William Orr and The Canadian Phonetic Pioneer

By Laura Suchan, Executive Director

Recently, I found copies of the newsletter The Canadian Phonetic Pioneer on the virtual library Early Canadiana Online.  I was surprised to see the journal was published in Oshawa by William H. Orr, a familiar name to those of us who study Oshawa history as he was one of the owners of the Oshawa Vindicator newspaper.  Much of what we know about William Orr comes from newspaper articles written about him later in his life. Orr was born in Canada in 1836 and grew up on a farm until age 16 when he was apprenticed into the printing industry in Bowmanville.  He continued an active career in the newspaper industry for many years becoming Editor of the aforementioned Oshawa Vindicator and reporting for the New York Tribune as well as the Toronto Globe under George Brown.

1early canadiana online
Masthead for The Canadian Phonetic Pioneer

William Orr was an early advocate for Pittman Shorthand (he even named his son Cyrus Pittman) which was created in 1837.  Invented by Isaac Pitman, Pittman shorthand is a system by which symbols represent sounds rather than letters.  It is a type of phonography or sound writing which uses an alphabet composed of the simplest geometrical signs to represent the sounds of spoken words.  Shorthand was developed to meet the needs of news reporters who were required to take notes quickly.  Orr and other supporters of phonographic writing claimed it could be written six times as fast as ordinary longhand and was useful to many including young students, authors, clergymen, lawyers, physicians and authors.

1The Phonetic Alphabet September 1859, vol. 2, no. 3.jpg
The Phonetic Alphabet September 1859, vol. 2, no. 3

The Canadian Phonetic Pioneer started out as a monthly journal however by July 1861 it was published bi-monthly.  “Devoted to the spread of the writing, printing and spelling reform,” it was published at the Oshawa Vindicator office located on Simcoe Street. Subscriptions were 25¢ an issue, and in December 1858 Orr boasted there were 209 subscribers.  A subscriber list from September 1861 listed several names from Oshawa and Whitby including William and his wife Anna, Samuel Luke (Orr’s co-proprietor at the Oshawa Vindicator), William H. Rouse, teacher in Whitby, Thomas McKee, Principal Oshawa Central School and William Mccabe, Whitby, Principal Grammar School. Subscribers could enjoy articles touting the ‘Utility of Phonography’ (Rev. M. Wright of Massachusetts enthused “I would not take $1000 for what I know of the theory and practice of phonography”), ‘Rapid Writing’ ( Mr. Andrews of Glasgow Scotland claims he can write 271 words per minute using phonography), ‘Phonography in the Philadelphia High School’ and ‘Is Phonography What it Professes to be?’ The publication also features phonographic lessons, alphabet charts and advertising for a variety of books.

Canadiana Online has copies of The Canadian Phonetic Pioneer from the period July 1858 to September 1861.  I was unable to find any further information on The Pioneer so I do not know if this was the only period the publication was issued.  Perhaps Orr’s career as a journalist kept him from publishing The Pioneer after this period.  In 1863 Orr moved to Quebec and was one of seven reporters to record verbatim the 1864 Quebec City debates attended by George Etienne Carter, Sir John A. Macdonald and George Brown, which lead to Confederation  By 1865, Orr’s career as editor of the Oshawa Vindicator came to an end.  The last issue of the newspaper under his name was May 31, 1865.  By 1866 William Orr had started a new career as an insurance agent in Montreal, and it was reported that during this time he likely imported the first typewriter into Canada and was also the first business man to use female typists (1878).  Orr and his wife (Ann Marie nee Pedlar) moved their family to Toronto by 1881 where he continued working for Aetna Insurance Company.  In a 1921 article in the Canadian Statesman, Orr credited his long life to abstaining from alcohol and tobacco and embracing a vegetarian diet very early in life.  William Orr died in March 1927 and was laid to rest in Forest Lawn Mausoleum in Toronto.

The following resources were used:

The Canadian Phonetic Pioneer, Early Canadian Online

Mr W.H. Orr of Toronto, October 13, 1821;
http://vitacollections.ca/claringtonnews/2829604/page/2, The Canadian Statesman, pg.1

The Globe (1844-1936); Mar 5, 1927; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Globe and Mail page 16

Three Sheep Have Lost Their Fleece

Oshawa Vindicator, 24 June 1868

Returned – Three of the sheep advertised by Mr. Thomas Henry, have returned home without their fleeces, but marked with a hole in the right ear. If the man who was kind enough to shear them will be kind enough to return the fleeces and the two missing sheep, he will be paid for the shearing, but not for the marking.

Vindicator Jun 24 1868.JPG

On tours of Henry House, Visitor Hosts are often asked what the Henry family farmed.  The 1851 Agricultural Census provides insight, tending to 40 acres of wheat, 1 acre peas, 14 acres oats, and  2 acres potatoes; livestock included:

  • 4 bulls, oxen or steers
  • 4 milch cows (a cow in milk or kept for her milk)
  • 3 cows/heifers
  • 3 horses
  • 27 sheep (with 100 lbs of wool)
  • 7 pigs

Profiling: John S. Larke

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

It never ceases to amaze that one research topic can lead down rather interesting roads. While researching Oshawa’s early Cornish settlers, I first discovered the story of John S. Larke. Larke was born in Cornwall, lived most of his adult life in Oshawa and died in New South Wales, Australia. His life was far from average and was fascinating to learn about.

John Larke, 1893; From the Oshawa Museum’s Archival Collection, A000.1.49

John Short Larke was born on May 28, 1840 in Launcells, Cornwall, England to Charles and Grace (Yeo) Larke.  Four years later, the family immigrated to Oshawa, where Charles worked as a miller.  John received his education at Victoria College in Cobourg, graduating in 1861, before he took a position as a school teacher at Section School (S.S.) No. 7, East Whitby Township.  His career in education would also include a tenure as principal at an Oshawa school.

From 1865 to 1879, John held an editorial interest in the Oshawa Vindicator, which was formally published under the auspices of “Luke and Larke.”  This newspaper was known for its conservative leanings, as described in 1880:

It is an eight column folio, neatly printed and edited with marked ability, being an excellent country journal, a powerful exponent of the tenets of the Conservative party, and the oldest paper in the County of Ontario, being in its 24th volume
~John S. Larke, Canadian Biographical Dictionary, 1880.

In 1870, the Vindicator announced the marriage of John to Miss Elizabeth Bain, daughter of the late Richard Bain, Esq, married at the home of the bride’s brother. Four children would be born to the couple during their years in Oshawa: William, Frederick, Eva, and Percy.

John moved from the world of journalism to manufacturing when he took over as president and general manager of the Oshawa Stove Company in 1879. It was located at the corner of Bruce and Charles Streets, first being established in 1873. When operation of the company began, it had 30 employees, but due to larger competition, it unfortunately did not have great success.  In the early 1890s, Larke was bought out by his partner, John Bailes, and the Oshawa Stove Company was eventually sold to William Cowan and the future Fittings Ltd.

While undertaking careers as a journalist and manufacturer, Larke also pursued his interest in politics.  Throughout the 1870s and 1880s, Larke had become a fixture of the local Town Council.  John served as both Reeve and Warden of Ontario County and in 1887, and he also spend time as Chairman of the Fire and Water Committee.  In 1890, John tried his hand in provincial politics when he was the candidate for the Ontario Conservative Party, challenging incumbent Liberal Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) John Dryden to represent the riding of Ontario South. Dryden had been the MLA since 1879, and he would continue to represent Ontario South until 1905, winning the election against Larke in 1890.

By 1893 Larke headed Canada’s exhibit at the World’s Columbian Exhibition in Chicago, Illinois.

In 1894, John was chosen by the Honorable Mackenzie Bowell to represent Canada as   the High Commissioner in Australia. The Town of Oshawa, appreciative of John’s service to the community, held a banquet in his honour before he and his family left Canada.  In attendance were many of Oshawa’s noted community members, as well as Bowell himself.  In November 1894, Bowell was the Minister of Trade & Commerce and acting Prime Minister; he would become the fifth Prime Minister of Canada upon the sudden death of John Thompson less than a month later.  Speeches were delivered through the evening, and in his remarks, Larke said,

He could not leave the town of his youth, early labors and friends, which were the dearest ties a man could have, without feeling deep regret. He did not care to dwell upon that side of his leave taking as it was painful. He would rather turn to the more pleasant side; the gratifying pleasure of having the confidence and regard of the citizens of his native town.
~Dr. T.E. Kaiser, Historic Sketches of Oshawa, 1921, p. 127.

By order of the Prime Minister, W.R. Calloway, District Passenger Agent with the Canadian Pacific Railway Company, issued 4 tickets to the Larke family to Sydney N.S.W., at a total amount of $1108.83, and they sailed in January 1895.  After arriving in Australia, the Sydney Morning Herald reported,

He intended to make his home in Australia, and was here for the sole purpose of furnishing merchants with information in regard to the possibilities of trade between these colonies and Canada. Several leading Canadian merchants proposed visiting these colonies for the purpose of satisfying themselves with regard to the prospects of trade.
~Sydney Morning Herald, January 9, 1895, page 7

John and his family did indeed make their home in Australia, passing away in Summer Hill, a suburb of Sydney, in 1910.  He is buried in the Rookwood Cemetery. Thus ended the fascinating and whirlwind career of John S. Larke, a career in which he was able to dip into the discipline of teaching, journalism, manufacturing and finally politics.


Oshawa Museum, Historical Oshawa Information Sheets: John S. Larke.

‘John S. Larke, Oshawa,’ Canadian Biographical Dictionary, 1880; accessed from https://archive.org/details/cihm_08545 

Dr. D.S. Hoig, Reminiscences and Recollections, 1933; accessed from http://localhistory.oshawalibrary.ca/pdfportal/pdfskins/hoig/hoig.pdf

M. McIntyre Hood, Oshawa: Canada’s Motor City, 1968, 63-64.

Dr. T.E. Kaiser, Historic Sketches of Oshawa, 1921; accessed from http://localhistory.oshawalibrary.ca/pdfportal/pdfskins/kaiser/kaiser.pdf

‘Other Foundries’, Industry in Oshawa online exhibit, accessed from https://industryinoshawa.wordpress.com/foundries/other-foundries/

Sydney Morning Herald, 9 Jan 1895, page 7; accessed: http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/page/1367966

The Month That Was – July 1867

The Oshawa Vindicator
Edition 03 July 1867

THE ANNIVERSARY of the Columbus Bible Christian Sabbath School will (D.V.) be held on Sunday and Monday, the 7th and 8th of July.

On Sabbath two sermons will be delivered, at 2 1.2 and 6 o’clock p.m., and collections taken up.

On Monday the children will meet at 1 ½ and the exercises will commence at 2 o’clock p.m., and continue for two hours. Tea will be served to the children at 4 o’clock, and to the public immediately after. Tickets 25 cents; for children not members of the school, 12 ½ cents. The public are cordially invited. A good time may be expected.


The Oshawa Vindicator
Edition 03 July 1867
Confederation Day

The first morning of the New Dominion was ushered in Oshawa with the ringing of bells and the firing of cannon, including a salute from the guns of the juvenile battery. The chief occupation of all seemed to be to make preparations to leave town. The greater portion of the population went to Whitby, others to Toronto, and a few Eastward. The afternoon here was one of unusual quietness. The numerous flags flying from flagstaffs and private houses was the only mark of the day. Everyone store was closed and every workshop was silent, and Oshawa was literally the deserted village. The few people that had not left in the morning wended their way to Cedardale to a private picnic, where the afternoon was heartily enjoyed. In the evening the Ontario Bank and some other buildings were illuminated. The people of Oshawa having agreed to give way to Whitby and join in the celebration there, strictly kept her faith.


The Oshawa Vindicator
Edition 03 July 1867

Our beloved queen has entrusted the formation of the first cabinet which is to govern the Dominion of Canada to Sir. J. A. McDonald (sic) and we doubt not that. Her advisers were careful before he left England to impress upon him the advisability of having all sections of the country fully represented therein.

We have every reason to believe that Sir John has since the Coalition of 1864 full realized, the importance of the work in which he has taken so active apart, and that he has aimed to bring it to such a conclusion as every true patriot would deserve.

Now, while we cannot endorse his past career, and though we have energetically opposed the Tory party of which he was the leader in the past, we are quite open to believe that he, together with the rest of us, sees in the prospects of the new Dominion a future worthy of a statesman; that he is willing to waine considerations of minor party importance – and taking his stand upon a constitution – itself the outcome of a fusion of party hitherto antagonistic, to devote himself to the … administration of the laws of Canada, for the benefit of the whole country.


The Oshawa Vindicator
Edition 10 July 1867
The Trees

On Saturday night one of the finest and largest trees in Centre street was broken off by the wind. Upon examination, the cause of this was easily discovered, the three having been much injured at the place where it broke off by chafing against the guards. Numbers of others are in the same condition. Some remedy ought at once to be adopted. The most of the trees are now firmly enough rooted to do without the guards, and these ought to be removed. Where this cannot be done with safety, the trees ought to be secured from injury with bandages.

The Road and Bridge Committee are now taking action in the matter. The law, however, give the owners control of the trees opposite their property. It would be well if they exercise their right to look after them. The village has planted and protected the trees thus far, and it is not too much to ask property owners to do the little that remains to be done.

Screen Shot 2017-03-22 at 2.21.05 PM

The Oshawa Vindicator
Edition 10, July, 1867
Mowing Match

One of the largest trials of movers ever held in Canada, was held in the Township of Fullarton, Country of Perth, a few days ago. Nine machines took part in the competitions, five of them being varieties of the Ohio pattern. The machines were tested upon these points: lightness of draught, quality of the work done, and quality of material and style of workmanship upon the machine. After a thorough test and examination of each of these particulars the Ohio Combined Reaper and Mover, manufactured at the Joseph Hall Works here, was awarded the first prize, as being the best made, having the best material, being the lightest draught, and having the closest and neatest work of any machine upon the ground. About a thousand farmers witnessed the contest, and the manner in which they followed the Hall machine whilst at work, and the strong commendations bestowed upon it afterwards showed they heartily agreed with the judges – This adds another to the long list of first prized which these machines have obtained in fairly contested fields.


The Oshawa Vindicator
Edition 24 July 1867
Mr. Gibbs Meeting in Oshawa

Mr. Gibbs held a meeting of his friends on Saturday evening. Nearly three hundred rate payers were present. Several addresses were delivered by the most prominent men of the town. A unanimous vote pledging Mr. Gibbs their support of the meeting, moved by Mr. Cowan and seconded by Mr. Glen, was passed. The most enthusiastic feeling prevailed. It is pretty clear what the result will be in Oshawa.

 Screen Shot 2017-03-22 at 2.19.15 PM

The Oshawa Vindicator
July, 1867

In Oshawa, on the 17th last, by the Rev. L. B. Caldwell, Miss Sophia Maria Graham, of Whitby, to Mr. Will Clarke, of Pickering.

At Colbourne, July 16th, BY Rev. Mr. Lomas, Bowmanville, the Rev. D. Simpson, Primitive Methodist Minister, formerly of Oshawa, to Miss Mary Grace Barrett, of Bruse Mines, Algoma District.

By Rev. G. Abbs, of the “Christian Advocate,” at Palermo, June 15, 1867, Rev. W. Pirrette, of the Brooklin M. E. Church, and Grand Worthy Patriarch of the Sons of Temperance of Canada West, to ALvina L. Winehell, of Palermo, formerly of Barringon, Mass, U.S.


The Oshawa Vindicator
Edition 31 July 1867
Devil Worshippers

This singular race, called the devil-worshippers, who dwell among the Koorde, numbers about one hundred thousand, and are from and ancient Persian race. They speak the Koord’s language. Their symbol is the Peacock, an image of which they worship at their sacred shrine. They are largely under the control of their priests, who teach them that it is essential to manhood to lie, steal, murder, and be a dog. To kill someone is necessary to become a man.

To sin on quietly because you do not intend to sin always is to live on a reversion which will probably never be yours.

Screen Shot 2017-03-22 at 2.58.35 PM

The Oshawa Vindicator
Edition 31, July, 1867
United Grammar and Common Schools, Oshawa

Wanted for the above, A FEMALE TEACHER for the Primary Division. Salary $220 per an.

Also, a Female Teacher for the Senior Division of the Female Department; one capable of teaching French and Drawing preferred.

Applications, with testimonials &e., to be forwarded to the undersigned, not later than 10th August.

  1. Carswell,


The Oshawa Vindicator
Edition 31 July 1867
What is Soda Water!
ATKINSON’s Drug Store

Soda water is pure water highly charged with Carbonic Acid Gas. This gas exists in great purity in marble. In extracting it, vessels capable of resisting great pressure, 100 to 200 pounds to the inch are required.

The New York Board of Health says: “we regard Soda Water (Carbonic Acid Gas in water) as the only innocent drink of all the mineral waters in use.

Dr. Maxwell of Ouloutts, remarks: “In the treatment of Cholera I found Soda Water both grateful and beneficial.” This kind of Soda Water you can only obtain in its true purity and strength at ATKINSON’s Drug Store.

Making the Christmas Pudding

By Lisa Terech, Youth Engagement / Programs

For many, many years, our holiday interpretation of Henry House has included the making of the Christmas Pudding, a tradition of the Victorians, and one that has continued for many people to this day.  My grandmother every year makes a Christmas Pudding and insists we sing ‘Now bring us some figgy pudding’ as it is carried through to the dinner table, a brilliantly blue flame encircling the rich pudding.

Making the Christmas Pudding
Making the Christmas Pudding

In Henry House, the recipe we use appeared in the Oshawa Vindicator in 1860, Mrs. Wagstaff’s Christmas Pudding.  It is a fairly standard pudding recipe, calling for flour, bread crumbs, spices, eggs, milk, sugar, candied citrus peel (or ‘sweetmeats’), raisins, currants, and suet.  What exactly is suet?  Well, it’s raw beef fat… doesn’t that sound absolutely delicious in your Christmas dessert?!

The plum pudding being stirred together
The plum pudding being stirred together

This year, we decided to give this recipe a try.  The recipe calls for boiling the pudding for 4 hours; we have very limited kitchen capabilities at the Museum, but we can boil water!  We mixed the ingredients together and tied it in a cheesecloth.  Trick we picked up after making it a number of times: tie the cheesecloth TIGHTLY around the pudding, otherwise it will not keep its shape when boiling.  As well, the recipe calls for boiling for 4 hours, then boiling again for another 6.  I found that a lot of the fruit flavour was lost on that second boil.  Boiling it for 4 hours was sufficient.

Christmas Pudding, anyone?
Christmas Pudding, anyone?

So, after stirring and boiling, how did the Plum Pudding turn out?  It was surprisingly raisin-y and currant-y.  Those were the dominant flavours that came through.  We did not have our pudding sit and ‘get drunk’ in brandy, as most puddings do in the weeks leading up to Christmas.  It is the alcohol that burns off when the pudding is set on fire, and the alcohol, of course, brings new flavours to the pudding which ours didn’t have.  We also found out that boiling something which contains suet brought, well, a whole new sensory experience to this traditional dessert.  It was not one that is easy on the nose…  Ultimately, it looked good, and tasted good and we were excited and proud to say that we were able to successfully bring a recipe from 1860 to life in 2013!

“Mrs Cratchit left the room alone — too nervous to bear witnesses — to take the pudding up and bring it in… Hallo! A great deal of steam! The pudding was out of the copper which smells like a washing-day. That was the cloth. A smell like an eating-house and a pastrycook’s next door to each other, with a laundress’s next door to that. That was the pudding. In half a minute Mrs. Cratchit entered — flushed, but smiling proudly — with the pudding, like a speckled cannon-ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half of half-a-quarter of ignited brandy, and bedight with Christmas holly stuck into the top.”

~Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

%d bloggers like this: