Every February is celebrated as Black History Month. In Canada, the first Black History Month was celebrated in 1988 in Nova Scotia. The Ontario Black History Society petitioned the Ontario government in 1993 to proclaim February as Black History Month.
In December 1995, after an idea by Rosemary Sadlier, president of the OBHS, the Canadian House of Commons recognized Black History Month in Canada, following a motion introduced by the Honourable Jean Augustine, the first Black Canadian woman elected to Parliament.
In 2008, a motion was introduced by Senator Donald Oliver, the first Black man appointed to the Senate, to “Recognize Contributions of Black Canadians and February as Black History Month,” receiving unanimous approval.
To learn more about Oshawa’s Black history, we invite you to visit our Black History Month Resource page. Here, we have rounded up blog posts written about Oshawa’s Black history and people of note, videos sharing these stories, as well as included links to other organizations and resources.
All articles originally appeared in the Oshawa Vindicator Content Warning: one article discusses a suicide
February 4, 1863 Page 2 Another Suicide
…It is our most painful task to record the death of Thos. Bartlett, Esq., by his own hands, on Monday last, between the hours of eight and nine o’clock in the morning. The deceased was a brother of the late Wm. Bartlett, Esq., who hung himself… on the 4th September last, and lived on the opposite side of the road, only a few rods distant from the last residence of the former. Soon after his brother’s sad end, the subject of the present notice was taken ill, his difficulty being a nervous affection which prevented his obtaining sleep, the consequence of which was that he began to fail in flesh. As a remedy he resorted to opium, of which he took repeated and large doses with a view only of procuring sleep as was then supposed, but when it took effect it acted powerfully as an emetic, rather than as a narcotic, otherwise the quantity would most probably have proved fatal. For some time afterwards he lay in a very critical condition…
February 11, 1863 Page 2
The Emancipation Proclamation to be Photographed – Benjamin J Lossing has obtained permission from the president to take a photograph of the Emancipation Proclamation, which is entirely in Mr. Lincoln’s handwriting. The photograph is to form one of the illustrations in Mr. Lossing’s historical work.
Oshawa Central School At the last meeting of the Board of School Trustees, applications were received from twelve different young ladies willing to accept one or the other of the two situations open in the staff of teachers of the Central School. Only one of them – a daughter of the Rev. Mr. Cantlon – had ever taught before, and after due consideration of the claims of others, she received the appointment as teacher of the second grade at a salary of $240 per annum. A daughter of Mr. Hurd, of Raglan, was appointed teacher of the first grade, at a salary of $150 per annum. Miss Stone was, at the same time, promoted to the third grade, without increase of salary. The Central School is now better provided with teachers than it has ever been, having two male and three female teachers. Their united salaries amount to $1550. The obnoxious “monitor system” has been dismissed from the school, and teachers are paid for their services and expected to work for the interest and benefit of the school accordingly. The attendance of pupils is very large, notwithstanding the prevalence of disease, giving the five teachers plenty to do, to attend to their proper instruction.
Skirt Lifters – This new and useful invention is becoming very popular with the ladies, and promises to form nearly as important a branch of manufacture ad trade as the hoop skirt business has become. It will be seen on reference to our advertising columns that the original article is to be had at al of our Dry Goods Stores. We see by the Toronto papers that another article designed to serve the same purpose is in the market. It is a Canadian invention called the Patent Canadian Skirt Lifter.
February 18, 1863 Page 2 Oshawa Wheat Market
Last week was one of excellent sleighing and persons having wheat to dispose of, took advantage of the good travelling to pour in the golden grain and get, in return for it, the golden coin or the equally prized green colored Ontario Bank note. At Warren’s Mill, from half a dozen to twenty loads of grain were to be seen every day, standing about, wait8ing for their turn at the door to unload, and a similar scene might be witness at that of Messrs. Gibbs & Bros., in South Oshawa. The amount of wheat purchased by the latter firm, and delivered, during the week, was 22,834 bushels; 1[ ],830 were delivered on the last 3 days of the week. The amount purchased by John Warren, Esq., and delivered at his mill, was something over 18,000 bushels during the week.
In another column we give both the Oshawa and Toronto market prices.
Page 3 Oshawa Markets Fall Wheat: 90 95 Spring Wheat: 80 85 *note, this represents a price range per bushel
February 25, 1863 Page 2
An ice-bridge, says the St. Catharine’s Journal, has formed at the junction of the Niagara River with Lake Ontario, for the third time in the history of Canada. The cause is the prevalence of south winds for a few days and then a sudden change to the north, the first forcing the ice down the upper lakes into the river, which is prevented by the north winds from getting into Lake Ontario.
Alarm of Fire – On Saturday evening last an alarm was rung out on the fire-bell, and many ran to and fro, looking for the fire. It was at last discovered, by some, in an unoccupied house belonging to Mr. L. Butterfield, on Water Street, opposite Messrs. Warren & Co.’s Tannery. A woman was engaged in cleaning out the house, and the partitions caught fire from an improperly put up stove pipe. It was soon extinguished, before doing much damage.
Page 3 Scarcely a day (says an English paper) passes on which the journals do not record deaths from wearing Crinoline. A young woman at Dalston, for instance, was making a pudding at a table five feet from the fire, when a draught from an open window blew her extended dress into the grate, and not long afterwards she was dead. Verdict of the jury, “Died from fire while wearing crinoline.”
Did you know that Lake Ontario started as a small stream that gradually opened up through the erosion of soft Silurian rocks over thousands of years?
Lake Ontario is one of the five Great Lakes of North America. Surrounded on the north, west, and southwest by the province of Ontario, and on the south and east by the state of New York, its water boundaries, along the international border, meet in the middle of the lake.
Oshawa lies on a glacial geological feature called the Lake Iroquois shoreline. We know it today as a fairly level band of land ringing Lake Ontario, bordered by the ridge of the prehistoric Lake Iroquois shoreline.
Lake Iroquois was a proglacial lake, meaning that the lake was situated between rock deposits and an ice sheet. The northern shore of this lake was the southern edge of the retreating glacier. Lake Iroquois was formed by melting glacial ice in the Lake Ontario basin.
At that time, the St. Lawrence River Valley was blocked with ice, and the lake level rose 30 m (~100 ft) above present day Lake Ontario. The lake drained to the southeast, through a channel passing near present day Rome, New York. The lake was fed by Early Lake Erie, as well as Lake Algonquin, an early partial manifestation of Lake Huron and Georgian Bay that drained directly to Lake Iroquois across southern Ontario.
The stream turned into a river that was widened and sculpted by the powerful movement of the continental glaciers. The current level, shape, and direction of flow of Lake Ontario was established over 12,000 years ago.
As it retreated, the glacier left behind Lake Iroquois, a larger version of present-day Lake Ontario. As it retreated, the glacier left behind Lake Iroquois, a larger version of present-day Lake Ontario.
The old shoreline runs west-east, running roughly parallel to today’s King Street in Oshawa. The shoreline is typified by washed sand and gravel bluffs. It is located well away from the present shore of Lake Ontario. Remnants of this shoreline can still be seen in various communities today along the north shore of Lake Ontario. The ridges of the old shoreline are evident in Oshawa, where the banks of the old Lake Iroquois shoreline can be seen looking north of Highway 401. Iroquois Shoreline Park, located on the hills of Grandview Street North and the appropriately named Ridgemount Blvd., is the approximate location of the original shoreline of Lake Iroquois. Further west, the Scarborough Bluffs also formed part of the shoreline of the original lake. Further east, remnants of the shoreline are visible at Stephen’s Gulch in Clarington and Highway 401, near Cobourg.
This land was valued by Indigenous communities and later by settlers for farming and settlement. Archaeological reports show that from 1400 – 1450CE, ancestral Wendat communities were utilizing the land around the area of Grandview and Taunton.
The next time you are taking a drive, I would recommend a drive to the top of the hill of Grandview Street North near Ridgemount Blvd. in Oshawa. If you stand looking south from that ridge, all that land would have been water.
Hogmanay is the Scottish word for the last day of the year, or New Year’s Eve. Customs vary throughout Scotland, however, they traditionally include giving of gifts and visiting the homes of friends and neighbours. Special attention is given to the first-foot, a Scottish and Northern English custom, established in folklore. The first-foot is the first person to cross the threshold of a home on New Year’s Day, regarded as a bringer of good fortune for the coming year. The first-foot usually brings several gifts, perhaps a coin, bread, salt, coal, or a drink (usually whisky), which respectively represent financial prosperity, food, flavour, warmth, and good cheer.
Another custom which is prevalent in Scottish celebrations and others is the singing of Auld Lang Syne, a poem by Scottish poet Robbie Burns, written in 1788. The tune to which it is traditionally sung is an old Scottish folk tune.
From all of us at the Oshawa Museum, Happy Hogmanay and Happy New Year!
This year, 2022, marks anniversary years for two of Oshawa’s landmarks of importance to the Polish community. Branch 21 of the Polish Alliance of Canada is celebrating 100 years, while St. Hedwig’s Catholic Church is commemorating its 70th anniversary.
Oshawa’s Polish community grew throughout the early years of the 20th century. In August 1922, 19 Polish residents met at the home of Stanisław Leśniak to discuss establishing a Polish organization in the community; this came to realization in September of that year when the Polish Society of Fraternal Help was established. The first president was Józef Mazurkiewicz. The group changed their name to the Polish Society in Oshawa in 1924.
In 1925, the organization decided to build a Polish hall, and construction began shortly afterwards at 219 Olive Avenue. All members donated $10 towards construction, and an interest-free loan from members was also approved. Fundraising initiatives looked outside the Polish community as well with a door to door collection. The hall was completed in 1928, and this year, 2022, saw improvements to the façade of the hall.
A number of community groups began operating out of the hall, including a library, choir, Polish language school, and amateur theatre group. As well, a Polish Veterans group started their base operations from the hall. During the Second World War, the group supported Poland and organized fundraising towards a relief fund. Members of the United Polish Relief fund visited each Polish family in Oshawa, held dances, and organized banquets, raising over $1800 towards the cause.
In April of 1944, the Polish Society of Oshawa decided to join the National Polish Alliance of Canada; they merged with another Branch in Oshawa, Branch 16, and together became Branch 21 of the National Polish Alliance of Canada. Wincenty Kołodziej was the first president of Branch 21.
Branch 21 has actively participated in Oshawa’s annual Fiesta Week for decades with dancing and traditional food being served. They operate as the “Poznań Pavilion.”
St. Hedwig’s Roman Catholic Church was built in a number of stages. There had been talk in Oshawa’s Polish community of establishing a Polish church since the late 1920s; by the 1950s, the work began. Before the establishment of St. Hedwig’s, Catholics in the community worshipped at St. Gregory’s or Holy Cross (which was built between 1940-1945). In 1952, the first mass for the Polish parish was celebrated, taking place at the Polish Hall at 168 Banting Avenue, and immediately after the mass, St. Hedwig of Silesia was chosen as the patron of the parish. That same year, a plot of land was purchased at Olive Avenue and Central Park Blvd., and fundraising began. The cornerstone was blessed in 1954, which was when the first mass was celebrated in the ‘lower church’ (basement).
Construction of the upper church began in 1960, and the church was blessed by Archbishop Philip Pocock on June 25, 1961. He remarked in his homily, “The new church is now blessed and set aside for divine purposes. This means that you the parish have given it to God. Today He has accepted it. You have put your offerings, sacrifices and prayers into it. I offer my congratulations to the Pastor and parishoners for a job well done, in building this beautiful temple to Almighty God.” There were approximately 700 people in attendance for this dedication mass.
In the 1970s, Pope John Paul II visited the church; at the time, he was a cardinal and not yet the Pope.
The church offers services seven days a week in Polish and an English mass on Sunday.
Since the early years of the 20th century, Oshawa became a place of settlement for Eastern European settlers. The longevity of several community hubs, including the Polish Alliance and St. Hedwig’s church, is a legacy of the hard work and dedication of the early settlers and of those who continue with them to this day.
To learn more about Oshawa’s Eastern European communities, particularly the stories of the Displaces Persons who arrived after the Second World War, visit the OM and see our exhibit, Leaving Home, Finding Home in Oshawa: Displaced Persons and Stories of Immigration.