Smith Potteries, Revisited

By Melissa Cole, Curator

From 1925 to 1949, Oshawa was home to the largest makers of hand-painted pottery in Canada, as well as the only artware pottery in the Dominion of Canada. The company was called Smith Potteries, and to learn more about this company, please read this previous post on the blog:

I am interested in learning more about Smith Potteries and to discover more about the “specialized pottery” made here in Oshawa.  When I started at the Oshawa Museum in 2000, there were two pieces in the collection. This collection has grown to 37 pieces.  Some of the acquired pieces have travelled back to Oshawa from as far away as the United Kingdom, purchased by visitors to the area as a memento of their time in Oshawa.

Smith Potteries’s production of a specialized semi-porcelain pottery, also known as white ware, made this company competitively successful with other countries, such as the United States, China, Great Britain, Japan, Germany, Sweden and Czechoslovakia.  The white ware pottery was resilient and of fine quality. 

Newspaper headline about Smith Potteries
Headline from The Oshawa Daily Times, August 15, 1929

Recently, the newspaper collection at the Oshawa Public Libraries was digitized and made available online. In the August 15, 1929 edition of The Oshawa Daily Times, there was an article titled, Substantial Industry Being Developed Just Outside City by H. Smith Potteries, which discussed a new two-storey addition and expansion of the business.  The addition included a modern office, shipping and receiving room, and the second floor was used solely as the finishing room.  The market term for wares created by Smith were known as “Velta Art Pottery.” 

The article continues to describe the raw material used to produce these fine pieces.  They are made with china clay [Kaolin], feldspar, and flint.  These ingredients were carefully combined, strained through a screen to remove any impurities and stirred in a large mixer.  The moulds were constructed of plaster, into which the liquid china was poured, and any remaining liquid was poured off.  The moulds were placed in a warm oven where the heat shrank the pottery, allowing it to be separated from the mould.  The pieces were then removed from the oven and mould and left to air dry. Once dry, the piece was placed in a kiln and subjected to a temperature of 2250 degrees for 24 hours, in a process called firing. 

Newspaper classified ad for the Smith Potteries
Decorator or Improver on pottery Ad, Oshawa Daily Times, 15 Nov 1927, p. 11

The article continues

Probably the most interesting phase is the finishing or painting of the article.  In the H. Smith Potteries this is accomplished in a large bright room by five expert artists. Various designs are employed but each piece is hand painted.  The colour schemes and designs are first planned by a talented designer… The articles are delicately shaped and tinted in exquisite colours.  All the pieces including the lamp shades are designed right in Oshawa.

Newspaper article about Smith Potteries
Oshawa Fair Ad notifying the public about local merchants that will have exhibits at the fair, include Smith Potteries. Oshawa Daily Times, 11 Sep 1929, p. 3

It is through this process that makes each piece held in the Oshawa Museum collection unique because they were all individually hand painted.  Smith Potteries produced a range of products such as vases, bowls, candlesticks, lamp bases, ashtrays, and other souvenir novelties with hand painted designs.  

The article also mentioned that the firm was in the process of manufacturing bases for the desk fountain pen sets for the Parker Duofold Co.  This company is still around today under the name, The Parker Pen.

Colour advertisement for a desk set
An example of the desk fountain sets made by Parker Duofold in 1929.

The Oshawa Museum is always looking to add more pieces made by Smith Potteries to the collection.  If you have a piece of Smith Potteries that you are interested in donating, reach out to me through email

Women’s Work in the Second World War, as told through the handwritten account of the Oshawa Fire Department

By Kes Murray, Registrar

With the start of the Second World War, women from all over Canada joined various volunteer groups. The best known is the Canadian Women’s Army Corps (CWAC) which was formed in 1941 and aimed at replacing men in non-combat duties, freeing up men to serve at the front. However, many other volunteer women’s groups existed before the official formation of the CWAC. Reading through the handwritten account of the history of the Oshawa Fire Department, I came across some these women’s volunteer organizations.

With the war clouds ever darkening and the possibility of aerial bombing of our own land becoming more acute, organization of the Civilian Defense Committee A.R.P. began in Oshawa in April of this year [1941], however during April and May only the organization and selecting of a proper Executive was accomplished, but during which time speakers were present each week to assist in the ground work. In June of this year with an enrolment of 25 Members the auxiliary fire Services came into being under the direction of the newly named Controller of Fire Services, Chief Elliot. Classes were held once weekly and included lectures, hose and ladder evolutions, chemical and their various uses, and fire department tools and their uses. A class in First Aid and artificial resuscitation was also started and this class was largely attended by the members of the C.A.T.S. an newlyformed volunteer Womans Organization. The membership of the auxiliary fire service increased to some 80 members in 1942, with ten members of the C.A.T.S. being attached to the fire services, and participating in every phase of the work.

A019.2.7 Pg. 175

In this excerpt from 1941, we are introduced to two organizations. The Civilian Defense Committee A.R.P., or the Air Raid Precautionary, was a civilian defense organization created by the federal government to prepare civilians for an attack. Roles for volunteers included auxiliary fire fighters, fire-aid roles like driving ambulances and general care for casualties, and auxiliary police. The efforts of this organization were to train civilians for any situation.

What stood out to me in this passage was C.A.T.S., described as a newly formed volunteer women’s organization. C.A.T.S., or the Canadian Auxiliary for Territorial Service, was based off the British Auxiliary Territorial Service (A.T.S.). A Globe and Mail article from May 18, 1945 states that C.A.T.S. serve in any useful capacity to any branch of the Service anywhere. It went on to list the work these women participated in: transport, A.R.P., food administration, welfare, and clerical activities. Through this 1941 passage, some of the C.A.T.S. members were auxiliary fire fighters.

Black and white photo of a group of 15 Caucasian people, all wearing hats and overcoats.
Civilian Defense Firefighters 1942. Four women are standing in the front row. Oshawa Fire Department Collection, Oshawa Museum archival collection (A019.2.275).

The excerpt from the fire department shows us a snapshot of what home life was like for civilians during the war and the incredible volunteer legacy that women had.

Interesting Architecture at John XXIII Catholic School

By Jill Passmore, Visitor Experience Coordinator

The following is an excerpt from the Olive French Manuscript – a document in the archival collection about Oshawa’s earliest schools from 1867 – 1967.

To accommodate its increased enrolment, the separate school board is building a new elementary school, John XIII(sic), on Athabasca Street. It will be the first to feature the new team teaching technique. It will have operable walls in one of the three quadrants that will open a three-classroom unit where groups of pupils can be taught by a team of teachers.

This circular school is 136 feet in diameter and will have a 64 foot inner court. It will have eight classrooms and a kindergarten area. It will accommodate more than 300 students. It is expected to be ready for classes in December 1967.

The principal is not yet appointed.

Olive French, Public and Separate Schools in 1967

Earlier this year, I taught the Oshawa Museum’s First Nations program to multiple classes at John XXIII. Arriving in the parking lot, you get the first glance at the circular dome. The school has had several additions since 1967, but the apex remains its most prominent feature.

Side by side colour photographs. On the left is a circle with many spokes coming from the centre; on the right is a classroom with chairs and desks, and the ceiling features wide wooden beams and the circle with the spokes, seen in the left photo

The curved hallways make for a less institutional feeling inside than in most schools. Many teachers have told me, ‘well, you won’t get lost!’ The dome’s peak is in what is now the library, which facilitates a great teaching space.

Sadly, the traces of the operable walls Olive French mentions are no longer there, but John XXII remains Oshawa’s first circular school.

March 13-17 is March Break at the Oshawa Museum, and we’re going back to school!

Join us for School Days: discover what school was like for kids back in the early 1900s! Step back in time when you enter Guy House. Sit in school desks, write on slates, dress up like a Victorian kid, and more!

March Break at the OM is taking place from March 13 – 17, and we’re open from 9am-4pm. The last tour leaves at 3:30pm. Please allow around 1.5 hours for your visit!

March Break activities is $5/child (free for OHS Members), and this includes a tour of the Oshawa Museum.

10 Years of the Oshawa Museum Blog

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

In 2013, I was able to work under a grant to digitise Henry House and various collections within. It was a wonderful opportunity to work with the collections we have here at the Oshawa Museum, and at the time, I was early in my Museum career, so I was excited to be offered new opportunities to grow my skills.

One of the first projects I was tasked with cataloguing and digitising was the quilt collection, a priority collection to focus on at first because of a planned exhibit later that year.

Our set-up for photographing large quilts, 2013

As I was working through the collection of over 70 quilts, I thought it would be interesting to share some of what I was learning about the quilts and the behind the scenes workings of the Museum. From this, the Oshawa Museum’s blog began!

Ten years later, and staff, students, and volunteers of the Oshawa Museum have authored over 600 posts for the blog, with topics ranging from industries, soldiers, the lives of women and children, street names, newspaper happenings, and everything in between. There have been over 228,000 views from over 140,000 visitors, just amazingly overwhelming numbers!

If you have ever stumbled across the Oshawa Museum blog and have enjoyed what you’ve found here, thank you! We appreciate the continued support and we hope you enjoy reading for many years to come!

  • Our very first blog post was Quilt Stories, Part I.
  • It is very likely that our top read blog post is Keeping Warm: The Ways The Victorians Did!. The top all time post is a hard stat to gather, but it has been the top post for years now, so this is very likely the best read post!
  • The blog site is also where we have our Resource Pages, where we have rounded up blog posts, videos, community links, and more related to our community history.

The Month That Was – March 1873

All articles originally appeared in the Ontario Reformer

March 7, 1873, Page 2
R. Wellington has opened a music, book, stationary, and fancy goods store in Wilson’s Block. His store is fitted up neatly, with a new stock, Give him a call. See advertisement.

The remains of the late Mrs. Thos. Gibbs, mother of Messrs. T.N. and W. H. Gibbs, were followed to their last resting place yesterday by a large umber of friends. Mrs. Gibbs died very suddenly, in Toronto, on Monday last, at the advanced age of 79 years. The stores were all closed while the funeral was passing through town.

Newspaper advertizement for R. Wellingtons store
March 7, 1873, p2

March 14, 1873, Page 2
Capitalists who desire a good investment can find it by building dwelling houses in the Village of Oshawa. One of our great wants are such buildings. We know of many who desire to dwell amongst us but who cannot for want of a house to rent, and are obliged to remove elsewhere and when the public works projected are ready to employ hands we know not how to house the number of outsiders that will be required. This is no temporary want, it has been the normal state of this place for years, and it is likely to be felt more severely this year than before, in consequence of our expected inflow of new comers. Let those who lend cash at interest, build, and they will double their income and benefit themselves and their fellow citizens around them. Houses much wanted are the better class cottages. These would rent well and yield a good return to the owner. Another very much in demand are such as would rent for $6 to $8 per month. Nice little cottages in rows, neatly got up, and warm, would command such rents readily. To put them up in this form, would enable the builder to economise his material and labor, and obtain a better return for his investment. Let some one step into this gap.

More Factories for Oshawa
We have good authority for stating that a silver plating maunfactory is about to be established in this Village, provided a suitable site and arrangements can be made to bring it here. The paid up capital already subscribed is about $25,000, and it is expected the number of hands it will employ will not be less than thirty to begin with.

We believe the Oshawa Stove Manufacturing Company have determined to build at once, with a view to turn out stoves this fall, and that the number of hands employed will not be less than from 30 to 40. Patterns have already been selected, and when the necessary arrangements shall have been finally completed this establishment may be looked upon as secured to the Village. These signs look like future prosperity and enlargement to our enterprise municipality. These are the kind of works that benefit every inhabitant of the place. They give employment to the artisan, the women and children, they bring permanent customers to the shopkeeper, and add to the value of the property of every man who holds a foot of land in the corporation and around it. May they flourish. 

Newspaper ad for Bambridges carriages
March 14, 1873 p3

March 21, 1873, Page 2
The Oshawa St. Patrick’s Benevolent Society, with their friends to the number of about 180, went to Toronto on Monday last to join with their Toronto brethren in celebrating Ireland’s day, the 17th of March. The Society, before leaving here, marched through town, headed by their Brass Band, playing lively airs, in good style, and presenting a very neat appearance. They had a good time in Toronto, and returned in the evening, much pleased with their visit.

March 21, 1873, Page 2
House and Lot for Sale
Opposite Oshawa Cabinet Factory

The house contains twelve rooms, and a good stone cellar. Will accommodate four small families. For forms, etc., apply to Capt. George Farewell, or to H. McGee

Newspaper ad for JO and RH Henry photography
March 21, 1873, p3

March 28, 1873, Page 2
The Female Seminary Bonus
The people of Oshawa are favoured at present by any number of bonus seekers, varying in both usefulness and character. The claimant pressing just at present is one Rev. Mr. Demill. His request is a very modest one truly! Oshawa people are asked to first vote him $3000 to buy the grounds for a female seminary; they are next asked to put their hands into their pockets and hand over money to build the institution – after which, by paying the sum of $100 per term, they will be permitted to send their daughters to the Demill seminary for instructions in dish and clothes washing! Ah! yes, mending, darning, etc. etc., included. At present, the Village has a school debt of about $5000 hanging over it, and before paying this off, it is asked to add $3000 more. Let every voter consider this before giving his vote on Saturday. Its advocate say it is designed in addition to the above, to teach all the different branches comprising a good English education, and music to boot. All the above, except the domestic and musical portion of the program are taught at present at are public and high schools. The people of Oshawa in their present provision, for secular education are, therefore, not badly situated. Their daughters, as well as their sons, are afforded under their present advantages a good English education without any additional outlay. Why then incurred heavy expense and high taxes to provide that which is already possessed?…

The scheme is absurd in all its bearings; and those pressing for its recognition are only raising a stumbling block to other matters much more feasible and of far greater moment.

All having freehold property within the corporation, or leaseholds 20 years yet to run are entitled to vote, and we trust to see a good majority against it.

Newspaper ad for J Barnard's bee hives
March 28, 1873, p3
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