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.
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.
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.
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.
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.