Discover Historic Oshawa

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

The OM has developed a number of virtual exhibitions throughout the years – you can find them listed under the ‘Online Resources‘ tab at the top of our blog. Last summer, we were excited to launch Discover Historic Oshawa, an interactive mapping site, plotting places of interest in our community. Adding places of interest, both historic and current, has been ongoing, and we’re up to 40 listings and growing!

We also envision this website to dovetail with feature exhibitions and happenings at the Museum. Our 2021 exhibit, Leaving Home, Finding Home in Oshawa, is an excellent example of this. This exhibit shares the stories of those who arrived in Oshawa as displaced persons and post-WWII immigrants, many hundreds of whom resettled in Oshawa due to economic and social factors. They positively contributed to the city as both an industrial hub and as the proud beneficiary of a rich cultural landscape.

To complement the exhibition, we’re adding listings to Discover Historic Oshawa that have important connections to our Eastern European immigrants, like churches, community halls, and even the Michael Starr Building in downtown Oshawa. Opened in 1983, this building was named for Oshawa’s Michael Starr, a Member of Parliament from 1952-1968 who became the first Canadian of Ukrainian descent to be appointed to the federal Cabinet. He is remembered for his work in furthering the cause of ethnic groups and minorities, assisting and advocating for those who arrived as displaced persons after WWII, especially in the Oshawa area.

I have to make a very special thanks to our two 2020 summer students, Adam and Mia. Adam was instrumental in getting this site up and running and writing a number of our initial listings on the site, and Mia’s research and writing on landmarks relating to Leaving Home, Finding Home have been fantastic additions to the site.

I invite you to take explore this online exhibit, learn more about noteworthy places in our community, and read about the places that have connections to Leaving Home, Finding Home in Oshawa.

Student Museum Musings – Stained-Glass Windows into the Past

By Mia V., Summer Student

Since my last update, I have been continuing to research and work on the design for next year’s exhibit on the resettlement of displaced people and immigration stories in Oshawa. Following the threads of research has led me to the significant network of Ukrainian churches that were found in the city. Despite sharing the designation of Ukrainian, it was clear enough that they all belonged to different branches of Christianity – one was Eastern Catholic, others were Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Baptist, and… two were Orthodox? Herein lay the confusion, since both Orthodox churches co-existed in time and on the very same neighbourhood block.

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“Oshawa’s Churches: Greek Orthodox;” image appeared in Oshawa Daily Reformer, 30 June 1927, p 25.

The ground on the corner of Bloor-Ritson was first consecrated for an Orthodox church in 1916. This church was alternately called Russian, Ukrainian, and Greek Orthodox in street directories and newspapers. Often the key descriptor of Orthodox was omitted and it was only called Greek – making it easy to confuse with the Greek Catholic church from just a few streets over. In fact, the Ukrainians of the (Greek) Orthodox Christian faith first called the Bloor-Ritson church home. The name confusion did not stop there, however, since the full name of the church differs greatly in translation. The Ukrainian would be “Church of the Nativity of the Most Holy Mother of God.” However, in colloquial English it was known most often as “St. Mary’s.”

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This Ukrainian Orthodox church was built by an early wave of Ukrainian immigrants to Oshawa, many of whom came from the area of Bukovina which borders (and finds itself partly in) Romania. Since religious life was inseparably intertwined with cultural and social life, the choice of a parish was central to how one would find friends and generally engage with their culture. Fortunately, Oshawa had many options.

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“Oshawa’s Churches: Greek Catholic;” image appeared in Oshawa Daily Reformer, 30 June 1927, p 25.

Just a few streets over was the Ukrainian (Greek) Catholic church. In 1935, the majority of the congregation followed their priest into the Orthodox Church after his dispute with the presiding bishop (surrounding his ordination and time of marriage).

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Just a few months later, the first building for the St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Orthodox Church was built on the same location where it stands today – on the corner of Bloor and Simcoe streets. All of this is to say that, for several years, there were two Ukrainian Orthodox churches on Bloor Street. According to one participant in the Museum’s ongoing oral history project, both churches were consistently full, and members of each parish would attend the same events. It certainly seems there was need for both of them in this period in order to help service the influx of Ukrainian immigration to Oshawa after World War II.

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“Church of the Nativity of the Most Holy Mother of God in Oshawa, Ontario;” image appeared in Богослуження православної церкви: Підручник для недільних шкіл [Services in the Orthodox Church: A Sunday School Textbook], 1956.
In 1953, St. Mary’s was enlarged and rebuilt completely, on the same location as before. It now had, as the Toronto Star called it, “Byzantine-style domes” and overall resembled “a castle in a kingdom of bungalows.” Eventually, however, numbers dwindled significantly. Deciding against joining St. John’s from down the street, the aging congregation chose to accept no new members and sold the church only on the condition that they could still use it. Their designated service is in Ukrainian once a month, with a priest driving in from Scarborough.

In 1987, the church was sold to the Greek Orthodox community – making the church genuinely Greek for the first time. In 2012, the Greeks sold the church to the Romanians since they needed more space for themselves. This is, in fact, another kind of full circle since the original founders of the church would have been from the Ukrainian-Romanian border region of Bukovina.

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Focusing on this one church, then, provides a great window into the past from which it is possible to see the interactions between the various Ukrainian religious communities and other cultural communities in the city. The way that the church changed ownership provides great insight into immigration trends as well – from the earliest Ukrainian, to the Greek, and the Romanian here in Oshawa.


References

Gerus, Mitrat Fr. S. Богослуження православної церкви: Підручник для недільних шкіл [Services in the Orthodox Church: A Sunday School Textbook]. Winnipeg: Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church of Canada, 1956.

Leong, Melissa. “Time takes its toll on congregation.” Toronto Star, April 13, 2003.

Momryk, Myron. Mike Starr of Oshawa: A Political Biography. Ottawa: Canadian Museum of History and University of Ottawa Press, 2017.

Additional research from the Oshawa Museum archival collection.

Student Museum Musings – Mia

By Mia V., Summer Student

Hi all! Since I’ve been fortunate enough to spend another summer here, I was able to pick up where I left off in researching post-WWII immigration and the resettlement of displaced people in Oshawa. So far, I’ve been kept busy digging through the archives and collections at the museum, as well as other ones nearby with a similar focus.

It was following a trip up to the Archives of Ontario that I became convinced that in-depth archival research is 1) never dull and 2) always worthwhile. For the first conviction, it was when I was casually sifting through a box of negatives that a very tiny photo of a postcard caught my eye. I took a closer look to see that it involved one party sending the other a very thinly veiled threat (but that’s a tale for another time)!

My second conviction came when I discovered the piles of information that Ontario’s archives had on one of Oshawa’s cultural communities that I had begun researching – the Slovak community. I was sure that they must have been active, given that the location of their heritage museum had once been in Oshawa. Unlike some of the other communities that were still active and that had plenty of historical material, there had not been as much information on them. The most I knew originally was that, given that there is still a Slovak Byzantine Catholic Church on Ritson Road, they must have once been quite present. It turned out that this parish had formed in February of 1952, with the church itself being built in January of 1955. Indeed, these post-war years had been full of renewed immigration to Oshawa, and Slovaks were did not prove to be the exception.

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Slovak Byzantine Catholic Church, 464 Ritson Road South; photo from Google Streetview

However, it still wasn’t quite clear to me just how far back the history extended. In 1968, according to the Oshawa Reformer, the Slovak League in Oshawa (Branch 6) and the First Catholic Slovak Union (Branch 786) celebrated their 40th anniversary at the Slovak National Hall. These were centres of community activity that I had not come across in my research before, and so they helped to fill in some of the gaps. The celebratory event marking the milestone was attended by Slovak communities from across Ontario and also included local guests such as the M.P. Michael Starr and Jo Aldwinckle of the Oshawa Folk Arts Council – two names which have come up frequently in my research. It is for this reason – seeing all these common threads come together – that the search felt so worthwhile.

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Mia at the Archives of Ontario for her research trip!

Going forward, this information from various archival sources will nicely complement what has been collected through oral history so far. As with before, if anyone has a connection to this period of immigration to the city, we would be glad to hear your stories! I’m looking forward to continuing my work over the following weeks, but, in the meantime, you are welcome to have a look through some of the posts at the Oshawa Immigration Stories website.


References

Mihal, Ondrej. Slovaks in Canada Through Their Own Eyes. Toronto: Slovak Canadian Cultural Heritage Centre, 2003.

“Slovaks celebrate anniversary,” Oshawa Reformer, May 8 1968, Archives of Ontario.

 

Student Museum Musings: Thomas Conant’s Century-Old Musings

By Adam A., Summer Student

Hello and long time no see! I’m Adam, you may remember me as the guy from last summer who exclusively blogged about transcriptions. This summer I have a rather different role, that of a researcher. Specifically, I have been tasked with gathering information about the Loyalist and Late Loyalist settlers of Oshawa for a chapter in a future museum publication.

Loyalists were those from the Thirteen Colonies who fought for or otherwise remained loyal to the British during the American Revolutionary War, after which many faced harassment and suspicion from their neighbours. Accordingly, many thousands left the embryonic United States of America to start anew in Britain’s remaining North American possessions. Late Loyalists were a later wave of migrants from the USA who came to Upper Canada and renewed their loyalty to the British Crown in pursuit of the free land on offer. In the book these two sets of early migrants from America will be contextualized as Oshawa’s third group of inhabitants following various First Nations and the French.

Researching this topic has involved a lot of reading. Since the start of this month I have powered through two articles and four books relevant to this period of Oshawa’s history. Oshawa is especially gifted with its wealth of amateur historians from the turn of the century who endeavoured to coalesce various local and oral histories of Oshawa’s pioneer days into a number of books on our early history.

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Mr. Thomas Conant’s two publications Upper Canada Sketches (1898) and Life in Canada (1903) have been particularly useful. Mr. Conant trace’s his family history in North America back to 1623 when his ancestor arrived in New England where he and his descendants proved highly successful. The Conant’s history in Canada begins with the settlement of Roger Conant in this area in 1794. Roger had been a Loyalist, in so far as he never took up arms against the crown, and migrated north to Canada as he felt unwelcome in Massachusetts.

 

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“Roger Conants First Settlement in Darlington, Co. Durham, Upper Canada, 1778” by ES Shrapnel, as appeared in Upper Canada Sketches

With this as a starting point, Mr. Conant’s writings cover a number of subjects including family history, economic history, political history, and social history. Over the combined 40 chapters of his two books he relates: how land was cleared; the importance of trade and cordial relations with the Mississauga; the danger presented by packs of wolves; the impact of the War of 1812; tensions between those of American descent and more recent arrivals from Britain; the utility of Whitby’s port; the influence of American religious movements such as Millerism and Mormonism; the price and productivity of land; the establishment and growth of local industries; the tyranny and downfall of the Family Compact; the importance of the Grand Trunk Railway; and, much more. His writing strongly conveys the risks faced and rewards received by those would-be Americans who by choice or by circumstance ended up here in Oshawa.

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“World to Come to an End.  Stars Falling, 1833” by ES Shrapnel, as appeared in Upper Canada Sketches

 

Thomas Conant’s writings present a genuine treasure trove of information from Oshawa’s pioneer days, which allow one to really appreciate the legacy of the pioneers’ labours. Those who wish to learn more are encouraged to visit us at the Oshawa Museum. Additionally, prints of the titular illustrations from Upper Canada Sketches are available in our gift shop.

Displaced Persons and Oshawa: A Memory Book Project

By Jennifer Weymark, Archivist

This summer the Oshawa Museum is undertaking a new and very important, oral history project.  The focus of the project is to collect the memories of those who arrived in Oshawa as Displaced Person after the Second World War.

The conclusion of World War II saw mass movements of people like the world had never seen before.  Canada opened its borders to help find homes for those who had no home to go back to.  Oshawa was considered an enticing place for many from the Ukraine and Poland as there was already a large, established community from these countries in the city.  It is these stories, memories and experiences of those who arrived in Oshawa that we at the Museum are working to collect and share.

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While Oshawa is known for its industrial past, it has a rich cultural history that should not be overlooked.   The people who arrived in Oshawa after the Second World War helped to create the Oshawa of today.  They brought with them traditions, celebrations and of course food that are have become a part of Oshawa.

The aim is to learn about what life was like in Oshawa for those who came as refugees of World War II. Where did they live before the war?  How was the boat ride over? Why did they settle in Oshawa? What were their experiences once they arrived in Oshawa?  The answers to these questions and more, will help us to learn more about Oshawa during this pivotal time in history and to learn about the impact of the war on a more personal level.

The information collected will become a part of the archival record and will be the basis of a museum exhibit.  If you came to Oshawa as a refugee after World War II or you know someone who did, please consider taking part in this project.  We have developed a workbook to collect the memories and it is available to download.  If you don’t wish to download the booklet, please contact the Museum and we will happily send one out to you.  Museum staff is more than willing to come out and speak to people or groups about the project and to work together to collect these important memories.

Download the Displaced persons in Oshawa Memory Booklet.