Read All About It! Holidays in the 1860s/1870s Newspapers

By Laura Suchan, Executive Director

Oshawa newspapers from the 1860s and 1870s are a window of insight into the celebration of Christmas past. By the 1860s Oshawa businesses were advertising their wares for both Christmas and New Year celebrations. The merchants advertised their Christmas stock on printed posters and in newspapers, hoping to catch the attention of holiday shoppers.  They also used the printed ads as well as handmade posters to thank their regular customers for their business over the past year and wish them season’s greetings.  The Christmas season meant increased business for the average local store in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  The store would be stocked with many specialty items such as exotic fruits, spices, holly, mistletoe and glass-blown ornaments, as well as staple products to ensure that the customers found all that they needed for their holiday preparations.  Merchants in Oshawa started advertising their selection of gifts a week or two before Christmas. Hawthorn’s ad stated “the most suitable holiday present is a good pair of boots or shoes” (Ontario Reformer, Dec. 19, 1873). The Pedlar Co. had another gift suggestion, “how would this do for Christmas, 5 gallons of oil and a new 5 gallon can for $1.50” (Reformer, Dec. 19, 1873). Other gifts advertised included photograph albums and pocket diaries from J.F. Wilcox (1864) toy tea sets, and other Christmas toys at Murdoch’s (1864).  There were even pre-Christmas sales such as the 7% off all cash purchases over $5.00 advertised by Mulcahy and Cashman in 1865.


Rather than gift giving, the focus of the Victorian celebration was the Christmas Day dinner. In 1865 Murdoch Brothers store invited people to “prepare for 1866” with their choice stock of groceries which included “a splendid lot of Layer, Bunch, Valencia and Sultana Raisins – also currants, figs, preserved ginger, preserved peaches, candied lemons and oranges.”  The December 16, 1868 issue of the Oshawa Vindicator carries an ad by R.C. Steele and Co. requesting 2,500 turkeys, chickens, ducks and geese in time for Christmas. Perhaps they were supplying the factories of Joseph Hall, Whiting and Cowan Works with turkeys for their employees. Every year it was the custom of these employers to hand out Christmas turkeys to their married workers. In 1868 it was especially difficult to procure enough supply to meet the need for turkeys even from the neighbouring villages. The price of turkeys was up from 8 cents a pound to more than 11 cents a pound and even at that price it was difficult to get a respectable bird according to the Oshawa Vindicator (December 30, 1868).


Special announcements of business hours, best wishes and social events are also found in the early newspapers. The postmaster wanted it known that the post office hours on Christmas Day 1862 were from 9 to 10 am for the delivery of Christmas mail. Churches also placed special event schedules in the newspapers for the Christmas season. The Methodist Episcopal Church was charging 15 cent admission for their seasonal social with singing and Christmas tree viewing (1873).  As part of their celebration, the Disciples Church in 1868 had a Christmas tree, singing and recitations by the Sabbath School children. There were addresses by notable residents W.H. Gibbs and Dr. McGill followed by refreshments of cake and fruit.

The Month That Was – December 1865

All article originally appeared in the Oshawa Vindicator

December 6, 1865, page 2
A Schooner Sunk at her Moorings
On Saturday last, the schooner “Atlantic,” of Port Hope, Howell & Treveth, owners, Walker, master, sunk at her moorings at the harbor.  She was from Oswego, loaded with coal for the Hall Works and JO Guy.  Coming to the wharf on Friday she cast a line, which was fastened, but owing to the roughness of the lake it broke.  She then anchored.  Upon trying again to get to the wharf, she fouled her anchor, and stove a hole in her bottom.  The pumps were set to work, but they were unable to keep her afloat, and she sank during the night.  On Monday, additional pumps were put in, and by pumping and unloading her she was again set afloat.  During the day she was so much lightened, that she was enabled to set sail for Port Hope in the night. The insurance upon her had expired about twenty-two hours before she sank.

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December 6, 1865, page 1

December 6, 1865, page 4
Barnum’s expressed design of exhibiting Tom Thumb in France, has called forth a good witticism from Ledru Rollin.  “Tom Thumb should exhibit Barnum,” said he, “for the latter is the greater curiosity.”

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December 6, 1865, page 3

Worlds Destroyed by Fire
The belief that this world is ultimately to be destroyed by fire is supported by the discovery that such a fate has befallen far larger planets than our town (sic). French astronomers assert that no fewer than fifteen hundred fixed stars have vanished from the firmament within the last three hundred years.  Tycho Bruhe gives an interesting account of a brilliant star of the largest size, which, on account of its singular radiance, has become the special object of his daily observation for several months, during which the star became paler and paler until its final disappearance.  Laplaco states that one of the vanished fixed stars of the northern hemisphere afforded indisputable evidence of having been consumed by fire.  At first, the star was of a dazzling white, next of a glowing red, then a yellow lusture (sic), and finally, it became a pale ash color.  The burning of the star lasted 16 months, when this visitor, to which, perhaps, a whole series of planets may have owed allegiance, finally took its departure and became invisible forever.


December 13, 1865, page 2
A Canadian lady crossed the river to Buffalo in bridal array, the other night, to be married, when the merciless revenue inspector confiscated her wedding outfit on suspicion that she was a smuggler.

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December 13, 1865, page 3

Fire in Columbus – the building occupied by Mr. Thos. Gammel as a dwelling and weaver’s shop, was burned down on Monday morning.  It took fire about three o’clock in the morning.  The inmates were all asleep at the time; but Mr. Hill of the “Crown Inn,” who was up attending a sick child, discovered the fire and aroused the inmates.  The building was entirely destroyed, as well as most of the furniture.  The shed of the “Crown Inn” was pulled down to prevent the fire extending to that building.  The furniture belonging to Mr. Hill was taken out, and considerable damaged by its hasty removal.  The store of Mr. May was saved only by the strenuous exertions of the neighbors.  No insurance upon any of the property.


December 20, 1865, page 2
Coloured men’s petition asking for suffrage in the District of Columbia is ready for submission to congress.  It has over 7,000 signatures.

Dec 20 1865
December 20, 1865, page 1

Between January 1 and June 28, 1865, no less than three hundred and sixty-one persons were conveyed to London hospitals to be treated for injuries received from dogs.

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December 20, 1865, page 2

Municipal Elections
Notwithstanding that the first day of the New Year is generally supposed to be a public holiday, the law does not provide for the postponement of the Municipal Election, when the first Monday of January falls, as it does this year, upon the first day of the year. – The Village Clerk has therefore issued the annual proclamation requiring the presence of the electors at Town Hall upon the usual days to elect fir and proper persons to represent them in Council for the year 1866.  Who these fit and proper persons are to be even rumor has not decided.  The Council for the past year has really consisted of only four, for the fifth, Mr. Hepburn, has not for some time been a resident of the village.  The Reeve has also signified his intention of leaving Oshawa also, and therefore will not be a candidate for re-election.  The other members when they spoke of the subject at all, have expressed the desire not to be put in nomination. No other persons; names has yet been publicly mentioned in connection with office.  This however is nothing unusual.  We should be obliged to go back in our village history several years before we should find an election that occupied attention for more than a week previous to its taking place.  Hitherto we have not wanted men to accept office not have we obliged to inflict a penalty upon any for refusing to perform the duties of an office to which he may have been elected.  The upcoming first of January will in like manner bring the compliment of benevolent men who will be willing to suffer public office to be thrust upon them for the public good.


S of T Social – the Oshawa Division intent holding a social on Monday, Christmas evening.  It is to be confined to the members of the organization, and friends invited by members of the Division.  A committee has been appointed to prepare a programme for the evening’s entertainment.


December 27, 1865, page 2
The police found in the pockets of a man who lay dead drunk in the streets of New York $7474.


The hopes of those who contemplated sleigh riding would form a great source of enjoyment on Christmas day were doomed to disappointment.  The snow that fell on Friday caused the bells to ring out merrily on Saturday, and the overcast sky encouraged the hopeful to expect another fall, but the heat of Sunday was too much for that already on the ground.  Skating was left as the only recourse.  Throughout the day the rink was well patronized by skaters and lookers-on.  A large number performed the regular duties of the day, although divine service was held in their respective churches.  In the evening the Sons’ Hall was thronged by the members and their invited friends.  Poetry written for the occasion was read; Christmas Anthems were rendered, and with these were mingled addresses, readings, recitations and music.  At about ten o’clock, the social broke up, and as they wended their way home, several were passed, who, by their positions on the walk or the wayward steps gave evidence that they has not spent the evening soberly.  Now and then the sound of brawling was beard, and once or twice drunken men came to blows.  These gave evidence on the morrow, that their pains has dearly purchased their “Merrie Christmas.”

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Oshawa’s Two Queen’s Hotels

The old Queen’s Hotel was established in 1874; it can be seen in the 1921 City Directory but is no longer there in the 1923. This fits with the information that shows the hotel closed at the start of the 1920s. The upper storeys of the building remained open as the Queen’s Apartments for some time after that. The building fell into disrepair during the 1960s and 70s and was eventually torn down in 1987.

The second Queen’s Hotel does not appear in the City Directories until 1935. Prior to becoming the Queen’s Hotel #2, the address was home to a fish market, a shoe repair, a music store and a tailor. It is likely that these hotels were never the same ‘business’, but rather it is likely that someone thought to capitalize on a well known name when they opened the second Queen’s Hotel in the 1930s.

The black and white photo is in the archival collection of the Oshawa Museum; the colour photographs are from the Bill Miles digital collection.

Oshawa’s latest hotel, a Holiday Inn, has been built and recently opened at Simcoe and Richmond, the site of the second Queen’s Hotel.

Pioneer Memorial Gardens

The history of the Pioneer Memorial Gardens Cemetery spans more than a century.  In the early 19th century, John B. Warren received the land where the cemetery currently sits as part of a crown grant.  In 1847, he donated the 115’ frontage and 122’ deep property on “Protestant Hill” to the Wesleyan Methodist Church for a church and cemetery.  The Pioneer Cemetery on Oshawa’s Bond Street became the churchyard of the Methodist Church.  It should be noted that prior to this date, records indicate that the land had been previously used as a burial ground.  In fact, the earliest burial recorded is that of Sabine Dearborn, wife of Samuel Dearborn, in 1830.


This cemetery contained burials of many well-to-do and dedicated church members.  The family plots were separated from the others by various means; wrought iron fences, decorative posts with ornamental tops connected by chains, bars or stone borders.  An array of wild pink roses and purple lilacs were also plentiful.


The Methodists had the oldest congregation in the Township.  Between 1867 and 1868, a new Methodist Church was built on Simcoe Street and was ready for service in 1868.  The old church building was sold and then removed, and the basement excavation was filled in.  To ensure that no animals pasturing on the public road could enter, a high wooden picket fence with a protective gate was built across the front of the property.

In the early 1900s the high wooden picket fence was removed as well at the protective gate.  A modern wire fence then enclosed the property.  A couple by the name of Mr. And Mrs. Richard Taylor bought the south-east portion of the front of the property that had been for sale.  Their house was erected and their children and grandchildren were members of the Simcoe Street Church.  It appears that the unsold portion of the property was still used for burials, the last being that of Barbara Hurd in 1906.


In 1945, due to the deplorable state of the cemetery, the Board of the Simcoe Street United Church decided the property should be cleaned up, and that a plan be adopted that would assure its preservation for years to come.  A committee was headed by George Ansley who decided that the neglected cemetery would be transformed into a Memorial Garden.  Many of the families removed the remains of relatives to Union Cemetery leaving the old graveyard practically empty.  However, many of the tombstones were left behind marking the graves of pioneers.  These were lifted, cleaned and eventually arranged on cement pillars in a cairn in the centre of the property.

Harriett (Cock) Guy
Headstone for Harriet Guy (nee Cock), wife of Thomas Guy Jr. and daughter of ‘Granny’ whose lifesized painting is on display in the Verna Conant Gallery

Today the area is fenced and owned and maintained by the City.  A complete listing of the names that appear in the cairn can be found in the archival collection of the Oshawa Museum, and at the Durham Chapter of the Ontario Genealogical Society.

Student Museum Musings – Stained-Glass Windows into the Past

By Mia V., Summer Student

Since my last update, I have been continuing to research and work on the design for next year’s exhibit on the resettlement of displaced people and immigration stories in Oshawa. Following the threads of research has led me to the significant network of Ukrainian churches that were found in the city. Despite sharing the designation of Ukrainian, it was clear enough that they all belonged to different branches of Christianity – one was Eastern Catholic, others were Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Baptist, and… two were Orthodox? Herein lay the confusion, since both Orthodox churches co-existed in time and on the very same neighbourhood block.

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“Oshawa’s Churches: Greek Orthodox;” image appeared in Oshawa Daily Reformer, 30 June 1927, p 25.

The ground on the corner of Bloor-Ritson was first consecrated for an Orthodox church in 1916. This church was alternately called Russian, Ukrainian, and Greek Orthodox in street directories and newspapers. Often the key descriptor of Orthodox was omitted and it was only called Greek – making it easy to confuse with the Greek Catholic church from just a few streets over. In fact, the Ukrainians of the (Greek) Orthodox Christian faith first called the Bloor-Ritson church home. The name confusion did not stop there, however, since the full name of the church differs greatly in translation. The Ukrainian would be “Church of the Nativity of the Most Holy Mother of God.” However, in colloquial English it was known most often as “St. Mary’s.”

PicMonkey Image

This Ukrainian Orthodox church was built by an early wave of Ukrainian immigrants to Oshawa, many of whom came from the area of Bukovina which borders (and finds itself partly in) Romania. Since religious life was inseparably intertwined with cultural and social life, the choice of a parish was central to how one would find friends and generally engage with their culture. Fortunately, Oshawa had many options.

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“Oshawa’s Churches: Greek Catholic;” image appeared in Oshawa Daily Reformer, 30 June 1927, p 25.

Just a few streets over was the Ukrainian (Greek) Catholic church. In 1935, the majority of the congregation followed their priest into the Orthodox Church after his dispute with the presiding bishop (surrounding his ordination and time of marriage).


Just a few months later, the first building for the St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Orthodox Church was built on the same location where it stands today – on the corner of Bloor and Simcoe streets. All of this is to say that, for several years, there were two Ukrainian Orthodox churches on Bloor Street. According to one participant in the Museum’s ongoing oral history project, both churches were consistently full, and members of each parish would attend the same events. It certainly seems there was need for both of them in this period in order to help service the influx of Ukrainian immigration to Oshawa after World War II.

“Church of the Nativity of the Most Holy Mother of God in Oshawa, Ontario;” image appeared in Богослуження православної церкви: Підручник для недільних шкіл [Services in the Orthodox Church: A Sunday School Textbook], 1956.
In 1953, St. Mary’s was enlarged and rebuilt completely, on the same location as before. It now had, as the Toronto Star called it, “Byzantine-style domes” and overall resembled “a castle in a kingdom of bungalows.” Eventually, however, numbers dwindled significantly. Deciding against joining St. John’s from down the street, the aging congregation chose to accept no new members and sold the church only on the condition that they could still use it. Their designated service is in Ukrainian once a month, with a priest driving in from Scarborough.

In 1987, the church was sold to the Greek Orthodox community – making the church genuinely Greek for the first time. In 2012, the Greeks sold the church to the Romanians since they needed more space for themselves. This is, in fact, another kind of full circle since the original founders of the church would have been from the Ukrainian-Romanian border region of Bukovina.


Focusing on this one church, then, provides a great window into the past from which it is possible to see the interactions between the various Ukrainian religious communities and other cultural communities in the city. The way that the church changed ownership provides great insight into immigration trends as well – from the earliest Ukrainian, to the Greek, and the Romanian here in Oshawa.


Gerus, Mitrat Fr. S. Богослуження православної церкви: Підручник для недільних шкіл [Services in the Orthodox Church: A Sunday School Textbook]. Winnipeg: Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church of Canada, 1956.

Leong, Melissa. “Time takes its toll on congregation.” Toronto Star, April 13, 2003.

Momryk, Myron. Mike Starr of Oshawa: A Political Biography. Ottawa: Canadian Museum of History and University of Ottawa Press, 2017.

Additional research from the Oshawa Museum archival collection.