With the changing seasons also comes the changing of exhibits here at the Oshawa Museum. Uniquely Oshawa – an exhibit I’ve been working on together with curator Melissa and intern Dylan – is almost ready to be revealed in Robinson House. As the name suggests, this exhibit features many of the museum’s most inimitable and remarkable artefacts and the stories that go alongside them. From baseball to bread, Oshawa has innumerable objects and anecdotes to share.
This is the second exhibit I’ve worked on while at the museum, but it has been a very different experience from that of my first and main project. As I’ve shared in many of my previous blog posts, I’ve been working on the research and design for the exhibit Leaving Home, Finding Home in Oshawa: Displaced Persons and Stories of Immigration for the last two and a half years. The research began in 2016 as an oral history project and has taken many different turns since. Due to the unexpected postponement of the exhibit from spring of this year (coinciding with the first wave of the pandemic) to spring of next year (2021), many new opportunities for research have come up. Most recently, I’ve been continuing to dig deeper into the history of the Polish, Greek, and Italian immigration to Oshawa, connecting with individuals from each community in order to share their stories.
Both exhibit experiences have truly given me invaluable experience and have made me realize that, while I love all areas of museum work, exhibitions may indeed be my favourite. This has been a very aptly-timed realization, since I have just begun my master’s program in museum studies at the University of Toronto. Discussing museums, even day-in and day-out, really cannot compare to getting to work with the artefacts themselves!
There are so many little things you start to notice when installing an exhibit that you otherwise simply wouldn’t have. For instance, you begin to second-guess if something is actually, in fact, maybe, just slightly crooked… Or, that, no, that placement is not quite right. I spent a fair amount of time debating the placement of three beautiful pieces of Smith Potteries, and then stepping back, and asking for a second and then a third opinion… I definitely think it was worth it, however.
The delicately painted black illustrations stand out beautifully against these two lamps and one vase of a deep red colour – they seem to come together to narrate a story all on their own. I see it as one of conflict and of homecoming. When you look at them, do you see the same kind of narrative? Or maybe you’re seeing another story emerging from their display… Or maybe you’re simply admiring their artistry!
In any case, I hope (and am pretty confident!) that you will enjoy Uniquely Oshawa and the exhibit coming next spring. Looking forward to seeing you when you make your trip down to the museum!
Continuously figuring out how my own family’s stories fit into the grander narrative of History with a capital H is my favourite part of historical research. I’ve realized the importance of this on a larger scale while researching for the Oshawa Museum’s oral history project on displaced persons and post-WWII immigration more generally. Most recently, I’ve realized how the two strands – family history and post-war history – converged with local history as I researched the hotel located at 394 Simcoe St. S.
My grandpa, who goes by Joe, first bought this hotel along with his uncle (my great-great-uncle) George Radusin. A Serb from Yugoslavia, George’s story of immigration mirrors that of many displaced persons. After fighting in the Second World War, he survived and made it to Italy. With the help of the Allied armies, he moved through several different resettlement camps in Italy and in Germany and eventually made it to Canada. In Sudbury, he worked in the mines and, like most other displaced persons, soon sought a safer and more fulfilling career – which happened to be in hotels and investments. In Cornwall, over two decades after the war, he was able to help my grandpa – his nephew – join him. My grandma, mom, and uncle were eventually able to join my grandpa after four years apart from each other. Despite the two separate waves of immigration – post-1945 and then the 1970s – this kind of ‘chain migration’ is another very common theme in immigration stories. (Please see the entry “Family’s Journey” on our online exhibit if you would like to learn more.)
With all that said, where does the local history of Oshawa – and this one hotel – fit into the story? According to an article from the Oshawa Times, the hotel on Simcoe Street South was built in 1886. Unfortunately, despite digging around in city directories, I was not able to confirm this year. As for the original building, it is quite clear that it has gone through extensive expansion and renovation. In any case, it is interesting to note that, at least in the years 1921-1936, it was owned (and resided in for at least some of the time) by J.D. Storie. You may recognize his name because he is known as the founder of Fittings Limited. After Storie passed away in 1936, the lot remained vacant and afterwards was sold to two separate owners – a William Patterson and a A.W. Jewell, as listed in 1939.
In 1945 or 1946, it became the Cadillac Hotel, at least in part (as the property also had the second identifier of S.S. Vassar). The location was in fact ideal for a hotel at this time. The railway station was only a short walk away, and it was therefore possible to wait for the train at the hotel, as another relative of Joe’s had done (he was also coincidentally someone who settled in Oshawa as a displaced person after the war).
Hotels were quite a lucrative business in Oshawa’s “early days,” welcoming weary travellers over land (by stage-coach or horseback) which meant they required frequent rests. A newspaper article dating back to around 1963, says that the Cadillac Hotel has been seen as “one of Oshawa’s finest hotels.” It had the look of an “old English manor” but was still “equipped to provide all of today’s modern comforts to its patrons.” Various events and functions, including bowling banquets and staff parties were held there. By the 1970s, however, the nearby station was closed for passenger service – perhaps playing a role in the changing reputation of the hotel. The hotel also changed hands several times – and names, once, to the Karlin Hotel.
And, here is where my family story begins to intersect once again! In 1982, my grandpa Joe and his uncle George bought the Karlin Hotel and set about transforming it into the Simcoe Tavern the following year. After some very intense renovations, the hotel was apparently unrecognizable for patrons who visited it. The changes including adhering to requirements in order to gain an additional liquor license as well as a battle with the city (primarily regarding the family atmosphere of the neighbourhood).
However, prior to the renovations, Joe wondered whether he had made the right decision in buying the place. Had he known about the hotel’s more sordid history, he said, he would’ve stayed in Cornwall. This impression was reinforced on the first night of reopening the bar when a fight actually broke out! With the strict measure of initially banning seventy individuals (in a list that hung over the bar), business headed in the right direction. The two bars became the Rock Connection – known for booking in local rock and roll bands and especially tribute bands from Toronto – and Spurs which played country music. Booking rock bands cost “almost twice as much as country bands,” however, and, once the nearby Purple Onion began “booking all rock bands, the competition was too stiff.”
Joe sold the hotel in 1991, but was actually back to running it by 1993 – with a new name now, the Street Side Inn. In those years, the hotel continued to improve its reputation for good local music – especially with the Moon Room. Finally, in 2007, Joe sold the hotel in preparation for retirement.
History, as I’ve come to believe, is really made up of smaller stories like these. I would encourage anyone interested (who hasn’t already!) to investigate all those stories they grew up hearing about, especially those related to local landmarks they spent so much time in.
 Laura Lind, “Rock Connection closes: Simcoe Tavern club becomes sporting goods store,” The Oshawa Times, Feb. 16, 1991.
 “Hotels were important in early days of Oshawa,” The Oshawa Times, July 30 1984.
Since my last update, I have been continuing to research and work on the design for next year’s exhibit on the resettlement of displaced people and immigration stories in Oshawa. Following the threads of research has led me to the significant network of Ukrainian churches that were found in the city. Despite sharing the designation of Ukrainian, it was clear enough that they all belonged to different branches of Christianity – one was Eastern Catholic, others were Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Baptist, and… two were Orthodox? Herein lay the confusion, since both Orthodox churches co-existed in time and on the very same neighbourhood block.
The ground on the corner of Bloor-Ritson was first consecrated for an Orthodox church in 1916. This church was alternately called Russian, Ukrainian, and Greek Orthodox in street directories and newspapers. Often the key descriptor of Orthodox was omitted and it was only called Greek – making it easy to confuse with the Greek Catholic church from just a few streets over. In fact, the Ukrainians of the (Greek) Orthodox Christian faith first called the Bloor-Ritson church home. The name confusion did not stop there, however, since the full name of the church differs greatly in translation. The Ukrainian would be “Church of the Nativity of the Most Holy Mother of God.” However, in colloquial English it was known most often as “St. Mary’s.”
This Ukrainian Orthodox church was built by an early wave of Ukrainian immigrants to Oshawa, many of whom came from the area of Bukovina which borders (and finds itself partly in) Romania. Since religious life was inseparably intertwined with cultural and social life, the choice of a parish was central to how one would find friends and generally engage with their culture. Fortunately, Oshawa had many options.
Just a few streets over was the Ukrainian (Greek) Catholic church. In 1935, the majority of the congregation followed their priest into the Orthodox Church after his dispute with the presiding bishop (surrounding his ordination and time of marriage).
Just a few months later, the first building for the St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Orthodox Church was built on the same location where it stands today – on the corner of Bloor and Simcoe streets. All of this is to say that, for several years, there were two Ukrainian Orthodox churches on Bloor Street. According to one participant in the Museum’s ongoing oral history project, both churches were consistently full, and members of each parish would attend the same events. It certainly seems there was need for both of them in this period in order to help service the influx of Ukrainian immigration to Oshawa after World War II.
In 1953, St. Mary’s was enlarged and rebuilt completely, on the same location as before. It now had, as the Toronto Star called it, “Byzantine-style domes” and overall resembled “a castle in a kingdom of bungalows.” Eventually, however, numbers dwindled significantly. Deciding against joining St. John’s from down the street, the aging congregation chose to accept no new members and sold the church only on the condition that they could still use it. Their designated service is in Ukrainian once a month, with a priest driving in from Scarborough.
In 1987, the church was sold to the Greek Orthodox community – making the church genuinely Greek for the first time. In 2012, the Greeks sold the church to the Romanians since they needed more space for themselves. This is, in fact, another kind of full circle since the original founders of the church would have been from the Ukrainian-Romanian border region of Bukovina.
Focusing on this one church, then, provides a great window into the past from which it is possible to see the interactions between the various Ukrainian religious communities and other cultural communities in the city. The way that the church changed ownership provides great insight into immigration trends as well – from the earliest Ukrainian, to the Greek, and the Romanian here in Oshawa.
Gerus, Mitrat Fr. S. Богослуження православної церкви: Підручник для недільних шкіл [Services in the Orthodox Church: A Sunday School Textbook]. Winnipeg: Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church of Canada, 1956.
Leong, Melissa. “Time takes its toll on congregation.” Toronto Star, April 13, 2003.
Momryk, Myron. Mike Starr of Oshawa: A Political Biography. Ottawa: Canadian Museum of History and University of Ottawa Press, 2017.
Additional research from the Oshawa Museum archival collection.
Hi all! Since I’ve been fortunate enough to spend another summer here, I was able to pick up where I left off in researching post-WWII immigration and the resettlement of displaced people in Oshawa. So far, I’ve been kept busy digging through the archives and collections at the museum, as well as other ones nearby with a similar focus.
It was following a trip up to the Archives of Ontario that I became convinced that in-depth archival research is 1) never dull and 2) always worthwhile. For the first conviction, it was when I was casually sifting through a box of negatives that a very tiny photo of a postcard caught my eye. I took a closer look to see that it involved one party sending the other a very thinly veiled threat (but that’s a tale for another time)!
My second conviction came when I discovered the piles of information that Ontario’s archives had on one of Oshawa’s cultural communities that I had begun researching – the Slovak community. I was sure that they must have been active, given that the location of their heritage museum had once been in Oshawa. Unlike some of the other communities that were still active and that had plenty of historical material, there had not been as much information on them. The most I knew originally was that, given that there is still a Slovak Byzantine Catholic Church on Ritson Road, they must have once been quite present. It turned out that this parish had formed in February of 1952, with the church itself being built in January of 1955. Indeed, these post-war years had been full of renewed immigration to Oshawa, and Slovaks were did not prove to be the exception.
However, it still wasn’t quite clear to me just how far back the history extended. In 1968, according to the Oshawa Reformer, the Slovak League in Oshawa (Branch 6) and the First Catholic Slovak Union (Branch 786) celebrated their 40th anniversary at the Slovak National Hall. These were centres of community activity that I had not come across in my research before, and so they helped to fill in some of the gaps. The celebratory event marking the milestone was attended by Slovak communities from across Ontario and also included local guests such as the M.P. Michael Starr and Jo Aldwinckle of the Oshawa Folk Arts Council – two names which have come up frequently in my research. It is for this reason – seeing all these common threads come together – that the search felt so worthwhile.
Going forward, this information from various archival sources will nicely complement what has been collected through oral history so far. As with before, if anyone has a connection to this period of immigration to the city, we would be glad to hear your stories! I’m looking forward to continuing my work over the following weeks, but, in the meantime, you are welcome to have a look through some of the posts at the Oshawa Immigration Stories website.
Mihal, Ondrej. Slovaks in Canada Through Their Own Eyes. Toronto: Slovak Canadian Cultural Heritage Centre, 2003.
“Slovaks celebrate anniversary,” Oshawa Reformer, May 8 1968, Archives of Ontario.
It seems like hardly any time has passed since I first started here this summer, but that goes with the old saying about time flying when you’re… kept very engaged and interested in your work… having fun! Since my last blog post, I have continued to work on the museum’s oral history project, about displaced persons that came to settle in Canada and then in Oshawa following World War II.
In doing so, I have contacted several cultural organizations and clubs in Oshawa who may know of someone who arrived in Canada as a displaced person, as well as those individuals who were considered to be displaced themselves. I have also put together some of the collected stories and documents together into online exhibits at the website Oshawa Immigration Stories. It is a way to pull together many of the common experiences into narratives that can be shared with others. I am really enjoying this task, as I think that these stories are important to many different levels, beyond just individual families – for Oshawa history and for Canadian history as a whole.
One of the major things I’ve noticed about the documents that have been donated is how many of them were for purposes of identification, and just how many pieces of ID each person needed at different points in their journey – to get to Canada, as well as once they were here. As such, one of the documents that stood out to me the most was a document for travel “in lieu of a passport” for “stateless persons and persons of undetermined nationality.” To me, this document puts into words the feeling of uncertainty that pervaded the immediate post-war era. I’ve also found this sentiment to be heavily apparent in newspapers at the time, some of which have also provided incredible insight for the project.