Street Name Stories: Building a Nation Part IV: The War of 1812

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

With the plethora of 150 commemorations taking place this year, I thought I could use my usual Street Name Stories blog series to throw another hat in the ring.  Looking at a map of Oshawa, there are a number of streets whose names are commonplace in the history of Canada.  Over the next five Street Name Stories Posts, I will look at street(s) whose namesakes helped contribute to the growth of Canada.  Missed the first three posts?

Part I looked at Oshawa’s Indigenous People
Part II looked at the early European Explorers
Part III looked at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham

There are a few streets in Oshawa that have ties to the War of 1812, including Brock Street, Tecumseh Avenue, and (for a local link) Henry Street.

In 1812, the people of Canada found themselves at war when the US, angry with Great Britain, attacked their possessions in North America.  This came after years of escalating tensions. The US President at the time was James Madison, who signed the Declaration of War on June 18, 1812, and because we were colonies of Great Britain, Upper and Lower Canada, New Brunswick, PEI, Nova Scotia, Cape Breton and Newfoundland were all swept up into the war. Shortly after the declaration, Thomas Jefferson was quoted as saying:

“The acquisition of Canada this year, as far as the neighborhood of Quebec, will be a mere matter of marching; & will give us experience for the attack of Halifax the next, & the final expulsion of England from the American continent.”Thomas Jefferson to William Duane, 4 August 1812

Hindsight tells us that Jefferson was wrong. Not the first time for this founding father. But I digress.

War rhetoric was plentiful on both sides.  In response to early attacks by Americans, Major General Isaac Brock proclaimed:

“Every Canadian freeholder is, by deliberate choice, bound by the most solemn oaths to defend the monarchy as well as his own property. To shrink from that engagement is a treason not to be forgiven.”

 

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Isaac Brock, from the 1908 book “The Story of Isaac Brock” by Walter R. Nursey.

Isaac Brock (b. 1769) had been stationed in North America since 1802, and knowing a conflict was likely inevitable, when war was declared, Upper Canada was not caught off-guard thanks to Brock.  The first initial skirmishes of the war were won by the Canadians, including the capture of Fort Detroit by Brock, along with the First Nations leader Tecumseh, and the Battle of Queenston Heights.  Although Queenston was successful, one of the many casualties was General Brock.

In 1813, the Americans launched a successful seaborne attack on the capital of Upper Canada, York (Toronto), after which looting and plundering resulted in the burning of York.  In the same year the Americans attacked Niagara and captured Fort George, forcing the British to withdraw from the Niagara Peninsula.

That fall, the Americans undertook their largest offensive of the war by sending an army down the St. Lawrence River and another across the border into Lower Canada (Quebec) to capture Montreal, and they saw defeat twice.  The first battle was the Battle of Chateuaguau, successfully defended by French Canadian commander Charles de Salaberry and his group of Canadian Voltigeurs, militiamen and Indigenous warriors, The second defeat took place at Crysler’s Farm. After both of these defeats the Americans gave up on the invasion of Lower Canada.

In 1814, the last year of the war, the British made a successful attack on Washington. We retaliated for the burning of our capital by burning the White House. The Americans made a major effort in the Niagara Peninsula, where several major battles took place including Lundy’s Lane. This campaign ended with the Americans leaving their positions in November.

On December 24, 1814, representatives from Britain and America signed the Treaty of Ghent, which once ratified, officially ended the war in 1815.  However, news didn’t travel fast enough in 1815, because the last battle of the War of 1812 was the Battle of New Orleans in January, a defeat for the British.

The War of 1812 is an interesting conflict to study because the British (Canadians) and Americans both claim to be the victors.  The Americans assert that because the British stopped impressing American sailors (seizing native-born Americans and put them into service on British ships) and because they won the last battle, they are the winners.  Canadians, instead view the war as a victory for us as we successfully repelled the invasion and stopped American expansionism.

If the Americans and British/Canadians were the winners of the War of 1812, there was unfortunately a loser – the First Nations.  As stated by the Canadian Encyclopedia:

The First Nations allies of the British and Canadian cause suffered much because of the war; not only had they lost many warriors (including the great Tecumseh), they also lost any hope of halting American expansion in the west, and their contributions were quickly forgotten by their British and Canadian allies.

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Tecumseh, Shawnee chief, painting by W.B. Turner (courtesy Metropolitan Toronto Library, J. Ross Robertson/T-16600). Image from Canadian Encyclopedia

The Canadian victory would not have been possible had it not been for our First Nation allies, and yet, their story is often overlooked, or ‘forgotten.’  Tecumseh wasn’t fighting for King and Country as many British Regulars would have been; he was fighting for the plight of his people and for the hope of uniting the First Nations.  Tecumseh was shot and killed in the Battle of the Thames in 1813.

The War of 1812 is an important reminder that perspective is everything in history.

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Street Name Stories: Building a Nation Pt. III, Plaines d’Abraham

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

With the plethora of 150 commemorations taking place this year, I thought I could use my usual Street Name Stories blog series to throw another hat in the ring.  Looking at a map of Oshawa, there are a number of streets whose names are commonplace in the history of Canada.  Over the next five Street Name Stories Posts, I will look at street(s) whose namesakes helped contribute to the growth of Canada.  In Part I, we looked at Oshawa’s Indigenous People who have called the our country home for thousands of years, and Part II looked at the early European Explorers.

There are many moments one can look at in the history of Canada which are clearly a defining moment, a turning point. September 13, 1759 is one such moment: the Battle of the Plains of Abraham.

First, context. In the mid-1700s, North America was home to many different European colonies; New France was well and successful, while to its south, England’s Thirteen Colonies were also thriving, not quite yet feeling the sentiments of discontent that would lead to the American Revolution. Those were coming. An ocean away, the colonizers, England and France, were none to pleased with each other.  Everything came to a head in 1854, the start of what would become the Seven Years War.  Its name is derived from the seven primary years of conflict, from 1856 to 1863, and it would result in conflicts in Europe, the Americas, West Africa, India, and the Philippines, five continents in all. The Seven Years War could be considered one of the first global conflicts, a world war.

In North America, the English were at war with the French and First Nations.  After a series of skirmishes, including the capture of  Louisbourg on Île Royale (Cape Breton Island) and other French possessions in the Atlantic, the British forces continued their campaign further into New France, eventually reaching Quebec City.

Through the summer of 1759, the French were secure in their fortified city.  The British, led by General James Wolfe, tried to deplete stock and supplies and also tried a few strategic maneuvers to ‘lure’ the French to attack, but Marquis de Montcalm, the French officer leading the troops, held firm.

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Photographs from around the Plains of Abraham

Wolfe saw opportunity on the morning of September 13; in the very wee hours, the British force managed to secure their position.  As described by the Canadian Encyclopedia:

…By 8 a.m. the entire force of 4,500 men had assembled. The British force stretched across the Plains of Abraham (named for 17th-century fisherman Abraham Martin) in a shallow horseshoe formation about 1 km long and two ranks deep.

I would imagine this was quite the sight for Montcalm and the French forces. Montcalm had a force of roughly the same size; where they differ is in experience.  The French forces were comprised of soldiers, militia, and First Nations; the British forces were regular soldiers, highly experienced and well trained.  Montcalm decided to attack immediately, hoping to catch the British unprepared.

Here’s where hindsight comes in handy: many historians believe that if Montcalm waited for reinforcements rather than act right away, the result of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham may have turned out differently.  The battle resulted in a retreat from the French forces, and both Wolfe and Montcalm died due to wounds.

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“The Death of General Wolfe,” by Benjamin West, oil on canvas. The Royal Ontario Museum has this portrait in their collection, an ‘Iconic’ artefact. This Video has a great analysis of its importance and symbolism.

The Plains of Abraham wasn’t the final battle of the conflict, but it represents the turning point in the North American theatre. By September 1760, British forces manage to capture Montreal, and the Treaty of Paris in 1763 brings an end to the Seven Years War. This treaty results in New France being ceded to the British, the start of British rule of what would become Canada.

 

Wolfe Street is found off Simcoe Street, south of Bloor; Oshawa’s Harmon Park Arena is located on Wolfe Street.  Montcalm is located one street south of King Street between Waverly and Stevenson.


References

Official website for the Plains of Abraham, National Battlesite Commission: http://www.ccbn-nbc.gc.ca/en/

The Canadian Encyclopedia: http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/battle-of-the-plains-of-abraham/

Street Name Stories: Building a Nation Pt. II, The Explorers

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

With the plethora of 150 commemorations taking place this year, I thought I could use my usual Street Name Stories blog series to throw another hat in the ring.  Looking at a map of Oshawa, there are a number of streets whose names are commonplace in the history of Canada.  Over the next five Street Name Stories Post, I will look at street(s) whose namesakes helped contribute to the growth of Canada.  In Part I, we looked at Oshawa’s Indigenous People who have called the our country home for thousands of years.

The earliest Europeans to arrive at North America were the Norse who settled for a time at L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland; their stay was brief and did not make an overall impact in the settling of Canada.  Their story is an interesting footnote, but it is generally regarded as just that rather than the next chapter of our story. That chapter begins in the late 1400s.  At the turn of the 16th Century, a slew of European explorers began to take to the high seas and ‘discover the new world.’  In 1497, John Cabot arrived at Canada’s Atlantic coast and claimed it for England, and less than 40 years later, the French explorer Jacques Cartier sailed the St. Lawrence and in turn claimed it for France. Several attempts to colonize and settle in this ‘newly discovered country’ were made and generally unsuccessful; the climates were harsh and disease was prevalent. Nevertheless, trading posts and companies were also established, and in 1608, Quebec City was founded by Samuel de Champlain.

Champlain is an interesting figure in our history.  He was an explorer and cartographer who created many early maps of what is today Quebec and Ontario.  He established good relationships with the Huron (Wendat) peoples, relationships that helped the French settlers survive the Canadian winters.  In turn, hostile relationships with the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) were forged as the Wendat and Haudenosaunee were already opponents.  Champlain would travel back and forth across the Atlantic a number of times in his life, and he died in Quebec City in 1635.  New France would grow and thrive over the next century until the Battle of the Plains of Abraham.  More on that next month.

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Statue of Samuel de Champlain located on Dufferin Terrace, Quebec City

Cabot Street and Cartier Avenue are found southeast of King and Stevenson; other explorers in that neighbourhood include Frobisher Court (English explorer who sought the northwest passage), Valdez Court (Spanish naval man who first circumnavigated Vancouver Island),  and Vancouver Court and Street (another British explorer who navigated around Canada’s Pacific Coast and namesake for Vancouver Island and the City of Vancouver).  Champlain Avenue is found directly north of Highway 401 between Thickson Road in Whitby and Stevenson Road in Oshawa.


Want to know more about these early explorers? 

The Dictionary of Canadian Biography has in-depth looks at Cabot, Cartier, and Champlain.

For a more ‘readers digest’ version, the Canadian Encyclopedia gives an excellent overview of their lives and expeditions (Cabot, Cartier, and Champlain).

Where The Streets Get Their Name – Vimy Avenue

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

“The whole Empire will rejoice at the news of yesterday’s successful operations. Canada will be proud that the taking of the coveted Vimy Ridge has fallen to the lot of her troops. I heartily congratulate you and all who have taken part in this splendid achievement.”¹

There are many anniversaries being celebrated in 2017.  Canada marks 150 of confederation, which means the Province of Ontario is also 150 years old. Locally, the Oshawa Historical Society is celebrating 60, the Robert McLaughlin Gallery is celebrating 50, and Parkwood National Historic Site is 100, with construction of RS McLaughlin’s mansion completed in 1917.  Another 100 year milestone being commemorated is 100 years since the Battle of Vimy Ridge, a landmark battle in the First World War. which took place from April 7 to 12, 1917.

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The Canadian Vimy Ridge Memorial, located near Vimy, France; photographer: L. Terech, 2012

As our archivist Jennifer Weymark relayed in one of her podcasts about Vimy Ridge:

The battle at Vimy Ridge is considered by many historians to be a defining moment in Canadian history.  It was during this battle that Canadian troops were heralded for their bravery and their strength and for leading a stunning victory. This victory was not without great cost in terms of loss of life as over 10 000 Canadian were killed or wounded in this battle. Vimy Ridge was the first time all four Canadian divisions attached as together.  The battle was considered a turning point in the war and holding the ridge was important to the eventual allied victory.

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Phillip J. Phillips, from the archival collection of the Oshawa Museum

One Oshawa man, Phillip J. Phillips, was part of the 116th Battalion and fought with the 18th Canadian Infantry Battalion during the battle of Vimy Ridge. He survived the initial battle and was relived from the front line by the 24th Battalion.  At this time the 18th Battalion moved back to the divisional reserve on April 13th.  On May 6th, the battalion moved back to the front to relieve the 24th  Battalion.  The front line was under heavy shell fire.  On May 7th, 5 soldiers were killed, 13 wounded, under continuous bombardment of gas-shells by the Germans.  Phillips was one of the five that were killed that day.  He was buried at the Vimy Communal Cemetery, near Lens, France.

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Vimy Avenue was a street that was developed during the 1920s, a period of growth for the City of Oshawa.  It is found in the neighbourhood northeast of Olive and Ritson, and other streets in its vicinity include Verdun Road, Courcellette Avenue, St. Eloi Avenue, and Festhurbert Street, all named in honour of significant World War I battles.  These streets all feature a poppy on the sign.

Lest we forget.


¹ His Majesty the King to Field-Marshall Sir Douglas Haig, April 10, 1917. War Diary, 4th Canadian Infantry Brigade. RG 9, series III, vol. 4881, folders 236-239.  Accessed from https://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/firstworldwar/025005-1300-e.html 

 

For further reading about the Battle of Vimy Ridge, please visit the following sites:

Canadian War Museum, The Battle of Vimy Ridge, 9-12 April 1917

Canadian Encyclopedia, The Battle of Vimy Ridge

Veterans Affairs Canada, The Battle of Vimy Ridge

Historica Canada, The Battle of Vimy Ridge (Heritage Minute)

Where The Streets Get Their Name – Ontario Street

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

In case you haven’t heard, 2017 is a big milestone year for Canada, as this year marks the 150th anniversary of the signing of the British North America Act, or to put it very simply, it’s Canada’s 150th birthday. The BNA Act (today known as the Constitution Act) created the Dominion of Canada which today has grown to ten provinces and three territories.  In 1867, our modest country was comprised of only four provinces: Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia.

Our province is also celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. Before officially becoming named the Province of Ontario in 1867, Quebec and Ontario were united as the Province of Canada, comprised of Canada West (today Ontario) and Canada East (Quebec).

Why am I rehashing a Canadian History 101 course in this post? Today, we’re looking at the story behind Ontario Street, a street found in the heart of our downtown core.

The name Ontario and its usage is much older than the province itself.  Let’s go back to pre-historical times, pre-history meaning the period of time before written records. Before European arrival, the Indigenous people called this land home for thousands of years.  Prior to 1700, the area was inhabited by the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) First Nations, and their name for the lake they lived by was skanadario, meaning ‘beautiful water.’  Another possible root for the word may be from the Wendat (Huron) word Ontarí:io, meaning ‘great lake.’  When the Province of Ontario was created in 1867, it was named after Lake Ontario.

Usage of the name Ontario in this area pre-dates Confederation.  The County of Ontario was created in 1852 and it was the ‘upper-tier municipality’ in which Oshawa was located.  It was in existence until the mid-1970s when county lines were redrawn and the Regional Municipality of Durham was created.  The County of Ontario was comprised of the following townships:

  • Brock, with communities including Cannington, Vroomanton, Pinedale, Sunderland, Wick.
  • Mara, community centres were: Gamebridge, Brechin, Atherley, Udney and Rathburn.
  • Pickering; Community centres: Pickering, Dunbarton, Green River, Balsam, Claremont, Brougham, Altona.
  • Rama; Community centres: Floral Park, Longford Mills, Cooper’s Falls, Washago.
  • Reach; Community centres: Port Perry, Manchester, Saintfield, Utica.
  • Scott, whose communities included Zephyr, Sandford, Leaskdale, Udora.
  • Thorah, community centers: Beaverton.
  • Uxbridge; Community Centres: Uxbridge, Goodwood.
  • Whitby and East Whitby; Community centres: Oshawa, Whitby, Brooklin, Ashburn and Myrtle.
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Detail of Tackabury Map showing Ontario County, on display in Henry House.

On display in Henry House is a map from 1862.  I’ll often encourage visitors to find Oshawa on this map, and instinctively, they start looking within the limits marked as Durham, because that’s where we are today.  Instead, we can be found on the eastern edge of the County of Ontario. For several reasons, that map may be one of my favourite artifacts in the Museum, but I digress.

To discover the history of Oshawa’s Ontario Street, we turn to documents in our archival holdings, like maps and directories.  The earliest such document in the archival holdings is the 1869-70 County of Ontario Directory, and it lists a number of people who made their home on Ontario Street.  It is safe to say that this street is older than 1869, but how much older is hard to say without the historical evidence.

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Corner of King and Ontario Streets in 1920 (left) and 1995 (right)