshawa decided to name previously unnamed concession roads, and it was recommended that these names are consistent with surrounding municipalities (if applicable).  The Town of Whitby was already calling this road Columbus Road, and in the late 1980s, the City of Oshawa officially adopted this name as well.

Here is a history of the village through which Columbus Road traverses.

 

In the early 1830s, European settlement began in this area.  Because a large number of these settlers originated from England, the first name for the hamlet was English Corners.  In 1850, when applying for a post office, the community’s name changed to Columbus. Despite knowing the when, we do not know why the name Columbus was chosen.

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‘Main Street North, Columbus, ON,’ from the Oshawa Museum postcard collection

Columbus was a thriving and busy rural centre throughout the 1850s, boasting four stores, three blacksmiths shops, two carpenter shops, four shoe shops, two tailor shops, two dressmaking shops, a harness shop, and two cooperages.  Industry was also in the area with a tannery located a quarter mile north of village, a flour mill, two asheries, and the Empire woolen mill, which employed 45 people.  Finally those passing through could find respite at one of the village’s four inns.

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Empire Woolen Mills near Columbus, c. 1883 (AX995.169.1)

With the creation of the County of Ontario in the 1850s, Columbus was named the seat of East Whitby Township.  The first council of the Township was established in 1853, and the town hall was constructed in 1859.  Between 1850 and 1870 the population of the Village of Columbus grew from 300 inhabitants to 500.

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Columbus Presbyterian (United) Church, which still stands today

Like many other rural hamlets, Columbus was home to four churches, Presbyterian, Bible Christian, Methodist and Anglican, and they were overflowing their doors on Sundays. The Columbus Presbyterian Church became the Columbus United Church in the mid 1920s, and the building which was constructed in 1873, still stands today.  Children of Columbus were at School Section no. 6, or the Columbus school.  It was first built built in 1878, and in 1930, a new school was built in its place.

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Columbus School, c. 1910 (A982.45.5)

In the early 1970s, Columbus was annexed to to the City of Oshawa, and the community has continued to adapt and thrive, although it has faced some adversity as well.  In the late 2000s, there was a push by many residents to have boundaries adjusted and become a part of the Town of Whitby, but this ultimately was rejected by both municipalities.  There was further fear to how the Highway 407 extension would impact the rural nature of the community, however, over a year after its opening, Columbus is still a vibrant and valued community in our City.

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Columbus Town Hall, built in 1859, restored in 1967 as a Centennial project.  Photo taken at Doors Open Oshawa 2014


References:

Oshawa Museum Archival Collection: Columbus File (0029 / 0001 / 0004).

Oshawa Museum Archival Collection: Streets File (0024 / 0001 / 0023).

Oshawa Historical Society, Historical Oshawa Information Sheet, ‘Columbus’.

“‘English Corners’ At First Columbus Dates to 1850,” Oshawa Times, June 24, 1967.