Anniversary Years for Two Oshawa Polish Landmarks

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

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.

Red brick building. At the top, it is flying a Canadian flag and a Polish flag, and there is a sign at the top centre reading "Polish Alliance of Canada" and a sign in the right window reading "Poznan"
Polish Alliance Hall on Olive Avenue

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.

Building with beige stucco facade and brick detailing around the bottom. It has signs reading 'Polish Alliance of Canada' and 'Poznan,' and there is a Canadian flag and a Polish flag
Polish Alliance of Canada, Branch 21 Hall, 2022; photo taken by OM Staff

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).

A yellow brick church with a tall steeple at the front of the building. There is a large white cross to the left of the building, and there are many stairs and railings going to the front doors. There are many clouds in the sky.
St. Hedwig’s, 2021; taken by OM Staff

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.

You Asked, We Answered: Summer 2022

While on tour, our Visitor Hosts are often asked questions that they may not be able to answer in that moment. However, we take note of the questions and try to find the answers afterwards. Here are a few questions we’ve been asked this summer and their answers.

What is the roof of Henry House made of?

The roof at Henry House is made from cedar shingles. It was last replaced in 2013, and the lifespan of these shingles is at least 25 years (according to my Google skills). Here is a side by side comparison from 2011 and then November 2013, not long after it was replaced.

Beams of drive shed – where are they from?

The Drive Shed! The Drive Shed was a 50th anniversary project for the Oshawa Historical Society. The idea for an additional exhibition area was launched in 2007 during the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Oshawa Historical Society.  The  Board of Directors wished to commemorate this milestone with a permanent, tangible addition to the museum complex and the City’s lakefront property. The Drive Shed is a timber frame structure, built by students from Fleming College, Haliburton Campus. The opening for the Drive Shed was celebrated in September 2009.

A brown wooden building with prominent triangular roof. There are sliding barn doors, and glass doors behind them. It is winter with snow on the ground
Drive Shed, Winter 2013

What was style of the sash in the community room?

In A Carrying Place: Oshawa’s Indigenous Story, there is a sash, on loan from the Oshawa-Durham Métis Council.

A woven sash - it is predominantly red with blue, white and yellow also featured. The sash is in a display case with other items surrounding it
Métis sash, and other items on display from the Oshawa Durham Métis Council

The origins of the sash reflect the diversity of the Métis experience. The finger-weaving technique used to make the sash was firmly established in Eastern Woodland Indigenous Peoples Traditions. The technique created tumplines, garters and other useful household articles and items of clothing. Plant fibers were used prior to the introduction of wool. Wool and the sash, as an article of clothing, were introduced to the Eastern Woodland peoples by Europeans. The Six Nations Confederacy, Potowatami and other First Nations of the area blended the two traditions into the finger-woven sash.

The French settlers of Québec created the Assomption variation of the woven sash. The sash was a popular trade item manufactured in a cottage industry in the village of L’Assomption, Québec. The Québécois and the Métis of Western Canada were their biggest customers. Sashes were also made by local Métis artisans. Sashes of Indigenous or Métis manufacture tended to be of a softer and loose weave, frequently incorporating beads in the design.

The sash was used by the Métis as a practical item of clothing. It was decorative, warm and could be used to replace a rope to tumpline if none were available. The sash has been the most persistent element of traditional Métis dress, worn long after the capote and the Red River coat were replaced by European styles. The Métis share the sash with two other groups who also claim it as a symbol of nationhood and cultural distinction. It was worn by Eastern Woodland Indigenous Peoples as a sign of office in the 19th century. It was worn by French Canadians during the Lower Canada Rebellion in 1837. It is still considered to be an important part of traditional dress for both of these groups.

A display case with several items, such as a red sash, a doll, and a fiddle inside. Behind there is a large Métis flag: blue with a white infinity symbol
Inside A Carrying Place: Oshawa’s Indigenous Story; this display features items from the Oshawa Durham Métis Council

Are the three families still around today?

Yes! Every year, we get people coming into the museum and saying that they are descended from either the Henry, Robinson, or Guy families. Because Guy House was a triplex for many years before becoming the Museum’s admin building, we will also have visitors tell us that they, or someone they know, lived in Guy House in the past.

Six Caucasian people, four standing, two sitting, posed for a photograph. The two seated people are holding a large book, and behind the group, there is a framed, painted portrait of another Caucasian man
Henry descendants presenting Isabelle Hume with the Henry Family Bible, c. 1990 (AX994.62.1)

Thanks for visiting!

Oshawa – The Manchester of Canada

By Sara H., Summer Student

Even though I have lived in Oshawa my entire life, there is still so much I have to learn about the city!  Working at Parkwood and the McLaughlin Branch of the Oshawa Public Library has given me a great starting point to learn about some of the significant people and industries that made up our city.  The Oshawa Museum has allowed me to continue this research and given me new ways to discover more about Oshawa. For example, Oshawa was once known as the “Manchester of Canada” due to the many industries that set up shop here and helped Oshawa thrive.  We all know about General Motors Canada and the legacy of the McLaughlin family, but what about the other industries that made up the “Manchester of Canada?”  Well look no further than this blog post as I have rounded up some information on these industries from the museum’s Discover Historic Oshawa site!  

Ontario Malleable Iron was established in 1872 by William and John Cowan.  Both men previously worked at the Ontario Malleable Iron Co., and had a great deal of skill and experience from previously running a variety of small businesses.  John served as the first president of the company until his death in 1915 when William succeeded him.  The company was sold to Grinnel Co. of Canada Ltd in 1929, and unfortunately closed in 1977 after a lengthy labour dispute.  The site was acquired by Knob Hill Farms, a Canadian grocery chain, which operated a store there from 1981 until they closed in 2000. 

Black and white photograph of a large industrial brick building. There is a road in front of it with lots of wooden electrical poles and wires running alongside
Exterior of the Ontario Malleable Iron Co., Buildings No. 5 and 7 from Front St.; Oshawa Museum archival collection (A996.1.7)

Smith Potteries was the largest maker of hand-made pottery in Canada, and operated in Oshawa from 1925 to 1949.  They produced a range of hand-painted products such as vases, bowls, and other souvenirs.  The company was very successful and the quality of their white ware pottery put them in competition with other countries such as China, Japan, and Germany.  Herbert C. Smith owned and operated the business from 1925-1938, and installed a gas station at the front of the store to attract motorists and tourists wanting to purchase souvenirs.  Smith Sporting Goods, another business operated by the Smith family, opened on the property and was in business until 1968. 

Our curator has previously written about Smith Potteries: ArteFACTS – Oshawa’s Smith Potteries

Cooper-Smith Co. was located at 19 Celina Street and changed ownership quite a bit before the company was created.  It was once owned by James Odgers Guy, yes, the same Guy from Guy House at the museum, who ran a “flour and feed” store there.  Elgin Cooper bought the property from James Guy in 1905 and turned it into a larger store that sold grain, as well as seeds, oats, and other types of feed.  The company was known for a specialized seed for homing pigeons that gave them increased stamina, and their garden seeds.  The company was forced into receivership and closed in July 1982, but reopened in August 1982 under new owners who were still a part of the Smith family.  Unfortunately, in January 1988 the property was destroyed by a fire. 

A large iron scale, standing in front of square shelves
Cooper-Smith Scale; Oshawa Museum Collection (011.16.1)

Pedlar People Limited was opened by Henry Pedlar in 1861 as a kitchenware shop.  George Pedlar, his son, inherited the company after his father’s death and established a metal stamping plant.  By 1894 the company was the “largest sheet metal factory in the British Empire.”   During the Second World War, Pedlar People was contracted to make a variety of military munitions and materials such as autocannon and artillery shells, army huts and munition shelters.  The company received high praise from the Canadian government and wartime authorities due to their service and quality of products made.  In 1976, the company was bought by a Toronto firm who opened Pedlar Storage Products in the Stevenson Industrial Park.  The Simcoe Street plant was demolished in 1981 to make way for a new shopping centre, and Pedlar Storage Products closed in 1982. 

Williams Piano Factory was started by Richard Williams in Toronto in 1849.  In 1888, the Williams firm purchased the former factory of Joseph Hall Works in Oshawa and began renovations to the building to make it suitable to manufacture pianos.  In 1890 the factory began producing pianos and organs, and the company constructed their first church organ that was sent to Brighton and consisted of more than 100 pipes!  It took ten weeks to three months to make one piano, but each piano was constructed to the “highest degree of excellence in every detail of workmanship”.  The company was globally known as a manufacturer of quality products, but due to the depression and increased mass production of the radio, they closed due to lack of demand.  However, the factory building remained and many other businesses occupied the premises, and the building was even a barracks during the war years.  The factory was demolished in 1970 to make way for the Durham Region Police Headquarters and the Oshawa Times building.  

A brown upright piano with a three pedals and a stool. There is a sign above the piano that reads 'New Scale Williams Pianos, Oshawa, Canada'
Williams Piano, 1903, in Guy House; Oshawa Museum Collection

If you want to find out more information on any of these sites, or find out more information about what used to be in Oshawa, please feel free to visit either of the museum’s websites in the “For More Information” section, or take a look at the Library’s History Pin site! 


For More Information:

Discover Historic Oshawa – Oshawa Museum

Industry in Oshawa – Oshawa Museum

History Pin: Oshawa Street Scenes – Oshawa Public Library


Sources Consulted:

Ontario Malleable Iron – http://discoverhistoricoshawa.com/listings/ontario-malleable-iron/

Smith Potteries – http://discoverhistoricoshawa.com/listings/smith-potteries/

Cooper Smith Co. – http://discoverhistoricoshawa.com/listings/cooper-smith-co/

Pedlar People Ltd. – http://discoverhistoricoshawa.com/listings/pedlar-people-limited/

Pedlar People Ltd. From Industry in Oshawa – https://industryinoshawa.wordpress.com/foundries/pedlar-people-ltd/

Williams Piano Company – http://discoverhistoricoshawa.com/listings/williams-piano-company/   

You Asked, We Answered – The Photos in the Henry Hallway

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

For two weeks, at the end of April and beginning of May, I had given tours almost every day we were open. It was a wonderful return to how Spring at the Museum looked before COVID-19.

In the hallway of Henry House, there is a frame holding six Victorian era photographs, and it felt like on every tour, I was asked, “who was in the photos?” It pained me to say that I didn’t quite know. Two of them looked very Henry like (there is a distinct look to all the siblings), but beyond that, I couldn’t say.

A photo frame, holding six black and white photos of Victorian era people.

While closing up one day, and with our Curator’s permission, I took the photo off the wall to see who was in the photos.

I was very pleased that the two that I kept identifying as Henrys were, indeed, Henrys. George Henry (top right) was the son of Thomas and his first wife, Elizabeth. His wife was Polly Henry, and we’ve profiled her before on the blog. The couple would live out their lives in nearby Bowmanville.

Also photographed are James O. Henry (bottom left) and his first wife, Adelaide Hall (bottom right). James was Thomas’s eighth child, the second born to Thomas and his second wife, Lurenda. James and Adelaide had four children together before her death, and after her passing, James remarried and had one child with his second wife. He was an enterprising man, a farmer, photographer, and exporter of apples. He was reportedly the first exporter to Britain, his brand remained popular for many years.

There are three more photos depicting four people. Their identities are still, somewhat, a mystery, although, thanks to information in the archival collection and on the back of the frame, it is very likely they are members of the Hall family, Adelaide’s relatives.

I always appreciate it when I’m asked questions on tours that I don’t know the answer to. Even after 11 years of tours, there are still ones that will leave me without an answer, and this means I have the opportunity to learn something new myself.


Information on George and James from If This House Could Talk: The Story of Henry House (Oshawa Historical Society, 2012).

Blog Rewind: Easter Greetings

Happy Easter from the Oshawa Museum!  Here’s a glimpse at Easter in our collection.

From the Oshawa Museum Collection

Postcards in the Archival Collection

An Easter display at Eaton’s in the Oshawa Centre, from the Oshawa Museum photography collection (A999.19.654-658)


This post was originally published on March 30, 2018

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