Where the Streets Get Their Names – Monck Street

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

Happy Canada Day from the Oshawa Museum! July 1 is celebrated as the day that the British North America Act came into effect, creating the Dominion of Canada. In fact, until 1982, our national holiday was known as Dominion Day when it was renamed to Canada Day.

As a member of the British Commonwealth, our head of state is Queen Elizabeth II, represented by the Governor General, and that position is currently held by His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston; in 1867, when we celebrated our confederation, that position was held by The Right Honourable the Viscount Charles Monck, and Monck Street in Oshawa has been named for him.  Who was our first Governor General?

Charles Stanley, Lord Monck, Governor General, c. 1862
Charles Stanley, Lord Monck, Governor General, c. 1862; Image Courtesy, McCord Museum

Charles Stanley Monck, 4th Viscount Monck was born in Ireland in 1819.  When he agreed to take the position of Governor to the Province of Canada (Ontario was then known as Canada West and Quebec as Canada East) and Governor General to British North America, Monck did so out of financial motivations as he faced a number of debts when he inherited his estates.  Little did Monck know that he was going to be Governor General during a pivotal time in Canadian history.

It was during the early 1860s that the colonies of British North America began the conversations that led up to Confederation in 1867.  External factors, such as the United States’ Civil War and later the Fenian Raids, played a role in the push for unifying, strengthening the colonies who also sought a degree of independence.  Monck supported this idea and supported many noted politicians, including John A. Macdonald, George Brown, and George-Étienne Cartier, in forming the ‘Great Coalition.’  Between 1864 and 1866, three conferences were held, Charlottetown, Quebec, and London, at which the framework was established for creating the Dominion of Canada.  Monck attended all of these conferences, offering support where possible, and he even participated when the British House of Lords debated the British North America Act in February of 1867.

Despite anxieties to return to the United Kingdom and return to his estates, Monck agreed to stay on as the first Governor General of the newly formed Dominion of Canada.  One of his lasting legacies was choosing Rideau Hall for the official residence of Canada’s Governor Generals.  He chose the site in 1864, moved in with his family in August 1866, and supervised the construction, renovations, and furnishings, transforming this 1838 villa into “a dignified and homelike residence.”¹

It was also Monck who issued a royal proclamation in June 1868 asking Canadians to celebrate the anniversary of Confederation on July 1. 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.”

Monck returned home to Ireland in 1869 where he remained until his death in 1894.

Detail of 1877 County of Ontario Atlas, showing location of Oshawa’s ‘Monk’ Street

Monck Street is found in an older area of our City, a well established street.  It can be found on the Town of Oshawa Map in the 1877 Ontario County Atlas, although note, the street is spelled as ‘Monk.’  In fact, the spelling of this street was consistently ‘Monk’ on a handful of resources until the mid 1980s.  It was around this time that the Durham Region began rolling out the 911 emergency services, and the City of Oshawa undertook a study of its street names.  With the imperative of clearly communicating locations to emergency services, streets like Maine Street and Main Street, or Taylor and Tayler became problematic.  This study also found potential issues and sought to clearly standardize streets. Monck was one such identified street.

While a number of organizations, the post office being one of them, used Monk, the legal registered name of the street was Monck, as per the McGrigor Plan, and that was also how the name was spelt on the street sign. It was recommended that Monck be used as the standard for the spelling, accurately reflecting the individual after whom the street was named.

¹Want a thorough overview of the life of Charles Monck? Visit the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, where Jacques Monet authored a wonderful article about his life and his contributions to the formation of Canada.


Other instances where street names in Oshawa have had, well, flexible spelling through their history include Dukes and Richmond Streets, Phillip Murray Avenue, Festhubert Avenue, and Gibb Street.

Where the Streets Get Their Names – Skae Drive

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

Found in an industrial area in the very south west of our City is Skae Drive.  The man after whom this street has been named is more closely associated with Oshawa’s downtown. Here is the story of Edward Skae.


Edward Skae was born around 1804 in Scotland, and 26 years later, around 1830, he immigrated to Canada and settled in a community known as Kerr’s Creek.  Skae became associated with a man named Macdonald, and together, they operated a successful general store along King Street West.  After a number of years, the business partnership dissolved, as they can do, and Edward Skae opened his own store at the main intersection of the community, at the south east corner of King Street and Simcoe Street.  There, he “erected a one and half storey brick building in which he conducted business a number of years” (Pedlar Papers).  His checkerboard store became a landmark along the road from Toronto to Kingston.

An artistic rendering of Edward Skae’s general store, King & Simcoe Streets, by Joan Stacey; Oshawa Archives’ Collection

Due to the popularity of his business, the community was becoming known as ‘Skae’s Corners,’ and Mr. Skae operated as an unofficial post office for locals.  In 1842, he submitted an application to the legislature to become an official post office.  John Hilliard Cameron, representing Skae’s Corners as part of the Home District in parliament, replied that a post office could be granted, however, a name other than “Corners” must be chosen for the post office as there were already too many place names containing corners. The circumstances surrounding the suggestion of ‘Oshawa’ remains unknown, however, the name was chosen and we have continued to grow and thrive under this name. Oshawa translates from a Native dialect to mean “that point at the crossing of the stream where the canoe was exchanged for the trail.”

Edward Skae became the first postmaster on October 6, 1842. According to the Ontario Reformer, May 19, 1905, Mr. Glenney opened the first mail bag brought to Oshawa.  It contained 4 letters, 2 British Colonists and one Examiner and from the east, 2 Montreal Gazettes and six letters.

Edward was Postmaster for less than six years, as he passed away in 1848.  He is laid to rest in Union Cemetery beside his wife, Mary.

Edward Skae headstone, Oshawa Union Cemetery

National Volunteer Week: The Roots of our Community

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement & Jill Passmore, Visitor Experience Co-ordinator

April 11-15 is National Volunteer Week, and during this week, the Oshawa Museum celebrates Canada’s 12.7 million volunteers!

Our volunteers, their thoughtfulness, generosity, kindness towards staff, visitors and respect for their volunteer positions knows no bounds. This year volunteers have tended to the gardens around Henry House and Guy House, helped with collections and archival management, delivered tours and assisted with programs and special events, and so much more.  In addition, we are thankful for the support from co-op students and interns who become a wonderful complement to the staff.

Our high school volunteers are part of a group known as OMY: The Oshawa Museum Youth.  In 2015, the OMY Volunteers helped with our special events and with our Four Corners: One Story project.  What is Four Corners: One Story? Oshawa’s downtown is full of history, and this project helped to raise awareness of it.  In early Spring, OMY volunteers toured through Oshawa’s Downtown, learning about the history with Oshawa Museum staff guiding them.  Volunteers went back to the Museum, found historic photos, and on a further tour, we tried to recreate those photos today.  Five buildings were chosen, a co-op student designed the template, and over the summer, five posters were created with historic information, photos, and current images.  These posters are not only on display at the Museum, but also at Oshawa City facilities, and around Downtown Oshawa.

Throughout 2015 staff at the Museum have worked with 45 youth and adult volunteers who volunteered 886 hours, and our 11 students contributed 743 hours!   We can’t do what we do without the support and enthusiasm from our volunteers. Thank you.

Vol for Insta

To learn more about volunteer opportunities at the Oshawa Museum, please visit our website, or call 905-436-7624 x 106.


William Smith and the Conservative Demonstration of 1911

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

In 1911, Canada was a much different place.  Our Prime Minister was Wilfrid Laurier, a PM who when faced with large national issues, attempted to find middle ground between the expectations of English Canada and French Canada.  Often, the end result was displeasure by both sides.  Laurier faced many issues during his 15 years as Prime Minister that found him trying to maintain peace between the two passionate groups, including participation in the Boer War, the Manitoba Schools Question, and the Naval Service Bill, and ultimately it was the issue of reciprocity with the US that saw a change in government, bringing the Conservatives to power in 1911.

William Smith, From the Parliament of Canada's Website
William Smith, From the Parliament of Canada’s Website

For the riding of Ontario South, William Smith was elected as a Conservative Member of Parliament.  William, or Billy, Smith was a Columbus native who worked as a breeder, farmer, and importer.  His farm in Columbus was 267 acres, and Smith was regarded as a progressive and prosperous agriculturalist, not afraid to engage with the ‘improved methods’ of farming.  The south wing of the main house was originally an old inn known as the ‘West Country Inn’ and was a halfway house for farmers and traders.

When he was elected in 1911, he was no novice when it came to politics.  Smith was first elected as an MP in 1887 and was re-elected in a by-election 1892.  In the 1911 election, the main issue was reciprocity, or free trade with the United States.  The Conservative Party, led by Robert Borden, was staunchly against this, and fear of American influence and/or annexation was one argument they used against the Liberals.  The Conservatives won the election with a majority government, and a Conservative Smith won the local riding of Ontario South.  As reported in the Whitby Chronicle, the election of Smith and the Conservatives was indicative that “so far as this riding was concerned reciprocity had received a knock-out blow.”

The Conservative Demonstration, 1911; from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection
The Conservative Demonstration, 1911; from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection

The Conservative victory was celebrated throughout the riding.  Election night saw celebrations in Whitby, and the following day, “an automobile procession left Oshawa for Pickering, Brougham, Claremont, Ashburn and Port Perry.”  The parade in Oshawa was complete with the motorcade, men on horses, and bands, and the event was photographed as it made its way eastbound along King Street.  A number of the images were in turn made into postcards, five of which are part of the Oshawa Community Archives’ Postcard Collection.

The Conservative Demonstration, 1911; from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection
The Conservative Demonstration, 1911; from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection

The Conservative Demonstration, 1911; from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection
The Conservative Demonstration, 1911; from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection

The Conservative Demonstration, 1911; from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection
The Conservative Demonstration, 1911; from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection

Interestingly enough, the Oshawa Community Museum has an artifact in its holdings related to WIlliam Smith: this butter paddle, engraved with “John Smith’s Print, 1808,” owned by William’s grandfather.

960.54.2 - Butter Press owned by John Smith, dated 1808
960.54.2 – Butter Press owned by John Smith, dated 1808

The Conservative Demonstration postcard, and other postcards from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection will be on display in Guy House in April 2015 in celebration of Archives Awareness.  Be sure to visit!

Oshawa’s Marks Theatre

The Marks Theatre once stood on the corner of King and Celina Streets in downtown Oshawa.  The building was erected circa 1875 and originally operated as the American Hotel.  The proprietor of this hotel, Mike Finnigan, fought in the American Civil War.  Born in Belleville, Ontario, Finnigan was paid by a wealthy American family to impersonate their son so that he could escape the draft.  Fighting for the North under an assumed name, Finnigan also had the opportunity to ride in the cavalry with General Custer.  After the war, he returned to Oshawa, married a woman from Pickering, and built the American Hotel.

From the Daily Times Gazette, 1951
From the Daily Times Gazette, 1951

By 1921, Mike Finnigan had retired, according to the City of Oshawa Directory from that year.  The building was sold to Mr. Martin who changed the hotel into a theatre and named it the Paragon Theatre. In 1924, the name had changed to the New Martin Theatre and the proprietor at this time was Mr. Ernie Marks.  Ernie and his wife Kitty were a fascinating couple who were talented performers.  Ernie was a trick bicycle rider and actor, and Kitty was a singer.

From the Daily Reformer, 1927
From the Daily Reformer, 1927

In 1928 the New Martin Theatre underwent both interior and exterior renovations.  The Daily Times noted on March 10, 1928 that “Ernie Marks, manager of the New Martin Theatre, is transforming his theatre into one of the most up-to-date motion picture houses in the Province.”  Not only was it outfitted with new seats and lighting, it was also equipped with a cooling and ventilating system.

The concession stand in the Marks Theatre, from the Oshawa Community Archives
The concession stand in the Marks Theatre, from the Oshawa Community Archives

Sometime between 1931 and 1934, Ernie Marks changed the name to The Marks Theatre.  It became a popular place for travelling vaudeville performers, theatre, opera and motion pictures.  Since that time, the theatre has passed through various hands, and by the 1980s the new owners had made it into a popular “hot-spot” for showing cult movies such as The Rocky Horror Picture Show.  It also became a great place for previewing up and coming local rock bands.  Between 1984 and 1988 the historic building managed to survive two major fires and fierce competition from other theatres in the area.

The Marks Theatre in 1985, the marquee advertising Back to the Future!  From the Oshawa Community Archives Collection
The Marks Theatre in 1985, the marquee advertising Back to the Future! From the Oshawa Community Archives Collection

Then in April 1992, the Marks Theatre was torn down in order to make room for a parking lot.  It was demolished by its owner, a Willowdale based company, who had long term plans to build a three or four storey office building.  In April 1997, five years since the demolition, no structure had yet to be built.  Today, the site is being used as a parking area for a small handful of vehicles, and a restaurant utilizes the westernmost portion of the property for a patio in the summer months.