A Visit to the Sisterhood of St. John the Divine

By Quinn J., Summer Student

On Wednesday July 21st, I visited an Anglican holy order, the Sisterhood of St. John the Divine, in Toronto in order to access their archives. The order used to own the Bishop Bethune private girls school in Oshawa, and thus they had primary documents related to my research into the school which could help me better determine the school’s purpose and who exactly attended it. The visit was one that I was looking forward to, not only because of the benefits for my research and because it would enable my possibly unhealthy obsession with mundane things from the past, but also because being able to experience history first hand, something that my time in school had never given me the opportunity to do.

The sisterhood was very welcoming to me, and I had a nice time talking with the archivist about the various materials they had to offer me. I was looking specifically at things related to the Bishop Bethune school, but from what I could glean, the sisterhood was involved in other educational ventures outside of city of Oshawa, throughout the province and country. It was overall a very enjoyable experience for me as I was able to dig through various records and even copies of the school magazine for my research into Oshawa’s educational past.

The most interesting thing in the collection, however, was the school’s ledger. It was a giant book that was over 100 years old, having been first written in when the sisterhood took control of the school in 1889. It’s probably the oldest thing I’ve ever touched, and it gave me a bit of a thrill to be able to just be able to go through it and get a window into how people lived over 100 years ago.

Perhaps I’m being a little too subjective, but I still get such a thrill from experiencing history, no matter how I experience it. Getting that glimpse into the lives of people who lived even just a hundred years before me is still very exciting for me, and this visit to get a window into the past like that was an incredible experience.

Oshawa’s Educational History

By Quinn J., Summer Student

In 1894, The Globe (which would go on to merge with The Mail and Empire into the Globe and Mail) did a profile on Oshawa. At the time, Oshawa was only a village of “4,000 souls,” but already it was noted for two things: its prominence as a manufacturing centre, a reputation Oshawa would hold on to up until the present day, and for its high quality educational institutions.

The Globe article not only mentions the high quality public schools but also the Bishop Bethune and Demill Ladies’ Colleges, both of which were renowned institutions outside of the province, and they attracted students from across the country. But today, this past as a centre for education is rarely remembered. I only learned about the two ladies colleges and the early Canadian public school system when I began working for the Oshawa Museum last month. My question is, why this is the case? If the Globe felt it was important enough to mention Oshawa’s status as an educational leader in its profile, why has it been so easy for us in the modern day to forget?

One possible explanation is that the signs of the educational institutions of the past haven’t been preserved as well, through no fault of the town or anyone in it. Bishop Bethune College was located in the house of former mayor T.N. Gibbs, but when the school closed in 1932 amid financial troubles, the land was sold to the city and a new school, the Central Collegiate Institute, was founded on the spot (it has since been home to Village Union School and currently Durham Alternative Secondary School). The Demill college was destroyed by a fire just two years after the publishing of the Globe article, and the college eventually moved to St. Catharines. This lack of standing physical evidence that could tie the city to its educational past could present an answer as to why that aspect is much better remembered, especially when contrasted with the large number of not only buildings that were built around Oshawa’s manufacturing, but the amount of people still alive who were there to witness the city’s manufacturing based economic boom.

In the same vein, education in the past was very much shaped around the industrial revolution that all of Ontario was experiencing in the mid to late 19th century. Public schooling during this period heavily focused on preparing children for their new roles in industrial society, as both labourers and citizens of the British Empire and Dominion of Canada. The close ties created between industry and education could provide a further example of why Oshawa’s educational past was not as common in the collective memory of the city; when creating new workers for manufacturing was the end goal of education, it could have become a lot easier to forget what got workers to their positions in the first place.

The history of Education in Oshawa is something that surprised me personally with how deep it went and how much history there was in something that I, and many others, take for granted in today’s age. It’s caught my attention, and I hope to dive even further into it as I continue my research with the museum over the summer.


Sources

“Oshawa: A Manufacturing Centre R. S. Williams & Son F. L. Fowke D. Cinnamon The Queen’s Hotel Eli. S. Edmonson Mrs. M. E. May The Joseph Hall Machine Works Demill College Ed. E. Rogers Bishop Bethune College Provan’s Patent Car, Fork And Sling The McLaughlin Carriage Company.” The Globe (1844-1936), Oct 27, 1894.

French, Olive. “DeMill (1871-1920)”, The Olive French Manuscript, https://olivefrench.wordpress.com/2011/08/05/demill-1871-1920/.

Hood, M. MacIntyre. “Bishop Bethune College Recalled,” Daily Times Gazette, Nov. 17th, 1955.

Houston, Susan E. Schooling and Scholars in Nineteenth Century Ontario. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1988.

The Science of Homemaking

By Grace A., Summer Student

In May of 1930, The Oshawa Daily Times cut the metaphorical ribbon on Oshawa Collegiate’s new technical wing with a thirty-page special edition paper. The headline read “What Technical Education Means to the Youth of Oshawa,” implying, of course, that the opening of a vocational school meant opportunity. Industry-based learning was intended to prepare students who wouldn’t be attending university for direct entry into the trades. For boys, this meant taking courses in Motor Mechanics, Drafting, Woodworking, Electricity and Blue Print Reading. The curriculum was designed by the city’s most prominent industry men. With their vast knowledge and resources, the program was state-of-the-art. Across the hall, the young girls of Oshawa were also thinking about their future. That is, as Miss V. I. Lidkea, Head of Household Science, put it – “their life work of matrimony.”

“Some of the Special Vocational Department Classrooms,” Oshawa Daily Times (Oshawa, ON), May 7, 1930.

Lidkea’s program was one of many educational opportunities which emerged in the early twentieth century that was specifically designed for girls. Home Economics was a response to the question of how women’s work might be able to adapt to industrial society. Through technical training, young girls would learn the science behind sewing, cooking, laundry, home nursing, and the management of household appliances- and it was a science. At Iowa State College, women could receive a degree in homemaking after completing rigorous courses in physics and math, as well as instructions on electric circuits and household equipment. The ideal 1930s housewife could not only use an oven, but she could take it apart and put it back together again too. Despite their proficiencies in a multitude of technical subjects, it was clear that female students would be directed towards homemaking. Perhaps the question that economists actually meant to ask was, “how can we industrialize women’s labour while maintaining the idea of separate spheres?”

In the one-page feature, “Oshawa Girls Will Take Courses in Home-Making Arts,” Lidkea specified what technical education meant for the girls of Oshawa. Like the boy’s program, Oshawa Collegiate’s Homemaking Arts courses were created for girls who would not be pursuing further education. In a rather progressive effort, Lidkea assured readers that the girls would also be given the skills to meet the needs of industry. If a student decided to contribute to the family income through waitressing or nursing, she would be considered a competitive candidate. She would be able to earn a wage, regardless of whether she was single or married. (Lidkea explained that statistics showed both single and married women were working those days.) Above all, girls could use their education to improve the standard of living in their household. She would be a more efficient cleaner, launderer, cook, and dressmaker. She would run her home like a factory. Thus, the opening of Oshawa Collegiate’s technical wing seemed to walk the line between women’s work and economic activity. Was she a wife or a worker- or both?


Sources

Bix, Amy Sue. “Equipped for Life: Gendered Technical Training and Consumerism in Home Economics, 1920-1980.” Technology and Culture 43, no. 4 (2002): 728-754.

Leonard Turner, Katherine. “A Woman’s Work Is Never Done: Cooking, Class and Women’s Work.” In How the Other Half Ate: A History of Working Class Meals at the Turn of the Century, 121-140. Oakland: University of California Press, 2014.

“Oshawa Girls Will Take Course in Home-Making Arts,” Oshawa Daily Times (Oshawa, ON), May 7, 1930.

“Some of the Special Vocational Department Classrooms,” Oshawa Daily Times (Oshawa, ON), May 7, 1930.

“What Technical Education Means to The Youth of Oshawa,” Oshawa Daily Times (Oshawa, ON), May 7, 1930.

Tales from Olive French

In the 1960s, a woman named Olive French began researching and writing a history of Oshawa’s early education, educators, and schools.  This manuscript was never published but was later donated to the archives.  In the early 2010s, Visitor Experience Coordinator Jill Passmore set out to transcribe the manuscript, which was made available to researchers through the blog olivefrench.wordpress.com.  During her transcription process, Jill shared some of her favourite ‘tidbits’ on the Museum’s Facebook page, which bear repeating here on our blog.  Be sure to check out the Olive French site and discover a little more about education and early life in Oshawa.


An anecdote about Beaton’s store: For some reason best known to them, Beaton’s had a display of chamber pots in the window of their china shop. A lady went by with two small children, around the age of four or five years old. When they saw what was in the window, they let it be known in good clear voices – “Oh, look at the jims,” “see all the jim’s”! Their mother decided that she would take the children by, on the other side of the street until Beaton’s changed their window decorations!
Jim’s is possibly a derivative of “Jimmy” and “Jimmy Riddle”, which is British slang for “urinating”


The birch rod, so popular in the early days was gradually ruled out of the schools. Some of the older scholars, on a few occasions had received broken fingers through its injudicious use. The strap became a popular way to emphasize obedience and to stimulate the lazy ones. As a rule the parents did not come to the school and complain about Johnny’s or Mary’s punishment. If a child deserved it he got no sympathy from “ma or pa.” Most children were told, “if you get a lickin’ in school you’re git another when you git home.”


One could scarcely imagine the health authorities of today tolerating a smelly place like Dick Hobb’s fish store (Simcoe Street South).


For the most part the common schoolteachers had only a common school education and no professional training. They were usually discharged soldiers or new comers who were ill equipped to take a more lucrative position. The teacher’s qualifications were his ability to keep order while his pupils memorized their lessons that he assigned to them from their textbooks and recited them to him.


Scholars [at DeMill Ladies’ College] were requested to bring with them, to the college, their own towels, table napkins and ring, one pillow and pillow cases, one pair of sheets and bed covers suitable for the season. They also had to bring a knife, a fork and a spoon, all these articles was to be marked with the owner’s name. They must provide themselves with clothing suitable for the season and were requested to wear inexpensive, neat and plain clothing. More thought was to be given to schoolwork than to dress.


Another escapade took place in Centre Street Public School in 1888 or 1889; this one was not serious but it emptied one of the rooms for a half of a day. One of the pupils, Maisie, aged ten years, whose father kept bees, thought she would see what could be done about a half holiday on a one nice day in the spring. She had no fear of bees whatever and could go out among the bee hives at her home and pick out the drones and the other bees did not attack her. It is believed that those insects are aware of it, when anyone is afraid of them. Drones are male bees and do not sting. At lunch time that day, she put a few drones in her pocket before she left to go back to school. After the bell rang and things got settled down in her room, she let the bees go. There was a near panic of course; no one else knew that the bees were drones. There was no need to dismiss the room; the room dismissed itself, teacher and all. How she ever dared to do a thing like that when Mr. Smith was principal was a question. She must have been brave. No doubt she was punished at school; the teachers wouldn’t have seen any joke about it like her father did. She happened to be my cousin, he was C.S. French.

Centre Street School in the 1920s; A004.14.3

In the earliest years when the High School was in the new building, report cards were not given to the pupils. Marks obtained on the exams were posted on the bulletin boards and the papers were handed back to the pupils. A record was kept in the office of each student’s marks, during the year. Before the final exams in the higher grades, the scholars were called individually to the office for an interview with the principal. He gave his opinion on the advisability of trying or not. A fee was charged for the departmental exams.


An amusing report was printed in the Vindicator April 7th 1876. It was the day of the trustee meeting and not one of them was present. “A number of the members had joined an elocution class and it had met on the same evening. Some very brilliant oration at the meetings was to be expected now. A new pump was needed at the school and it would be an excellent chance for brilliant elocutionary effect for the property committee.”

Also the following; at one time when there was no quorum and no meeting of the school board all of the trustees were attending an oyster supper. Someone suggested that it might be a good idea, on the night of the trustee meetings to give oyster suppers and invite the members of the board to attend. Perhaps they might be induced to transact the school business afterwards.

The Pedlar Papers in the Classrooms

By Jill Passmore, Visitor Experience Coordinator

The Pedlar Papers are an amazing resource, and we are lucky to have them at the Museum. Samuel Pedlar was an early historian who personally interviewed descendants of our earliest European settlers in Oshawa. His unpublished manuscript tells countless anecdotes, contains vital statistics and is a who’s who of Oshawa’s past.

sam-pedlar

Recently, I have embarked on a teaching partnership with Attersley Public School. I visit the school biweekly to bring local history into the classrooms there. After discussing why the ancestral Wendat and Mississauga First Nations chose to settle here, we move on to early settlers – a key component to the Grade Three Ontario Curriculum.

Using the Pedlar Papers, I created and index of businesses mentioned in the manuscript. The index includes the name of the businesses, years of operation, location, associated names, what they produced and any notes that I had during my research.

From here, we were able to discuss the types of businesses that were in Oshawa in its earliest years and move through nineteenth century. For example, the earliest business mentioned is Beagle & Conklin, purveyors of spinning wheels and handlooms in 1793. We talked about why this business would have been important to early settlers and why they would have settled at the lakefront. Later we discussed the relationship between the Hollow and the Oshawa Creek, the businesses (mills and distilleries) located there. Of the first ten businesses Pedlar lists, three are distilleries and one is a tavern. The kids got a kick out of that! The others are Beagle & Conklin, the Farewell’s pearl and potashery, the Annis Saw Mill, the Mail Stage Company, the Robson-Lauchland tannery, and the fuller furniture factory.

1911 FI Map

Following this, the students examined copies of the 1911 Fire Insurance Map and education artefacts. They looked to see if the artefacts they had might have been produced at a business located on their map. Some managed to match their straight pens to schools and a nurse’s cap to the hospital, which is listed as the Oshawa Public Hospital on this map (circled).

This kind of learning, without using a textbook, is imperative for the current generation of students. Teaching them to extrapolate information and use critical thinking skills will take them into the next decade of their education.

For more information on booking education programming from the Oshawa Museum, please call Jill at 905-436-7624 ext. 106 or email programming[at]oshawamuseum[dot]org