Student Museum Musings – Introducing Sara

By Sara H., Summer Student

Hi everyone! I’m Sara, and I am one of the students at the Oshawa Museum this summer.  I completed my Bachelor of Arts in History and am currently in a Museum Studies program, so this summer job is a dream come true!  Despite being a history buff and a lifelong resident of Oshawa, I am ashamed to admit that I have never taken a tour of the museum before. Shocking, I know! How can I call myself a local history buff if I have never even toured the Oshawa Museum, the museum about Oshawa?!  Well fear not dear reader, because even though I am still in my first week of working here, there have been so many visitors who have come into the store and, like myself, said they have lived here for years and have never even set foot in the museum or knew it was open!

Colour photograph of Guy House, a yellow wooden house. It is surrounded by green trees and grass.
Guy House, Summer 2020, an example of an early Canadian farmhouse

Even though the houses are pretty prominent, I get it.  Since the houses were built on their original foundations and are still standing after all these years, I can see how they would look different.  Also, all the houses are such different styles with Guy being an example of an early Canadian Farmhouse, Robinson is a Dutch Colonial style, and Henry is a Regency Cottage, so they look out of place/like decorations at the lakefront.  Lastly, I am sure we remember the last two years and the uncertainty and constant re-openings and closings of many of our favourite places, with the museum being impacted by that.  Nonetheless, we are open now and ready for business! 

Colour photograph of Henry House, a two storey house. The bottom storey is surrounded by gray limestone, and the second storey is painted green. There are green trees and flowers in planters around the house
Henry House, Summer 2016, an example of a Regency Cottage

To start off my summer, I will be learning more about the museum and getting ready to give tours of these phenomenal houses.  In addition to this, I will be working with Melissa, our curator, and another summer student, Sarah, to inventory and reorganize part of the collection that lives in the attic of Robinson House.  I am looking forward to sharing my experience and what I learn with all of you and hopefully meeting some of you!  If you haven’t been to the museum in a while, I definitely recommend stopping by to see what we have been up to.  I also recommend spreading the word that the museum is open and functioning, and very, very fun to visit! 

Colour photograph of Robinson House, a two storey brown brick building with several windows. It is surrounded by green grass and trees
Robinson House, Summer 2020, an example of the Dutch Colonial style, and where I will be inventorying artefacts

The Art of Youth Activism

By Nova S., Trent Child & Youth Studies Intern

Society consistently underestimates, undermines, ignores, brushes off, and otherwise condescends its youth. Sadly, in general, we assume that youth are up to no good, inexperienced, unwise, uneducated, rash, brash, and trashed. Of course, this can’t be entirely true, especially given the examples of Greta Thunberg and Malala Yousafzai, youth activists who are practically household names. 

However, they are far from the only ones.

Youth consistently engage themselves in their communities and issues that matter to them, and of course that applies here in Oshawa as well. Over several years, students of different ages have organized multiple protests regarding education.

Colour image of a red brick building and to its right, a large glass greenhouse
The greenhouse at G.L. Roberts Collegiate, August 13, 2011 (A016.10.166, Dowsley collection, Oshawa Museum archival collection)

The first example I want to address was in 2012, when Bill-115, the Putting Students First Act, passed. Despite its name, clearly many students disagreed with the act, as about 50 of them walked out of G. L. Roberts high school one brisk December day. Said act would freeze teachers’ wages for two years, decrease their sick days, and prevent them from going on strike. It also included budget cuts to programs like music and sports, as well as extracurricular activities. Despite the possible threat of suspension, the protest was student-organized and led, with parent facilitation. 

O'Neill high school in 2016; three storey brick building with large trees at the right of the image
O’Neill CVI, January 7, 2016 (A016.10.179, Dowsley Collection, Oshawa Museum archival collection)

The next example is from 2015. After a five-week strike, teachers were forced back to work – but roughly 140 students between two Oshawa high schools, G. L. Roberts and O’Neill Collegiate, protested in support. Again, the protest was student-organized and led. Many expressed gratefulness to be back in education but concerns about the lack of resolution and the sudden, condensed workload, as well as the threat of ever-increasing class sizes and the likelihood of being treated like numbers rather than individuals.

My final example is from 2019, when 50 students from Monsignor Paul Dwyer Catholic High School protested proposed changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Program which included cuts to the autism program and low income tuition assistance and the banning of cellphones in classrooms, among other things. Students from Adelaide McLaughlin Public School and R.S. McLaughlin Collegiate and Vocational Institute also protested, all student-organized and led. 

In the above examples, students collaborated through social media and in a refusal to take their protests out of the public eye in order to take a stand for themselves – their values, disabilities, beliefs, and rights. Teachers and caregivers supported them to help strengthen their youth’s voices.

Education and its policies are just a sliver of the issues in which youth voices are typically cut out, ignored, and forgotten. Instead of disempowering our youth and restricting their voices, we should be empowering them and giving them megaphones, sometimes literally! They are powerful individuals who have important and relevant values, opinions, experiences, and viewpoints right now, just as they are.

Oshawa Museum’s children and youth programs have always aimed to be engaging and inclusive in order to help kids find something that may spark a passion in them, right here in their own communities, from archaeology, history, fashion, social issues, geography, recycling, and more. As a youth myself, I’ve seen and experienced the desire Oshawa Museum has to let youth speak, lead, and create.


The Pedlar Papers in the Classrooms

By Jill Passmore, Visitor Experience Coordinator

The Pedlar Papers are an amazing resource, and we are lucky to have them at the Museum. Samuel Pedlar was an early historian who personally interviewed descendants of our earliest European settlers in Oshawa. His unpublished manuscript tells countless anecdotes, contains vital statistics and is a who’s who of Oshawa’s past.


Recently, I have embarked on a teaching partnership with Attersley Public School. I visit the school biweekly to bring local history into the classrooms there. After discussing why the ancestral Wendat and Mississauga First Nations chose to settle here, we move on to early settlers – a key component to the Grade Three Ontario Curriculum.

Using the Pedlar Papers, I created and index of businesses mentioned in the manuscript. The index includes the name of the businesses, years of operation, location, associated names, what they produced and any notes that I had during my research.

From here, we were able to discuss the types of businesses that were in Oshawa in its earliest years and move through nineteenth century. For example, the earliest business mentioned is Beagle & Conklin, purveyors of spinning wheels and handlooms in 1793. We talked about why this business would have been important to early settlers and why they would have settled at the lakefront. Later we discussed the relationship between the Hollow and the Oshawa Creek, the businesses (mills and distilleries) located there. Of the first ten businesses Pedlar lists, three are distilleries and one is a tavern. The kids got a kick out of that! The others are Beagle & Conklin, the Farewell’s pearl and potashery, the Annis Saw Mill, the Mail Stage Company, the Robson-Lauchland tannery, and the fuller furniture factory.

1911 FI Map

Following this, the students examined copies of the 1911 Fire Insurance Map and education artefacts. They looked to see if the artefacts they had might have been produced at a business located on their map. Some managed to match their straight pens to schools and a nurse’s cap to the hospital, which is listed as the Oshawa Public Hospital on this map (circled).

This kind of learning, without using a textbook, is imperative for the current generation of students. Teaching them to extrapolate information and use critical thinking skills will take them into the next decade of their education.

For more information on booking education programming from the Oshawa Museum, please call Jill at 905-436-7624 ext. 106 or email programming[at]oshawamuseum[dot]org

Summer Student Musings – The County of Ontario

By Adam A., Summer Student

Hello once more! I’m Adam, the summer museum assistant, and you may recall my recent podcast where I discussed the County of Ontario. So I’m here to offer some additional facts pertaining to this county which existed from 1854 to 1974.

For starters, Upper Canada was originally only divided into four administrative divisions by Governor Simcoe. From east to west these were named Lunenburg (later called Eastern District), Mecklenburg (later called Midland District), Nassau (later called Home District), and Hesse (later called Western District), and each was managed by the appointed Justices of the Peace who met four times a year. I’m not really sure why Governor Simcoe opted for these German names, and seeing as how they were quickly replaced I assume most others also believed these names were rather un-intuitive. Over the following years these districts were further divided until there were 20 districts in all. One consistency in this period was that Oshawa would have fallen just west of the extreme eastern edge of Home District.

A map of the province of Upper Canada describing all the settlements and townships with the countries adjacent from Quebec to Lake Huron, 1818; from the Toronto Public Library

Counties did exist at this time but had no function outside of electing a member to parliament and maintaining a militia. Prior to 1852, Oshawa would have been a part of York County. In 1849, in accordance with Lord Durham‘s suggestions, it was decided that counties and their elected bodies would take over the local administrative role from the districts. It was swiftly realized that many of the eastern townships of York County were inadequately serviced by a local government based in York (now Toronto). These townships were separated from the County of York in 1852 and officially organized into the County of Ontario in 1854. This mirrored the developments in the western townships of York County, which broke off to form Peel County in 1851.

The County of Ontario, as appeared in the 1862 Tackabury Map

In 1852, when the county still only existed on a provisional basis, it sported a population of over 29,000, 1,142 of whom lived in the Village of Oshawa. By the year 1907 the population had grown to over 38,000, with the Town of Oshawa accounting for 5,113. Oshawa had grown from being about 3-4% of the county’s population to being about 13%. This change demonstrates the trend towards urbanization, which in this period was driven by the adoption of improved agricultural techniques.

These facts come from County of Ontario by J. E. Farewell and History of the County of Ontario 1615-1875 by Leo A. Johnson.

Student Museum Musings – Mia

By Mia V., Summer Student

Hi all! Since I’ve been fortunate enough to spend another summer here, I was able to pick up where I left off in researching post-WWII immigration and the resettlement of displaced people in Oshawa. So far, I’ve been kept busy digging through the archives and collections at the museum, as well as other ones nearby with a similar focus.

It was following a trip up to the Archives of Ontario that I became convinced that in-depth archival research is 1) never dull and 2) always worthwhile. For the first conviction, it was when I was casually sifting through a box of negatives that a very tiny photo of a postcard caught my eye. I took a closer look to see that it involved one party sending the other a very thinly veiled threat (but that’s a tale for another time)!

My second conviction came when I discovered the piles of information that Ontario’s archives had on one of Oshawa’s cultural communities that I had begun researching – the Slovak community. I was sure that they must have been active, given that the location of their heritage museum had once been in Oshawa. Unlike some of the other communities that were still active and that had plenty of historical material, there had not been as much information on them. The most I knew originally was that, given that there is still a Slovak Byzantine Catholic Church on Ritson Road, they must have once been quite present. It turned out that this parish had formed in February of 1952, with the church itself being built in January of 1955. Indeed, these post-war years had been full of renewed immigration to Oshawa, and Slovaks were did not prove to be the exception.

Slovak Church - google images
Slovak Byzantine Catholic Church, 464 Ritson Road South; photo from Google Streetview

However, it still wasn’t quite clear to me just how far back the history extended. In 1968, according to the Oshawa Reformer, the Slovak League in Oshawa (Branch 6) and the First Catholic Slovak Union (Branch 786) celebrated their 40th anniversary at the Slovak National Hall. These were centres of community activity that I had not come across in my research before, and so they helped to fill in some of the gaps. The celebratory event marking the milestone was attended by Slovak communities from across Ontario and also included local guests such as the M.P. Michael Starr and Jo Aldwinckle of the Oshawa Folk Arts Council – two names which have come up frequently in my research. It is for this reason – seeing all these common threads come together – that the search felt so worthwhile.

Mia at the AO
Mia at the Archives of Ontario for her research trip!

Going forward, this information from various archival sources will nicely complement what has been collected through oral history so far. As with before, if anyone has a connection to this period of immigration to the city, we would be glad to hear your stories! I’m looking forward to continuing my work over the following weeks, but, in the meantime, you are welcome to have a look through some of the posts at the Oshawa Immigration Stories website.


Mihal, Ondrej. Slovaks in Canada Through Their Own Eyes. Toronto: Slovak Canadian Cultural Heritage Centre, 2003.

“Slovaks celebrate anniversary,” Oshawa Reformer, May 8 1968, Archives of Ontario.


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