The Gales of November

By Jennifer Weymark, Archivist; this was originally written for the Oshawa Express in 2013

November 2013 was the 100th anniversary of one of the deadliest storms to ever hit Lake Ontario. Early November 1913 saw a storm like no other storm hit the entire Great Lakes area.  Known as the White Hurricane, the storm lasted four days and brought with it deadly snow, ice and freezing temperatures.  When the storm finally ended, approximately 250 people had lost their lives and ships that were supposed to be “unsinkable” had sunk.

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William Percy Judge, a resident of Oshawa, wrote about this storm in his memoirs.  The following is Judge’s description of how the White Hurricane affected Oshawa.

I recall the impact of the great storm of November 1913 on Oshawa’s lakefront.  The storm changed the shoreline, ripped up the pier, tore out the bridge where the creek entered the lake, wrecked the boathouse and dock, tore down the Ocean Wave (and) destroyed the sandy bottom and the beach, left gravel in place of sand, tore down most of the trees in the picnic grounds, wrecked tables and benches and broke many windows in the pavilion.  Some waves were as high as the pavilion and water ran across the car tracks and road and into the cat-tail swamp.  I had heard of the storm from the telegraph operator at the Grand Trunk Station.  Before the storm was over, thirteen large ships had been sunk and more than two hundred people had lost their lives.

The morning of the storm, November 7, gave no indication of the terrible weather to come.  It was apparently, a beautiful warm, in fact unusually warm, and windy day.  However, an Arctic blast of extremely cold air was about to collide with the warmth of the Great Lakes.  In his memoirs, Judge provides an explanation for the terrible turn in the weather.

Lake Ontario is the smallest of the Great Lakes but is very deep.  In the center (sic), the bottom is almost five hundred feet below sea level and because of this, much of the same water could remain near the bottom of the lake.  The current carries the water on top over it like a river.  Because of its depth, it takes a longer time and really big blow to cause Lake Ontario to go mad.  The conditions were right – so, mad she got.

The storm that so battered the Great Lakes concluded with blue skies and temperatures so warm that all of the snow melted by the end of the week.

The Month That Was – March 1863

All articles originally appeared in The Oshawa Vindicator

March 11, 1863
The Oshawa Volunteers
Yesterday being a holiday, the Oshawa Volunteer Force was out for exercise.  This branch of the service consists of two companies- one of Rifles, under command of Capt. John Warren and the other of Infantry, under command of Major S.B. Fairbanks. It must be admitted that the members of these companies, though under drill but a short time, began to assume the all manner and bearing of real soldiers. They have recently provided themselves at their own expense, with neat capes, which add very much to the effect of their uniform.

 

Mare Astray
Came into the premises of the subscriber, Lot No. 8, 3rd Con. of East Whitby, about the 1st of January last, A BROWN MARE rising three. The owner is requested to prove property, pay charges and take her away. James Ross, East Whitby, March 3rd, 1863. 390-w

 

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March 18, 1863
Oshawa Grammar School
We are glad to learn that this Institution is now FULL of pupils, every desk being fully occupied. This speaks well for ability and test of Professor Lumsden to whose zeal and preservation the possession of a Grammar School by our village is almost wholly attributable.

 

B.C.S.S Anniversary
We are happy to learn that the second anniversary of the Bible Christian Sabbath School.

Oshawa was a complete success in every respect. The attendance was very large, the preparations and performance were good, and the income, after paying the expenses, something like $50. The provision of eatables was abundant, so much that notwithstanding the large company fed, a considerable quantity was disposed of by auction at the close of the proceedings. This will no doubt prove a welcome addition of the funds of the school, and evinces on the part of the members with which the school is connected, a lively interest in the welfare of their “nursery”—one worthy of imitation elsewhere.

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March 25, 1863
Save Your Teeth – How to do it
Mr. Beccher, who is something of a physiologist, as well as a theologist, farmer, editor, author, lecturer and reformer generally, says, “Our teeth decay. Hence unseemly mouths, bad breath, imperfect mastication. Everybody regrets it. What is the cause? It is a want of cleanliness. A clean tooth never decays. The mouth is a warm place—98 degrees. Particles of meat between the teeth decompose. Gums and teeth must suffer. Cleanliness will preserve the teeth to old age….

Sugar, acids, salertus are nothing compared to food left in the teeth. Mercury may loosen the teeth, use may wear them out, but keep them clean and they will never decay. This advice is worth more than a thousand dollars to each boy and girl. Books have been written on this subject. This brief article contains all that is essential.

 

LOST
In Oshawa, on Friday the 27th, a BLACK WOOL VEIL with lilac flowers on it. Any person leaving the same at the Vindicator office, will confer a favor upon the owner. March 4th, 1863.

 

“Shall I Learn to Dance?”
Certainly, by all means. Commence with the ‘quickstep’ out of bed in the morning and keep it up until the ‘chores’ are all finished. The boys of course will have a ‘cow drill’, while the girls are engaged in a ‘country dance’, in the kitchen. After this, all hands ‘change’, and ‘promenade’ to school, keeping step to the music of merry laughter. Repeat the same of the way home at night, with an occasional variation by ‘tripping the toe’, and having a ‘break down’ in the snow bank. A ‘reel’ now and then will be quite in place for the girls who have learned to spin, but the boys should never think of it. If these and kindred dances are thoroughly [practiced] they will leave little time and no necessity for the polkas, schottisches, rnd (sic) other immodest fooleries of the ball-room.

OM Blog Rewind: “To My Valentine…” A history of Valentine’s Day and Valentine’s Day Cards

This post was originally posted on February 13, 2015.


The history of Valentine’s Day in surrounded by legends and is not a certainty. One common thing among these legends is Saint Valentine, the person after whom the date is named.

One legend is that Saint Valentine was a priest, and when Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those who are married, he outlawed marriage of young men. Saint Valentine defied this law, wedding young men in secret; he was then put to death when his actions were found out.  In another legend, Valentine was imprisoned and sent his first valentine to a young girl, maybe the daughter of his jailer. The last letter he wrote to her before his death was signed “Your Valentine.”

Valentine’s Day is celebrated in February; some believe that it is the day he was buried or put to death, while other believe that the Christian Church moved it to this date in an effort to “Christianize” Lupercalia, an ancient Roman festival and fertility rite, typically observed on February 15. The Christian Church under the Pope Gelasius I, in 494 CE, appropriated the form of the rite as the Feast of Purification.

Around the 17th century in Great Britain, Valentine’s Day began to be popularly celebrated. In the middle of the 18th century, all social classes were exchanging hand written notes. In the 19th century, printed cards replaced written letters thanks to the improvement of the printing press. In America, Esther A. Howland sold mass-produced valentines in the 1840s; these postcards had paper lace, real lace, ribbons and colorful pictures.   Esther A. Howland is often known as the “Mother of Valentine.” The Greeting Card Association estimated that 1 billion Valentine’s Day cars are sent each year, and approximately 85% of Valentine’s Day cards are bought by women. In the United States $14.7 billion are generated by Valentine’s Day.

The Oshawa Community Archives has a number of Valentine’s Day postcards in their holdings, and what follows are a selection from their collection.

 

 

The 1928 General Motors Strike

On March 26, 1928, 300 General Motors employees walked off their jobs in protest of wage reductions that would affect the Chevrolet and Pontiac trimmers.  The Chevrolet, Buick, Oakland, LaSalle and Cadillac lines struck “out of sympathy” and remained out until the former wage scale had been put back into effect.   The executive of General Motors (G.M.) was firm on its actions in wage cuts, shown by a statement issued by H.A. Brown, general manager, declaring:

“The scale in the Oshawa plants has always been in excess of that prevailing in the U.S.  The management has always been appreciative of its employees but due to the present labour situation should the men refuse to return to work, the company is in a position to fill vacancies and the production of the current month will be very little affected.”

(Oshawa Daily Times March 26, 1928)

Chevrolet and Pontiac men claimed they received their pay as usual on the Thursday, and on Friday they saw a notice on the bulletin board announcing the new scale of rates, reflecting a 40% cut in wages, effective as of that date.  This was the third cut in six months.

In response to the strike of the trimmers, Mr. H.A. Brown stated in a letter,

“The present difficulty with the trimmers has been given consideration by the executive of the Employees Association and action of the management has been upheld.  The action taken today, by the trimmers, caused management to consider each and every one as released from our employ and instead of dealing collectively, each case will be dealt with individually. We appreciate that many of these men are permanent citizens of Oshawa and own their own homes and have been unduly influenced by a small group who have radical ideas and for that reason our Personal Service Section will be  equitable as possible with individual cases.  Due to the present condition of the labour market in Canada we will have little, if any difficulty in filling the positions vacated.”

(Oshawa Daily Times, March 26, 1928)

At a general meeting held on Monday, March 26, 1928, more than 700 men assembled to hear the decision of the executive, composed of representatives from all departments affected.  The announcement was that when the new cut in wages was put in force, a representative from the men affected waited upon management and offered a 50/50 basis as a compromise.  Management refused to consider this, and therefore a decision was reached that the employees will not return to their work unless the former salary was forthcoming.  Other employees were temporarily laid off, unable to do their jobs while the trimmers were on strike.

Another mass meeting was held on Tuesday, March 27, 1928 at the New Martin Theatre.  The actual number of those on strike was estimated at 1800, comprised of both men and women employees.  At this meeting, Mr. Brown felt that the trimmers were not skilled labour, a feeling that was strongly contradicted by the men.  The trimmers felt that with the great profits of G.M., stated to be $210,000,000 in the previous year, there was no reason for the cut in pay.  After the meeting, strikers paraded from the New Martin Theatre; many of the men that attended the meeting at the theatre did not walk in the parade owing to the fact that many were only in “sympathy,” as stated in the Oshawa Daily Times on March 28, 1928. They marched to the head offices of G.M. in the middle of a snow storm, singing ‘Hail, Hail, the Gang’s All Here’ and other such songs.

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At a final mass meeting that took place at the Armouries on Friday March 30, 1928, attended by every factory worker employee of General Motors of Canada Limited, a decision was reached to return to work the following Monday morning.  This decision was based on a letter from H.A. Brown Vice-President and General Manager of General Motors of Canada Limited, addressed Hon. Peter Heenan, Minister of Labour, and contained proposals that were satisfactory to the employees who had been on strike. A man named ‘Slim’ Phillips, the “backbone of the strike, and now the most popular man in the [amouries] hall” reportedly nearly fainted from nervous exhaustion from it all (Toronto Daily Star, March 31, 1928). The body of workers had been made member of the International Automobile Industrial Workers Union.   The pledge, approved by the workers was as follows: “We, the employees of General Motors of Canada, do hereby pledge ourselves to establish a trade union organization.  Furthermore we pledge ourselves to use every possible means to secure one hundred percent organization” (Oshawa Daily Times, March 30, 1928).


This article was originally written as a Historical Oshawa Information Sheet ©Oshawa Historical Society

References:

Oshawa Daily Times, March 26, 28-30, 1928
Toronto Daily Star, March 27-31, 1928
General Motors Strike file, archival collection, Oshawa Museum

Fire Insurance Maps

By Jennifer Weymark, Archivist

Fire insurance maps are one of those hidden gems within an archives as they can help a wide variety of researchers.

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1911 Fire Insurance Map

These maps are incredibly detailed drawings of neighbourhoods showing the footprints of the buildings that existed at the time the map was created. The original purpose of these maps was to assist insurance underwriters with determining risk when assessing insurance rates.

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Page 21 from the 1911 Fire Insurance Map

The maps not only show the footprint of a building but also provide construction details such as the number of stories, the building materials and the use of the building.  The buildings were colour coded to indicate the materials used in their construction.  The colour red indicated that it was a brick building, whereas yellow indicated a wooden building. These maps can help researchers track the history of a certain building, learn more about growth of areas, and how construction methods have changed.

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Page 6 from the 1911 Fire Insurance Map

The Oshawa Museum’s archival collection is fortunate enough to have three of these maps in our holdings.  The earliest in our collection is from 1911.  Some of the highlights found in the 1911 map are the footprints of early industries such as Williams Piano Company, the McLaughlin Carriage Company, and a very new company by the name of McLaughlin Motor Car.  Interestingly, there is also the footprint of Oshawa’s other carriage and auto maker, Matthew Guy and Co.

 

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Page 19 of the 1911 Fire Insurance Map; the Olive Avenue Row Houses are seen in the centre right of the image

The Olive Avenue Row houses are also included in the 1911 Fire Insurance Map.  This collection of terrace homes was constructed in 1910 by John Stacey and are considered to be architecturally significant in Oshawa.

The maps are a wonderful resource for tracking the changes to the downtown of Oshawa.  The 1911 map shows three different hotels located along King Street East.  Oshawa once again offers hotel service downtown with the opening of La Quinta just a couple of blocks east of where the American Hotel once stood at the corner of King St. East and Celina Street.

We were fortunate enough to, with the assistance of Heritage Oshawa, digitize two of the fire insurance maps in our collection.  The 1948 map had been previously digitized and now we have the 1938 and 1911 in digital versions. The digital version will be made available to researchers and the 1911 will be made available online in the near future.  Until then, all three of our fire insurance maps are available in archives for researchers to enjoy.