By Jill Passmore, Visitor Experience Co-ordinator
This November I was fortunate enough to speak to about 500 people about wars and remembrance in Oshawa. Each November, the Oshawa Museum launches a Remembrance-themed lecture series available free to community groups and schools.
Stories From the Homefront: Oshawa During the Second World War is based on a memory book project that was completed for the 65th Anniversary of D-Day. Local citizens that lived in Oshawa or had to stay home for some reason, tell us their stories about things like Camp X, knitting, rubber and other salvage drives, rationing etc. I have delivered this lecture many times over the years and am always amazed as new stories emerge. This year I met the niece of one of our participants. I was able to ask her a few personal questions to get a better understanding of her stories she contributed. A man also told me about the time a pilot clipped the old water tower and wires near OCVI, and that OCVI had big drums in the gym for fats and scrap salvaging. I joked about how bad the smell must have been and he confirmed my suspicions. Apparently, you could smell it throughout the entire school!
William James Garrow Jr., from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection
The Letters From the Trenches lecture was developed by Archivist, Jennifer Weymark and features four people who all entered the military for different reasons. Their one connecting thread is that they were all from Oshawa. Two men volunteered, but one was black, a nursing sister also volunteered. The last man faced conscription. Did you know that ‘zombies’ are what the conscripted men were known as? I learned this from one of our Homefront participants. It is fascinating to hear how their stories intertwined and experiences contrasted.
Finally, Wars & Remembrance highlights institutions such as the Ontario Regiment and city landmarks that include the war memorial and band shell in Memorial Park. It also discusses the reason why some of the street names have a poppy beside them. Since 2003, it has been a policy of the City to name streets within new subdivisions for people who lived in Oshawa and died fighting for their country. These streets are usually north of Taunton Rd. E. and west of Harmony Rd. N. There are also a series of streets with names highlighting different aspects of the various wars. For example,
Festhubert Street, Courcelette Avenue, Vimy Avenue, Verdun Road, and St. Eloi Avenue: northeast of the Ritson Rd. S. /Olive Avenue intersection, these roads have been named for battle sites in France during World War I.
Normandy Street, Dunkirk Avenue, Dieppe Avenue, Sedan Court, Brest Court, Sterling Avenue: located northwest of Wilson Rd. S. and Highway 401, the above street were named after battle sites in France during World War II, with Sterling Avenue possibly named after the Sterling Armaments Company, a company which manufactured weapons during WWII.
Kitchener Avenue, Monash Avenue, and Currie Avenue, Montgomery Street: northeast of Ritson Rd. S. and Highway 401, they are named after officers during World War I. Kitchener Avenue refers to Horatio Herbert Kitchener, 1st Earl Kitchener, British; Monash Avenue is after Sir John Monash, Australian; Currie Avenue after the Canadian Arthur Currie; and Montgomery Avenue is after Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery, 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, British.
I have never been in a situation where I felt the call to enlist in the military. With the exception of grandparents, no one else has served. This last month has renewed my interest in wartime history. Researching family history, researching more of what happened in Oshawa during the Second World War, and even watching shows like Band of Brothers. I feel privileged that I am able to talk about these things with my kids and share with them things that their ancestors experienced. All four of their Great-Grandfathers fought in WWII – US Navy, Canadian Army and German Army.
After my last outreach lecture yesterday (November 29 at time of post), myself, the teacher and students had an engaging conversation – trading family histories, talking about WWI-themed video games as teaching tools and resources that they can use to continue explore this genre of history. I left feeling proud and looking back on the last month feel proud of the impact the Oshawa Museum has made on our community. It was always a goal of ours “to present the results of the project through different means of access.”
“This final objective is very important to us. Our project team was committed to ensuring the results of our project would be effectively used and a plan in place to ensure accessibility to the material. We had seen too many community projects designed with good intentions in mind only to have the finished project languish in boxes in an archives. That is where the second part of our goal comes in – to ensure there is a plan in place for the presentation and dissemination of the knowledge. We wanted to connect our research with the community, to find the commonalities that bind us together as a community.”
If you would like to find out more about William Garrow and some of the industries that existed in the 1940s, please check out the Oshawa Museum’s online exhibits at