Fire Insurance Maps

By Jennifer Weymark, Archivist

Fire insurance maps are one of those hidden gems within an archives as they can help a wide variety of researchers.

1911 Fire Insurance Map

These maps are incredibly detailed drawings of neighbourhoods showing the footprints of the buildings that existed at the time the map was created. The original purpose of these maps was to assist insurance underwriters with determining risk when assessing insurance rates.

Page 21 from the 1911 Fire Insurance Map

The maps not only show the footprint of a building but also provide construction details such as the number of stories, the building materials and the use of the building.  The buildings were colour coded to indicate the materials used in their construction.  The colour red indicated that it was a brick building, whereas yellow indicated a wooden building. These maps can help researchers track the history of a certain building, learn more about growth of areas, and how construction methods have changed.

Page 6 from the 1911 Fire Insurance Map

The Oshawa Museum’s archival collection is fortunate enough to have three of these maps in our holdings.  The earliest in our collection is from 1911.  Some of the highlights found in the 1911 map are the footprints of early industries such as Williams Piano Company, the McLaughlin Carriage Company, and a very new company by the name of McLaughlin Motor Car.  Interestingly, there is also the footprint of Oshawa’s other carriage and auto maker, Matthew Guy and Co.


Page 19 of the 1911 Fire Insurance Map; the Olive Avenue Row Houses are seen in the centre right of the image

The Olive Avenue Row houses are also included in the 1911 Fire Insurance Map.  This collection of terrace homes was constructed in 1910 by John Stacey and are considered to be architecturally significant in Oshawa.

The maps are a wonderful resource for tracking the changes to the downtown of Oshawa.  The 1911 map shows three different hotels located along King Street East.  Oshawa once again offers hotel service downtown with the opening of La Quinta just a couple of blocks east of where the American Hotel once stood at the corner of King St. East and Celina Street.

We were fortunate enough to, with the assistance of Heritage Oshawa, digitize two of the fire insurance maps in our collection.  The 1948 map had been previously digitized and now we have the 1938 and 1911 in digital versions. The digital version will be made available to researchers and the 1911 will be made available online in the near future.  Until then, all three of our fire insurance maps are available in archives for researchers to enjoy.

Museums are Cool! (Pun Intended)

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

I am rather lucky to work where I do, for a plethora of reasons.  I’m a history junkie and museum nerd, so working in my field in a subject I love is a blessing.  I work right on the shores of Lake Ontario; on summer mornings, before I begin my day, I’ll often sit and just watch the lake, taking in the silence before the excitement of the day.  I love my community and I love meeting new people, and as Community Engagement co-ordinator, I get to talk about how amazing Oshawa is.  And on the hot, humid, stinking summer days, I get the joys of working in an air conditioned environment!


Visitors are often surprised to walk through the doors of Guy House and discover just how cool it is in here.  All three museum buildings have climate control methods, and while I’d like to say that it is purely for the comfort of staff and guests, that just simply is not the case.  In our collections, housed between our three buildings, we have thousands of artifacts, including clothing, textiles, archaeological collections, cameras, furniture, and much more.  And then, of course, there is the archival collection in Guy House, including around 10,000 photographs of Oshawa, and irreplaceable text documents.  Fluctuations in temperature and relative humidity (RH) are not ideal for collections, so air conditioners are used in the summer for climate control.

According to the Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI), who are essentially the go-to people for Museum conservation standards, fluctuations in temperature and RH are the enemies to museum collections.  It is important to note that temperature and RH are directly related – if a volume of warm air is cooled, then its RH will go up; in turn, if a volume of cool air is warmed, the RH will go down.  Science.

Circled in red is the temperature and RH meter in the Robinson House attic storage area
Circled in red is the temperature and RH meter in the Robinson House attic storage area

What could happen if there is incorrect temperature or humidity?  CCI outlines three broad categories: biological damage (mould growth); chemical damage (including hydrolysis and oxidation); and, mechanical damage (objects naturally expand or contract depending on warm or cool temperatures – this could spell disaster for large objects with many components, like CCI’s example of a chest of drawers or paintings).  By regulating the museum environment and closely monitoring the temperature and relative humidity in our buildings, we are doing our best to deter potential damage to our precious artifacts.

Having A/C is also a nice draw for tours: take a break from the heat and discover more about Oshawa’s past.  The Oshawa Museum: We’re a cool place to visit! (See what I did there?)

%d bloggers like this: