Where The Streets Get Their Names – Annis Street

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

The street names of the former community of Cedardale are wonderful tributes to those who called this area home.  The former Henry Street was named after Thomas Henry, Guy Avenue after the Guy family, Thomas Street after Thomas Conant.  Businesses like Whiting and Robson also have their place on Oshawa’s map.  Annis Street is no different, likely named for David Annis.  The following biography of David Annis is from the Oshawa Historical Society’s Historical Information Sheets.

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David Annis

David Annis was born on April 5, 1786, the son of Charles Annis, a United Empire Loyalist from Massachusetts.  Charles crossed the Niagara River into Canada in 1793, staying in York, now Toronto, and Scarborough Heights before joining his friend Roger Conant in what is now Oshawa.

David established himself as a prominent citizen through his many business dealings.  Although he was uneducated, and could not even write his own name, David had excellent, natural, business ability. In 1808 he was a fur trader with the local Indigenous population.  He sold the furs in Montreal, which made him a very wealthy man.

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“Daniel Conant’s Lumber Mill” Print by ES Shrapnel, from Upper Canada Sketches by Thomas Conant

One of the most noteworthy achievements of David Annis was the construction, along with Daniel Conant, of a lumber mill, located on Oshawa Creek.  A dam was built under the frame mill to provide power, and most of the white pine in the area was sawn there.  The lumber was floated down the Oshawa Creek, (which was then much larger).  Conant and Annis were also involved in ship building, building the schooner Lord Durham around 1836, which was said to be one of the first vessels in this part of Canada. Wood from the lumber mill was loaded onto the schooners owned by Conant and Annis, and was transported to Oswego, Sodus, Niagara, Kingston, as well as many other ports located on Lake Ontario. Lumber from the mill was also used in Oshawa to construct buildings such as the J.B. Warren Flour Mill.

David Annis acquired a great deal of land, which eventually came into the possession of Daniel Conant. On October 3, 1845, it is recorded that David Annis sold 175 acres of land to Daniel Conant, for one hundred pounds. Land was also sold to John Shipman and other settlers.

David Annis was said to have been a man of fine heart, a friend to the poor and hospitable to all.  He never married, and had no children.  He spent his last years living with the Daniel Conant family, and died on May 28, 1861, at the age of 75.

David was buried in the Harmony Burial Ground, but was exhumed nineteen years after his death, in 1880, by Thomas Conant, son of Daniel Conant.  It is unknown why the casket was opened, but it has been recorded that all who were present were shocked by the excellent condition of the body.  David was moved to the Union Cemetery, where Daniel Conant is also buried.

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Of note, the image above may NOT be David Annis.  Former Visitor Host Shawn explored David Annis and historical discrepancies with photographs in an earlier blog post.  This image has been credited as being either David Annis or David’s brother Levi.  Give Shawn’s post a read for more background into these pictures.

Annis Street does not appear to be on the 1877 Atlas or 1895 County of Ontario, however, it listed in the 1921 City Directory as well as on our 1925 City Map.

Where The Streets Get Their Names – Thomas Street

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

The community of Cedardale was located in Oshawa along Simcoe Street, south of Bloor Street.  One cannot speak of this village without talking about the Conant family, a long-standing and renowned family in Oshawa’s history.  A number of streets in the Simcoe/Wentworth/Bloor area have been named after this family.  Today, we’ll look at the namesake of Thomas Street, Thomas Conant.

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Thomas Conant was born in Oshawa on April 15, 1842.  His father was Daniel Conant, who built the first mill in the Oshawa area and was also involved in the Rebellion of 1837.  Thomas was the great grandson of Roger Conant, one of the first settlers to arrive in the Oshawa area, in 1792.

Thomas Conant was educated at Eddytown Seminary, near New York.  He returned home to administer his father’s property, but shortly after he became involved in the American Civil War.  His father, Daniel, encouraged him to take advantage of the opportunities that could be found in the United States.  Thomas left for New York on June 18, 1864, and later went on to Philadelphia, Washington and Baltimore, visiting Northern Armies.  It is reported that as many as 80 000 Canadian men went to the United States during the Civil War, lured by the prospect of money an adventure.  Thomas was horrified by the suffering he saw in the army hospitals, and when asked if he wanted to enlist he declined.

When in the United States, Thomas Conant met with President Abraham Lincoln.  Thomas’ first impression was that Lincoln was a very awkward man.  Although it is unknown what they spoke about, Thomas was granted a pass to go and where ever he wanted in Virginia and the area of Washington.

Eventually, Thomas returned to Oshawa, where he lived until he began to travel.  He travelled around the world twice, visiting many exotic places. At a time when transportation was still fairly primitive, this was quite an achievement.  He regularly contributed articles to several newspapers, including The Oshawa Vindicator and the Toronto Globe.  These newspapers published letters from him, describing the places he visited.

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“Assassination of Author’s Grandfather. Canadian Rebellion, 1837-38” Print from Thomas Conant’s Upper Canada Sketches, illustration by E.S. Shrapnel

In addition to his newspaper articles, Thomas Conant also wrote books.  His works include Upper Canada Sketches (1898) and Life in Canada (1903).

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The Conant family home, c. 1902

Thomas lived in the Conant family home, known as “Buenavista,”a brick mansion located on the corner of Wentworth and Simcoe Streets in Oshawa.  It was torn down in November 1985 to make way for a 43 unit townhouse development by the Durham Region Non-Profit Housing Corporation.  Thomas was also an avid reader, and his private library, located in his house, consisted of 6000 volumes.

Thomas married Margaret Gifford, and in 1885, a son, Gordon Daniel Conant, was born.  Mr. G. D. Conant was very dedicated to public service and held many prominent positions, including Mayor of Oshawa and Premier of Ontario.  Thomas Conant died in 1905, at the age of 63.  He is still remembered as an outstanding citizen.

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Conant Headstone, Union Cemetery, Section C

Above biographical information on Thomas Conant from Historical Oshawa Information Sheets.

Verna Conant

By Jennifer Weymark, Archivist

Born on April 23, 1888, Verna Conant (nee Smith), was delivered by one of the first women doctors in Canada, Elizabeth Smith Shortt,  who was one of her father’s sisters. Verna was the only daughter of Mr. and Mrs E. D. Smith, the same family which is associated with the company that produces a wide range of fruits, jams and other products. The Smith family was very active in their local community. For example, her mother was the first president of the Women’s Institute of Canada and her father was a MP in Ottawa. Verna followed in their footsteps and became involved in a variety of local groups.

Verna and Gordon Conant
Verna and Gordon Conant

In 1912 Verna married Gordon Conant. In a newspaper article published in the Oshawa Times, Verna recounted a fascinating story from their courtship. When they began dating, she used to drive from her home in Winona to Hamilton to pick up her then boyfriend, Gordon, at the train station.  What made this trip to the train station unusual is that the train would often arrive very late at night, generally after midnight.  It was not considered proper for a young lady to be out by herself at that time of night, so she would wear male attire so that her actions would be less conspicuous. Concerning her late night travels, Mrs. Conant stated: “My parents allowed me to go meet Gordon, but I sometimes wondered what they thought of me going out like that”.

While raising a family, Verna became active in a large number of organizations in Oshawa, including the Oshawa General Hospital, where she became honorary president of the women’s auxiliary, the Women’s Institute, the Oshawa Historical Society, and the Girl Guides. In addition to serving the community in a voluntary way, Verna spent the year of 1937 as the township tax collector when her husband became Ontario’s attorney general. Unfortunately she resigned after one year when the obligatory social events from a MP’s wife began to take up too much time.

Verna Conant
Verna Conant

After her husband’s death, Verna continued with her interest in the community, particularly with the St. John Ambulance, which she served in many capacities and which in 1978, invested her with the title Dame of St. John. She died in 1992 in her 104th year.

During her long life, Verna maintained a collection of scrapbooks highlighting the achievements of the many organizations she was heavily involved with.  Many of these scrapbooks can be found in the archival collection at the Oshawa Community Museum.


 

The month of March is celebrated as Women’s History Month in the US, UK, and Australia.  Canada celebrated Women’s History Month in October to coincide with the anniversary of the Persons Case.

In honour of the international celebrations of Women’s History Month, we are proud to share the story of Verna Conant, a true force in Oshawa’s history.

The Life of David Annis

By Shawn Perron, Visitor Host

It may be the case that discrepancies exist in every area of historical research. Events, dates, and even the images of some Oshawa Victorians can cause some confusion. The latter is the situation I have stumbled upon while reading into the life of David Annis.

There are two main sources which discuss the life of David: the Annis Annals and Upper Canada Sketches. They tell us that he was born in 1786 to quite a wealthy, large family, having eight siblings. His father, Charles, was one of the first owners of the 200 acres which made up the broken front concession (today’s Lake View Park in Oshawa). Raised in Oshawa David lacked the education of his brothers and never learned to write or sign his name. However, he quickly developed a strong relationship with the Conant family, and specifically Daniel Conant. Amongst several business enterprises the two opened a Saw Mill together and when David inherited the entirety of the broken front concession from his family he subsequently passed it on to Daniel. It is possible that David was somewhat of a father figure for Daniel being his elder, especially after Daniel’s father was assassinated in 1838. David worked with Daniel through the rest of life, fathering no children of his own and today the two are buried under the same marker in Union Cemetery.

However, while these two accounts agree on the above, they are divided in regard to David’s physical appearance. The Annis Annals – a genealogy of the Annis family from 1638 to 1931 – pictures David in a family photograph. Here David is quite distinct from his brothers, sitting on the far right he has dark hair and a short beard, wearing a rather severe expression.

The Annis Family
The Annis Family

This does not match David’s picture featured in Thomas Conant’s Upper Canada Sketches – an account of the author’s life in, and stories from, Upper Canada. This actually appears to be a cropped section of Levi Annis, David’s older brother, from the same family portrait.

David Annis
David Annis

One might logically deduct that Upper Canada Sketches provides a more accurate source because Thomas was the son of Daniel and possibly encountered David on a regular basis. However, there is always room for error. Indeed, to add another layer of confusion, the Sketches portrait inaccurately refers to David as Thomas’s uncle. While this does not hold true for David, Levi could be considered Thomas’ great-uncle, having married his grandfather’s sister, Rhoda Conant. But for now, the true appearance of David Annis shall remain a mystery and one has the freedom to imagine him either as a stern-looking dark-haired man, or a jolly Santa Claus-like fellow.

Around Henry House – Our Paintings in the Study

By Lisa Terech: Youth Engagement/Programs and Digitization Assistant

Throughout the summer, I have been slowly, but surely, working my way through Henry House, photographing and cataloging the artifacts on display in this heritage house.  The room being exhibited as Thomas Henry’s study was my second last room to complete, with some of my favourite artifacts on display; it is great to catalogue artifacts that you love and have great interest in.

The Henry House Study
The Henry House Study

Hanging on the walls are three pieces of artwork: portraits of Thomas Henry, Lurenda Henry, and Buena Vista.

A973.13.1 - Elder Thomas Henry
A973.13.1 – Elder Thomas Henry

Thomas and Lurenda are on opposite walls, or, as I’ll joke on tour, staring into each other’s eyes!  I love the portrait of Thomas.  He looks so stately, dignified, and, dare I say, handsome!  The portrait of Lurenda always receives strong reactions from visitors on tour.  She looks to be a very formidable woman from the image.  It was painted in Toronto by HC Meyers, and it appears to have been created based on a photograph.  When our visitors react to Lurenda, I am always careful to remind them that, firstly, it is based from a photograph, and early photograph techniques made smiling rather labour intensive.  I also remind them that Lurenda was rather sick, especially as she was older, and, last but not least, this woman was step-mother to 5 boys, who had 6 boys and 4 girls of her own!  If you had 15 children, you would look formidable as well!

70-L-140 - Lurenda Henry
70-L-140 – Lurenda Henry

I removed the portrait of Lurenda from the wall to photograph it, and when I did, I was able to get a closer look at this image that I have seen almost daily for 3 years.  I couldn’t help but notice how striking her eyes are.  Maybe it’s the work of a skilled artist, but you cannot deny there is wisdom and warmth behind those eyes.

 

Buena Vista, the Conant Homestead, by ES Shrapnel
Buena Vista, the Conant Homestead, by ES Shrapnel

The final painting we have hanging on the wall is of Buena Vista, the homestead to the Conant family.  The home was built c. 1873 by Thomas Conant, best known as the author of Life in Canada and Upper Canada Sketches, detailing the history of his family and a history of the Oshawa area.  The home was located at 1050 Simcoe Street South, the southwest corner of Wentworth and Simcoe Streets.  Premier Gordon Conant was born in this home in 1885, and Thomas Conant housed over 6,000 books in his personal library.  The house, however, was demolished in 1985 to make way for a housing complex.  The complex today is known as Conant Place.

The painting was completed by ES Shrapnel in 1899, the same artists who illustrated Thomas Conant’s Upper Canada Sketches.  Shrapnel (1847 – 1920) was born in England, and eventually settled in Canada, teaching at the Ontario Ladies’ College (Trafalgar Castle) before moving to British Columbia in the late 1880s.   While the painting is, admittedly, outside of the interpretation period of Henry House (set in the 1860s/1870s), the image is one way of honouring another prestigious home, vestiges of Oshawa’s days gone by.

 

Information from the Oshawa Community Archives, and information on Shrapnel from http://www.shrapnell.org.uk and http://www.askart.com