Where The Streets Get Their Names – Phillip Murray Avenue

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

Another month, a new street history!  In honour of the Labour Day weekend, I thought sharing the history behind Phillip Murray Avenue would be rather appropriate.

Phillip Murray Avenue is an east-west artery in south Oshawa, running from the western boundary with Whitby to Valley Drive.  A quick review of City Directories indicate that in 1957, Philip Murray Avenue (note the spelling) was ‘not built on’, meaning it was in the process of being developed.  By 1958, Philip Murray featured a number of new houses and new residents.  This means that Phillip Murray Avenue is a relatively ‘new’ street in our City, being just shy of 60 years old.

Philip Murray, 1886-1952; from the Encyclopædia Britannica
Philip Murray, 1886-1952; from the Encyclopædia Britannica

So who was Philip Murray?  He was a Scottish born American labour leader, the first president of the Steel Workers Organizing Committee (SWOC), the first president of the United Steelworkers of America (USWA), and the longest-serving president of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO).  He passed away of a heart attack in late 1952.

Oshawa 1937 Strike - outreach exhibit at the Oshawa Public Library, 2012
Oshawa 1937 Strike – outreach exhibit at the Oshawa Public Library, 2012

While Murray may not have hailed from Oshawa, he was an important figure in the history of labour relations, a subject of importance for our industrial city.  In 1937, a strike occurred in Oshawa, the implications of which not only impacted our City but also had effect on a provincial and national level.

“In 1937, when several thousand members signed union cards, the hopelessness of the depression gave way to a new hope, a new confidence.  UAW 222 was born”

– Local 222

In 1937, the workers of General Motors had four requests: an 8-hour day; better wages and working conditions; a seniority system; and, recognition of their union, the new United Automobile Workers, which was affiliated with CIO.  The recognition of the union brought about the strike, for GM management and Ontario Premier Mitch Hepburn wanted to keep the CIO out of Ontario.  The strike lasted two weeks; the union was not recognized, however, this strike was regarded as a victory for CIO and is often seen as the birth of Canadian Industrial Unionism.

“A stand-up strike not a sit-down strike with 260 women joining the men on the picket line.  It begins quietly with workers first filing into work as usual at 7am and then five minutes later just as peacefully, exiting the plant.  Simultaneously, 400 pickets are flung up aroung the works with pre-arranged precision.”

– April 8, 1937 Toronto Star

In 1943, following a few walk outs in Oshawa (this was during WWII when strikes were illegal), CAW Local 222 was recognized by General Motors as the exclusive bargaining agency.  War production became the priority at General Motors in 1942 and the workers in Local 222 alone, produced over 30 000 armoured vehicles.

The 1950s saw another GM strike.  During the winter of 1955-56, 17 000 General Motors employees went on strike, and after five months received what they were asking for: a pay raise, more secure working conditions, and a health plan covered by GM.

1950s GM Strike
1950s GM Strike

The 1950s saw the death of an important labour figure and a labour strike by one of the largest industries in Oshawa.  Phillip Murray Avenue received its name against the backdrop of these historical events.

On behalf of the Oshawa Museum, enjoy the Labour Day Weekend!

Where The Streets Get Their Names – Robson and Whiting

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

The other afternoon, I had to stop by the head office for the Central Lake Ontario Conservation Authority.  It is conveniently close to the Museum, a mere two kilometres north along Simcoe Street.  Driving to the CLOCA head office, you will pass the intersection of Whiting Avenue (the street where the office is located) and Robson Street. This interesting intersection is a fitting tribute to two industries that had made Cedar Dale their home.

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Let’s first look at Whiting Avenue. Whiting is the older of the two businesses, so it seems appropriate to start at the beginning.

We first discussed A.S. Whiting in our post on the History of Cedar Dale, a community which was located along Simcoe Street, south of Bloor Street.  In the 1860s, looking to re-establish his manufacturing business after his Oshawa Manufacturing Company floudered, Whiting did not look to the thriving Village of Oshawa, but rather, he chose a location south of the Baseline, and commenced building a factory near the Oshawa Creek.  In 1862, the Cedar Dale Works opened; it would be later renamed A.S. Whiting Manufacturing Company.  This company ceased operations by the 1890s.

A.S. Whiting Manufacturing Co., from the Oshawa Community Archives
A.S. Whiting Manufacturing Co., from the Oshawa Community Archives

Algernon Sidney (A.S.) Whiting was born on March 7, 1807 in Winsted, Connecticut, an area renowned for its clocks.  Before being married in 1832, Whiting worked as a travelling clock salesman.  In 1842, Mr. Whiting and his wife Julia moved to Canada and settled in Cobourg where he continued to travel selling clocks.  He moved to Oshawa in 1850.  Mr. Whiting passed away in March of 1876 and is buried in Union Cemetery; the street named for him affirms his place in Oshawa’s history, and he is also credited with the naming of Cedar Dale.  Not a bad legacy to leave behind.

After A.S. Whiting Manufacturing closed, what happened to the buildings of this established factory?  Enter James Robson.

Robson Leather Tannery, from the Oshawa Community Archives
Robson Leather Tannery, from the Oshawa Community Archives

The Robson Tannery traces its beginnings back to the Bartletts in the early 1800s who first established a tannery in Oshawa.  In 1865, Robson and his partner Laughland bought the South Oshawa Tannery from the Bartletts.  Over the years, the business thrived, eventually being passed to Robson’s sons Charles and James, until they were struck with a fire in 1899. The South Oshawa Tannery, which was located on Mill Street, was destroyed.  The Whiting Manufacturing buildings were vacant, so Robson relocated.  In 1904 they changed their name to the Robson Leather Company, and they were renamed again in 1963 after amalgamating with James Lang Leather Company of Kitchener to become Robson-Lang Leathers Limited.

Robson had been a long standing industry for the City of Oshawa, however, after a lengthy strike in 1977, they closed their doors and ceased operations.

Part of Robson Tannery still exists as the head office for CLOCA.  They have historic images around their office of when the building was in use as a manufacturing company and as a tannery.

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