Summer Student Musings – The County of Ontario

By Adam A., Summer Student

Hello once more! I’m Adam, the summer museum assistant, and you may recall my recent podcast where I discussed the County of Ontario. So I’m here to offer some additional facts pertaining to this county which existed from 1854 to 1974.

For starters, Upper Canada was originally only divided into four administrative divisions by Governor Simcoe. From east to west these were named Lunenburg (later called Eastern District), Mecklenburg (later called Midland District), Nassau (later called Home District), and Hesse (later called Western District), and each was managed by the appointed Justices of the Peace who met four times a year. I’m not really sure why Governor Simcoe opted for these German names, and seeing as how they were quickly replaced I assume most others also believed these names were rather un-intuitive. Over the following years these districts were further divided until there were 20 districts in all. One consistency in this period was that Oshawa would have fallen just west of the extreme eastern edge of Home District.

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A map of the province of Upper Canada describing all the settlements and townships with the countries adjacent from Quebec to Lake Huron, 1818; from the Toronto Public Library

Counties did exist at this time but had no function outside of electing a member to parliament and maintaining a militia. Prior to 1852, Oshawa would have been a part of York County. In 1849, in accordance with Lord Durham‘s suggestions, it was decided that counties and their elected bodies would take over the local administrative role from the districts. It was swiftly realized that many of the eastern townships of York County were inadequately serviced by a local government based in York (now Toronto). These townships were separated from the County of York in 1852 and officially organized into the County of Ontario in 1854. This mirrored the developments in the western townships of York County, which broke off to form Peel County in 1851.

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The County of Ontario, as appeared in the 1862 Tackabury Map

In 1852, when the county still only existed on a provisional basis, it sported a population of over 29,000, 1,142 of whom lived in the Village of Oshawa. By the year 1907 the population had grown to over 38,000, with the Town of Oshawa accounting for 5,113. Oshawa had grown from being about 3-4% of the county’s population to being about 13%. This change demonstrates the trend towards urbanization, which in this period was driven by the adoption of improved agricultural techniques.


These facts come from County of Ontario by J. E. Farewell and History of the County of Ontario 1615-1875 by Leo A. Johnson.

Where The Streets Get Their Name – Ontario Street

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

In case you haven’t heard, 2017 is a big milestone year for Canada, as this year marks the 150th anniversary of the signing of the British North America Act, or to put it very simply, it’s Canada’s 150th birthday. The BNA Act (today known as the Constitution Act) created the Dominion of Canada which today has grown to ten provinces and three territories.  In 1867, our modest country was comprised of only four provinces: Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia.

Our province is also celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. Before officially becoming named the Province of Ontario in 1867, Quebec and Ontario were united as the Province of Canada, comprised of Canada West (today Ontario) and Canada East (Quebec).

Why am I rehashing a Canadian History 101 course in this post? Today, we’re looking at the story behind Ontario Street, a street found in the heart of our downtown core.

The name Ontario and its usage is much older than the province itself.  Let’s go back to pre-historical times, pre-history meaning the period of time before written records. Before European arrival, the Indigenous people called this land home for thousands of years.  Prior to 1700, the area was inhabited by the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) First Nations, and their name for the lake they lived by was skanadario, meaning ‘beautiful water.’  Another possible root for the word may be from the Wendat (Huron) word Ontarí:io, meaning ‘great lake.’  When the Province of Ontario was created in 1867, it was named after Lake Ontario.

Usage of the name Ontario in this area pre-dates Confederation.  The County of Ontario was created in 1852 and it was the ‘upper-tier municipality’ in which Oshawa was located.  It was in existence until the mid-1970s when county lines were redrawn and the Regional Municipality of Durham was created.  The County of Ontario was comprised of the following townships:

  • Brock, with communities including Cannington, Vroomanton, Pinedale, Sunderland, Wick.
  • Mara, community centres were: Gamebridge, Brechin, Atherley, Udney and Rathburn.
  • Pickering; Community centres: Pickering, Dunbarton, Green River, Balsam, Claremont, Brougham, Altona.
  • Rama; Community centres: Floral Park, Longford Mills, Cooper’s Falls, Washago.
  • Reach; Community centres: Port Perry, Manchester, Saintfield, Utica.
  • Scott, whose communities included Zephyr, Sandford, Leaskdale, Udora.
  • Thorah, community centers: Beaverton.
  • Uxbridge; Community Centres: Uxbridge, Goodwood.
  • Whitby and East Whitby; Community centres: Oshawa, Whitby, Brooklin, Ashburn and Myrtle.
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Detail of Tackabury Map showing Ontario County, on display in Henry House.

On display in Henry House is a map from 1862.  I’ll often encourage visitors to find Oshawa on this map, and instinctively, they start looking within the limits marked as Durham, because that’s where we are today.  Instead, we can be found on the eastern edge of the County of Ontario. For several reasons, that map may be one of my favourite artifacts in the Museum, but I digress.

To discover the history of Oshawa’s Ontario Street, we turn to documents in our archival holdings, like maps and directories.  The earliest such document in the archival holdings is the 1869-70 County of Ontario Directory, and it lists a number of people who made their home on Ontario Street.  It is safe to say that this street is older than 1869, but how much older is hard to say without the historical evidence.

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Corner of King and Ontario Streets in 1920 (left) and 1995 (right)

All About Atlases

By Jennifer Weymark, Archivist

One of the most popular reasons people have for contacting the archives is looking for help with researching the history of their home.  This type of research can be tricky in that there may not be a lot of early information on that lot that survives today.

Once a researcher has determined the lot number of the land they are researching a county atlas can help shed some light on the early land owners. In Canada, approximately 40 county atlases were published between 1874 and 1881.  Of these 40 or so different atlases, 32 focused on counties within Ontario.

When trying to research land located in what is now Oshawa, the 1877 atlas of the County of Ontario is a great place to start. Within the atlas is a detailed map of all of the lots that made up East Whitby Township the area that is now Oshawa.  The names of the owners of the lots are provided, as well as information such as locations of schools, churches, cemeteries and railroad lines. The 1877 atlas also contains a detailed map of the Village of Oshawa. While the owners of smaller lots are not indicated, those owning larger parcels of land are.  The map of the village shows many of the larger businesses from that time period, as well as how the streets were positioned and even now the creek impacted village growth.

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Detail of 1895 County of Ontario Atlas, Oshawa Archives Collection

The atlas also provides the reader with short histories of the towns, townships and villages, along with a variety of other information such as the locations of harbours, roads and railways.

The archives has several original prints of the 1877 County of Ontario atlas, as well as a couple of the reprinted ones that were published in 1972. The County of Ontario atlas was published by J.H. Beers & Co.  Beers & Company. Interestingly, this atlas was actually simultaneously published by both J.H. Beers & Company and H. Beldon & Company. The atlases produced were identical with the exception of the title pages. It is unclear why both companies chose to publish the atlas in this manner.

Prior to publishing the books, subscriptions were sold for those who wished to be included in the patron’s directory.  Subscriptions were also sold to those who wished to have a lithograph of their portrait, home or business included in the publication. The 1877 County of Ontario atlas contains numerous lithographs that may interest a person researching Oshawa.  For example, there are two images side-by-side of Ellesmere Hall, the former home of Hon. T.N. Gibbs and Prospect Park, the former home of W.H. Gibbs.  Today, Ellesmere Hall is where Village Union Public School is located and Prospect Park is where Parkwood Estate stands today.


This article originally appeared in the Oshawa Express, 2015.

Stories on a Map: Atlases in the Oshawa Archives

By Jennifer Weymark, Archivist
This article originally appeared in the Oshawa Express, April 15, 2015

One of the most popular reasons people have for contacting the archives is looking for help with researching the history of their home.  This type of research can be tricky in that there may not be a lot of early information on that lot that survives today.

Once a researcher has determined the lot number of the land they are researching a county atlas can help shed some light on the early land owners. In Canada, approximately 40 county atlases were published between 1874 and 1881.  Of these 40 or so different atlases, 32 focused on counties within Ontario.

When trying to research land located in what is now Oshawa, the 1877 atlas of the County of Ontario is a great place to start. Within the atlas is a detailed map of all of the lots that made up East Whitby Township the area that is now Oshawa.  The names of the owners of the lots are provided, as well as information such as locations of schools, churches, cemeteries and railroad lines. The 1877 atlas also contains a detailed map of the Village of Oshawa. While the owners of smaller lots are not indicated, those owning larger parcels of land are.  The map of the village shows many of the larger businesses from that time period, as well as how the streets were positioned and even now the creek impacted village growth.

1877 County of Ontario Atlas
1877 County of Ontario Atlas

The atlas also provides the reader with short histories of the towns, townships and villages, along with a variety of other information such as the locations of harbours, roads and railways.

The archives has several original prints of the 1877 County of Ontario atlas, as well as a couple of the reprinted ones that were published in 1972. The County of Ontario atlas was published by J.H. Beers & Co.  Beers & Company. Interestingly, this atlas was actually simultaneously published by both J.H. Beers & Company and H. Beldon & Company. The atlases produced were identical with the exception of the title pages. It is unclear why both companies chose to publish the atlas in this manner.

Prior to publishing the books, subscriptions were sold for those who wished to be included in the patron’s directory.  Subscriptions were also sold to those who wished to have a lithograph of their portrait, home or business included in the publication. The 1877 County of Ontario atlas contains numerous lithographs that may interest a person researching Oshawa.  For example, there are two images side-by-side of Ellesmere Hall, the former home of Hon. T.N. Gibbs and Prospect Park, the former home of W.H. Gibbs.  Today, Ellesmere Hall is where Village Union Public School is located and Prospect Park is where Parkwood Estate stands today.

A998.13.52 - Postcard depicting Prospect Park; from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection
A998.13.52 – Postcard depicting Prospect Park; from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection