This blog series comes from our dedicated and awesome Visitor Host staff, and topics range from favourite artifacts, thoughts on our latest exhibits, and anything else in between!
By Carmela D., Visitor Host
Being a new resident in Oshawa, Ontario, I am constantly learning about all the places there are to enjoy in this beautiful city. The city is surrounded by farms and the lake, yet it has plenty of shopping, restaurants, and interesting places to see. Before I even arrived in the Fall of 2013, I was so excited to explore the city online, so that when I arrived I could start experiencing all that Oshawa offers.
Three places that excited me most were the waterfront and the museums, particularly Lakeview Park and the Oshawa Museum, as well as Parkwood Estate. Within about 5 days of arriving from our long distance move, I left rows of cardboard boxes lining the hallways of my home, picked my children up from their new school, and headed down to the lake, in the hope of having our first tour of the OM. It was so exciting to be there and Lisa did a fabulous job giving us our first tour! We learned all about the three 1800s homes and drive shed that are situated along the lakefront. We got ice-cream at the Oshawa-famous Tommy’s across from the sandy beach area. We walked the pier, enjoying the sound of the waves and the warmth of the sunshine. My children played on the different playgrounds, we walked the pathways, and enjoyed the peaceful scenery. We were in our happy place which was such a nice memory for our early days in Oshawa.
Winter came quickly so I couldn’t wait for Spring, when I envisioned myself at Parkwood Estate, strolling through the gardens that I had explored online. It was so exciting to drive into the grounds, seeing the mansion on my left and then the former carriage house on my right. My husband and I had pre-booked a lunch in the Tea House, at the back of the gorgeous fountains. What a fantastic view and tasty meal! We had a tour of Samuel and Adelaide McLaughlin’s former home, where they raised their 5 daughters. I can only imagine the splendor that those girls experienced. The home was full of the family’s belongings, the guide was very thorough, and it was interesting to see the indoor pool and bowling lane.
It was now the second Fall here, after a year of settling in, when we came to the OM for another tour. We thought we’d make it a tradition! I have always taken my young ones to historic places where ever we have found ourselves. I believe it’s important to understand the history of where we are in order to fully appreciate how the present has come to be. We were so excited to go back to the place that we remembered so fondly just one year prior. We had another wonderful tour, this time with Jill. I happened to ask if the OM hired at all, as I was working very part-time jobs around my children and had room in my schedule to work in a place I enjoyed so much. I was in the right place at the right time and was hired not long afterward! I was so excited and now I enjoy the history of Oshawa on a regular basis and from a different viewpoint. I feel privileged to work at the home of Oshawa’s history with such a lovely group of staff and volunteers.
Now that winter firmly has its grip on southern Ontario and throughout Canada, we’re turning our thoughts to warmer summer days, sharing the history of Barnhart’s Pavilion, once a fixture at Oshawa’s lakefront.
One of Oshawa’s most popular recreational pavilions, Barnhart’s, was established in 1920 by William Harold and Viola Rebecca Barnhart. William Harold Barnhart was born April 21, 1883 and Viola Rebecca was born on September 8, 1880 to Charles and Rebecca Hooper. In 1906 Harold moved from Brockville to work at the McLaughlin Carriage Factory. This was also the same year that Viola and Harold met. They met at a skating rink and from there, their courtship began. In 1908 they were married.
Harold Barnhart moved to Detroit in 1909 to work as a varnish rubber where he made $20.00 a week. That same year the Barnhart’s first child, Joyce, was born. Throughout the following years Viola saved the family’s money to buy a lot on a short street, which was 65’ by 140’. In 1910 their second daughter was born and she was named Lillian Yvonne.
By 1913, Mr. Barnhart was tired of working as a varnish rubber and began to develop rheumatism in his arms. The Barnharts decided to sell their home and buy a candy store in downtown Oshawa that Mr. Barnhart managed. In 1917 Mr. Barnhart and his father built a house which they were able to pay cash for. When the Barnhart’s candy store lease ran out, they decided to purchase lakefront property in Oshawa in 1920. The property they purchased consisted of a dance hall, sixteen rooms for campers, boats and twenty cottages.
The property Barnhart’s purchased once belonged to Mr. M.C. Mallory. Mr. Mallory hosted large dances, concerts, games and other sorts of activities at his pavilion for the general public. He was also the owner of cottages that surrounded the pavilion. Mr. Mallory put his pavilion and cottages up for sale on October 1, 1891 after an incident that occurred where several young men broke into his pavilion to hold a bachelor party. Mr. Mallory was extremely appalled by this incident and as a result of this disgraceful treatment; he closed the pavilion off to the general public and decided to sell his business.
Barnhart’s became a well-known “hangout” for the Oshawa locals and campers. The Barnhart’s held dances in the pavilion and rented out four apartments and cottages. The Barnharts also resided in one of the cottages.
The Barnharts were also well-known for their ice-cream parlour and snack bar. Betty Mac of Oshawa recalls purchasing all sorts of one-cent treats at Barnhart’s, such as liquorice babies, hard hars and marshmallow cones.
The Barnharts also owned several boathouses. Mrs. Helen Hill of Oshawa recalls Mr. Barnhart taking people over to his boathouse to launch his yacht, where he would take them on a ride.
During the 1930s and early 1940s, the Barnharts held square dances at their pavilion. They were able to keep their business alive during the 1930 Depression and finished paying for the lakefront property by 1943. In 1951 Mr. Barnhart suffered a severe heart attack while shoveling ice from their sidewalk. In 1953 he caught a serious illness which led to his death in October 1954. In 1958 the Barnharts youngest daughter, Lillian took sick and passed away.
Mrs. Barnhart sold the cottages and one acre of their land to the City in 1968. On March 19, 1975 Mrs. Barnhart passed away.
Although the Barnharts have passed on and the pavilion and cottages they once owned have been taken down, the memories of the fun-filled summer spent at the Barnhart’s have lived on. Many elders of Oshawa today still recall the many dances, they tasty ice-cream and the exhilarating boat rides they participated in during their youthful days.
A few years ago, one morning during the month of June while sitting at my desk, which is located in Guy House looking out onto Lakeview Park, I heard a gentleman talking on his cell phone outside my office window,
“…there is a large playground, sandy beach, a museum, snack bar, wow this park is beautiful”
I couldn’t agree more with this statement. I spend most of my days at Lakeview Park and quite often I am treated to stories of lazy days spent down at the lake whether it was learning to swim or taking a ride on the Ocean Wave.
As a child I also spent many summer days down at the lake, with my dad, going for walks, stopping at Tommy’s for fries and watching the waves crash on the beach! Of course I always wanted to stop and play at the wooden playground that had these amazing bridges that moved when you ran across them.
At the time, the Oshawa Marina was located off Harbour Road. We would stand on the pier and watch boats coming and going from the marina. After we left the park, Dad always loved driving over to the Marina and looking at all the boats. I remember thinking how large all the boats looked when they were out of the water and parked on shore.
Today I bring my daughter down to the lake to frolic in the park and at the playground! She seems to enjoy it just as much as I did and still do. Hopefully Lakeview Park will bring fond memories to her as well, when she is older.
Reflections of Oshawa: Celebrating 90 Years as a City opens September 26, 2014.
My favourite artifact at the OCM is the steering wheel of the Schooner Helen. I first uncovered the history of the Helen when compiling information from the archives related to shipping in Oshawa. This was for the opening of the Sea Shanty Exhibit a few years ago. The story goes that the ship originally started out as a somewhat shabby flat bottom barge under the name of John Pugsley – hailing from the Long Point ship-yard of Lake Erie where it was constructed in 1850. However, the barge was completely transformed and customized into a remarkable Schooner in 1873 by Captain John Goldring of Port Whitby. Fitted with a gasoline auxiliary engine, unique side-pivoting centreboard, and new helm this was referred to by some as far in the future as a flying machine.
Despite making several important expeditions across the Great Lakes in its prime, the times changed with new technology and the bulk of shipping work was eventually handed over to steam ships. In these conditions many schooners were reduced to stone-hooking – this is when a stones are collected from the lake floor for pier work and other forms of constriction. Yet, even in this environment the Helen excelled. Goldring managed to stone-hook independently which was quite a challenging task for a 70ft ship. After about fifty years of brotherhood the Helen and Goldring were sadly separated when the Helen was wrecked on Bluff Point (McLaughlin Point) on the shore of Oshawa in 1921.
Rummaging these archive documents I stumbled upon a related document I did not expect: a donation receipt with Helen artifacts from Robert Stephenson. After recovering pieces from the Helen wreck for his own museum in 1964 R. Stephenson eventually offered these pieces to the OCM. This included Helen’s side pivoting centerboard, Goldring’s clay pipe, and steering wheel, amongst other things. I was then excited to see something which I had studied the story of – a steering wheel which had been expertly guided for half a century through different jobs and waters before remaining in a watery grave for half a century – in the Sea Shanty Exhibit. Throughout my tours I was always sure to tell the story of the Helen and Goldring and how they persevered together throughout the years. In this way we offered visitors themselves a chance at the historic wheel.
IT’Story: Stories from the OCM Collection opens on Sunday May 18, 2014.