Joseph Smith and Thomas Henry

By Jill Passmore, Visitor Experience Coordinator

Joseph Smith Jr. was born in 1806 to Joseph Smith Sr. and Lucy Mack. Their family travelled and frequently moved so that Smith Jr. would think nothing of his long journeys as an adult. Around 1816, the Smiths were part of “a New England exodus across the Great Lakes region in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, children of the decaying utopia of Puritan New England following paths since wrenched askew from those of their ancestors.”1 After the Revolutionary War, many American Loyalist families chose to leave New England, making Upper and Lower Canada their homes. Analogous to this were John and Nancy Henry, who immigrated from Ireland in 1811, landed in New York City, and slowly made their way to East Whitby in Upper Canada.

Joseph Smith’s religious journey is oddly similar to Thomas (son of John and Nancy) Henry’s. “Joseph embarked on his usual religious inquiries when he was barely an adolescent”2 just as Thomas Henry was “when very young, the subject of religious impressions.”3

Before becoming a Christian, Thomas Henry explored Episcopalianism, Methodism, and Calvinism. Then, in 1825, he met a Mr. Blackmar, an Elder that had “‘taken his life in his hand,’ and gone forth to preach the gospel, relying for support only on Him who feeds the ravens, and marks the sparrows fall.”4  These ministers took only the name of ‘Christian’ as their religion.

The Christian Church (also known as the Disciples of Christ) rejected all denominations during the Second Great Awakening (1790 – 1840). Alex Beam, author of American Crucifixion: The Murder of Joseph Smith and the Fate of the Mormon Church, describes the Second Great Awakening as “a breakout period of radical, passionate rethinking of traditional Christian worship…new doctrine was everywhere.”5

On April 30, 1830, Smith “announced the formation of the Church of Christ…converts came from evangelical Methodism and from the followers of evangelist Alexander Campbell, who, like Joseph, was preaching a primitive Christianity, calling for a restoration of Christ’s church on earth, in anticipation of the Second Coming.”6 Then, on December 31, 18317, Alexander Campbell and Barton W. Stone came together and officially merged their beliefs to form the Disciples of Christ – also known as the Christian Church or Church of Christ. Mr. Blackmar, whom Thomas Henry met in 1825, was an early Disciple of Christ missionary.

On September 4, 1825, Thomas Henry

was at work alone in the field. I wept and prayed and again reviewed my past life: again my sins stood in dark array before me. My eyes were bathed in tears and my heart was ready to break; and there, alone in the field, I confessed my sins, and promised to obey God in all things. Bless His name! He not only humbled, but exalted me then and there! A great light broke into my mind; I forgot all my trouble, was strongly relieved of every burden and all distress, while my whole soul seemed full of bliss; my tongue was loosed, and I cried, “Glory to God!’ Then I sat down and asked myself what this meant.8

Seven years later, Sidney Rigdon, an “urbane and erudite Campbellite preacher”9 and his congregation (Disciples of Christ/Christian), joined Joseph Smith in 1830. “Joseph admired Rigdon, famed for his fiery, revivalist preaching, and often deferred to the older man on theological questions or when it came time to deliver an important speech. The two men shared a famous 1832 vision, staring into the sky for over an hour while receiving a revelation of the three-tiered stratification of heaven.”10

The above comparisons will become part of further research on the E.S. Shrapnel print entitled “Mormons attempt to raise the dead.” Thus, there is finally solid evidence that Joseph Smith did visit Oshawa in the early days of this new religion and made some converts from this and surrounding areas of the Home District. Please visit for updates and to see other prints.

  1. Bowman, Matthew. The Mormon People: The Making of an American Faith. Random House, 2012. 6.
  2. Beam, Alex. American Crucifixion: The Murder of Joseph Smith and the Fate of the Mormon Church, Public Affairs, New York, 2015, 15.
  3. Henry, Polly Ann, Stoney Kudel and Laura Suchan. The Annotated Memoir of Rev. Thomas Henry. The Oshawa Historical Society, 2017, 30.
  4. Henry, et al., 32-34.
  5. Beam, 15.
  6. Ibid, 19.
  7. Davis, M. M. (1915). How the Disciples Began and Grew, A Short History of the Christian Church, Cincinnati: The Standard Publishing Company.
  8. Henry, et al., 37.
  9. Beam, 24.
  10. Ibid.

Student Museum Musings – Stained-Glass Windows into the Past

By Mia V., Summer Student

Since my last update, I have been continuing to research and work on the design for next year’s exhibit on the resettlement of displaced people and immigration stories in Oshawa. Following the threads of research has led me to the significant network of Ukrainian churches that were found in the city. Despite sharing the designation of Ukrainian, it was clear enough that they all belonged to different branches of Christianity – one was Eastern Catholic, others were Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Baptist, and… two were Orthodox? Herein lay the confusion, since both Orthodox churches co-existed in time and on the very same neighbourhood block.

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“Oshawa’s Churches: Greek Orthodox;” image appeared in Oshawa Daily Reformer, 30 June 1927, p 25.

The ground on the corner of Bloor-Ritson was first consecrated for an Orthodox church in 1916. This church was alternately called Russian, Ukrainian, and Greek Orthodox in street directories and newspapers. Often the key descriptor of Orthodox was omitted and it was only called Greek – making it easy to confuse with the Greek Catholic church from just a few streets over. In fact, the Ukrainians of the (Greek) Orthodox Christian faith first called the Bloor-Ritson church home. The name confusion did not stop there, however, since the full name of the church differs greatly in translation. The Ukrainian would be “Church of the Nativity of the Most Holy Mother of God.” However, in colloquial English it was known most often as “St. Mary’s.”

PicMonkey Image

This Ukrainian Orthodox church was built by an early wave of Ukrainian immigrants to Oshawa, many of whom came from the area of Bukovina which borders (and finds itself partly in) Romania. Since religious life was inseparably intertwined with cultural and social life, the choice of a parish was central to how one would find friends and generally engage with their culture. Fortunately, Oshawa had many options.

Greek Cath
“Oshawa’s Churches: Greek Catholic;” image appeared in Oshawa Daily Reformer, 30 June 1927, p 25.

Just a few streets over was the Ukrainian (Greek) Catholic church. In 1935, the majority of the congregation followed their priest into the Orthodox Church after his dispute with the presiding bishop (surrounding his ordination and time of marriage).


Just a few months later, the first building for the St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Orthodox Church was built on the same location where it stands today – on the corner of Bloor and Simcoe streets. All of this is to say that, for several years, there were two Ukrainian Orthodox churches on Bloor Street. According to one participant in the Museum’s ongoing oral history project, both churches were consistently full, and members of each parish would attend the same events. It certainly seems there was need for both of them in this period in order to help service the influx of Ukrainian immigration to Oshawa after World War II.

“Church of the Nativity of the Most Holy Mother of God in Oshawa, Ontario;” image appeared in Богослуження православної церкви: Підручник для недільних шкіл [Services in the Orthodox Church: A Sunday School Textbook], 1956.
In 1953, St. Mary’s was enlarged and rebuilt completely, on the same location as before. It now had, as the Toronto Star called it, “Byzantine-style domes” and overall resembled “a castle in a kingdom of bungalows.” Eventually, however, numbers dwindled significantly. Deciding against joining St. John’s from down the street, the aging congregation chose to accept no new members and sold the church only on the condition that they could still use it. Their designated service is in Ukrainian once a month, with a priest driving in from Scarborough.

In 1987, the church was sold to the Greek Orthodox community – making the church genuinely Greek for the first time. In 2012, the Greeks sold the church to the Romanians since they needed more space for themselves. This is, in fact, another kind of full circle since the original founders of the church would have been from the Ukrainian-Romanian border region of Bukovina.


Focusing on this one church, then, provides a great window into the past from which it is possible to see the interactions between the various Ukrainian religious communities and other cultural communities in the city. The way that the church changed ownership provides great insight into immigration trends as well – from the earliest Ukrainian, to the Greek, and the Romanian here in Oshawa.


Gerus, Mitrat Fr. S. Богослуження православної церкви: Підручник для недільних шкіл [Services in the Orthodox Church: A Sunday School Textbook]. Winnipeg: Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church of Canada, 1956.

Leong, Melissa. “Time takes its toll on congregation.” Toronto Star, April 13, 2003.

Momryk, Myron. Mike Starr of Oshawa: A Political Biography. Ottawa: Canadian Museum of History and University of Ottawa Press, 2017.

Additional research from the Oshawa Museum archival collection.

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