The Gift of Play – Favourite Toys from Days Gone By

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

I have a younger sister.  She’s awesome. However, we’re very close in age, with only 20 months separating us.  Because of this age closeness,  at Christmastime, we would often receive the same gift, only in different colours.  This was the same for Barbies.  Kate, with her fair hair, would receive the blonde Barbie herself, while I, with my darker complexion and brown hair, would receive Barbie’s darker haired friend.  This was okay with me though, because everyone had Barbie, but her best friend Midge was unique.

Ski Fun Barbie and her friends, in all their ’90s glory!

One Christmas, we received the Ski Fun Barbies, with Kate getting Barbie, dressed in pink, and I received Midge, dressed in blue.  I loved her.  I’m not sure if it was her bright blue outfit, that she was ready for fun in the snow complete with her fur lined jacket, or the fact that she was a less common doll, but this gift sticks out for me as one of my favourite toys.

Barbie has been a part of the cultural landscape since 1959.  She was invented by Ruth Handler and named for her daughter Barbara.  Ken was introduced in 1961, and a plethora of friends came after that.  She has been beloved by many and disputed by others.  For better or worse, Barbie is here to stay and she be continue to be either loved or loathed.

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Barbie, c. 1959, from the Smithsonian Institute, National Museum of American History

Like many childhood playthings, Midge and other Barbies didn’t last the test of time.  The toy that has been well loved for over 30 years is Stitch.  Who is Stitch? He was the first gift I ever received, given to me by my father when I was born.  This teddy bear has seen the good times, the bad, and has moved with me from my parents house to university, to my new home in Oshawa.


Teddy bears are such a staple in childhoods, and their ‘origin story’ is almost as well-known as the toy itself.  It appears around 1902/1903, a few firms were developing these stuffed animals; New York based Morris Mitchum was inspired to create his bear after seeing a political cartoon that appeared in the Washington Post.  US President Theodore Roosevelt was on a hunting trip in November 1902 when he was presented with a black bear, tied to a willow tree.  He was encouraged to shoot it (as is the purpose of hunting trips), however, ‘Teddy’ deemed it too unsportsmanlike to shoot the tied bear; Clifford Berryman editorialised this moment with his cartoon.

Teddy Roosevelt cartoon, refusing to shoot a teddy bear

It seems counter-intuitive that a bear, a large, dangerous, predatory animal, has been made cute and cuddly and an ever popular child play thing, however the bear is often a protector for young children, something that is clung to, a defender from nightmares, perhaps.

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964.3.3 – Teddy Bear in the Oshawa Museum Collection

There are some wonderful teddy bears on display as part of our latest exhibit: The Gift of Play: Toys of Yesterday.  This exhibit is open until April 2016.  If you haven’t had a chance to see it, please visit the Oshawa Museum before it closes, and when you’re on tour, tell your Visitor Host about YOUR favourite toy growing up!

Where the Streets Get Their Names – McMillan Dr./Kaiser Cres.

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

Have you ever driven along McMillan Avenue in Oshawa and noticed that the name suddenly changes to Kaiser Crescent? This small north-south artery is found just west of Centre Street; its southern terminus is King Street (south of which is Queen Street), the northern terminus being just north of Adelaide Avenue.  Why does this small stretch of road have two names?

Map from Google Maps
Map from Google Maps

On the 1877 Atlas for Ontario County, the road is known as Mechanic Drive and it simply runs from William Street to King Street.  The name changed around 1927 to McMillan, named after TH McMillan, an early business leader in our City.

Thomas Henry McMillan was born in rural Pickering in 1839. McMillan was associated with the Ontario Loan and Savings Company, was a politician when he lived in Whitby, and he also served as warden of Ontario County.  Of the Ontario Loan and Savings Company, Dr. T.E. Kaiser wrote,

“It is safe to say that no other institution played such an important part in the evolution of the industrial fabric of Oshawa as this Bank, under the able and efficient management of Mr. T. H. McMillan, with the late Mr. John Cowan as its official head.”

In 1883, McMillan bought the house on the southeast corner of Centre and Athol Street (known as Cowan House), and he lived here through his later life.  He died on May 5, 1917.

McMillan Drive was a short street, running north to William Street until the 1950s.

TH McMillan
TH McMillan; image from TE Kaiser’s Historic Sketches of Oshawa

Dr. TE Kaiser was born on February 16, 1863, in the County of York, at Edgely.  He attended the University of Toronto, and graduated as a doctor in 1890.  Dr. Kaiser began his long medical practice in Oshawa in the summer of 1890, and from that time on, he began his long vested interest in our City.  He served as mayor in 1907 and 1908, and was MP from 1925 to 1930.  In 1904, Dr. Kaiser was a member of Oshawa’s first board of Waterworks Commissioners; from 1895 to 1910, Dr. Kaiser promoted the establishment of the Oshawa General Hospital, and he was also a member of the Public Library Board, the Board of Education, and the Town Planning Commission.

Dr. Kaiser played a major role in establishing the City’s parks system, starting with Alexandra Park.  He created the Parks Commission, which enabled the City to convert unused farmland into Alexandra Park.  Dr. Kaiser was also the originator of the War Memorial in Memorial Park.  He conceived the idea with the help of his daughter Josephine, and together they worked to make it a reality.  He wrote to officials in different countries to obtain the stones that are displayed on the memorial.  Josephine suggested the inscription, “Garden of the Unforgotten.”

Dr. TE Kaiser; image uncredited in the Oshawa Museum archival collection

Dr. Kaiser passed away in 1940.  Before his passing, Dr. T.E. Kaiser built and rented a building along McMillan Drive, and he wanted to call it Kaiser Cres., except the City would not accept it. When Dr. Kaiser’s widow died in 1953, in her will she left a sum of money to the City of Oshawa if they would name that stretch “Kaiser Crescent”. The City could hardly refuse, and when McMillan Drive was being extended northwards, that northern extension was indeed named Kaiser Crescent.  The first appearance of this street is in the 1954 Vernon Directory with one lone home located on there.

Verna Conant

By Jennifer Weymark, Archivist

Born on April 23, 1888, Verna Conant (nee Smith), was delivered by one of the first women doctors in Canada, Elizabeth Smith Shortt,  who was one of her father’s sisters. Verna was the only daughter of Mr. and Mrs E. D. Smith, the same family which is associated with the company that produces a wide range of fruits, jams and other products. The Smith family was very active in their local community. For example, her mother was the first president of the Women’s Institute of Canada and her father was a MP in Ottawa. Verna followed in their footsteps and became involved in a variety of local groups.

Verna and Gordon Conant
Verna and Gordon Conant

In 1912 Verna married Gordon Conant. In a newspaper article published in the Oshawa Times, Verna recounted a fascinating story from their courtship. When they began dating, she used to drive from her home in Winona to Hamilton to pick up her then boyfriend, Gordon, at the train station.  What made this trip to the train station unusual is that the train would often arrive very late at night, generally after midnight.  It was not considered proper for a young lady to be out by herself at that time of night, so she would wear male attire so that her actions would be less conspicuous. Concerning her late night travels, Mrs. Conant stated: “My parents allowed me to go meet Gordon, but I sometimes wondered what they thought of me going out like that”.

While raising a family, Verna became active in a large number of organizations in Oshawa, including the Oshawa General Hospital, where she became honorary president of the women’s auxiliary, the Women’s Institute, the Oshawa Historical Society, and the Girl Guides. In addition to serving the community in a voluntary way, Verna spent the year of 1937 as the township tax collector when her husband became Ontario’s attorney general. Unfortunately she resigned after one year when the obligatory social events from a MP’s wife began to take up too much time.

Verna Conant
Verna Conant

After her husband’s death, Verna continued with her interest in the community, particularly with the St. John Ambulance, which she served in many capacities and which in 1978, invested her with the title Dame of St. John. She died in 1992 in her 104th year.

During her long life, Verna maintained a collection of scrapbooks highlighting the achievements of the many organizations she was heavily involved with.  Many of these scrapbooks can be found in the archival collection at the Oshawa Community Museum.


The month of March is celebrated as Women’s History Month in the US, UK, and Australia.  Canada celebrated Women’s History Month in October to coincide with the anniversary of the Persons Case.

In honour of the international celebrations of Women’s History Month, we are proud to share the story of Verna Conant, a true force in Oshawa’s history.

The Month That Was – March 1947

Miniature Horses Discovered in Kent
March 1, 1947

A colleague of mine writes a reporter in the Overseas Mail, show bound on the Kent-Sussex border, suspected eye trouble or something worse- when he came upon a field full of not one of them three feet high.

He found that they belonged to white-haired Lady Estella Hope, of Bodiam, who has been breeding a small variety of Shetland for 30 years.


Sold Their Baby for $40, Charge
March 6, 1947

Detroit, March 6 – (CP) – A man and wife accused of selling their infant son for $40 and a woman charged with buying the child pleaded not guilty when arraigned yesterday on charges of violating the Michigan adoption laws. They are Mr. and Mrs. Roman Adkins and Dorothy McCullough, each released on $300 bail. Trial was set for March 12.


Hospitals Get Aid in Budget
March 11, 1947

To assist in construction and additions to present hospitals, a capital grant not exceeding $1000 a bed in both public and private wards, will be made for additional or new construction of public hospitals, Provincial Treasurer Frost announced today in his Ontario Legislative budget speech.


Fear Heavy Snow May Cause Flood
March 11, 1947

With snowfall in Saskatchewan this winter more than three times normal to date, thousands of small irrigation dams built under Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration are expected to receive severe tests with the spring run-off.


G.M – U.A.W Aim Contract War-Sights
March 13, 1947

General Motors Corporation and the United Automobile worker union (C.I.O) which just a year ago ended the most prolonged and costly strike in automobile history, are girding up for another contract battle. This one, however, will be fought wholly over the conference table and not on the picket lines.

The U.A.W-C.I.O., which has begun negotiations with Chrysler Corporation under a twice-extended contract, also plans to re-open contract talks with Ford as well as General Motors.

Where the Streets Get Their Names – Thornton Road

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

Rev. Robert Thornton was born in Scotland in 1806. He was an ordained minister of the United Secession Church of Scotland and was sent to preach in Canada in 1833 – he married Margaret Thompson in this year.


After a 7 week journey from Scotland to New York, the Thornton’s boarded a ship that they thought would bring them to Toronto but instead, went to Cobourg – it was from here that Rev. Thornton left on foot to go to Toronto to find a new home – when he reached Whitby, he came upon a settlement of Scottish settlers who asked him to become their minister, Rev. Thornton agreed and thus became the first Presbyterian minister in the area.

The first meeting place of the Presbyterians was west of Union Cemetery on Moore’s Hill (at the corner of Garrard and Hwy #2).  In 1837, four years after Thornton arrived in Whitby, the Presbyterians built their own church on the site which is now Union Cemetery – there are indications that the church was large and could seat up to 600 worshippers.

Rev. Thornton also had a keen interest in Education and he organized several schools Toronto and Cobourg and served as the local Superintendent of Education as well as Inspector of Schools.

Rev. Thornton supported Temperance, the abolishment of the sale of whiskey, which was a contentious issue of the times – he saw cheap whiskey as a hindrance to the progress of society, and if the immigrant farmers were to succeed then he would have to practice Temperance – he was credited with organizing the first Temperance demonstration, a march from Oshawa to Whitby.

Robert Thornton’s headstone in Oshawa’s Union Cemetery, Section C.

Rev. Thornton died on February 11, 1875 in his 69th year – on the day of his interment in Union Cemetery, places of business closed and there was a lengthy procession to the cemetery.

Today, Rev. Robert Thornton is remembered by a cairn placed on the site of the log cabin church on Moore’s Hill – the stone memorial at the corner of Garrard and Hwy #2 in Whitby was erected in 1937 to commemorate the centennial of the first Presbyterian services held in the area.

Photograph of Thornton Rd- Taken from 1/4 mile north of Kingston Road (King Street), c. 1919

Thornton Road today is adjacent to Rev. Thornton’s land.


Information for this post from Historical Oshawa Information Sheets, Dr. Robert Thornton

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