Archives Awareness Week – About the Oshawa Archives

By Jennifer Weymark, Archivist
*This first appeared in the Oshawa Express in April 2012

From April 7 to 10, 2015, the Oshawa Community Archives is participating in Archives Awareness Week.  This annual event is designed to raise awareness of many resources that can be found in Ontario’s many archival collections.

What is an archives?  The dictionary defines an archives as:

  • Usually, archives: documents or records relating to the activities, business dealings, etc., of a person, family, corporation, association, community, or nation.
  • archives, a place where public records or other historical documents are kept.
  • any extensive record or collection of data: The encyclopedia is an archive of world history. The experience was sealed in the archive of her memory.
The Oshawa Community Archives, in Guy House
The Oshawa Community Archives, in Guy House

I thought I would take this opportunity to introduce the readers to the Oshawa Community Archives and some of the really interesting pieces we have in our collection.  The archives began in 1957 with the formation of the Historical Society.  The Historical Society was given the task of collecting items, be that clothing, photographs, furniture or documents that told the story of Oshawa’s history.  Today, that archival collection contains over 7000 photographs, over 100 rolls of microfilm and over 250 boxes filled with documents all related to the history of Oshawa.

A glimpse into the storage at the Oshawa Archives
A glimpse into the storage at the Oshawa Archives

With over 54 years worth of items collected, the Archives has been lucky enough to house some really fascinating pieces.  One of the items that I have found incredibly interesting, as well as fascinating, are a series of letters written by Pvt. William Garrow to his sisters Leah and Lillian from the front lines during WWI.  For me, these letters truly show the human side of the war and become that much more poignant when you realize that the dreams William writes about do not come to be, as sadly he killed in action in 1917.  For me it is ever more touching when further research shows that William was one of the 54000 British Empire soldiers who have no known grave.

William James Garrow Jr., from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection
William James Garrow Jr., from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection

The collection also is home to some really interesting medals that were created by the Joseph Hall Works.  At its peak of operation, around 1867, the company employed close to three hundred people producing all sorts of ironwork.  The medals were produced in 1883 and given out during the Knights of Labour Demonstration Parade, similarly to the way that candy canes are handed out at the Santa Claus Parade only much heavier as they are made of iron.

A988.9.1 - Joseph Hall Works / Knights of Labor Medallion
A988.9.1 – Joseph Hall Works Medallion

The Archives is also home to life-sized painting of Granny Harriet Cock, the first mother-in-law of Thomas Guy Jr.  The painting, which is about 6 feet high, was painted in England around 1840 and was brought to Canada in 1842.  The painting is permanently installed in the Verna Conant Gallery at Guy House.

The Harriet Cock portrait, on display in the Verna Conant Gallery
The Harriet Cock portrait, on display in the Verna Conant Gallery


Take this opportunity to visit the archives and see our collection.  I will also be available to assist answering questions and repairing any documents you may have in your personal archives.


Want to know more about the Oshawa Archives?  Check out this video, available on our YouTube Channel:

‘A Bright Eastertide’ – Easter Postcards from the Archives

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

The celebration of Easter comprises more than just Easter Sunday.  It begins with Ash Wednesday, 46 days before Easter, and the week leading up to Easter Sunday is known as Holy Week, during which Holy Thursday and Good Friday fall.  The 50 day period after Easter Sunday is known as Eastertide.  Today, Easter is secularly known as a celebration involving bunnies, eggs, baskets, and chocolate, but its roots are in Catholicism, and it is the most important observation for the Catholic Church, the death and resurrection of Jesus.

By the end of the 19th century, sending Easter postcards to relatives and friends became a tradition; because of the deep religious roots of this holiday, the popularity of sending cards for Easter took longer to catch on than it did for other holidays, such as Christmas.  Popular iconography on the cards included eggs, flowers, springtime images, and, of course, images with religious undertones.  Interestingly, during the First World War, the themes displayed on the cards changed for the times, with images of soldiers, and even the Easter Bunny became militarized.


What follows are Easter Postcards from the collection of the Oshawa Community Archives:File884 copy File881 copy File895 copy File904 copy File911 copy


On behalf of the Oshawa Community Museum and the Oshawa Historical Society, I wish you a very happy Easter.

Many thanks to our Durham College Library and Information Technology Students for their initial research into this collection.

The Month That Was – April 1952

Trouble Already
April 1, 1952

When the federal government decided that it wished to have a distinguished Canadian appointed Governor –General of Canada, many people received the news with misgivings. Apart altogether from the appointment of the Rt. Hon. Vincent Massey to occupy the post as the first Canadian to do so, there were those who saw that this departure from precedent and tradition would bring troubles and difficulties. They have not had long to wait for their misgivings to be justified.


Plan to Close Bloor School is discussed
April 2. 1952

Consideration is being given by Oshawa Board of Education to the closing of Bloor West School. A decision may be made later this month.

School inspector T. R. McEwen reported to the Board yesterday that it would cost less to send the 20 Oshawa children attending the school to a school closer to the heart of the city.

Under the annexation agreement when the Board ceases to use the school for local children it reverts to school section No.4 in Whitby Township.

“Of course when we have our next College Hill School the pupils would go there,” said Mr. McEwen amid cries of “if” and “when”.

Mrs. B. C. Colpus thought it a pity that the school should be closed after the Board has spent money installing new equipment and a furnace.

“Despite that it has still been condemned by the health authorities,” observed another member Trustee E.A. Lovell said the school should definitely not be used.


Over 1,500,000 Canadians receiving medical care through insurance plans
April 2, 1952

More than 1,500,000 Canadians are now receiving medical care through non-profit health insurance plans that pay doctors’ bills. Figures released by Dr. A. D. Kelly, deputy general secretary of the Canadian medical association show enrolment in the prepaid plans climbed 300,000 during 1951, an increase of 25 percent over the 1950 total of 1,200,000.


To Extend Four-lane highway
April 3, 1952

Toronto (CP) – Alberta natural gas piped to Ontario may cost more than other fuels but is preferable to an uncertain supply from the United States, Mines Minister Gemmell told the Ontario Legislature yesterday.

The question was raised by Opposition Leader Farquhar Oliver, who said present evidence was that natural gas from the west could not compete with other fuels.

The Mines Minister, who spoke during passage of his department’s budget estimates, said Alberta’s gas would find a ready market in Ontario even without an industrial market.

Hambly's Beverages ad, from the Canadian Statesman, April 3, 1952
Hambly’s Beverages ad, from the Canadian Statesman, April 3, 1952

Pupils of Mae Marsh Delight Big Audience at Masonic Temple
From the Canadian Statesman
April 4, 1952

Parents and friends strained the capacity of the Masonic Temple, Oshawa, on Saturday afternoon, to see the dance recital presented by the Lillian Mae Marsh School of Dancing.  Picturesque costumes that would have qualified for a Broadway show and a smartly paced program held the interest of the audience.


William Smith and the Conservative Demonstration of 1911

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

In 1911, Canada was a much different place.  Our Prime Minister was Wilfrid Laurier, a PM who when faced with large national issues, attempted to find middle ground between the expectations of English Canada and French Canada.  Often, the end result was displeasure by both sides.  Laurier faced many issues during his 15 years as Prime Minister that found him trying to maintain peace between the two passionate groups, including participation in the Boer War, the Manitoba Schools Question, and the Naval Service Bill, and ultimately it was the issue of reciprocity with the US that saw a change in government, bringing the Conservatives to power in 1911.

William Smith, From the Parliament of Canada's Website
William Smith, From the Parliament of Canada’s Website

For the riding of Ontario South, William Smith was elected as a Conservative Member of Parliament.  William, or Billy, Smith was a Columbus native who worked as a breeder, farmer, and importer.  His farm in Columbus was 267 acres, and Smith was regarded as a progressive and prosperous agriculturalist, not afraid to engage with the ‘improved methods’ of farming.  The south wing of the main house was originally an old inn known as the ‘West Country Inn’ and was a halfway house for farmers and traders.

When he was elected in 1911, he was no novice when it came to politics.  Smith was first elected as an MP in 1887 and was re-elected in a by-election 1892.  In the 1911 election, the main issue was reciprocity, or free trade with the United States.  The Conservative Party, led by Robert Borden, was staunchly against this, and fear of American influence and/or annexation was one argument they used against the Liberals.  The Conservatives won the election with a majority government, and a Conservative Smith won the local riding of Ontario South.  As reported in the Whitby Chronicle, the election of Smith and the Conservatives was indicative that “so far as this riding was concerned reciprocity had received a knock-out blow.”

The Conservative Demonstration, 1911; from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection
The Conservative Demonstration, 1911; from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection

The Conservative victory was celebrated throughout the riding.  Election night saw celebrations in Whitby, and the following day, “an automobile procession left Oshawa for Pickering, Brougham, Claremont, Ashburn and Port Perry.”  The parade in Oshawa was complete with the motorcade, men on horses, and bands, and the event was photographed as it made its way eastbound along King Street.  A number of the images were in turn made into postcards, five of which are part of the Oshawa Community Archives’ Postcard Collection.

The Conservative Demonstration, 1911; from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection
The Conservative Demonstration, 1911; from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection
The Conservative Demonstration, 1911; from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection
The Conservative Demonstration, 1911; from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection
The Conservative Demonstration, 1911; from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection
The Conservative Demonstration, 1911; from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection

Interestingly enough, the Oshawa Community Museum has an artifact in its holdings related to WIlliam Smith: this butter paddle, engraved with “John Smith’s Print, 1808,” owned by William’s grandfather.

960.54.2 - Butter Press owned by John Smith, dated 1808
960.54.2 – Butter Press owned by John Smith, dated 1808

The Conservative Demonstration postcard, and other postcards from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection will be on display in Guy House in April 2015 in celebration of Archives Awareness.  Be sure to visit!

Where The Streets Get Their Names – Simcoe Street

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

Maps fascinate me.  I remember road trips with my grandparents, and in one of the pockets behind the front seats, there would be a Map Art atlas for the Greater Toronto Area; while they drove from Point A to Point B, I would study the maps.  I found the Oshawa maps particularly interesting, partly because it was my hometown, but also because the subdivisions had themes.  I could search and find the authors, the Arthurian Legend Streets, the birds, the flowers!  Once I started working with Oshawa’s history, I began to appreciate the meanings and the stories behind some of our more well travelled arteries.

Simcoe Street
Simcoe Street

Simcoe Street is one such roadway.  It is not only a major north-south road for Oshawa, but as a Regional Road, it also traverses through Scugog Township (Port Perry) and Brock Township, measuring almost 62 kilometres in length!  I drive along Simcoe Street on a daily basis (save the odd weekend) because the Museum is located right at the foot of Simcoe Street, at its southern terminus at Lake Ontario.

The southern terminus to Simcoe Street, which ends at Lake Ontario.  Side note, it's a pretty view when the snow isn't grey and melty.
The southern terminus to Simcoe Street, which ends at Lake Ontario. Side note, it’s a pretty view when the snow isn’t grey and melty.

Simcoe Street is not the best example to start with if I am looking to share the local histories behind Oshawa’s street names, but rather I will start with Simcoe because its story is one that is shared with other ‘Simcoe’ places in Ontario.  It received its name from the first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada from 1791 to 1796, John Graves Simcoe. Simcoe was responsible for a number of improvements to the newly created province, including the first Act Against Slavery in all of the British Empire, the founding of York (Toronto) and laying the foundation for their road system, including the foundation of two major roads, Yonge Street and Dundas Street, and began the policy of granting land to settlers leaving the US after the Revolutionary War.

John Graves Simcoe, from Library & Archives Canada
John Graves Simcoe, from Library & Archives Canada

Basically, Simcoe was kinda a big deal.

Locally, Simcoe Street has been in use for almost 200 years.  Samuel Pedlar makes note in his papers about a settler named George Hinkson who, “in the year 1828… underbrushed and blazed the Reach Road from the settlement on the 2d concession (now Oshawa) to the Widdifield Creek in the 4th concession.”   Historically, Simcoe Street has also gone by the name Reach Road, perhaps because it eventually travelled north to Reach Township.  Pedlar also talks of others in the 1820s who worked to clear the road from Oshawa to Prince Albert.

It feels like a very modern concern, to take issue with road conditions and road improvements, but it appears that in 1840s, a number of concerned citizens were writing to Robert Baldwin, Premier from 1843-46, about local road improvements.  The main bone of contention was where to put improvements, with Oshawa citizens wanting to see Simcoe Street developed, which in turn would facilitate business from the Sydenham Harbour through the village of Oshawa and then to the northern townships; Peter Perry,of Whitby on the other side of the argument, advocated funds going towards a road leading north from Windsor Bay (Whitby).  Ultimately money was given to both projects, but not before passionate letters from both sides were sent to Baldwin throughout the mid-1840s. I’m rather amused that road improvements were fought about over 150 years ago, and it still is today.  It’s reassuring, perhaps, that somethings never change.

Simcoe Street was one of the the first paved streets in Oshawa, with the Asphalt Paving Co. of Windsor being awarded the contract in 1911.  It was paved from the south side of Richmond and Dukes Streets (the story of these two streets could be told another day), to the south side of Athol Street.  Also paved were Athol Street and King Street.  This paving process did not impede businesses, and it drew crowds of by-standers to watch the modernization take place.

Paving the streets at the Four Corners, from the Oshawa Archives Collection
Paving the streets at the Four Corners, from the Oshawa Archives Collection

Simcoe Street is a major road for Oshawa and Durham Region, and it has been host to parades, celebrations, shops, restaurants, education,and culture; along Simcoe Street, one can find the Oshawa Community Museum, the Canadian Automotive Museum, and Parkwood (with the Robert McLaughlin Gallery being just off Simcoe).  Simcoe and King form the Four Corners, the dividing line for north/south/east/west, but it is at the Four Corners that our community truly grew together, expanded, and flourished.

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