Oshawa’s Early Postal Service

This was originally written by the Oshawa Historical Society as a Historical Information Sheet

Prior to 1850, it was necessary for settlers to go to the general store for postal services as there were no stand alone post offices.  Stage coaches and sleighs delivered the mail to the store and picked up any outgoing mail.  Trans-Atlantic mail delivery was started in 1840 when Samuel Cunard was contracted with the Admiralty to provide two trips monthly each way between Liverpool and Canada.  Mail reached Quebec from Liverpool in 18 days and from Quebec was sent to the regional centres.  In 1854 the first Post Office on rails was established.  Clerks were on board the trains sorting mail between communities in Southern Ontario.

The first post office in the area was opened in the general store operated by John and William Warren in Hamar’s Corners (now Whitby) in 1824.  Stage coaches would stop to pick up and deliver mail during their run from Kingston to York (Toronto). In 1827 Donald Campbell obtained consent from the Postmaster General to have mail carried between Hamar’s Corners and Beaverton.  Kenneth Campbell was appointed postmaster and made the trip once every two weeks.

Black and white sketch of a one and a half storey building, featuring a black and white checkerboard facade. There is a wooden sidewalk in front of it.
Edward Skae’s checkered store

In 1842 Edward Skae, owner of a general store located on the southeast corner of King and Simcoe Streets, made application to the legislature for a post office. John Hilliard Cameron, representing Skae’s Corners as part of the Home District in parliament, replied that a name other than “Corners” must be chosen for the post office as there were already too many place names containing corners.  Oshawa was chosen and 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, and 2 Montreal Gazettes.  By 1844 Oshawa had post every day. After the opening of the Grand Trunk Railway in 1856, mail was no longer carried by stage coach.  Mr. John Bone drove the last stage coach with mail into Oshawa.

Sepia toned image of a storefront and three women and one man are standing in front of it.
Oshawa Post Office when it was located on King Street East, 1903; OM Thomas Bouckley Collection A985.41.49

In 1907 Oshawa’s first official stand alone post office was opened on the northeast corner of Ontario Street and King Street East.  Custom offices were located on the second floor of the building and the third floor was a flat for the caretaker. The central post office remained at 40 King Street East until a new building was opened at 47 Simcoe Street South in 1954-1955.  The original Romanesque Revival style post office was demolished in 1957.

Colourized image of a three storey, red brick building with prominent central tower

 List of Postmasters in the Nineteenth Century:

NameAppointmentVacancyReason
Edward Skae1842-10-06
*Gavin Burns18531861-01-07Death
David Smith1861-01-011862-04-26Resignation
Fraser Keller1862-05-011866-10-24Resignation
David Smith1867-04-011877-11-07Death
James Carmichael1877-11-01Jun-03Death

* In 1851, authority for postal administration was transferred from the Imperial Government to the Province of Ontario.  Information prior to 1853 is not available through Canada Post Archives.


References:

Post Office file – Oshawa Museum Archival Collection

Details, published by Canada Post, April-June 2001

Postcard Educational Kit – Oshawa Museum

The Month That Was – February 1928

Whitby Gazette and Primer, February 9, 1928, page 1
Lad Who Tampered With Mail Given Warning

A boy ten years of age appeared before His Worship Magistrate Willis in police escort Monday afternoon charged with the rather serious offence of tampering with mail boxes in the post office and taking mail therefrom. The boy stated that a companion of his dared him to take out the glass of a certain box in the post office and that he did so with a nail. Evidence showed that this had been going on for some time, and that mail, including a man’s salary cheque, had been taken and destroyed.

Whitby Gazette, Feb 9 1928, p3.

Page 3
Long Distance

“I must call John by Long Distance and let him know I got here all right. Then neither of us will be worrying. It’s wonderful to be able to visit you like this, and yet keep as close touch with home as if I were there. What must it have been like in the old days, before Long Distance made it possible?”

“I’ll place this call for you while you are taking off your wraps”

“That will be fine. Just ask for our number, 124,  so I’ll get the cheaper Station-to-Station rate. In a couple of days I’ll call up again, in the evening, so I can have a few words with the children, too. The Evening Rate after 8.30 is really very low.”

Whitby Gazette, Feb 9 1928.

Page 5
Fire Destroys Barn

Fire of unknown origin, which caused almost the total destruction of a large barn owned by Mr. Edward Bradley and adjoining his house on Brock Street South, broke out about nine o’clock Saturday evening, and before the blaze was extinguished the building was completely gutted. Two cows, some hens and a cat were brought to safety but a quantity of hay in the loft where the fire apparently started, was destroyed. After notification the firemen made a quick response but considerable water pressure was lost when one line of hose laid from Brock Street burst. Mr. and Mrs. Bradley were out when the fire was discovered by neighbours who gave the alarm.

Whitby Gazette, Feb 9 1928, p4.

The Oshawa Daily Times, February 14,1928, Page 1
Missing Oshawa Boys           

Jimmie Webster, missing from his home, 737 Cedar Street, since Friday noon, is in Detroit, and it has been almost definitely established that Clement Innis, 126 Alice Street, went to that city also. Word was received by Webster’s parents this morning by a post card that he was safe in Detroit. He did not volunteer much more information, but said he would write at greater length later. He did not mention Innis in his card. Police have practically definitely traced a part with two boys answering the description of these youths to Windsor, so it is believed that the two went together to the American city across the river.

Page 3
Church Site

Definite purchase was completed this morning of two lots on Mary and Hillcroft Streets on which the new Christ Church will be built by the local Anglican parish. It is on this property that the proposed $75,000 church will be erected. The new church site has 83 feet frontage on Hillcroft Street by a depth of about 130 feet on Mary Street. The lots were purchased through G. W. Rose of Rose Real Estate, Simcoe Street North, for the Anglican church, the total purchase price being $2,300.

Page 5
Spot of Fashion

The polka dotted gown has created a furore in the smart fashion centres. Polka dots, large or small, and in all colors are smart, but particularly smart when of navy-blue on a light background with a border design. We present here a one-piece frock, the simple design of which is admirably suited to materials of this type. The dress opens at the neck and is finished with a round boyish collar. The long sleeves are trimmed with tailored cuffs, and two inset pockets furnish a decorative note.

Oshawa Times, Feb 14 1928, p5.

The Canadian Statesman, February 23, 1928

Page 2
A Prince’s Peonies
So numerous were the letters received acknowledging the peony plants which the Prince of Wales had distributed throughout Canada last fall as a memento of his visit that His Royal Highness has requested that his formal acknowledgement to the Bank of Montreal, through whom the letters were forwarded to him, be taken as constituting a general reply. It will be remembered that His Royal Highness asked the bank to undertake for him the distribution of Canadian-grown peony plants to His Excellency the Governor-General, the prime minister and member of his cabinet, the lieutenant-governors and premiers of provinces; also to all cities, towns and incorporated villages throughout Canada.

Canadian Statesman, Feb 23 1928, p2.

Page 3
Symphony Speaker

The famous Rogers “Two-Twenty” (now in its second successful year) is the standard in performance and quality that every manufacturer of the “new” electric sets is striving to attain. The former price of this model alone was $275, now you can buy it in combination with the Junior Symphony Speaker (built into a handsome Walnut-finished Table) for $275- no more than you would pay for any first-class battery operated set!

If you’re “sold” on the Rogers Batteryless principle- if you want to replace your old battery set with the first and only time-tested batteryless receiver- here is the radio “buy” of the season for you.

Canadian Statesman, Feb 23 1928, p3.

Page 4
Wood Sale

Saturday, February 25th–E. C. Ashton will sell on Lot 14. Con. 8. Darlington, 5 acres standing mixed timber, mostly cedar, suitable for posts and anchor posts, in ¼ acre lots, more or less. Timber must be removed by April 4, 1928, owing to Hydro passing through. Sale at 1p.m. For terms see dodgers. T.M. Slemon, Auctioneer.

Shacka do do! Ohh! What is Savannah up to? Oh, probably nothing

By Savannah Sewell, Registrar

I know lots of you have been wondering: what is Savannah up to?

Well, let me tell you… A lot of staring a photos of unknown people while accessioning a variety of collections.

The most recent being the MacGregor Collection which was donated to the Oshawa Museum in 2021. The MacGregor Collection is a variety of photos and documents that were collected over many generations of the MacGregor and Burr family.

A021.11.1.107
 Ivy Burr
Athol St. W.
Oshawa, Ontario

When a collection such as this is donated to the museum, there are limited details about the family, names, and addresses. The MacGregor collection was fortunately donated with some historical land deeds and mortgage documents, school photos, yearbooks, and enough contextual information that the mapping of the majority of the family was simple, albeit timely.

It is my first time working in an archival role, and as such, honestly I was a little lost in how to proceed when this collection landed in my lap. So, as I navigated it, I tried to keep in mind that however it was accessioned into the archive, it needed to be accessible for future researchers. I had to ensure that if a family member or future historian wanted to piece together what I had, in less time, I had to make sure that the archival decisions were intuitive.

A021.11.25
 Form CII – Oshawa High School
C. September 16, 1919
Belonging to Ivy (nee. Burr) MacGregor 

Here, I will detail the steps that I took to organize and make sense of the collection and why I made the choices that I did.

Timeline

Step 1: Lay out donated collection

During this step I ensured that I had the groups of documents and photos all laid out so that I would be able to see all of the elements together. The box that the documents came in did not have any particular organizational elements, so I wanted to ensure that I didn’t miss any patterns by being disorganized.

A021.11.23
 Ivy Burr’s high school diploma – Oshawa High School 1918

After the documents were all laid out, I created four smaller collections to make working through the large amount of documents easier. I separated the photos, the legal documents, the yearbooks, and “other” and started with the photos.

Step 2: Identify Group Photos

Some of the photos had dates, names, and captions written on the photo itself; if that was the case then the images could be grouped together. There were also several images that did not have a caption, but others that had clearly been taken on the same day or trip, so they could be grouped. Other images could be identified by individuals in them, locations, outfits, or by occasion. I did my best to group people, families, locations, and similar photos so that when searching the collection, it would be simple to navigate space and time.

A021.11.21
 Acta Ludi (O.C.V.I. Yearbook) C.1953-1954

Step 3: Organizing and labeling

The images were transferred to an easily accessible album; each image was numbered, the caption or writing written in printing (because some of the cursive was difficult to read), and placed in order.

Step 4: Finding Aid Document

When documents are accessioned in the permanent archive they can be difficult to find. I created a finding table that corresponds to the image accession numbers, the captions, notes/research, people in the image, and tag words for the virtual archive system.

Step 5: Ancestry

In order to better understand the individuals in the image and the names on the documents, I used the museum’s ancestry.com account to map the family for four generations. It certainly cleared up a lot of confusion, especially considering there were FOUR individuals with the exact same name!

Step 6: Scanning

The documents and images were scanned to add them to the museum’s digital archival database.

Step 7: Finding a home

The final step to accessioning the collection is finding a permanent home for all of the documents. Each was appropriately labelled in the finding aid with its permanent location, whether an archival box, a drawer, or within the yearbook collection.

Questions and Concerns

Even though there was lots of information available from the donation, there are portions that cannot be taken any further than how they came in. For example, these images of Gwendolyn Vera Baker. In the portrait shown here Gwendolyn is 2 years and 6 months old, which is written on the cardboard frame of the image.

A021.11.1.51
 Gwendolyn Vera Baker
2 years + 6 months

I have not been able to find the connection between the Baker family and our MacGregor/Burr family. However, there could be several explanations as to why this little girl’s image was saved in the family’s photo collection. Think of your own photo albums – they could be filled with friends, coworkers, or even neighbours.

A021.11.1.52
 Little Gwen smelling our morning glories when half grown.

This second photo’s caption is “Little Gwen smelling our morning glories when half grown.” I have accessioned these photos beside each other in this collection, assuming a relationship between the two and that the same child, named Gwen, is shown in both. However, though for research purposes the placement makes sense, it is not known if this is the same child. There are no dates on the images and they are different sizes, types of photography, locations, etc. The child in the second photo is also facing away from the camera, and though the hair looks similar, we cannot confirm their identity.

If these documents were of particular interest to someone or to a project where more detailed and accurate information was needed, then names could be cross-researched with other local archives. Other initiatives could be used as well, images or names could be sent out as a crowd-sourcing project into the community that the families were from, or census documents could be investigated.

Conclusion

The overarching question throughout the accessioning of this collection was, how do I make it as easy as I can for future researchers to find what they are looking for? I hope that I have succeeded.

Family collections like these can be so valuable to research, and this project was extremely enjoyable to work on. From coming to understand the family connections and dynamics, to organizing the images and seeing growing and smiling faces from the past, it is fair to say that accessioning family collections is a task that comes with lots of complications and more than a few unanswered questions.

The Levee

The post originally appeared on the Oshawa Museum Holiday Blog, December 31, 2017: https://oshawamuseumholiday.wordpress.com/2017/12/31/december-31-2017/

In Canada, December 31 is commemorated as the Levee.  It’s a social gathering held by the Governor General, Lieutenant General, and the military in Canada. Levee had been celebrated for years, but it was first tied to New Year’s Eve, in Canada, in 1646. The Governor of New France held the levee in the Chateau St. Louis, and during the levee he informed the guests of what to look forward to in the new year and that they were expected to renew their allegiance to the Crown. The tradition of the levee continued after the Governor Charles Huault de Montmagny was no longer in charge.

Happy New Years Eve Everybody!

Colourful postcard with a clock striking midnight in the left corner, and in the centre reads "My New Year's Wish for you dear friend contains enough of everything to have you want for nothing more"

Weddings, Bridal Style, and the Oshawa Museum

By Savannah Sewell, Registrar

Regardless of whether you got married last weekend or last century (applies to this context…I promise), I’m sure you remember a variety of dramas and joys surrounding your wedding. If you have upcoming nuptials in mind, be prepared, from what I hear; there is lots of confusion, drama, and stress associated with the planning and preparation for a wedding. Regardless of how much work or loss of sleep is involved in planning your wedding, they are incredibly important days in our lives and symbolize the union of two people who love each other very much. The history of western weddings are often a lot more complicated that most think; from wedding fashions to the decision making process of picking a date, every decision was made for a reason.

Visitor Experience Coordinator, Jill, in front of Henry House on her wedding day.

Down at the Oshawa Museum, we have the pleasure of being the backdrop for weddings year-round. The Oshawa Museum rests on the shore of Lake Ontario, and our three historic houses each hold a unique colour scheme and aesthetic. The museum is also located conveniently beside the Jubilee Pavilion, a hall and event space that has existed in Oshawa since 1927! All of this combined with the picturesque views, mature trees, and beautiful gardens, Lakeview Park and the museum continue to be the perfect background for a romantic day of love and the institutional norm of marriage.

Curator, Melissa, on the front steps of Henry House, on her wedding day.

Wedding photography is a complex academic conversation, intrinsically linked with the controversial conversation surrounding marriage itself, the ownership of others, and the traditional patriarchal contract of marriage. However, when observed from a historical perspective, I find that a more appropriate conversation surrounding its evolution, is actually of the desire to capture such a monumental moment in one’s life. As Walsh and Wade explain “wedding photographs and albums symbolically demonstrate the enduring centrality of ritual in contemporary America while addressing complex issues such as social change, gender, and economics.1 Photography for weddings is a long and complicated story, growing from staged and set photos, that were often taken on separate days to the wedding, to the lifestyle aesthetic that we see most often now.

Queen Elizabeth’s wedding day was fraught with complications and restrictions, including having to request extra clothing coupons from the British government for her dress, as World War II rationing was still in effect. However, one of the most interesting stories was the loss of her wedding bouquet. Interested individuals will notice that family photos taken on November 20, 1947 do not show Her Majesty holding her bouquet, as it was misplaced sometime after the departure from Westminster Abbey. Therefore, the bride and groom’s wedding portraits were completed on their honeymoon, days later, after another bouquet could be created. Photography at the time also lent only to posed photos in a space where light could be monitored and controlled. As the cameras changed and lent to transportation, so too did wedding photos. The first wedding daguerreotypes of the 1840s evolved into wedding albums and studio portraits. The “Wedding Boom” after the Second World War also influenced photographers to make the leap from military photography to weddings, and some would show up, take photos, and then attempt to sell them to the bride and groom without a prior contract. These events forced wedding photographers to leave their studios and create their memories with the couple at their wedding location.2

Mom and Dad on their wedding day, October 19, 1991. Oshawa This Week Collection, Oshawa Museum archival collection, A997.7.124

The Oshawa Museum is in possession of the Oshawa This Week Wedding announcement photo collection and, therefore, a representation of a large variety of wedding photographs from the past century that were published in the paper. To my surprise, while writing this blog, I clicked across my own parents’ wedding, as well as an assortment of other parents and community members that I have known my entire life.

A couple on their wedding day. Oshawa This Week Collection, Oshawa Museum archival collection, A997.37.3

Within the museum’s collection, we also have a large variety of wedding items, anywhere from wedding dresses, shoes, to certificates and photos. I have a particular interest in the wedding dresses within the collection, as they represent a variety of styles throughout the years. One of the most iconic symbols of the western wedding is the bridal gown. Typically, they are white or ivory, long, and somehow elaborate, depending on the style at the time. Queen Victoria, who was married on February 10, 1840, set a trend in wedding outfits for women. Prior to her wedding, women either wore their best dress, regardless of the colour, or designed and wore new dresses of colour depending on the fashion of the season. Queen Victoria’s large and extravagant white wedding dress led to a surge in the wearing of white dresses today. Coupled with the industrial revolution and the availability of such impractical materials, the full-skirted, white, or ivory look for brides is now the norm.3

Samantha Hill’s Australien, wedding dress. C. 1875 Oshawa Museum collection.

However, some brides chose to continue with fashionable colours. One of the most extravagant examples of that is a dress which belonged to Samantha Hill. She was married in 1875 in this rusty, orange dress, the colour at the time was called Australien. The colour was inspired by the colour and landscape of the Australian outback and used in dresses-making and fashion houses through late Victorian England.

Clarissa (Henry) Stone

One of the museum’s best-known families, the Henrys of our Henry House, had several weddings held within the home. The parlour would have been host to Henry House weddings, as it was the most lavishly decorated and designed for entertaining. One of the most interesting facts concerning the weddings of Henry family children and grandchildren is the timing of the weddings within the calendar year. Many were married around the Christmas holiday, either before or after. One marriage, that of Clarissa Henry, Thomas and Lurenda’s third youngest child, was married to Cassius Stone on December 22, 1868. Clarissa and Cassius are said to have wanted to be wed on Christmas Day itself, however, the church and priest were not available, so alternative plans were made. Some reasons for these Christmas season celebrations could have been the proximity to each other during the holiday season or that the crops were tended and the harvest chores were finished, so the family was available to enjoy celebration and merriment.

The Oshawa Museum is thrilled to have a variety of representations of both modern and historical weddings, the images and collection items provide an interesting context for weddings in Oshawa and Lakeview Park. Whether it is announcing your wedding in the newspaper, using the museum’s beauty as a photography backdrop, or having your wedding gown end up in our permanent collection, we love to love and are happy to be a part of anyone’s Big Day.


Citations

  1. Walsh, Michael James and Wade, Matthew. Soundtrack for love: wedding videography, music and romantic memory. Continuum 34:1, pages 14-31, 2020.
  2. “The History of Wedding Photography.” San Francisco Wedding Photographer. Accessed November 29, 2021. https://www.iqphoto.com/history.
  3. Ehrman, Edwina. The Wedding Dress. London: V & A Publishing, 2011.
%d bloggers like this: