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/

 

 

 

 

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.

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