Student Museum Musings – Christine

By Christine G., Summer Student

Hello! My name is Christine and I am the Archives Assistant at the Oshawa Museum this summer! It is my first summer here at the Oshawa Museum, but I already love it here! My first project was creating and finishing a finding aid for some of our land deed records and inputting the information into our catalogue. There were a total of 49 items to catalogue that ranged from 1859 to 1933 and spanned both Oshawa and the Township of East Whitby. The most interesting part of this project was seeing just how much information these deeds and mortgages provide to researchers! The deeds and mortgages include information on more than just the land transaction as they include occupations, relationships, and town plans. All of this information can be used to understand city growth patterns, genealogical information, occupational titles and actions, land prices, economic trends, and so much more!

My beautiful picture

My current project involves working with recently donated files from the Oshawa Fire Department. We received a large donation of archival material from the Department and are currently trying to sort through all of the files to find out what we have been given. There are thousands of photos, slides, negatives, newspaper clippings, and official documents, and let me tell you, there are so many cool files and photos. For example, the Department provided us with arson files that contain hand written notes, statements from witnesses, official reports, photos, floor plans, and so much more! The photos in this collection are so incredibly awesome. There are photos of the Oshawa Arena fire, house fires, vehicle fires, fires downtown, fire trucks (so many cool photos of fire trucks), construction of fire stations, the firefighters, and that to name a few! If you like photos of trucks and seeing how vehicles change over time, this is definitely a collection you will have to check out!

My beautiful picture

The collection of newspaper clippings range from the 1860s all the way to the end of 1999! In these clippings there are articles on different fires, emergencies, crashes, outreach activities, and fire prevention. The clippings also include articles on relations between the Oshawa Fire Department and the municipal council. These articles include union and wage negotiations, a councillor calling Oshawa Firefighters out of shape, and the debate surrounding Bob Rae’s Social Contract Bill.

My beautiful picture

The Department also provided over 1000 slides that are being digitized and cataloged. In the slides there are fire prevention and safety presentations, as well as instructions on how to use a fire extinguisher. One of my favourite presentations within the slides is a training for the firefighters on how to spot the signs of arson while fighting a fire. It goes through finding the flash point of the fire (where it started), weird smells, odd flame colours, different colours of smoke and so much more. It is really informative in fire safety and in seeing how the fire department has changed over time. Honestly this is such an amazing collection to have in our archival collection, and I can’t wait to see what else turns up as I complete the project!

My beautiful picture

The Month That Was – December 1872

All  articles are from the Ontario Reformer

December 6, 1872
A short time ago a horse was advertised in the Reformer as strayed.  It  had been missing for some weeks, and no clue to its whereabouts could be obtained till the day after the “ad” appeared, when the owner saw it and got his horse.  One day this week a man came in to advertise a steer which had strayed on to his premises.  Before the advertisement appeared in print the owner had his animal.  If you want anything made known bring your advertisement to the Reformer office.  We presume the reason why the last anumal was recovered so soon was, the “ad” was paid for in advance.

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December 6, 1872, page 1

December 6, 1872
Births

In Oshawa, on the 3rd inst., the wife of Thomas Hopper, of a son.

In Oshawa, on the 4th inst, the wife of Mr. Parks, Bruce Street, of a son.

In Harmony, on the 3rd inst., the wife of Mr. Calston Horn, of a son.

In Oshawa on the 30th ult., the wife of Mr. Wm. Right, of a son.

Married

On the 27th ult., by the Rev. Wm. Scott Mr Thomas Hoskin Jr., of Oshawa, to Miss Eliza Jane, eldest daughter of the late Mr. John Colman, of Darlington

 

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December 6, 1872, page 2

 

December 13, 1872
Terrible Conflegration (sic)
Oshawa ‘Chicagoed’
Fourteen places of business and seven dwellings destroyed
The fire supposed to be the work of an ifcendiary (sic)

The most fearful fire that ever took place in Oshawa was that of Sunday night last.  About ten minutes after seven, a fire was discovered in the clothing store of Mr. Geo. Hodder, and the alarm was immediately given.  The Fire Brigade was soon at the scenes of the conflagration, and at work; but, as usual, the water supply gave out, and the efforts of the firemen to confine the fire to the place where it originated proved unsuccessful.  Quickly the flames spread, and soon the adjoining stores were enveloped with the devouring elements.  It now became evident that the entire row of buildings, from Fitzmaurice’s drug store, around the corner, to Garth’s butcher shop, was doomed, unless a good supply of water could be obtained.  There were three engines at work, Oshawa No. 1 and 2 and the little chemical engine from the Hall Works, all doing well when they could obtain water.  When it became evident that the fire was likely to spread as it did, endangering the whole town, Mr. C.W. Smith procured a horse and went for the Whitby steam fire engine, having first made arrangements for a team to meet the engine on its way down.  Inside of an hour and ten minutes after Mr. Smith left for Whitby, the steamer was playing on the fire, procuring water from the well at Black’s corner.  And well did this little “Merryweather’ under the management of the noble Whitby Fire Brigade, do its work – nobly did the brigade work; and to-day the businessmen on the north side of King Street may thank the Whitby Fire Brigade for saving – with their engine – their property.  Just before the Whitby engine arrived, it was fully expected that the Gibbs block would go, as the heat from the burning buildings was intense.  In fact, in front of the Chisholm’s store, Blamey & Briggs’ store, and the top of Hind’s hotel, were on fire, but with the help of the ‘little chemical,’ the fire in the two  stores was put out, and Hind’s was saved by the Whitby engine.  All this time, the Oshawa Brigade, with old No. 1 and No. 2, was working as they always work – nobly.  But what is the use of a fire engine without water! The Oshawa Hook and Ladder Company worked like ‘all out doors’ as they always do. The citizens, with a few exceptions, worked as if the property belonged to the doing all they could to save goods from the doomed stores.  Men and boys ‘played horse’ and with wagons drew away the goods as fast as they could be loaded, to places of safety.

… The fire was, indeed bad; but how much worse might it have been.  A few accidents happened to the firemen and others, but none of a serious nature.  Let us be thankful that there were no lives lost.

…The persons who burst open Mr. Hoddor’s door distinctly state that the fire first started in the north-west corner of the shop, which would be as much as twelve or fourteen feet from the stove. What makes it certain that the fire could not have originated from any defect in the stove is, there was no fire in it from Saturday night; and the stove was cold when Mr. Hoddor left after closing.

There was no one in the shop, or, no one who had any business there, on Sunday but Mr. Hoddor’s boy, and that was about eight o’clock in the morning.

There appears to be no doubts whatever  but that the fire was the work of an incendiary; but who the scoundrel is yet remains a mystery. A jury was empaneled on Tuesday last, and an investigation proceeded with, before Dr. Clark, coroner, and is yet going on, privately. A great many persons have been examined, but no evidence has been adduced which will criminate anyone.  If any important is brought before the jury, we will make it known in our next issue.

Where to find them

The old customers (and as many new ones wish) of those of our merchants and business men who were compelled to move on Sunday night, on account of the ‘extreme heat’ will find them at the following places, for the present, where great bargains may be expected.

Trewin will be found in the store lately occupied by EB Wilcox, one door west of Wigg & Son’s furniture warerooms.

Dr. Deans will be found in the shop next door north of Taylor’s jewellery store.

Wm. Dickie will be found in the shop between Trewin’s and Gillett Bros.

JF Willox will be found up stairs, over W Lang’s store, one door west of Steele Bros.

JP Johnston will be found in part of H Wilkinson’s boot and shoe store, three doors east of Black’s hotel, till further notice.

R Fitchett will be found, on or after Monday next, in part of Keddie & Rice’s new store.

JJ Hall will be found at present at Hindes’ Hotel, where he will shave you as clean as he ever did.

Geo. Garth will be found in the place lately occupied by Mrs. Finney, next door to Shaw’s boot and shoe store.

J Barnard will be found two doors east of Black’s hotel.

JO & RH Henry will be found in the old stand, Simcoe St., next door to the Reformer Office.

The other parties have not, as yet, secured places.

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Oshawa Ablaze

By Jillian Passmore, Visitor Experience Co-ordinator

The Oshawa Fire Department has a long history. As early as December 16 1866, the Oshawa Village Council noted that some insurance companies in Quebec were refusing to insure municipalities without fire protection services.

Council passed a by-law that required every owner or occupant of a building to supply “ a good substantial ladder leading from the ground to the roof and that every owner or occupant shall cause the chimneys and stovepipes thereof to be properly cleaned at least once a month”. They also passed a by-law that required every citizen to assist at the scene of a fire. Those who refused assistance would be fined $5. This is the first recorded occasion of fire prevention in Oshawa.

Oshawa’s first department, which was organized in 1856, was made up entirely of volunteers under Chief Engineer Mr. P. Thornton by order of By-law 33.

On July 20, 1868, the Oshawa Fire Department was incorporated as a full time department by By-law 142. The first full time Chief was Patrick Thornton. He was responsible for 50 men with the Fire Company and a further 15 men with the Hook and Ladder Company, plus 1 engine, some ladders and numerous hose lines.

Thankfully, the Department was growing. Within the next 100 years there would be some major fires in Oshawa’s downtown core alone.

Oshawa Fire Department, 1905; from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection
Oshawa Fire Department, 1905; from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection

On Sunday December 8, 1872, a fire originated in George Hodder’s clothing and hat store on Simcoe Street. It was the worst fire in Oshawa up until that time. Wind, wooden buildings and lack of available water were very frustrating for the firefighters at that time.

The fire began at 7pm in Oshawa’s downtown area. When the fire began to spread and seriously threaten other surrounding businesses, firemen from Whitby came to the rescue.

A man named CW Smith jumped on a horse and raced to Whitby for the Merryweather steam fire engine, which was a new acquisition at the time.  Running on one cylinder it was made by Merryweather and Sons of London England. It was frost proof and considered to be the pioneer engine of Canada.  Fire stations in Whitby and Kingston had tested it the Merryweather, but Oshawa put it to the real test during the fire of 1872.

The Gibbs block, a large building on the south side of King Street was destroyed by flames. 19 buildings were damaged or destroyed. Spray from the hoses caused ice to form on the fire fighters clothes and bodies; citizens assisted by provided dry and warm clothing to them.

The Merryweather that saved downtown Oshawa in 1872, on display at the Whitby Public Library
The Merryweather that saved downtown Oshawa in 1872, on display at the Whitby Public Library

The cause of the fire was determined to be arson. It originated in a partition between the Fitzmaurice, a druggist and veterinarian, and the Hodder store. After a trial, it was the opinion of a jury that Fitzmaurice intentionally set the building on fire.  He was sentenced to three years in jail for instigating the fire for insurance purposes.

Oshawa would go on to purchase its own Merryweather machine at a cost of $5600 in 1875.

Oshawa's Merryweather Fire Engine, c. 1900, corner of Simcoe and Richmond; Oshawa Community Archives Collection
Oshawa’s Merryweather Fire Engine, c. 1900, corner of Simcoe and Richmond; Oshawa Community Archives Collection

Nearby was the McLaughlin Carriage Works. By 1877, the McLaughlins had outgrown their facilities in Enniskillen. The need for banking facilities, more skilled labour, and a railroad for shipping led to the company’s relocation to Oshawa.

Though the competing businesses expected McLaughlin’s business to fail, it was they who folded and due to increased business, McLaughlin was once again in need of expansion.

Robert McLaughlin made a deal with the town enabled him to trade locations and move into the old Gibbs furniture factory at Richmond and Mary Streets.

There he employed 600 people. In 1893 he took on two of his sons, George and Sam, as partners.

In December 1899, McLaughlin suffered a serious setback when his entire factory was destroyed by fire. He lost carriages in production, all materials, tools and equipment.

McLaughlin Carriage Fire, 1899; from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection
McLaughlin Carriage Fire, 1899; from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection

The town offered him a $50,000 interest free loan and, while the factory was rebuilt, he set up a temporary plant in Gananoque for a year. This factory produced 3,000 vehicles and the company was able to stay in the market. Prior to selecting Gananoque as their temporary factory, fifteen communities offered to help the McLaughlin’s re-establish their factory.

Richmond Street fire company, c. 1922; from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection
Richmond Street fire company, c. 1922; from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection

To learn more about other fires that have occurred in Oshawa, feel free to make an appointment with the Archivist or book the “Fire: A Photographic Tour of Fires in Oshawa” PowerPoint presentation for your special interest group. Please contact the programming department for more options.