Where The Streets Get Their Names – The Poppy on the Signs

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

This is the time of year when we remember.  From late October to November 11, as a sign of respect and remembrance, I wear a poppy on my left lapel, honouring those who fought for Canada’s freedom.  If you drive around Oshawa, you might notice that poppies can be seen year round, on certain street signs: Vimy Avenue, Verdun Road, Veterans Road, Spencely Drive, Chadburn Street, to name only a few.  Some streets, like Vimy and Verdun, have been named as such for several years; the poppy is a newer addition, signifying that the street’s name is in honour of a battle, veteran, or one of Oshawa’s war dead.

The poppy has been a symbol of remembrance since the Napoleonic wars, however, a poem written by Canadian soldier John McCrae helped to solidify its position in our collective memory.  After the death of a friend, McCrae was moved by his grief and his surroundings, and he penned the 15 lined poem in 20 minutes.

The poppy was adopted by the Great War Veteran’s Association in Canada (later the Royal Canadian Legion) as its official Flower of Remembrance on July 5, 1921.  Lapel poppies began being made in 1922 and are still sold every fall leading up to November 11.

Vimy & Verdun
Vimy & Verdun

In the 1920s, Oshawa saw growth in our city, not only in population, but also in urban planning, for it was during the 1920s that Verdun Road, Vimy Avenue, St. Julien Street, Courcellette Avenue, St. Eloi Avenue, and Festhurbert Street appeared.  These streets have been named in honour of significant World War I battles. Interestingly, as was seen with Phillip Murray Avenue and Gibb Street, the spelling of Festhubert Avenue has changed over the years.  The spelling was originally Festubert, which accurately reflects the spelling of the Battle of Festubert.  As well, St. Julien is no longer in use; sometime between 1954 and 1956 the City consolidated three consecutive streets into one name. Yonge Street and St. Julian St. all became known as Oshawa Blvd.

Dunkirk Avenue
Dunkirk Avenue

Located northwest of Wilson Road and Highway 401 is a cluster of streets, including Normandy Street, Dunkirk Avenue, Dieppe Avenue, Sedan Court, and Brest Court, all named for battle sites in France during World War II.  They were named in the mid-1950s.

Since 2003, it has been a policy of the City of Oshawa to name streets within new subdivision plans in honour of individuals who lived in Oshawa and died fighting for their country. Many of such streets can be found north of Taunton Rd. E. and west of Harmony Rd. N.

A nomination form can be filled out with information that includes length of service, community service and length of residency in Oshawa, and handed into City Hall to be considered for the street name reserve list; this list is used for the naming of new street subdivisions.

If used, the war dead/veteran’s name will be put on a street sign with a poppy motif. Nomination forms can be found on the City of Oshawa’s webpage.

In April 2015, Chick Hewett Lane became the 51st street named for an Oshawa Veteran, named in honour of a local veteran who flew 35 bombing missions during the Second World War.

It may be a small gesture, but by naming certain streets after battles or soldiers, this helps to keep their efforts at the forefront, and it is one of the many ways that we show our respect and remember their sacrifices.  Lest we forget.

Where The Streets Get Their Names – Gibb Street

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

When I’m giving a tour through Henry House and we get to the bedroom, I typically find myself asking if my guests have heard of Oshawa’s Gibbs brothers?  The answer I usually receive is “No,” however, if I ask them if they’ve heard of the McLaughlins, “yes”es and head nods are the response.  The story of Oshawa’s own BeeGees (Brothers Gibbs – see what I did there?) has seemingly been forgotten over the years. Who were they, why are they important, and why was Gibb Street named for them?

The brothers were born in Terrebonne, Quebec where they lived until 1832 when they moved to Oshawa.  Their father, Thomas Gibbs, helped run the South Oshawa Milling Company owned by their uncle, John Gibbs.  When they were older, both boys were sent to England to be properly educated.  They returned to Oshawa where they helped their father and uncle with the milling business.

As time passed, the brothers became known among the leading millers of Ontario and within three years they had acquired most of the cultivated land from Lake Simcoe to Lake Ontario.

Thomas Nicholson Gibbs; photograph from Library and Archives Canada
Thomas Nicholson Gibbs; photograph from Library and Archives Canada

When the first village council was elected in 1850, Thomas Gibbs was named Oshawa’s first Reeve.  He tried moving into Canadian politics in 1855 when he ran for the North Ontario riding but was easily defeated.  However, Thomas ran for the South Ontario riding in 1867 and won by a surprisingly large majority.  There were strong suspicions that the vote had been fixed or that the voters had been bribed but it could not be proven, and Thomas sat as a Member of Parliament until 1874, even serving in Sir John A. Macdonald’s cabinet.

William’s political career was much like that of his older brother.  In 1855 he was elected Reeve of Oshawa and, Deputy Reeve of Whitby.  In the same year he held the position of Warden for North Ontario County until 1879 when he was elected as Oshawa first Mayor.

William Henry Gibbs; photograph from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection
William Henry Gibbs; photograph from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection

In 1865 when the Warren family when bankrupt, the Gibbs brothers acquired all of the Warren assets. Now the brothers owned the Warren Mill, two distilleries, an estate called Prospect Park, the Western Bank, and other Warren property and workshops along King Street West.

Under their management, the Western Bank quickly became a strong financial institution, and together they established the Ontario Loan and Savings Company which helped get many Oshawa industries off the ground.

Thomas played a major role in opening the Simcoe Street United Church in 1867.

After this long period of prosperity and happiness, the Gibbs milling business suffered a fatal blow.  The price of the Gibbs main crop, barley, was falling and they had at least two thousand bushels on their hands.  It was decided to send the barley to New York where the demand was still good but, the winter came early and froze their ships in the Erie Canal.  The barley was ruined so it was shipped to England as cattle feed and the Gibbs did not receive a cent in return.

Thomas and William were forced to sell most of their property and only the Western Bank and the Ontario Loan and Savings Company were able to survive under the management of new owners.  Thomas died quietly in his home on April 7, 1883 at the age of sixty two.  William Gibbs moved away from Oshawa, taking the entire Gibbs family with him.  Both brothers are interred at Union Cemetery.¹

Today, Gibb Street is an east-west Regional Road, maintained by the Region of Durham. It is not clear why the ‘s’ was dropped, but Gibb Street has been named for these brothers.

I frequently refer to the County of Ontario Atlas when writing these posts, as it provides a glimpse of our city from almost 150 years ago.  Below is a snapshot from this 1877 map, with Gibbs Street circled.

From the 1877 County of Ontario Atlas
From the 1877 County of Ontario Atlas

You will see many streets that are still around today, and note Gibbs Street appears twice: the northern Gibbs Street is close to its current alignment.  The southern Gibbs Street today is St. Lawrence Street (which appears in the map where Fairbanks Street is today). The southern Gibbs Street is also surrounded by land owned by TN Gibbs.

It is unknown exactly when the street names changed, or when the ‘s’ was dropped from Gibbs Street.  A Fire Insurance Map from 1911 shows St. Lawrence and Gibbs (with the ‘s’) at its currently alignment, but by 1921, the City Directory shows Gibb without the ‘s’.  Much like how Phillip Murray Avenue adopted a second ‘l’ in its name, the reasons why Gibbs dropped the ‘s’ is unknown.  Perhaps it was a clerical error which has persisted.

011.6.1a-d; The Gibbs Brothers bed in the Henry House Bedroom
011.6.1a-d; The Gibbs Brothers bed in the Henry House Bedroom

Now, why do I talk about the Gibbs when I’m in the Henry House Bedroom?  The bed in the room was made by a furniture company owned by the Gibbs, and when talking about this artifact, a conversation about the brothers comes about.  I have also discussed Thomas Gibbs previously on this blog; a treasured artifact in our archival holdings is a letter that was sent to Gibbs by Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald.  For a history junkie, it doesn’t get any cooler than that.


¹Information about the Gibbs Brothers adapted from a Historical Oshawa Information Sheet, ©Oshawa Historical Society.

Where The Streets Get Their Names – Phillip Murray Avenue

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

Another month, a new street history!  In honour of the Labour Day weekend, I thought sharing the history behind Phillip Murray Avenue would be rather appropriate.

Phillip Murray Avenue is an east-west artery in south Oshawa, running from the western boundary with Whitby to Valley Drive.  A quick review of City Directories indicate that in 1957, Philip Murray Avenue (note the spelling) was ‘not built on’, meaning it was in the process of being developed.  By 1958, Philip Murray featured a number of new houses and new residents.  This means that Phillip Murray Avenue is a relatively ‘new’ street in our City, being just shy of 60 years old.

Philip Murray, 1886-1952; from the Encyclopædia Britannica
Philip Murray, 1886-1952; from the Encyclopædia Britannica

So who was Philip Murray?  He was a Scottish born American labour leader, the first president of the Steel Workers Organizing Committee (SWOC), the first president of the United Steelworkers of America (USWA), and the longest-serving president of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO).  He passed away of a heart attack in late 1952.

Oshawa 1937 Strike - outreach exhibit at the Oshawa Public Library, 2012
Oshawa 1937 Strike – outreach exhibit at the Oshawa Public Library, 2012

While Murray may not have hailed from Oshawa, he was an important figure in the history of labour relations, a subject of importance for our industrial city.  In 1937, a strike occurred in Oshawa, the implications of which not only impacted our City but also had effect on a provincial and national level.

“In 1937, when several thousand members signed union cards, the hopelessness of the depression gave way to a new hope, a new confidence.  UAW 222 was born”

– Local 222

In 1937, the workers of General Motors had four requests: an 8-hour day; better wages and working conditions; a seniority system; and, recognition of their union, the new United Automobile Workers, which was affiliated with CIO.  The recognition of the union brought about the strike, for GM management and Ontario Premier Mitch Hepburn wanted to keep the CIO out of Ontario.  The strike lasted two weeks; the union was not recognized, however, this strike was regarded as a victory for CIO and is often seen as the birth of Canadian Industrial Unionism.

“A stand-up strike not a sit-down strike with 260 women joining the men on the picket line.  It begins quietly with workers first filing into work as usual at 7am and then five minutes later just as peacefully, exiting the plant.  Simultaneously, 400 pickets are flung up aroung the works with pre-arranged precision.”

– April 8, 1937 Toronto Star

In 1943, following a few walk outs in Oshawa (this was during WWII when strikes were illegal), CAW Local 222 was recognized by General Motors as the exclusive bargaining agency.  War production became the priority at General Motors in 1942 and the workers in Local 222 alone, produced over 30 000 armoured vehicles.

The 1950s saw another GM strike.  During the winter of 1955-56, 17 000 General Motors employees went on strike, and after five months received what they were asking for: a pay raise, more secure working conditions, and a health plan covered by GM.

1950s GM Strike
1950s GM Strike

The 1950s saw the death of an important labour figure and a labour strike by one of the largest industries in Oshawa.  Phillip Murray Avenue received its name against the backdrop of these historical events.

On behalf of the Oshawa Museum, enjoy the Labour Day Weekend!

Where the Streets Get Their Names – Richmond Street

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

Like Simcoe Street, Richmond Street is an Oshawa road whose namesake is not local.  Simcoe Street was named for John Graves Simcoe, the first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada; Richmond Street, an east-west road measuring at just over half a kilometre, takes its name from a Peerage of England, the Duke of Richmond.  The Dukedom has an interesting history, as does the story behind this street name in Oshawa.

First, let’s explore the street’s namesake.  The Dukedom of Richmond has been created four times in British history.  It was first created in 1525 as Duke of Richmond and Somerset for Henry Fitzroy.  He was the son of King Henry VIII (the King with six wives), and Elizabeth Blount, his mistress.  Henry Fitzroy is the only acknowledged illegitimate child of King Henry VIII.   When Fitzroy died without children, the Dukedom became extinct.

It was created again in 1623 by King James I for Ludovic Stewart; it became extinct with his death in 1624.  The third creation was for Ludovic’s nephew, James Stewart, in 1641 by King Charles I.  It was passed to his son Esmé, and in turn Esmé’s cousin Charles before becoming extinct.

NPG 3221; Charles Lennox, 1st Duke of Richmond and Lennox by Sir Godfrey Kneller, Bt, oil on canvas, circa 1703-1710
NPG 3221; Charles Lennox, 1st Duke of Richmond and Lennox by Sir Godfrey Kneller, Bt, oil on canvas, circa 1703-1710

The fourth and final creation of the Duke of Richmond happened in 1675.  Once again, we see a Dukedom being created by a king for his illegitimate son; this time it was created by Charles II for his son Charles Lennox.  His descendants have continued to hold the title of Duke of Richmond; the current Duke is Charles Henry Gordon-Lennox, the 10th Duke of Richmond.


Richmond Street may not be as old as the Dukedom it is named for, but there is evidence of a Richmond Street dating back to the mid-1800s.  Tracing early street history can be challenging because of the lack of primary sources. Challenging, but not impossible.  There is an old Oshawa legend that claims the original name of the street was to be Duke of Richmond Street, but the ‘of’ was misread, resulting in ‘Duke Street’ running from Mechanic Street (now McMillian Drive) to Simcoe, and Richmond Street running from Simcoe to Mary.  It is a nice story, rather charming really, but it is difficult to put much stock in it.

The 1869/70 County of Ontario Directory shows people living on Duke Street and on Richmond Street – notice the distinction: two different street names.

The 1877 County of Ontario Atlas may be where this legend got its roots, because in the map for the Village of Oshawa, the street has clearly been labelled Duke of Richmond Street.

Detail of 1877 Map of the Village of Oshawa, showing 'Duke of Richmond Street'
Detail of 1877 Map of the Village of Oshawa, showing ‘Duke of Richmond Street’

The 1884 Fire Insurance Map shows Duke running west from Simcoe and Richmond running east from Simcoe.  The 1911 Fire Insurance Map shows the same.  By 1924, the street had been renamed to Richmond Street West (Simcoe west to Mechanic) and Richmond Street East (Simcoe east to Mary).

Ultimately, we are left with the question: was the street’s name intended to be Duke of Richmond, or was there supposed to be two different street names, Duke and Richmond?  Perhaps it is a moot point because there is no longer a Duke Street in Oshawa. Ultimately, it does make for a fun story, doesn’t it.

Where the Streets Get Their Names – Col. Sam Drive

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

Two years ago, at this time, I wrote a post about how Oshawa celebrates the Civic Holiday –  we have done so by naming the day after the prolific citizen, Col. RS McLaughlin.  Knowing that this weekend is McLaughlin Day, I thought I would keep this month’s Street Name Story simple, and share the story behind Colonel Sam Drive.

Farewell Street is the western beginning to this street which leads to the headquarters of General Motors of Canada.  East of Farewell, one can travel along Wentworth Street and eventually arrive at the productions facilities for GM.  Colonel Sam Drive was named in 1989.


The Honourable Colonel Robert Samuel McLaughlin was born on September 8, 1871 in Enniskillen Ontario. He was born to Robert McLaughlin and his wife Mary (nee Smith).  Along with Sam, as he was affectionately known, Robert and Mary were blessed with two other sons, George and John and two daughters, Mary and Elizabeth.

In 1887 Sam became an apprentice in the upholstery shop of his father’s business.  It was during this time that Sam learned all that a journeyman upholsterer needed to know to be successful such as stitching and fitting the cloth.  And so, in 1890 Sam decided to move to Watertown, New York to test his workmanship.  Sam wanted an unbiased opinion of his work and so he tried to keep the identity of his father a secret.  Sam was hired as an upholsterer with H.H. Babcock Co. but his plan to keep his father’s identity a secret did not work and within a couple of days the other employees were aware of who he was.  Sam stayed on at H.H. Babcock Co. for another two months, during which time he learned a great deal about plant management.  After leaving H.H. Babcock Co., Sam stayed in New York to work with two other companies before deciding to come back to Canada to work with his father.  In 1892 Robert formed a business partnership with two of his sons, Sam and George.

In 1897 Sam decided to break away from the carriage company to try his hand at being a politician.  He was successful at this endeavor as he became the head of Oshawa Town Council.  However, this experience allowed him to realize that he did not have the same love for politics as he did for carriages and he returned to building carriages.

In 1898, at the age of 26, Sam met his future wife Adelaide Louise Mowbray.  Within two weeks of meeting Adelaide, Sam proposed.  On February 2, 1898 they were married.  They were married for 59 years and had five daughters: Eileen, Mildred, Isabel, Hilda and Eleanor (Billie).

McLaughlin Carriage Fire, 1899; from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection
McLaughlin Carriage Fire, 1899; from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection

On December 7, 1899 the McLaughlin Carriage Company burned to the ground.  The Town of Belleville was the first of 15 cities to offer the McLaughlin’s cash and bonds to rebuild their factory in their town.  The McLaughlin’s chose to accept Oshawa’s deal to loan them $50 000 until they were able to pay the Town back.  While they were rebuilding the factory, production was moved temporarily to Gananoque. The McLaughlin Carriage Company returned to Oshawa in the summer of 1900. In 1907 the McLaughlin Carriage Company began to build automobiles; in that first year they produced 193 cars.

Postcard of Prospect Park, from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection
Postcard of Prospect Park, from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection

In 1915 Sam and Adelaide bought Prospect Park to become their family home. Sam tore down the original home and in 1917 built Parkwood, a state-of-the-art home for his family.

George and Sam McLaughlin sold the family business to General Motors in 1918.  Many factors weighed in this decision.   A personal factor that led to this decision was that Sam had five daughters and no sons to carry on the family business.  George was preparing to retire and Sam did not want to run the business without him because he considered it a partnership.  George’s two sons were not interested in the business either and therefore there was no one to pass the business on to.  After selling the Carriage Company to General Motors, Sam, at the age of 47, became President of the Canadian Division.

Sam also focused on contributing back to the City that he had called home for so many years, Oshawa.  He was always considered a philanthropist and the donations of his time and money to the City of Oshawa were considerable.  Sam donated money to aid in the creation of many things including Camp Samac, the maternity wing at the Oshawa General Hospital, the McLaughlin Band Shell in Memorial Park, the Union Cemetery War Veterans Plot and the McLaughlin Library.

In 1920, Sam and George bought the land for Lakeview Park in the name of General Motors of Canada Limited.  The land was then deeded to the Town of Oshawa for one dollar with only one restriction: that the land was to be used as a public park for the citizens of Oshawa under the control of the council and parks commission.  The firm also forwarded a cheque for $3,000 to cover initial improvements and another $6,000 for a suitable park playground.

Col Sam at home at Parkwood, from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection
Col Sam at home at Parkwood, from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection

In 1936, Sam was named Honorary Colonel due to his involvement with the Ontario Regiment.  It is from this honour that Sam earned his nickname of “Colonel Sam”.  Sam retired as President of GM in 1945 and took on the role of Chairman of the Board of Directors.

Sam’s wife of 59 years, Adelaide, died January 10, 1958 at the age of 82.  On January 6, 1972 in his 101st year, Sam passed away.¹


As previously shared, Adelaide Avenue has been named for Col Sam’s wife, and there is another street in Oshawa, McLaughlin Boulevard, which has also been named for this noteworthy citizen.


¹The preceeding was adapted from the Historical Information Sheet: Col. R.S. McLaughlin, ©Oshawa Historical Society.