Discovering ‘Leaving Home, Finding Home in Oshawa’

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

Exhibitions at the Oshawa Museum are not confined to the walls of the Museum. With every physical exhibit, we always supplement with online content. This allows for additional stories to be told – you can only fit so much onto a text panel, after all. We can use various media to tell the stories, like videos on YouTube or blog posts, and online components opens an exhibition’s audience beyond those who are able to visit in person, and the exhibition lives on well after it had been struck.

Our latest exhibition, Leaving Home, Finding Home in Oshawa, is no exception.

The stories from the oral history project have been shared as an online exhibit for numerous years, and the students who have worked on this project since 2016 have contributed a number of video podcasts to the OM YouTube channel.

Last year, we launched an interactive map exhibit called Discover Historic Oshawa, and this is another platform where we’re sharing stories from Leaving Home, Finding Home in Oshawa.

One impressive feature of the in-person exhibit is the map. We took a number of pages from the 1948 Fire Insurance Map, specifically, the pages that cover the area of Simcoe Street to just east of Ritson Road, Olive Avenue to Bloor Street. This neighbourhood was well settled by Oshawa’s early Eastern European immigrants, and in the post-WWII era, it continued to grow and flourish with the arrival of Displaced People.

Exhibit co-curators Melissa Cole and Mia Vujcic wanted to use the map to draw attention to a number of landmarks – 17 in all! That is a lot of history to confine to a single text panel. We used the panel to provide a basic explanation of each site, and should visitors want to discover more, they can visit Discover Historic Oshawa to read about each site and see photographs, past and present. A handy QR code is on the panel to allow for easy navigation to the site.

We created a special category on Discover Historic Oshawa for sites related to Leaving Home, Finding Home in Oshawa. Some sites are on the map, while some are beyond its limits.

Sites include churches, houses, community halls, and businesses, all of which have connections to the immigrant community. By visiting the website, you can see sites that are geographically beyond the map in the exhibit, such as the Michael Starr Building or the Gen. W. Sikorski Polish Veterans’ Association Hall.

Leaving Home, Finding Home in Oshawa opened right before Thanksgiving, and we cannot wait for you to visit and see this exhibit! If you’re not able to visit in person, be sure to check out Oshawa Immigrations Stories or the Leaving Home, Finding Home category on Discover Historic Oshawa!

When is Thanksgiving Day?

When is Thanksgiving Day? – It seems very strange that the Governor has not yet proclaimed a Thanksgiving Day for the present year.  There surely never was a year during which we as a people here received greater cause to be thankful. Three times have we been threatened with lawless invasion, and still we are saved from the devastations of war.  The dryness of the spring, the coolness of the summer, and the wet weather of the harvest threatened to destroy our crops, but out barns are filled plenty. Cholera has afflicted nearly every other nation, whilst we have been mercifully spared. Add to these the opening of a market after the abolition of the Reciprocity Treaty, the good prices obtained for our produce, the preservation of the land from internal dissentions, and we have a year which God has marked by a great display of his Providential care and goodness towards us.

Oshawa Vindicator, November 14, 1866

Why was there confusion about Thanksgiving Day? In Canada, Thanksgiving is the second Monday in October, right? Well, it’s only been observed consistently on that day since 1957.

The origins and basis for Canadian Thanksgiving isn’t as well known as the American holiday.  It is important to note that Indigenous people have had celebrations of thanks for good harvest and successfully faring through the winter well before the arrival of colonizing settlers.

Canadian Thanksgiving is frequently tied to the story of Martin Frobisher who was one of many to search for the Northwest Passage.  He made three attempts, and on his third in 1578, there was a celebration on what is now known as Frobisher Island.  Another possible origin for the holiday could be the harvest celebrations that occurred in New France in the 1600s.  The popularity of Thanksgiving increased in the late 1700s/early 1800s upon the arrival of United Empire Loyalists.  While ‘Thanksgiving’ was being celebrated, it was informal, being recognised by those celebrating and not as a publicly recognised holiday.

Regarding the article that appeared in the Vindicator in 1866, Thanksgiving had been declared by the Governor General for the Province of Canada (today’s Ontario and Quebec) six times between 1850 and 1865 for specific reasons, as follows:

Date of ObservanceReasons
Thursday, 3 Jan. 1850For God’s mercies and cessation of grievous disease
Wednesday, 4 June 1856For restoration of Peace with Russia
Thursday, 3 Nov. 1859For abundant harvest and continuation of Peace
Thursday, 6 Dec. 1860For God’s mercies
Wednesday, 11 Nov. 1863For abundant harvest and continuation of Peace
Wednesday, 18 Oct. 1865For God’s mercies

As it wasn’t a consistent holiday, it’s no wonder the editors of the paper were questioning if and when the holiday would have been declared.

Thanksgiving Day has been observed every year since 1879.  Initially, Thanksgiving was held on a Thursday in November, but in 1957, it was officially declared to be the second Monday in October.

The changing date of Thanksgiving was noted on in the diaries of a man named William Elliot. The diaries are part of the archival collection of the Oshawa Museum. An entry dated November 25, 1896 lists that day as Thanksgiving Day, an indication that it was at the same time as the American Thanksgiving during this time period. However an entry from October 15, 1903 is listed as Thanksgiving Day, and in 1913 it is mentioned on October 20.

You can read the diaries on the Oshawa Museum’s website.


Sources:

https://www.canadashistory.ca/explore/arts-culture-society/the-history-of-thanksgiving-in-canada

https://web.archive.org/web/20130628210214/http://www.pch.gc.ca/pgm/ceem-cced/jfa-ha/graces-eng.cfm

Reflections from a Summer Student

By Grace A., Summer Student

I spent the majority of my summer at the Oshawa Museum researching the city’s early Jewish community. As Jennifer Weymark shared in her post, this project aligns with the greater plan to compile the stories that have not yet been told in our local histories. As she wrote, there has been a summer student (that’s me) sifting through census records, newspaper articles and other primary source documents, trying to piece it all together. In the beginning, I delved into the 1921 Census of Canada, looking for families in Oshawa who identified as Hebrew. I recorded names, birthdates, countries of origin, dates of immigration, language, and occupation. Using this information, I went to the Oshawa City Directory from the same year to get a little more personal. I found out which houses they lived in and the businesses they may have owned. I have to admit, I felt a little invasive. Everything I looked through was public record, but I couldn’t help but wonder what they would think and whether they would have approved of me playing private investigator.

The idea of informed consent was developed in the medical and biomedical community during the 1950s. While the concept has evolved over time, it’s rooted in the belief that there should be a process of communication between the physician and patient. To simplify it, the patient has to be fully aware of what they’re getting into before they receive treatment. Conversations about research ethics over the last few decades have been influenced by the basic notion of informed consent. For example, Karen L. Potts and Leslie Brown talk about informed consent in their essay titled “Becoming an Anti-Oppressive Researcher.” In their words, informed consent “highlights our commitment to the community, our relationships to it, the data, and the process.” These processes become complicated when you’re researching past communities. Most of the time, there is no opportunity to have an open dialogue between the researcher and subject in historical studies.

Ontario Jewish Archives, 1976-6-8

This summer, I learned that in the absence of this relationship there are still ways that museums can commit themselves to anti-oppressive research. On this project, we had many conversations about the archive. This is a particularly important consideration for a research project about the early Jewish community in Oshawa. During the time periods we studied, Jewish people in Canada faced anti-Semitism and experienced a great deal of adversity as a result of colonial violence. This considered, we have to be aware of how these structures are embedded in archived material. The Ontario Jewish Archives was immensely helpful both as a source of reliable information and a partner on this project. The photograph above is from their collection, and shows a group of Oshawa children and a Rabbi at a Cheder class from 1925. “Cheder Class” was one of many photographs from the OJA’s collection which helped to visualize the history of the early Jewish community.


Sources

Research As Resistance, Second Edition: Revisiting Critical, Indigenous, and Anti-Oppressive Approaches, edited by Leslie Brown, and Susan Strega, Canadian Scholars, 2015. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.proxy.queensu.ca/lib/queen-ebooks/detail.action?docID=6282047.

Profiling: Mike Starr

Hon. Michael Starr was born in 1910 as Michael Starchevski, to Ukrainian parents from the western region of Galicia. From Copper Cliff, Ontario, the family eventually moved to Montreal, to Toronto and then to Oshawa in 1921 where his mother had some Ukrainian friends. They settled in the south end of the city, close to factories as well as the Oshawa Creek. Michael attended Cederdale Public School, where his friend group was made up of others with Ukrainian or Eastern European background – many of whom also lived in the same area.

Michael entered the workforce in 1925 as a printer’s devil in order to help support his family (including his five younger siblings). However, his ambition for education remained high and he returned to complete an accelerated course at Oshawa Collegiate Institute (later named O’Neill CVI). This enabled him to work as a cost clerk at Pedlar People Limited, where he would gain increasing responsibilities over the years. As a result of his employer’s suggestion and with his father’s permission, he shortened his last name, Starchevski, to Starr in order for it to be more easily pronounced in English.

In 1933, during the Depression, he married Anne Zaritsky and they managed to live quite comfortably on his salary of just $15.00 per week.  They built a house at 25 Olive Ave. where they raised their son and daughter and continued to reside for the remainder of their lives.

In 1944, after several failed attempts, Starr was elected to the Oshawa City Council as an Alderman.  In the position, he is credited with making the City Board of Works into a modern and efficient department.  After five years on City Council, he sought and was elected as Mayor in 1949 and re-elected to this position in 1951.  During his three terms as Mayor, he oversaw many improvements in the City including the construction of the new municipal office-building, police station, fire hall and sewage disposal plant together with the annexation of a large section of East Whitby Township.  During this time, Mr. Starr managed to continue to work as Sales Manager for the Pedlar People Ltd.

In 1952, he was elected as the Member of Parliament representing the Progressive-Conservative party. In July 1957, Mr. Starr was appointed Minister of Labour in the Diefenbaker government.  This appointment made him the first Canadian of Ukrainian descent to be appointed to the federal Cabinet.   In September 1967, Robert Stanfield appointed Mr. Starr as interim opposition leader of the Party and House Leader until Stanfield took his seat.  In the federal election of 1968, Mr. Starr was defeated by a very narrow margin by Ed Broadbent, later national leader of the New Democratic Party.  With this election, Mr. Starr’s political career in elected politics ended.

The Starchevski family took part in Ukrainian social life in Oshawa, which included the Prosvita Society – a reading association where Michael’s father Matthew served as president. Other organizations were political groups such as the Ukrainian Labour/Farmer Temple and the Canadian Sitch Organization, which all served as centres for cultural activities such as musical and dramatic productions. The Prosvita Hall, for instance, sponsored a Ukrainian Athletic Club which excelled in softball. Mike Starr, the organizer, was willing to play any position and later served as coach and manager. 

The newer generation of Ukrainian immigrants revitalized community institutions, like churches and halls, and established their own. Still, the older community and the newer interacted, with the former helping the latter. Starr, who at this time was serving as Mayor of Oshawa, would welcome newcomers to the city. He would also present them with certificates upon successful completion of their contracts and help with finding other jobs or housing – overall leaving a very positive impression.

Victoria Szeczepanski, another participant in the Museum’s project who emigrated from Poland at this time, had a few remarks about her first impressions of Oshawa. She said the following:

My husband took English lessons at Central Collegiate, where Michael Starr welcomed us to Oshawa. He asked that the citizens of Oshawa treat the newcomers with respect. Some people treated us well, and with respect. Others looked at us as newcomers and would occasionally call us DP.

Looking around at certain landmarks – like the Michael Starr Building or the Michael Starr trail – it is easy to guess at his overall lasting impact on Oshawa. However, when hearing from members of the Ukrainian community, or from other cultural groups, it becomes even clearer. Each political success was considered a success for the whole community, especially since he was the first federal Cabinet Minister of Ukrainian descent. Indeed, his overall contributions to the political landscape – throughout his journey from City Alderman to Mayor to Minister of Labour in the Diefenbaker government, are fondly remembered.

Michael Starr died March 16, 2000 at the age of 89. He is buried at St. Wolodymyr and St. Olha Ukrainian Cemetery, located in south Courtice.

No matter where he was, it was said that Michael Starr was always thinking about the future of Oshawa.  In 1997, he told a story to the archivist for the Oshawa Museum. While driving along Highway 2, Starr said to his wife, “Anne, someday when you are driving through here it will all be lit up with houses and factories and everything.”  She said to him years later, “How in the world did you know this?”


Much of the text for this article was originally written by summer student, Mia, for a video podcast: Listen to Mia tell the story of Mike Starr here:

The Month That Was – September 1931

Vaudeville Revue for Grand Stand To Be Best Ever
Tuesday, September 15th, 1931 – The Oshawa Daily Times

The directors of the Oshawa Fair have gone to great lengths this year to secure entertainment of the highest calibre for the big exhibition which opens to the public tomorrow. The free entertainment which is being provided in front of the grand stand, in particular, will surpass anything formerly offered at the Oshawa Fair. Every afternoon and evening, in addition to the band concerts which are always popular at the Oshawa Fair, there will be vaudeville acts by outstanding artists and a musical revue which will be even greater than that which was presented last year. This musical revue, known as Webb’s Passing Parade Revue, is coming here for the third consecutive year, and it is announced as the biggest grand stand attraction ever seen in Oshawa. Many startling sensations in the way of special acts, with beautiful girls presenting singing and dancing numbers, and funny comedians keeping the ground in good humour, will be included in the program.

One of the main features of the revue will be the Great Lakes All Girls Orchestra, a musical organization of girls who have won a splendid reputation for themselves as musicians who can really play the best of music. The Resee Sisters, clever dancers, Mack and Sullivan, dancers and Singers, and other well-known entertainers will have a place on the program of the grand stand show, which is expected to pack the grand stand on both afternoons and evenings.

Port Perry Star, 17 Sep 1931, p. 5

Horse Race Revival at Oshawa Fair
Tuesday, September 15th, 1931 – The Oshawa Daily Times

After a year’s absence from the program of Oshawa Fair, this year’s Fair will see a revival of that popular sport harness racing, with some of the fastest trotters and pacers in the Dominion taking part in the trials of speed on Wednesday and Thursday afternoon. To make this revival of horse racing a success, the directors in charge have scoured the country to secure the entries of the best horses that could be lined up to compete, and each afternoon there will be two fast events, with handsome purses offered, and with the best three of five heats to count. The people of Oshawa and district showed in July that they were willing to support good horse racing, and so the Fair directors have tried to get the very best to satisfy that demand. Already many fast horses are on the ground, and have been showing their places on the race track, so that a large entry is assured in each of the four events which will feature the grand stand program for the Fair.

Storm Sewer Progresses
Wednesday, September 16th, 1931 – The Oshawa Daily Times

Construction of a new section of storm sewer on Simcoe Street, from Bagot to King is proceeding at a good pace and is providing work for about 25 men who would otherwise be unemployed. The new storm sewer has been laid for a distance of about one block and excavation work is now proceeding in the second block.

Canadian Statesman, 10 Sep 1931, p. 5

Subway Work Going Ahead
Wednesday, September 16th, 1931 – The Oshawa Daily Times

The paving work undertaken by the city’s Board of Works at the C.N.R. Subway on Simcoe Street South is progressing rapidly, while preparations for the laying of the lines of the Street Railway Company is also nearing completion. The present road, especially the approach to the railway crossing, is in a terrible condition and in its present state is a menace to the safety of all vehicles.

Mayor In Toronto
Wednesday, September 16th, 1931 – The Oshawa Daily Times

Mayor Ernie Marks was in Toronto today in connection with a meeting of the Associated Theatres organization of which he is president.

Grounds Beautiful
Wednesday, September 16th, 1931 – The Oshawa Daily Times

The fine appearance of the grounds at the Ritson Road Public School has been the subject of much favourable comment this fall. By means of well laid out flower beds and shrubbery the caretaker has greatly beautified the school surroundings.

Rides Were Popular
Friday, September 18th, 1931 – The Oshawa Daily Times

The ferris wheel, merry-go-round, whip and aerial swing did a rushing business in the Oshawa Fair midway last night. All these rides seemed popular with the large crowds which thronged the midway.

Repairing Silo
Saturday, September 19th, 1931 – The Oshawa Daily Times

Work of re-conditioning the silo at the City Farm, which was scorched in the recent fire which destroyed the farm barn with its contents, has been commenced. The silo was note very badly damages but on examination cracks and other faults were found in the concrete caused by the excessive heat from the flames.

Constructed Freight Platform
Saturday, September 19th, 1931 – The Oshawa Daily Times

In addition to the new freight shed which was recently turned over to the city by the Department of Public Works at the local Harbour, a lengthy substantial platform has been erected as an approach to the shed on the wharf side to facilitate the handling of freight.