Oshawa’s Two Queen’s Hotels

The old Queen’s Hotel was established in 1874; it can be seen in the 1921 City Directory but is no longer there in the 1923. This fits with the information that shows the hotel closed at the start of the 1920s. The upper storeys of the building remained open as the Queen’s Apartments for some time after that. The building fell into disrepair during the 1960s and 70s and was eventually torn down in 1987.

The second Queen’s Hotel does not appear in the City Directories until 1935. Prior to becoming the Queen’s Hotel #2, the address was home to a fish market, a shoe repair, a music store and a tailor. It is likely that these hotels were never the same ‘business’, but rather it is likely that someone thought to capitalize on a well known name when they opened the second Queen’s Hotel in the 1930s.

The black and white photo is in the archival collection of the Oshawa Museum; the colour photographs are from the Bill Miles digital collection.

Oshawa’s latest hotel, a Holiday Inn, has been built and recently opened at Simcoe and Richmond, the site of the second Queen’s Hotel.

ArteFACTS – Trinket Box, Hotel Genosha, 1929

By Melissa Cole, Curator

The need to bring a first class hotel to Oshawa in the 1920s was part of the emerging identity of the town as a corporate centre. General Motors was in the midst of a modernizing and expansionist program, and the future prospects for the town were good. When it opened in 1929, the Genosha Hotel offered luxury accommodation. The unfortunate timing of its inaugural year, coinciding with a severe downturn in the national economy and the ensuing depression, undermined its financial viability for several years. In spite of this, the Genosha was a popular meeting location of our industry leaders, the travelling public and proved to be the hub of community activities. Whether it was for a Club meeting, family gathering, business luncheon, coffee, dinner, or dancing, the Genosha was the venue of choice. It was the bus terminal, radio station, and home to a variety of offices and shops.

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The Genosha is fondly recalled for its place in the life events of many local residents.  As Oshawa’s first luxury hotel receives its finishing touches to open as the new 70 King featuring one-bedroom and studio apartments in the heart of Oshawa’s downtown, I thought I would share a recent acquisition to the Oshawa Museum’s collection related to the Genosha Hotel.

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This beautiful yellow ceramic trinket box was given to a member of the donor’s family at the opening of the Hotel Genosha in 1929.  Written on the side of the lid in gold lettering is “Hotel Genosha, Oshawa.”  The decoration on the lid is inspired by the works of Fragonard, one of France’s leading rococo painters who specialized in libertine genre and gallant scenes.  The central motif is of a young woman listening to a young man who appears to be serenading her with bagpipes.  The sides of this motif are framed with a vine of gold motifs.  The interior of the lid and bottom features a colourful floral motif.  As the Genosha begins a new life as 70 King, this small artefact reminds us that this building has been a part of Oshawa’s history for 90 years.

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To read more about the Genosha Hotel, I recommend this article written by Joel Wittnebel who spoke with our archivist, Jennifer, at the Oshawa Museum: https://oshawaexpress.ca/the-genosha-saga/

 

 

 

 

Asian History Month

By Jennifer Weymark, Archivist

May is Asian History Month in Canada. The Government of Canada officially declared the month of May Asian History Month in May 2002.

Early Asian history in Oshawa has become a research focus for myself, as I work with the archival collection to help tell a more inclusive, diverse and accurate history of Oshawa. By shifting the focus away from the traditional local history narrative that focuses on the accomplishments of the wealthy white settlers, we are able to learn about all members of the early Oshawa community and this helps us to better understand how our early roots have contributed to the community that we are today.

Immigration, along with the skills and work ethic each wave of immigrants brought with them, helped Oshawa to become an industrial hub in Canada. The 1911 census for Oshawa shows an influx of people arriving from Poland, Ukraine, Russia and other Eastern European countries. Perhaps sensing the potential for war or wanting different opportunities for their families, Oshawa was a popular spot to begin life in a new country.

Some time between the 1911 and the 1921 census, a small Chinese population of 18 people, arrived in Oshawa. Of those 18, 5 belonged to the family of Mrs. Wong Shee Soo. Mrs. Soo came to our attention as while touring through the large Mausoleum at Union Cemetery. Amongst the familiar names of Conant, McLaughlin and Storie, her name stood out as being very different and we wanted to know more about her.

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Given the date of her death was 1947, what could her story tell us about the experiences of those of Asian descent living in Oshawa during World War II? How did the experiences of Asian settlers differ from those of Eastern European settlers who arrived in the decade before the Soo family?

Looking back it becomes clear that Canada’s treatment of Asian Canadians has been problematic. From the head tax that was placed on only Chinese immigrants, to the Chinese Immigration Act, which actually prohibited entry to Canada, and to laws dictating where Asians could live, work and associate with, the history of Asian Canadians has been dark.

How did the Soo family end up in Oshawa? In 1921, Oshawa had a population of approximately 13 000 people. Of that 13 000 people, 18 are listed in the census as being Chinese. There are no people of Asian descent, including Chinese, listed in any of the previous census records.

The earliest records that show the family in Oshawa are the 1921 Canadian Federal Census for Oshawa and the 1921 City Directory for Oshawa. At this time, the family of 5 lived on Simcoe Street and Min Soo ran a restaurant called the Boston Café. The Soo family owned the Boston Café until sometime between 1934 and 1938 when they then operated the Eden Inn restaurant. The Soos lived in a very ethnically diverse area, with people listed as being Ukrainian, Polish, Jewish, and Russian.

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Detail from photo of King Street, Oshawa (Ax995.194.1)  The Boston Cafe sign can be seen in the centre, just to the left of the man holding the ‘Go’ traffic sign.  Its address was 4 King Street East

Research into this family is ongoing. We have actually been in contact with the granddaughter of Wong Shee and she is happy to help us with our research. As with my research into early Black history in Oshawa, this research is difficult as early records concerning the Asian population’s contributions to the community were not archived. This is an important story and an important aspect of our community’s history and so I will continue digging and continue to collect any information I can find.

The 1918 Plane Crash

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

“This is the most heavily photographed episode in the history of Oshawa.” So claimed Thomas Bouckley, photographic historian in his adored Pictorial Oshawa Vol II.

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On April 22, 1918, between 5 & 6 o’clock in the evening, a pilot lost control of his plane, and it crashed into the northwest corner of King and Simcoe Street.  Miraculously, only one person was injured in the incident.  A woman named Mrs. Guy was leaving Porter’s Dry Goods at 8 King Street West and was struck on the shoulder by a falling brick.  Thankfully, her injuries were minor.

To take the plane off the side of the building, the wings were removed after ropes secured the fuselage, and it was then lowered and slid down piles placed against the building.  The plane was removed by staff of the Leaside Training camp, with the military refusing to let the local firemen do the removal.

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Naturally, an event like this was covered in the local media.  Despite gaps in Oshawa’s historical newspapers, the newspaper after this incident survived, and the Ontario Reformer featured this story on its front page of the April 26 edition.  The Reformer called it a “as fine an exhibition of aeroplaning as will be seen here for many a day,” and the pilot who “swooped up and down over the town like a bird” was acting in a manor “we are told…is mild compared with what aviators in the battle squadrons at the front are called upon to do when in action.”  The Reformer went on to report “something went wrong with the engine… [The pilot] tried to land on the street but was unable to do so on account of the wires.” He ultimately ended up on top of the Dominion Bank building, and wires which acted as a net for the plane were so badly damaged that power in Oshawa and Whitby was knocked out.

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The reporting of the Ontario Reformer seemed to take a light-hearted approach to the story, as though it was a unique sense of excitement.  Reviewing other news reporting of story seems to perhaps take a harsher view.  The headline of The Globe reads “Airman Makes Two Towns Dark,” demonstrating the outcomes from the incident, while the Reformer has the headline “Oshawa Sees an Areoplane (sic) Light on Bank Building” focusing on the incident rather that its outcome.

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The Globe makes mention of the pilot was “entertaining practically the entire population of this town with his various stunts – looping the loop, figure eight, flying upside down” and the crash was a result of “misjudging the distance” and crashing into the Dominion Bank.

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Both the Reformer and Globe say the pilot refused to give his name; The Toronto Daily Star, however, reported that the actions of Cadet Groom of the Leaside Camp would be investigated by the RAF (in Pictorial Oshawa, Thomas Bouckley named the pilot as Cadet Weiss).  Of note, the Star’s reporting on the incident was the shortest of all three papers reviewed.

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This incident occurred during wartime; World War I was raging on across the Atlantic, and it was the first major conflict where the skies served as a battlefield.  Looking locally, there were flying fields for training pilots in Leaside and Long Branch, and according to Bouckley, ‘several mishaps occurred in Oshawa.’  The Oshawa Museum’s archival collection features not only photographs of the ‘infamous’ Four Corners crash, but also of a crash that occurred in 1916 at Alexandra Park, a plane that landed on the lawn of Parkwood, and a crash at the Golf Links on April 28, 1918.

While it may no longer be ‘Oshawa’s most heavily photographed incident,’ 100 years have passed and the Four Corners plane crash remains a captivating story from our past.


References

“Oshawa Sees an Areoplane (sic) Light on Bank Building,” The Ontario Reformer, April 26, 1918, 1.  Accessed from: http://communitydigitalarchives.com/the-ontario-reformer/1918-04-26/001/newspapers.html#

“Airman Makes Two Towns Dark,” The Globe, April 23, 1918, 3.

“RAF Will Investigate” Toronto Daily Star, April 23, 1918, 13.

Thomas Bouckley, Pictorial Oshawa Vol II (Oshawa: The Alger Press Ltd., 1976), 115-116).

Hotel Genosha

By Austin Andru, Durham College Journalism Student

“Instead of my mom cooking Christmas dinner, my dad used to take his mom and stepdad and my mom’s mom and all his kids and my mom and we’d go to the Genosh to have Christmas dinner,” said John Henry, the mayor of Oshawa. “It goes back to a memory that I have over 40 years.”

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Hotel Genosha was Oshawa’s first and only luxury hotel. It was built in 1929 in Oshawa’s downtown core as it was becoming known as “Canada’s Motor City.”

It was advertised as, “One of the finest hotels in Central Ontario.”

The name Genosha was made by combining the words “General Motors” and “Oshawa”.

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During the 1930s, Hotel Genosha was a common place for social events and weddings in Oshawa. Jennifer Weymark, the archivist for the Oshawa Museum said, “It was the major hub for business people travelling in and out of Oshawa.”

“It was where the upper management of General Motors met,” said Weymark.  “When the Genosh was built it was, high end, high class, it was where the wealthy wanted to go.”

Genosha’s most prestigious visitor was Queen Elizabeth, the wife of King George VI in 1939.

Henry, who has been the mayor of Oshawa for almost 8 years, says the people who visited the Genosha play a big role in the history. Henry says Canada’s military involvement in the Second World War makes him wonder, “who might have stayed there and who might not have stayed there?”

When Ian Fleming, the author of the James Bond novels, trained at Camp-X in 1942, the camp was at capacity, according to the official Camp X website. He was encouraged to visit the Genosha in Oshawa. It is not clear if Fleming ever stayed as a guest overnight at the Genosha, but he did visit for the entertainment.

The only way to access parking when mayor Henry visited was through Bond street.

“Did James Bond get his start in Oshawa?” Henry asks.

After training elite spies in the Camp-X facility in Whitby, Fleming went on to create the famous James Bond series.

The Genosha didn’t face difficulties until the early 1980s when industry started moving away from the city centre. When General Motors started changing its operations, there was a lot less people downtown, says Henry.

“As the downtown declines, you saw the Genosh declining,” Weymark said. “They’re tied in together.”

A strip club called “The Million Dollar Saloon,” opened in the basement. It was eventually closed in 2003, leaving the building empty. In 2005 it was designated a heritage site, and 5 years later the sign was taken down.

Many people attempted to revitalize the building. Student housing was proposed, as well as 66 apartment units. These ideas never went through.

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Richard Summers, the current owner of the building, who has already purchased the property once before, says maintaining this property this was made possible by Durham Region council approving a funding assistance of over $500,000.

The old building hasn’t retained much of its original self. It has undergone a partial interior demolition and the only remains of the original hotel is the Juliet fixtures on some of the windows and the painted “Hotel Genosha” sign on the exterior.

One of the marble staircases that was fitted in the lobby was severely damaged. Summers said this was because, “construction workers were sliding stoves down the stairs.”

Summers has ambitious plans to turn the building into 102 luxury micro apartments with commercial space in the main floor. The focus will be on bachelor units.

The roof currently houses a flock of pigeons. Summers said he would’ve liked to have a rooftop lounge. “Something you’d see in Toronto,” he says. Summers says it’s something he wouldn’t be able to do because of the way the Genosha is built.

Weymark says that while the new developments won’t be like the original hotel, downtown Oshawa is in need of proper housing rather than a luxury hotel.

“Now we see a resurgence and a revitalization in the downtown and you’re seeing that with the Genosh as well,” said Weymark, referring to the developments by Summers. “Along with the Regent Theatre, those two large buildings represent the evolution of downtown.”

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It is estimated the residences will be completed by 2019.

Mayor Henry said, “It will never be the hotel it was, but it has a great future.”


The land where we stand is the traditional territory of the Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation.

Durham College‘s newspaper, The Chronicle, launches a new feature series called The Land Where We Stand, about the hidden stories that shape our region.

Some of the articles found on this blog have been provided through partnerships with external sources, and we welcome reader engagement through comments.  The views expressed in such articles/comments may not necessarily reflect those of the OHS/OM.