The Importance of Continued Research

By Jennifer Weymark, Archivist

For a number of years, I have been undertaking research into early Black history in the Oshawa area. This inquiry is part of a larger shift in our focus here at the Oshawa Museum.

Prior to 2011, there had been minimal research into the history of the Black population in Oshawa. Some initial work had been done examining census information but that was the extent. When we were approached to take part in Trent University’s inaugural Black History event, we realized how little time had been dedicated to this area of Oshawa’s history. The invitation to the event spurred a new project that helps to tell the history of a local family from the 1790s to today. It also helps to tell a more inclusive and, more importantly, a more accurate history of early Oshawa settlers.

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Portion of 1851 Census of Canada West; lines 40-43 are for Wealthy Andrews and her three children. The enumerator has marked the column for ‘Colored person – Negroes.’  Wealthy and her family were one of two Black families living in East Whitby Township in the 1850s.

This project signaled a shift in where we focus our research, to help fill the gap in our knowledge of our community. A great deal of research has been conducted on the many industries and industrialists who helped shape Oshawa; what was missing was looking into those who worked for the industrialists, those whose labour made the factories so successful, and telling their stories. It is the experiences of the “everyday person” who help to truly understand what the community looked like in the past and how it has evolved today. Currently, we are working to tell the history of women, those who arrived in Oshawa as Displaced Persons post WWII, the Indigenous population who called this area home long before European settlers arrived and those whose names may not be recognizable but who helped shape our community.

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l-r: Albert GD Pankhurst (1885 – 1977), Ward D Pankhurst (1888 – 1978), and Greta Pankhurst (1895 – 1983). They were the great-grandchildren of Wealthy Andrews

I presented a paper on the research into early Black history at the Canadian Historical Association’s annual conference at the end of May. The paper discussed how shifting our research focus not only helps to tell a more accurate history of the community but helps to make the past more relatable the current Oshawa residents, strengthening the sense of community and spurring interest in our past with those who may not have been interested previously.


For more information on the Andrews/Dunbar/Pankhurst family, please read our three part series from Black History Month 2014

Oshawa’s Black History: One Family’s Story, Part 1

Oshawa’s Black History: One Family’s Story, Part II

Oshawa’s Black History: One Family’s Story, Part III

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Street Name Stories: Building a Nation Pt. III, Plaines d’Abraham

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

With the plethora of 150 commemorations taking place this year, I thought I could use my usual Street Name Stories blog series to throw another hat in the ring.  Looking at a map of Oshawa, there are a number of streets whose names are commonplace in the history of Canada.  Over the next five Street Name Stories Posts, I will look at street(s) whose namesakes helped contribute to the growth of Canada.  In Part I, we looked at Oshawa’s Indigenous People who have called the our country home for thousands of years, and Part II looked at the early European Explorers.

There are many moments one can look at in the history of Canada which are clearly a defining moment, a turning point. September 13, 1759 is one such moment: the Battle of the Plains of Abraham.

First, context. In the mid-1700s, North America was home to many different European colonies; New France was well and successful, while to its south, England’s Thirteen Colonies were also thriving, not quite yet feeling the sentiments of discontent that would lead to the American Revolution. Those were coming. An ocean away, the colonizers, England and France, were none to pleased with each other.  Everything came to a head in 1854, the start of what would become the Seven Years War.  Its name is derived from the seven primary years of conflict, from 1856 to 1863, and it would result in conflicts in Europe, the Americas, West Africa, India, and the Philippines, five continents in all. The Seven Years War could be considered one of the first global conflicts, a world war.

In North America, the English were at war with the French and First Nations.  After a series of skirmishes, including the capture of  Louisbourg on Île Royale (Cape Breton Island) and other French possessions in the Atlantic, the British forces continued their campaign further into New France, eventually reaching Quebec City.

Through the summer of 1759, the French were secure in their fortified city.  The British, led by General James Wolfe, tried to deplete stock and supplies and also tried a few strategic maneuvers to ‘lure’ the French to attack, but Marquis de Montcalm, the French officer leading the troops, held firm.

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Photographs from around the Plains of Abraham

Wolfe saw opportunity on the morning of September 13; in the very wee hours, the British force managed to secure their position.  As described by the Canadian Encyclopedia:

…By 8 a.m. the entire force of 4,500 men had assembled. The British force stretched across the Plains of Abraham (named for 17th-century fisherman Abraham Martin) in a shallow horseshoe formation about 1 km long and two ranks deep.

I would imagine this was quite the sight for Montcalm and the French forces. Montcalm had a force of roughly the same size; where they differ is in experience.  The French forces were comprised of soldiers, militia, and First Nations; the British forces were regular soldiers, highly experienced and well trained.  Montcalm decided to attack immediately, hoping to catch the British unprepared.

Here’s where hindsight comes in handy: many historians believe that if Montcalm waited for reinforcements rather than act right away, the result of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham may have turned out differently.  The battle resulted in a retreat from the French forces, and both Wolfe and Montcalm died due to wounds.

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“The Death of General Wolfe,” by Benjamin West, oil on canvas. The Royal Ontario Museum has this portrait in their collection, an ‘Iconic’ artefact. This Video has a great analysis of its importance and symbolism.

The Plains of Abraham wasn’t the final battle of the conflict, but it represents the turning point in the North American theatre. By September 1760, British forces manage to capture Montreal, and the Treaty of Paris in 1763 brings an end to the Seven Years War. This treaty results in New France being ceded to the British, the start of British rule of what would become Canada.

 

Wolfe Street is found off Simcoe Street, south of Bloor; Oshawa’s Harmon Park Arena is located on Wolfe Street.  Montcalm is located one street south of King Street between Waverly and Stevenson.


References

Official website for the Plains of Abraham, National Battlesite Commission: http://www.ccbn-nbc.gc.ca/en/

The Canadian Encyclopedia: http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/battle-of-the-plains-of-abraham/

Meet the Museum: Jennifer Weymark, Archivist

The focus of this blog series is the staff of the Oshawa Museum and their role at the site.  What does it mean to the archivist or curator at a community museum?  What goes on behind the scenes in the Programming office?  What is our Executive Director’s favourite memory of the Museum? 

Join us and see what happens behind the doors of Guy House.

What do you do at the Oshawa Museum?

I am the Archivist which means that I manage the archival collection.  The archival collection is made up of historical documents or records related to the history of Oshawa. Within the collection, we have photographs, maps, oral histories, newspapers, land deeds, diaries, personal correspondence and so much more.

It is my job to ensure that this information is preserved and made available to those interested in researching.

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Why did you choose this career?

I was in third year university when I took a course on public history.  This course opened my eyes to the many different ways a degree in history could be used.  The whole first half of the course focused on the history and role of museums and I was hooked.  From that point on, I shifted my focus from becoming a teacher to working towards a career in the museum field.

 

What is your favourite part of your job?

The fact that each day comes with the possibility of some new discovery.  Whether that be stumbling upon an obituary that helps us to better understand someone or reading through a handwritten letter that changes the way we look at our history, there is always the potential to discover something new each day.

 

What do you find to be the most challenging part of your job?

From a research perspective, I do find the lack of early Oshawa newspapers to be rather challenging. There are large gaps in Oshawa’s newspaper record due to a fire that wiped out so many prior to having them microfilmed.  There is a gap between 1873 and 1922 and once again during the period of the Second World War.   Newspapers provide such a great snapshot of life at a very specific time and it very challenging that so many of Oshawa’s early ones have been lost.  It is for this reason that we recently had several of our hardcopy newspapers from these missing times digitized.

You can view many of Oshawa’s early newspapers on the Canadian Community Digital Archives website.

 

How did you get into the museum field?

Honestly, I was in the right place at the right time.  I had just finished my internship at the Canadian War Museum and had graduated from the Museum Management and Curatorship course from Sir Sandford Fleming when a job was posted for Tour Guide at the Oshawa Community Museum.  I was hired here in September 1999 and worked hard in that position until the following September when the position of Archivist became available.  Collections management had been the area of museum work that I truly loved and I was over the moon when I was hired as Archivist.

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What is your favourite memory of the Museum?

My favourite memory of the Museum is the reopening of Guy House after the fire.  That was such a challenging time but we persevered and continued to focus on ensuring that we advocated for the importance of heritage in Oshawa.

Where The Streets Get Their Names – Thomas Street

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

The community of Cedardale was located in Oshawa along Simcoe Street, south of Bloor Street.  One cannot speak of this village without talking about the Conant family, a long-standing and renowned family in Oshawa’s history.  A number of streets in the Simcoe/Wentworth/Bloor area have been named after this family.  Today, we’ll look at the namesake of Thomas Street, Thomas Conant.

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Thomas Conant was born in Oshawa on April 15, 1842.  His father was Daniel Conant, who built the first mill in the Oshawa area and was also involved in the Rebellion of 1837.  Thomas was the great grandson of Roger Conant, one of the first settlers to arrive in the Oshawa area, in 1792.

Thomas Conant was educated at Eddytown Seminary, near New York.  He returned home to administer his father’s property, but shortly after he became involved in the American Civil War.  His father, Daniel, encouraged him to take advantage of the opportunities that could be found in the United States.  Thomas left for New York on June 18, 1864, and later went on to Philadelphia, Washington and Baltimore, visiting Northern Armies.  It is reported that as many as 80 000 Canadian men went to the United States during the Civil War, lured by the prospect of money an adventure.  Thomas was horrified by the suffering he saw in the army hospitals, and when asked if he wanted to enlist he declined.

When in the United States, Thomas Conant met with President Abraham Lincoln.  Thomas’ first impression was that Lincoln was a very awkward man.  Although it is unknown what they spoke about, Thomas was granted a pass to go and where ever he wanted in Virginia and the area of Washington.

Eventually, Thomas returned to Oshawa, where he lived until he began to travel.  He travelled around the world twice, visiting many exotic places. At a time when transportation was still fairly primitive, this was quite an achievement.  He regularly contributed articles to several newspapers, including The Oshawa Vindicator and the Toronto Globe.  These newspapers published letters from him, describing the places he visited.

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“Assassination of Author’s Grandfather. Canadian Rebellion, 1837-38” Print from Thomas Conant’s Upper Canada Sketches, illustration by E.S. Shrapnel

In addition to his newspaper articles, Thomas Conant also wrote books.  His works include Upper Canada Sketches (1898) and Life in Canada (1903).

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The Conant family home, c. 1902

Thomas lived in the Conant family home, known as “Buenavista,”a brick mansion located on the corner of Wentworth and Simcoe Streets in Oshawa.  It was torn down in November 1985 to make way for a 43 unit townhouse development by the Durham Region Non-Profit Housing Corporation.  Thomas was also an avid reader, and his private library, located in his house, consisted of 6000 volumes.

Thomas married Margaret Gifford, and in 1885, a son, Gordon Daniel Conant, was born.  Mr. G. D. Conant was very dedicated to public service and held many prominent positions, including Mayor of Oshawa and Premier of Ontario.  Thomas Conant died in 1905, at the age of 63.  He is still remembered as an outstanding citizen.

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Conant Headstone, Union Cemetery, Section C


Above biographical information on Thomas Conant from Historical Oshawa Information Sheets.

Where the Streets Get Their Names – Shelley Avenue

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

Autumn is in full swing.  The leaves are changing brilliant colours and falling faster than rakes can catch up, Thanksgiving was celebrated (here in Canada, at least) a few weeks ago, and in the next few days, Halloween celebrations will commence.  On October 31, the streets will be filled with princesses, ghosts, goblins, and vampires.  Perhaps you know someone who will be dressing up as the monster known as Frankenstein. When someone says Frankenstein, this is the monster that comes to mind:

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Boris Karloff as Frankenstein’s creature; By Universal Studios – Dr. Macro, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3558176

Through the years, popular culture has led to the confusion of Frankenstein, the ‘doctor’ and mad scientist, and his creation, with the creation commonly being called Frankenstein.  This misnomer aside, I’m sure there will be many trick-or-treaters who will be donning green face paint and adding assorted scars and neck bolts to complete their costume.  Dr. Frankenstein and his monster were the creation of a 19th century author, Mary Shelley.

The origins of this tale are almost as legendary as the tale itself.  As the story goes, Mary travelled to Lord Byron’s Villa in Switzerland with her partner (and later husband)  Percy Bysshe Shelley (the writer John Polidori was also a part of this group, as well as Mary’s stepsister Claire Clairmont).  The weather was dark and gloomy, and as the evening went on, Byron suggested that the group write their own ghost stories.  The short story Mary created was later expanded to her novel, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus.  It is a tale of a scientist who brings a corpse back to life and the consequences of this action.  It is written in the Gothic style and is considered by many to be the first ‘science fiction’ book.

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By Richard Rothwell – Scan of a print. Original housed at the National Portrait Gallery: NPG 1235 https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4219463

Who was Mary Shelley?  She was born in 1797 as Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, daughter of feminist philosopher, educator, and writer Mary Wollstonecraft, and philosopher, novelist, and journalist William Godwin.  Her mother died shortly after her birth, and she was raised by her father and later by his second wife.  She first met Percy Bysshe Shelley in the early 1810s; he was married when they first met, however he was estranged from his wife.  She committed suicide in 1816, and Shelley and Mary were married shortly after.  It was earlier in the year of 1816 that the couple famously visited Byron in Switzerland.

Mary Shelley wasn’t the only person to tell a good ghost story that weekend as Polidori would write The Vampyre after that weekend.

Before his death in 1822, Mary & Percy would have one surviving child, a son named Percy Florence Shelley.  Mary passed away on February 1, 1851 at the age of 53.

Shelley Avenue in Oshawa is found in the ‘authors neighbourhood,’ north east of Harmony and the 401.  Other street names in that area are Keates, Shakespeare, Austin, Milton, and Browning.  Was the street named for Mary, her equally noteworthy husband Percy, or for both, I cannot say for sure. Regardless of its namesake, the name Shelley is linked with the tale of a scientist who brought a corpse back to life.


“How dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to be greater than his nature will allow.”
― Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

 

Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: STAND BACK, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD! HE’S GOT A ROTTEN BRAIN!

Frau Blücher: It’s not rotten! It’s a good brain!

Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: IT’S ROTTEN, I TELL YOU! ROTTEN!

The Monster: [lunging at Dr. Frankenstein] RRAAAAAAAA!

Igor: Ixnay on the ottenray.

-Mel Brooks, Young Frankenstein