The Tale of Two Brothers

By: Jennifer Weymark, Archivist
This post originally appeared on the Durham Region Area Archives Group website

The Andrews family has been a research focus of mine since 2011.  The history of the family helps to tell an under researched and overlooked aspect of Oshawa’s early history, the history of black settlement in the community. The research has traced the family from the 1790s in Vermont, through Lower Canada in the 1840s and finally Oshawa in the 1850s to the 1980s. Like most research projects, this one is ongoing and from time-to-time, I write about an interesting aspect of the family that has emerged.

As my research moved into the early 1900s, I began to focus on where two of the descendants, Albert and Ward Pankhurst, were during the period of World War I.  What I found was a story that fit into the much larger narrative of race and service during the war.

Albert GD Pankhurst

Albert GD Pankhurst, from the archival collection of the Oshawa Museum

Eldest brother Albert enlisted on April 23, 1915 with the 28th Battalion in Portage La Praire, Manitoba where he had moved to after 1911 to work as a farm labourer. His attestation paper, the form filled out upon enlisting, provides some interesting information about Albert particularly when compared with the information collected on his brother Ward.[i]

On Albert’s attestation paper there is information that may seem inconsequential until you know that his family is interracial. The first interesting tidbit is that it notes that Albert has previously served with the 34th Ontario Regiment for three years.  This regiment was an infantry battalion and would not have been desegregated. How then did Albert end up serving with the regiment?  It appears that he was able to identify with his father’s ethnicity and sign up to serve.

Black men were not particularly welcome in the armed forces, and this was true during WWI.  Black men wanting to enlist were met with backlash and protest, even after the federal government declared that those wanting to enlist could not be denied based on race. Even with the backlash, a few Canadian combat units did have black volunteers in their ranks.  One of those units was the 116th Battalion, a battalion associated with the 34th Ontario Regiment. [ii] The vast majority of black men who served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) during WWI served with the No. 2 Construction Battalion.  This segregated battalion faced racism in the form of difficulty finding a commander, hostility from white officers and enlisted, and forced to serve through conscription after being turned away when they volunteered.

Dulmen POW Camp

Dulmen POW Camp, postcard from the Australian War Memorial

After basic training, Albert boarded the S.S. Missauabie and set sail from Montreal on September 4, 1915.  The 28th Battalion arrived at the Front and took part in both the Battle of St. Eloi and the Battle of Mount Sorrell. On June 6, 1916 Albert was reported missing and by July 19 he was officially a Prisoner of War being held at Dulmen, Germany.[iii] During his time as a POW, Albert was held in three different camps.  The first was Dulmen, followed by Wahn and finally Limburg.  It is from Limburg that Albert was able to escape.  According to his personnel file, Albert escaped from Limburg POW camp on March 3, 1918 and arrived back in England by March 14.

While Albert was held prisoner in Germany, his brother Ward found himself in Detroit when the United States entered WWI. Ward became part of the first wave of men registered for conscription in WWI. His draft card notes something interesting and would impact where he would serve as he prepared to head overseas.

On the draft card, under race, Ward is listed as being Caucasian.  However, that notation was scratched out and Black written above it.[iv] A draft card did not equal time served and I am currently working to determine if Ward actually served. If he did serve, his experience would have been far different than Albert’s due to Ward being listed as Black.

Much like Canada, when the U.S. entered the war, black men enlisted or attempted to enlist, in large numbers.  The U.S. already had four all black regiments when they entered WWI. These regiments had a long history, dating back to the end of the Civil War. Within one week of declaring war, black men volunteered in such large numbers that the War Department had filled these regiments and stopped accepting black volunteers.[v]

When the U.S. government determined that they would not be able to raise a large enough army through volunteering alone, the Selective Service Act was passed on 18 May 1917. Ward was officially registered on 5 June 1917 and his name put on the list from which names were drawn to call to military service.  While the act had a provision in it that no one was exempt based on class or group, the draft boards did not necessarily follow this.  It has been argued by historians that draft boards comprised of wealthy white males, did in fact exempt those of the wealthy class.  It has been argued that the draft boards chose men who dis-proportionality represented immigrants, rural farmers and blacks to military service.[vi]

Research is ongoing to determine if Ward was selected for military service.  If he had been selected, the change of race on his draft card would have impacted his experience. Black soldiers in the U.S. faced segregation, substandard uniforms and social services. This experience was not unlike the Canadian one, where the majority of black soldiers who enlisted with the C.E.F. were placed with 2nd Construction Battalion.

My beautiful picture

Letter from King George

Both Albert and Ward survived World War I and returned to Canada. Albert received a letter from King George V recognizing his time spent as a POW.   Upon returning home, Albert married Martha Wiggins, an Irish immigrant, in June 1920. The couple emigrated to the U.S. in 1923, eventually settling in California where Albert lived until his death in 1977.

Ward remained in Oshawa and lived with their sister Greta until his death in 1978.  Prior to his death, Ward took the time to speak to members of the Oshawa Historical Society.  He was asked to recount his days growing up in Cedardale and to share memories of life in Oshawa. Unfortunately, few of the memories shared are about his family.


References:

[i]  Pankhurst, Albert George Dunbar service file, Library and Archives Canada. http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/military-heritage/first-world-war/personnel-records/Pages/item.aspx?IdNumber=554580

[ii]  Ruck, Linsday. No. 2 Construction Battalion, Canadian Encyclopedia. 16 June, 2016. https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/no-2-construction-battalion

[iii] Pankhurst, Albert George Dunbar service file, Library and Archives Canada. http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/military-heritage/first-world-war/personnel-records/Pages/item.aspx?IdNumber=554580

[iv] Pankhurst, Ward DeLayfette, World War 1 Draft Registration Card. Wayne County, Michigan. Roll: 2032676; Draft Board: 24.  search.ancestry.ca/cgi-bin/sse.dll?db=ww1draft&h=33087973&ti
=5543&indiv=try&gss=pt

[v] Bryan, Jami L. Fighting For Respect: African-American Soldiers in WWI. Army Historical Foundation. 20 January, 2015. https://armyhistory.org/fighting-for-respect-african-american-soldiers-in-wwi/

[vi] Geheran, Michael. Selective Service Act. International Encyclopedia of the First World War. 8 October, 2014. https://encyclopedia.1914-1918-online.net/article/selective_service_act

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Student Museum Musings -Transcription Tales

By Adam A., Archives Assistant Student

Hello once more! It has been a little over a month since my last blog post, and I am now overdue to provide an update on my efforts. At this time I am a little over three thousand words into a new transcription project. As my previous transcription project concluded just shy of forty thousand words in length, I am certain that I still have a lot ahead of me.

File545 - Ward Pankhurst

Ward Pankhurst

This time I’m not transcribing a newspaper or any other print medium, rather the subject of my work is a tape recording from 1972. This recording, an interview of Mr. Wardie Pankhurst, has presented some obstacles that have considerably slowed down the project. For one the audio quality of the old tape necessitates multiple hearings of each sentence. Another problem in the nature of the interview, Mr. Pankhurst and the interviewer have the unfortunate habit of talking at the same time meaning that portions of the recording are completely indecipherable.

To expedite the project we have acquired a new devise which reads the tape and produces an MP3 file of it. This will make it easier to move back and forth to rehear segments. Additionally it seems to have also improved the audio quality in some way which will mean that fewer sections will have to be gone over more than once.

Regardless, there is still much to learn from Mr. Pankhurst’s reminisces about his life in Cedar Dale (now part of South Oshawa). As he was born in 1888 and has lived in the area his entire life he has many fascinating stories about Oshawa. Presently I am transcribing his account of the disappearance of the artificial pond he used to swim in. Previously I transcribed his descriptions of his work at the Malleable Iron Company and its role producing parts for Ford. Additionally I learned of the cost to attend high school in the 1890s (a dollar), and that Oshawa was home to a news reporter who had travelled around the globe no less than four times.

File2405-A996.1.7

Ontario Malleable Iron, c. 1929

I greatly look forward to discovering more of the tape’s knowledge and seeing what the remainder of my time working here this summer will yield.

Ways the Oshawa Museum is Changing the Narrative

By Jennifer Weymark, Archivist

There is a saying that “history is written by the victor” and this is certainly true when it comes to Canadian history.  So much of our history, on a local, provincial and national level, is written from the perspective of European colonial settlers. This narrow focus has greatly impacted how museum and archival collections have been developed and has created an historical narrative that is not entirely accurate.

Throughout Canada, museums and archives are working to find ways to move beyond the colonial settler focus of our collections and develop collections that more accurately showcase our history.  The Oshawa Museum is working to fill the gaps in our historical narrative, to include more voices and become more inclusive by telling the untold and under researched stories of our community.  In Oshawa, our local history tends to be told through a lens of focusing on the impact of the wealthy industrialists and the companies they ran.  This is certainly an important part of our local history, but it is a very narrow focus and leaves out so many other fascinating stories.

One of the ways we are changing the historical narrative is through our research into early Black history in Oshawa.  Oshawa has had a small Black population since at least 1850, and that population has continued to grow and flourish.  The research has focused on the experiences of one family, the Andrews/Dunbar/Pankhurst family, and examines how their experiences fit into the larger context of the history of Black Canadians.  Research like this widen the lens through which we look at our history and works to tell a local history that better reflects what the community actually looked like in the past.

IMG_1415

Black History Month Display at Hot Roots Festival Launch, 2016

Throughout the month of February, the Museum has been celebrating Black History Month by reaching out to the community to talk about our research.  In fact, over the past month, we have spoken to over 400 members of our community about this research.  It has been truly rewarding to share this research with so many people and help bring focus to the rich and diverse history of Oshawa.

The Importance of Continued Research

By Jennifer Weymark, Archivist

For a number of years, I have been undertaking research into early Black history in the Oshawa area. This inquiry is part of a larger shift in our focus here at the Oshawa Museum.

Prior to 2011, there had been minimal research into the history of the Black population in Oshawa. Some initial work had been done examining census information but that was the extent. When we were approached to take part in Trent University’s inaugural Black History event, we realized how little time had been dedicated to this area of Oshawa’s history. The invitation to the event spurred a new project that helps to tell the history of a local family from the 1790s to today. It also helps to tell a more inclusive and, more importantly, a more accurate history of early Oshawa settlers.

1851 Wealthy Census p2.jpg

Portion of 1851 Census of Canada West; lines 40-43 are for Wealthy Andrews and her three children. The enumerator has marked the column for ‘Colored person – Negroes.’  Wealthy and her family were one of two Black families living in East Whitby Township in the 1850s.

This project signaled a shift in where we focus our research, to help fill the gap in our knowledge of our community. A great deal of research has been conducted on the many industries and industrialists who helped shape Oshawa; what was missing was looking into those who worked for the industrialists, those whose labour made the factories so successful, and telling their stories. It is the experiences of the “everyday person” who help to truly understand what the community looked like in the past and how it has evolved today. Currently, we are working to tell the history of women, those who arrived in Oshawa as Displaced Persons post WWII, the Indigenous population who called this area home long before European settlers arrived and those whose names may not be recognizable but who helped shape our community.

PicMonkey Collage

l-r: Albert GD Pankhurst (1885 – 1977), Ward D Pankhurst (1888 – 1978), and Greta Pankhurst (1895 – 1983). They were the great-grandchildren of Wealthy Andrews

I presented a paper on the research into early Black history at the Canadian Historical Association’s annual conference at the end of May. The paper discussed how shifting our research focus not only helps to tell a more accurate history of the community but helps to make the past more relatable the current Oshawa residents, strengthening the sense of community and spurring interest in our past with those who may not have been interested previously.


For more information on the Andrews/Dunbar/Pankhurst family, please read our three part series from Black History Month 2014

Oshawa’s Black History: One Family’s Story, Part 1

Oshawa’s Black History: One Family’s Story, Part II

Oshawa’s Black History: One Family’s Story, Part III

Oshawa’s Black History: One Family’s Story, Part III

By Lisa Terech, Youth Engagement / Programs

Welcome back to the third chapter in the story of Oshawa’s Dunbar family.  Last week, I talked about George and Mary Dunbar and their children.  Their eldest daughter, Margaret, was their only child to live to old age.  Today, I would like to share Margaret’s story, as written by her grandson, RB Pankhurst in 1991.  He was researching his origins in Oshawa, and summarized his findings in a narrative which he shared with the Oshawa Community Archives.

 

“George Dunbar, barrel maker, moved from Lower Canada to work at the flour mill located just south of Oshawa and met and married Mary A. Andrews.  The union was to produce 5 children… the oldest being Margaret Serene, born in 1856.  Only Maggie will live to old age…

In 1881, young Henry Pankhurst worked for Tom Conant as a farm laborer, just four doors down the street from Margaret Dunbar’s house.  The proximity offered the opportunity for the two to meet, become acquainted, fall in love and marry.  The marriage met with the deep disapproval of the Pankhurst parents which would result in a permanent rift between son and parents and the animosity of the bride which would last throughout her life.  that branch of the family would not have communication with the remainder for a least two generations…  

'Family Homestead' on Cedar Street, in Oshawa.  This house is still standing today.

‘Family Homestead’ on Cedar Street, in Oshawa. This house is still standing today.

[Henry and Margaret had three children].  The first born, Albert George Dunbar Pankhurst, left the homestead in Cedar Dale heading west.  When World War I erupted he joined the 28th Canadian Infantry Battalion in Winnipeg, was decorated for bravery in action, was captured, escaped and was finally demobilized.  He returned to Cedar Dale, met and married Martha Wiggins in 1920.  His siblings remained unwed and lived to their late 80s in the homestead in which they were born.  Ward Pankhurst was sought after by the local townspeople for his sage advice on all things.  Greta Pankhurst was as genteel, quietly effective lady who supplemented his worldly knowledge with her understanding of the local events and her reliable memory of events.”

l-r: Albert GD Pankhurst (1885 – 1977), Ward D Pankhurst (1888 – 1978), and Greta Pankhurst (1895 – 1983)

l-r: Albert GD Pankhurst (1885 – 1977), Ward D Pankhurst (1888 – 1978), and Greta Pankhurst (1895 – 1983)

As earlier stated, the story of the Andrews/Dunbar/Pankhurst family is one that is important to us, and we are always interested in learning more about this family.  We’ve made research connections in Quebec and in the US for this family, and we are always adding to what we know.  If you have any questions or have information to add about this family, please leave a comment, or email membership@oshawamuseum.org.  We also have an outreach presentation about this family, and we are always happy to tell their story, simply contact the Oshawa Community Museum.