Family Tales and (In)Famous Taverns

By Mia V., Summer Student

Continuously figuring out how my own family’s stories fit into the grander narrative of History with a capital H is my favourite part of historical research. I’ve realized the importance of this on a larger scale while researching for the Oshawa Museum’s oral history project on displaced persons and post-WWII immigration more generally. Most recently, I’ve realized how the two strands – family history and post-war history – converged with local history as I researched the hotel located at 394 Simcoe St. S.

My grandpa, who goes by Joe, first bought this hotel along with his uncle (my great-great-uncle) George Radusin. A Serb from Yugoslavia, George’s story of immigration mirrors that of many displaced persons. After fighting in the Second World War, he survived and made it to Italy. With the help of the Allied armies, he moved through several different resettlement camps in Italy and in Germany and eventually made it to Canada. In Sudbury, he worked in the mines and, like most other displaced persons, soon sought a safer and more fulfilling career – which happened to be in hotels and investments. In Cornwall, over two decades after the war, he was able to help my grandpa – his nephew – join him. My grandma, mom, and uncle were eventually able to join my grandpa after four years apart from each other. Despite the two separate waves of immigration – post-1945 and then the 1970s – this kind of ‘chain migration’ is another very common theme in immigration stories. (Please see the entry “Family’s Journey” on our online exhibit if you would like to learn more.)

With all that said, where does the local history of Oshawa – and this one hotel – fit into the story? According to an article from the Oshawa Times, the hotel on Simcoe Street South was built in 1886.[1] Unfortunately, despite digging around in city directories, I was not able to confirm this year. As for the original building, it is quite clear that it has gone through extensive expansion and renovation. In any case, it is interesting to note that, at least in the years 1921-1936, it was owned (and resided in for at least some of the time) by J.D. Storie. You may recognize his name because he is known as the founder of Fittings Limited. After Storie passed away in 1936, the lot remained vacant and afterwards was sold to two separate owners – a William Patterson and a A.W. Jewell, as listed in 1939.

In 1945 or 1946, it became the Cadillac Hotel, at least in part (as the property also had the second identifier of S.S. Vassar). The location was in fact ideal for a hotel at this time. The railway station was only a short walk away, and it was therefore possible to wait for the train at the hotel, as another relative of Joe’s had done (he was also coincidentally someone who settled in Oshawa as a displaced person after the war).

1960s postcard. The back advertises the hotel as “Oshawa’s newest,” boasting “modern rooms” and an “attractive dining room.”

Hotels were quite a lucrative business in Oshawa’s “early days,” welcoming weary travellers over land (by stage-coach or horseback) which meant they required frequent rests.[2] A newspaper article dating back to around 1963, says that the Cadillac Hotel has been seen as “one of Oshawa’s finest hotels.” It had the look of an “old English manor” but was still “equipped to provide all of today’s modern comforts to its patrons.” Various events and functions, including bowling banquets and staff parties were held there. By the 1970s, however, the nearby station was closed for passenger service[3] – perhaps playing a role in the changing reputation of the hotel. The hotel also changed hands several times – and names, once, to the Karlin Hotel.

My grandpa Joe on the left and a bartender Tony on the right. The article’s caption says that the new owners are “hoping the name, atmosphere and policy attract a different climate.”

And, here is where my family story begins to intersect once again! In 1982, my grandpa Joe and his uncle George bought the Karlin Hotel and set about transforming it into the Simcoe Tavern the following year. After some very intense renovations, the hotel was apparently unrecognizable for patrons who visited it. The changes including adhering to requirements in order to gain an additional liquor license as well as a battle with the city (primarily regarding the family atmosphere of the neighbourhood).

Business card for the Simcoe Tavern, advertising its two bars – attracting a wide clientele

However, prior to the renovations, Joe wondered whether he had made the right decision in buying the place. Had he known about the hotel’s more sordid history, he said, he would’ve stayed in Cornwall. This impression was reinforced on the first night of reopening the bar when a fight actually broke out! With the strict measure of initially banning seventy individuals (in a list that hung over the bar), business headed in the right direction.[4] The two bars became the Rock Connection – known for booking in local rock and roll bands and especially tribute bands from Toronto – and Spurs which played country music. Booking rock bands cost “almost twice as much as country bands,” however, and, once the nearby Purple Onion began “booking all rock bands, the competition was too stiff.”[5]

The Side Street Inn in the early 1990s, the hotel as Mia knew it

Joe sold the hotel in 1991, but was actually back to running it by 1993 – with a new name now, the Street Side Inn. In those years, the hotel continued to improve its reputation for good local music – especially with the Moon Room. Finally, in 2007, Joe sold the hotel in preparation for retirement.

Real estate listing from 2007

History, as I’ve come to believe, is really made up of smaller stories like these. I would encourage anyone interested (who hasn’t already!) to investigate all those stories they grew up hearing about, especially those related to local landmarks they spent so much time in.

[1] Laura Lind, “Rock Connection closes: Simcoe Tavern club becomes sporting goods store,” The Oshawa Times, Feb. 16, 1991.

[2] “Hotels were important in early days of Oshawa,” The Oshawa Times, July 30 1984.

[3] “Oshawa Station (Canadian Pacific Railway),” Toronto Railway Historical Association

[4] “Karlin Hotel becomes Oshawa’s Simcoe Tavern after $35,000,” Oshawa This Week, Jun. 17 1982.

[5] Lind, “Rock Connection closes.”

Where The Streets Get Their Names – Simcoe Street

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

Maps fascinate me.  I remember road trips with my grandparents, and in one of the pockets behind the front seats, there would be a Map Art atlas for the Greater Toronto Area; while they drove from Point A to Point B, I would study the maps.  I found the Oshawa maps particularly interesting, partly because it was my hometown, but also because the subdivisions had themes.  I could search and find the authors, the Arthurian Legend Streets, the birds, the flowers!  Once I started working with Oshawa’s history, I began to appreciate the meanings and the stories behind some of our more well travelled arteries.

Simcoe Street
Simcoe Street

Simcoe Street is one such roadway.  It is not only a major north-south road for Oshawa, but as a Regional Road, it also traverses through Scugog Township (Port Perry) and Brock Township, measuring almost 62 kilometres in length!  I drive along Simcoe Street on a daily basis (save the odd weekend) because the Museum is located right at the foot of Simcoe Street, at its southern terminus at Lake Ontario.

The southern terminus to Simcoe Street, which ends at Lake Ontario.  Side note, it's a pretty view when the snow isn't grey and melty.
The southern terminus to Simcoe Street, which ends at Lake Ontario. Side note, it’s a pretty view when the snow isn’t grey and melty.

Simcoe Street is not the best example to start with if I am looking to share the local histories behind Oshawa’s street names, but rather I will start with Simcoe because its story is one that is shared with other ‘Simcoe’ places in Ontario.  It received its name from the first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada from 1791 to 1796, John Graves Simcoe. Simcoe was responsible for a number of improvements to the newly created province, including the first Act Against Slavery in all of the British Empire, the founding of York (Toronto) and laying the foundation for their road system, including the foundation of two major roads, Yonge Street and Dundas Street, and began the policy of granting land to settlers leaving the US after the Revolutionary War.

John Graves Simcoe, from Library & Archives Canada
John Graves Simcoe, from Library & Archives Canada

Basically, Simcoe was kinda a big deal.

Locally, Simcoe Street has been in use for almost 200 years.  Samuel Pedlar makes note in his papers about a settler named George Hinkson who, “in the year 1828… underbrushed and blazed the Reach Road from the settlement on the 2d concession (now Oshawa) to the Widdifield Creek in the 4th concession.”   Historically, Simcoe Street has also gone by the name Reach Road, perhaps because it eventually travelled north to Reach Township.  Pedlar also talks of others in the 1820s who worked to clear the road from Oshawa to Prince Albert.

It feels like a very modern concern, to take issue with road conditions and road improvements, but it appears that in 1840s, a number of concerned citizens were writing to Robert Baldwin, Premier from 1843-46, about local road improvements.  The main bone of contention was where to put improvements, with Oshawa citizens wanting to see Simcoe Street developed, which in turn would facilitate business from the Sydenham Harbour through the village of Oshawa and then to the northern townships; Peter Perry,of Whitby on the other side of the argument, advocated funds going towards a road leading north from Windsor Bay (Whitby).  Ultimately money was given to both projects, but not before passionate letters from both sides were sent to Baldwin throughout the mid-1840s. I’m rather amused that road improvements were fought about over 150 years ago, and it still is today.  It’s reassuring, perhaps, that somethings never change.

Simcoe Street was one of the the first paved streets in Oshawa, with the Asphalt Paving Co. of Windsor being awarded the contract in 1911.  It was paved from the south side of Richmond and Dukes Streets (the story of these two streets could be told another day), to the south side of Athol Street.  Also paved were Athol Street and King Street.  This paving process did not impede businesses, and it drew crowds of by-standers to watch the modernization take place.

Paving the streets at the Four Corners, from the Oshawa Archives Collection
Paving the streets at the Four Corners, from the Oshawa Archives Collection

Simcoe Street is a major road for Oshawa and Durham Region, and it has been host to parades, celebrations, shops, restaurants, education,and culture; along Simcoe Street, one can find the Oshawa Community Museum, the Canadian Automotive Museum, and Parkwood (with the Robert McLaughlin Gallery being just off Simcoe).  Simcoe and King form the Four Corners, the dividing line for north/south/east/west, but it is at the Four Corners that our community truly grew together, expanded, and flourished.

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