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 His unpublished manuscript tells countless anecdotes, contains vital statistics and is a who’s who of Oshawa’s past.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.


Student Museum Musings – Christine

By Christine G., Summer Student

Hello! My name is Christine and I am the Archives Assistant at the Oshawa Museum this summer! It is my first summer here at the Oshawa Museum, but I already love it here! My first project was creating and finishing a finding aid for some of our land deed records and inputting the information into our catalogue. There were a total of 49 items to catalogue that ranged from 1859 to 1933 and spanned both Oshawa and the Township of East Whitby. The most interesting part of this project was seeing just how much information these deeds and mortgages provide to researchers! The deeds and mortgages include information on more than just the land transaction as they include occupations, relationships, and town plans. All of this information can be used to understand city growth patterns, genealogical information, occupational titles and actions, land prices, economic trends, and so much more!

My beautiful picture

My current project involves working with recently donated files from the Oshawa Fire Department. We received a large donation of archival material from the Department and are currently trying to sort through all of the files to find out what we have been given. There are thousands of photos, slides, negatives, newspaper clippings, and official documents, and let me tell you, there are so many cool files and photos. For example, the Department provided us with arson files that contain hand written notes, statements from witnesses, official reports, photos, floor plans, and so much more! The photos in this collection are so incredibly awesome. There are photos of the Oshawa Arena fire, house fires, vehicle fires, fires downtown, fire trucks (so many cool photos of fire trucks), construction of fire stations, the firefighters, and that to name a few! If you like photos of trucks and seeing how vehicles change over time, this is definitely a collection you will have to check out!

My beautiful picture

The collection of newspaper clippings range from the 1860s all the way to the end of 1999! In these clippings there are articles on different fires, emergencies, crashes, outreach activities, and fire prevention. The clippings also include articles on relations between the Oshawa Fire Department and the municipal council. These articles include union and wage negotiations, a councillor calling Oshawa Firefighters out of shape, and the debate surrounding Bob Rae’s Social Contract Bill.

My beautiful picture

The Department also provided over 1000 slides that are being digitized and cataloged. In the slides there are fire prevention and safety presentations, as well as instructions on how to use a fire extinguisher. One of my favourite presentations within the slides is a training for the firefighters on how to spot the signs of arson while fighting a fire. It goes through finding the flash point of the fire (where it started), weird smells, odd flame colours, different colours of smoke and so much more. It is really informative in fire safety and in seeing how the fire department has changed over time. Honestly this is such an amazing collection to have in our archival collection, and I can’t wait to see what else turns up as I complete the project!

My beautiful picture

Student Museum Musings – Andrea

By Andrea, Durham College LIT Student

For three Thursdays in November, I have been job-shadowing Jennifer, the Archivist.  My name is Andrea and I am a First Year Library and Information Technician student from Durham College.  The program also teaches about archives –which is the area I would very much like to get in to once I graduate.  I love history and being at the archives has been wonderful and insightful.  Seeing documents and photographs from 100+ years ago is such a unique experience, imagining what the people in the photographs were thinking, how they conducted themselves, and how they lived in the community.

I’ve lived in Oshawa for 20 years and having the opportunity to learn the origin of the city provides me with a better understanding of where I grew up.  I’ve learned some facts about Oshawa I never would have known had I not had this job-shadow opportunity.  Have you driven down Thornton Rd?  It was named after the first Presbyterian minister in Oshawa.  How about Ritson Rd? It was named for the area where the first teacher in Oshawa lived –John Ritson.  Learning the histories of our communities connects us to those who came before; they were the people who helped shape the cities we now know.

While at the archives, I have digitized the 1869 Ontario County Directory which has been incredible.  It is an original copy, weathered and discoloured filled with lists of people who lived in all different areas in the province at the time.

Well known personalities are great to learn about, but learning about the average farmer, blacksmith, or teacher is even more insightful because it’s the average everyday that we all live.  I am very thankful to have had my job-shadow at the Oshawa Museum’s archives, it’s a great environment, everyone is friendly and helpful, and I am very grateful for what they have taught me, I have learned a lot.