Engaging Volunteers at Home

By Dylan C., MMC Intern

As a result of the pandemic, volunteers have not been able to return in person to the Oshawa Museum. By not being able to come into the museum, they lose the social aspect of their volunteer experience which is the biggest motivator for some.  The museum has been looking for ways to keep their volunteers engaged at home. One proposed way of keeping volunteers engaged is through the audio transcription of oral histories. But if audio transcription is going to be one of the main ways to keep volunteers engaged from home during this pandemic, then the question becomes how do we incorporate and infuse that process with a social component? One theory of mine includes hosting online discussions through zoom or other web-based programs, where volunteers can discuss what they have learned from completing the transcription. They can talk about the process of transcribing itself or discuss the history that they have learned from hearing the voices of the past.

The first transcription I worked on was an oral history from a gentleman named Wardy Pankhurst who was a life long resident of Oshawa that was born in the early 1900s. (We’ve written at length about the Pankhurst family on the blog – read through past articles HERE) I learned very quickly that I could barely understand what he was talking about between the poor audio quality and the lack of knowledge that I had in regards to Oshawa’s past. It wasn’t until I did a bit of digging myself when I began to understand what were the places and people he was referencing. For example, he is hard to hear, understandably being an elderly man born at the turn of the century, coupled with the fact he refers to places and people as if it is common knowledge, which of course would have been if you were alive during his time or if you are well versed in Oshawa history. The first word or rather name that he kept bringing up when referencing to his work past was Malleable. I could not make out what he was trying to say, so I had to ask my dad to see if he could hear because at first, I could not even distinguish what word he was trying to say. After deciphering the word “malleable,” I then still found myself in the dark. After a quick google search I found out that he was referring to the Ontario Malleable Steel Company and then all of a sudden, the entire context of what he was talking about came to fruition. It connected his tales about working for the McLaughlin’s, to travelling south of the border to Detroit then coming back to Oshawa to sell his services to the highest bidder. Doing this research to simply understand the story he was trying to tell gave me the idea that audio transcription can be more than simply turning speech into text. It could be a rewarding experience that turns social transcribers into an amateur research team that seeks to learn more about the history of Oshawa.

The second part of this is that you could turn the finished and researched transcriptions into mini history resources if you will, that have hyperlinks incorporated in them so if someone wants to read the transcription and has questions about certain topics discussed they could simply click on the highlighted word that takes them to a web page on the subject.

This mixture of independent work with a social meeting aspect may help to keep volunteers engaged even if they are restricted to their own homes. However, it is impossible to replace the in-person social aspects of volunteering but this idea gives some food for thought and perhaps gives us an avenue to engage and stay connected during these unprecedented times.

To hear Ward’s memories as relayed by him, take a listen to our video podcast:

The audio transcription project is being facilitated over our Google Drive – volunteers can sign up for which audio file they want to work on, and the MP3s are accessible from that same online folder.

If you are interested in helping with this project, please email Lisa at membership@oshawamuseum.org

ArteFACTS – Lancashire Clogs

By Melissa Cole, Curator

Originating from northern England, Lancashire Clogs have also gone by the names Northumberland Clogs or Yorkshire Clogs. 

Unlike the more famous Dutch clogs, Lancashire clogs have a leather upper; some lace up like ordinary shoes while others contain an engraved metal clasp, such as the ones in our collection.  Clogs were not only cheaper than leather shoes, they were safer against penetration and less likely to be adversely affected by snow, moisture and mud. They were long lasting and comfortable.  

These wooden soled shoes, with strips of steel attached underneath like a horseshoe, were the everyday footwear of working people in England.  At first glance they may look fairly simple, but in fact their simplicity is what made them popular in Britain from the 1840s until the 1920s. Although traditionally associated with Lancashire, they were worn all over the country.

The wearing of clogs in Britain became more visible with the Industrial Revolution, when industrial workers needed strong, cheap footwear. Men and women wore laced and clasped clogs respectively, the fastening clasps being of engraved brass or more commonly steel.   The soles are carved from a hard wood, such as alder and shod with irons to stop the wood from wearing away.  Nailed under the sole at the toe and heel were clog irons, generally 3/8″ wide x 1/4″ thick with a groove down the middle to protect the nail heads from wear.  The uppers are tacked onto the soles and made from leather. Each component of the shoe is made to be easily repaired. 

Symbolic of the working class, this style of shoe was worn by the thousands of people who worked in the cotton mills throughout northern England.  This particular pair of clogs was worn by Mrs. T.H. Campbell before she emigrated from England to Canada in 1910.    Wherever it was damp or wet underfoot, clogs were the preferred footwear due to their cheapness (to buy and to repair), their long-lasting wear, and their comfort.

In England, the wearing of clogs gave rise to clog dancing, a popular form of dancing that eventually developed into tap dancing. It has been suggested that clog dancing originated with workers synchronizing foot tapping with the rhythmic sounds made by the loom shuttles. The predominant style of Lancashire clog dancing was termed ‘heel and toe.’ Many of the steps emulate the sound of the shuttle and other parts of the cotton spinning and weaving machinery.

Clog dancing was a cheap form of popular entertainment. Not only was clog dancing common, it took place on street corners, there were professional clog dancers and competitions, and proficient clog dancers could improve their situation by dancing professionally in music halls.  One notable Lancashire clog dancer who ultimately succeeded was Charlie Chaplin who performed in a troupe called the ‘The Eight Lancashire Lads.’

Dancing clogs were termed ‘neet’ clogs. They did not have irons on the soles and were lighter than the heavier working clogs. The uppers were usually highly tooled (decorated) and often coloured. 

One final note on Lancashire clogs. Men who wished to settle differences frequently did so by squaring off against each other by “clog fighting.” In Lancashire it was curiously known as “purring,” with a contemporary account from Chris Brady who states the following:

It is all up and down fighting here. They fought quite naked, excepting their clogs. When one has the other down on the ground he first endeavors to choke him by squeezing his throat, then he kicks him with his clogs. Sometimes they are very severely injured.

Chris Brady

Watch Melissa talk about the Lancashire Clogs in our video podcast:

The Williams Piano Company

Richard Williams began The Williams Piano Co. operations in Toronto in 1849.  In 1888 the Williams firm purchased the former home of the Joseph Hall Works in Oshawa and began renovating the building for the manufacture of pianos and organs.


The building was originally constructed in 1852 and was initially used by the Oshawa Manufacturing Company.  The factory, a three storey brick building, occupied an entire town block on Richmond Street.  Williams spent more than $40,000 adapting the facilities for the production of pianos.  To this end, the buildings were re-roofed with slate, new hardwood floors were laid and new buildings built.  All of this retrofitting and new construction turned the former Hall Works into a building with enough floor space for what was the largest piano works in Canada.  The company’s total floor space was approximately 100,000 square feet.  In 1890, the new Williams Piano Factory began producing pianos and organs.  The company was also located at other locations such as the lumber yard and some other smaller buildings in Oshawa. Only this part of the business moved to Oshawa, as the centre of the business remained in Toronto.  Smaller instruments such as guitars and banjos continued to be manufactured in Toronto.


The Town of Oshawa granted Williams $20 000 in ten annual installments as an inducement to move the plant to Oshawa.  The Town also granted the new firm a fixed taxation rate of $250 per year for a number of years.  Once in Oshawa, the newly acquired space allowed the firm to manufacture its first large church organ.  This first organ was constructed for a church in Brighton and consisted of more than 100 pipes.

The company was reorganized in 1902, and the piano was revised.  The piano was adjusted in scale, touch, case-design, acoustic, and tone. It took ten weeks to three months to make one piano.  The company constructed its pianos to “the highest degree of excellence in every detail of workmanship” and the quality of its product determined its success.  The ‘New Scale Williams Piano’ and ‘Player Piano’ soon became one of the world’s most demanded products.


In 1903 after much hard work, Mr. R.S. Williams became ill and sold his business.  The company was renamed “Williams Piano Company”.  The president of the company was Fredrick Bull and the vice-president was E.C. Scythes.  The factory was huge and prosperous by the year 1911, and employed 250 skilled workers.  The company produced approximately 3,000 pianos/player pianos annually.

After the creation of the victrola in 1926, many people found records to be more convenient and popular than pianos.  The Williams factory was forced into the radio business.  Eventually, after three years the company became the seventh largest manufacturer.  The Williams Piano Factory even widened its horizons in order to build canoes and row boats.  The company was branching out and business was great.  People from foreign countries wanted a Williams Piano and the company exported their product on a regular basis.  The Williams piano was well known all over Canada, from coast to coast, and overseas.


The company prospered and began to construct 4,000 pianos per annum.  The company was shipping pianos to seven different countries.  The Williams Piano was also displayed in an exhibit at the Wembley Exhibition in London, England in 1926.  In 1927, one hundred and thirty-five men worked for the company and payroll hit a high of $200,000 a year.  At this time, the company was prosperous, but it did not last forever.


The successful company that was known to so many individuals all over the world was required to change with the times.  Unfortunately, both the depression and mass production of the neutrodyne radio contributed to the demise of the company.  After the closure of this company many other businesses occupied the premises including: Cole of California; Sklar Furniture; and Coulter Manufacturing Company.  The building even acted as a barracks during the war years.

The building was torn down in 1970 in order to make room for the Durham Region Police Headquarters and the Oshawa Times.


Cselenyi-Granch.  Under the Sign of the Big Fiddle:  The R.S. Williams Family, Manufacturers and Collectors of Musical Instruments.  Winnipeg:  Hignell Printing Limited, 1996.

The Oshawa Daily Reformer, October 25, 1926.

The Oshawa Daily Reformer, June 20, 1927.

Oshawa Daily Times, December 8, 1930.

Oshawa Daily Times, September 19, 1930.

Kaiser, M.D., T.E.  Historic Sketches of Oshawa.  The Reforming Printing & Publishing Co., 1921.


The Alger Press

Ora M. Alger began the Alger Press after making a dramatic career change in the early 1900s.  A schoolteacher by trade, Alger began publishing a weekly newspaper after purchasing the Embro Courier in Oxford County.  The change in careers seemed to agree with Alger, as he sold the Embro Courier after seven years and purchased the Tweed News, a larger newspaper.

While in Tweed, Alger expanded his focus to include commercial printing, as well as running another weekly newspaper, the Pembroke Standard.  During this time, Alger’s two sons Ewart and Stewart joined the family printing business.  Although the business flourished, in 1919 Alger decided to sell his holdings in Tweed and Pembroke and move to Oshawa to begin a new printing business.

Alger purchased a small parcel of land across from the Oshawa Post Office and constructed a two-story plant.  This new business focused on commercial printing.  However, Alger soon returned to newspaper publishing and began the Oshawa Telegram.  The newspaper was a success, switching from a weekly to a daily newspaper, Oshawa’s first daily newspaper.  In 1926 however, the commercial business was so successful that Alger decided to sell the newspaper holdings to Charles Mundy and Arthur Alloway, partners in The Ontario Reformer and focus solely on commercial printing.

37 King Street

The company faced its first major setback when a fire destroyed the building.  The company quickly built a new single story building on a location approximately a block away.  A four-story office building, the Alger Building, was then constructed on the old site.

In 1936, the Algers began to feel as though they were falling behind other printing presses, as they had no lithographic equipment.  After a research tour of various sites throughout Canada and the U.S., the Alger Press Limited entered into the lithographic field.

The outbreak of World War II saw business rapidly expand and it became necessary to enlarge the bindery and finishing departments.  Space was rented in the old Williams Piano Building, but this was only temporary.  In 1946, the company happily accepted the opportunity to purchase a building at 61 Charles Street. For many decades, this was known as the Alger Press Building. 

Spring Axel and Oriental

This building had a long history beginning in 1903 when the T. Eaton Company of Toronto began the manufacturing of textiles in the three-story brick facility, built by noted builder John Stacey. In the late 1910s, the Oriental Textile Company operated out of this building for approximately 18 years, producing fabrics for General Motors prior to the depression; they closed their doors in 1934. During the war years, it had been home to the General Motors War Parts plant.

61 Charles Street, the Alger Press Building, now UOIT Campus building

The Alger PRess remained a successful entity in commercial printing and bookbinding and is known in Oshawa for printing the very popular Pictorial Oshawa series.  However, this success was not ongoing, and in 1993 the company declared bankruptcy.

In 2010, the building was renovated and refurbished for the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (now Ontario Tech University), and students started using the building, now known simply by its address as 61 Charles Street, as another downtown campus building in 2011.


“61 Charles Street,” Ontario Tech University website.  Accessed from: https://ontariotechu.ca/about/campus-buildings/downtown-oshawa/61-charles-street.php

Cole, Melissa. Alger Press Building, 61 Charles Street. 2006.  Accessed from: https://www.oshawa.ca/city-hall/resources/Heritage-Research-Rpt_Charles-St-61.pdf

Doole, William E. The Alger Story, Canadian Printer and Publisher. Offset Lithographic Section, November 1948. 36-56.

Follert, Jillian. “Durham students go to school in old underwear factory,” Oshawa This Week, February 24, 2011.  Accessed from: https://www.durhamregion.com/community-story/3515510-durham-students-go-to-school-in-old-underwear-factory/

Hood, McIntyre. Oshawa: The Crossing Between Waters, A History of “Canada’s Motor City” and Oshawa Public Library.  Oshawa: Alger Press, 1978.

McClyment, John.  “90 Jobs Are Lost as Alger Press Goes Bankrupt,” The Oshawa Times, June 8, 1993.

Oshawa Museum Archival Collection: Oshawa Telegram file.


Schofield Woolen Mills

Schofield Woolen Mills was one of Oshawa’s leading industries.  The company was first established in 1892 by John Schofield who immigrated to Canada in 1860.  Schofield’s first mill, located in Paris, Ontario, was completely destroyed by fire.  At the time of this fire, a building in Oshawa at 372 Centre St. S. was for sale.  This prompted Schofield to visit Oshawa and buy this property which was originally built as a hat factory and later used by Masson Manufacturing for the manufacturing of farm implements.  This building then became the new home of Schofield Woolen Mills Ltd.

Williams and Schofield

In 1896, the company was incorporated with John Schofield as President and his young son Charles Schofield as Secretary-Treasurer.  The company was organized with a capital stock of $40,000 to continue to enlarge the plant and the output.

The mill started off in a small way but eventually prospered.  In 1911, the company employed 100 women and 50 men.  The mill was two large brick factories completely equipped with modern machinery throughout.  The mill manufactured men’s underwear under the brand names of “Woolnap” and “St. George.”  The underwear was nationally recognized for its exceptional quality and for being made of 90% wool.

In 1918, Schofield passed away and the company was carried on by his son Charles.


In 1927, the production at the plant had grown from 30 dozen garments daily to 125 dozen garments daily.  The wool used in the garments arrived to the mill in 300 to 1000 pound bales.  First, the wool would go through a thorough scouring and cleaning before being carded and spun into yarn of different sizes and weights.  The yarn was then knitted on machinery, washed again and bleached, and then cut into garments.  After the garments were trimmed and finished, they were ready for market.  Although the company did not export many of their goods, their products could be found in nearly every town or city in Canada from coast to coast.

The Schofield Woolen Mills company produced large quantities of underwear for the men in the armed forces during World War II.

The factory saw a number of fires throughout its history.  For example, in 1941, the Oshawa Daily Times reported on a fire which started near the carding machines and remarked, “the fire was the second in the plant in two months.”

Photo from the Oshawa Daily Times, June 2, 1941

The mill continued to operate in Oshawa for several years but eventually closed down in 1951 upon the retirement of Charles Schofield.  He later died on December 29, 1954.  Several companies had operated from 372 Centre St. S since the woolen mill closed, and it remained an empty field for several years.  In the mid-2010s, Habitat for Humanity began their CentreTowne Build project which saw the construction of houses for 24 families on the site of the former mill.


Oshawa Daily Reformer, June 30, 1927.

Oshawa Times, March 6, 1982.

Vernon’s City Directories.

Bouckley, Thomas.  Pictorial Oshawa, Volume 2.  Alger Press Limited, 1976.  Oshawa, Ontario.

Oshawa Illustrated, The Ontario Reformer, Reformer Printing and Publishing Co, Ltd., 1911. Oshawa, Ontario.

Archival collection of the Oshawa Museum, Schofield Woolen Mills Ltd.

Habitat for Humanity; https://habitatdurham.com/renew-it/centretowne-build/