Student Museum Musings – Mia

By Mia V., Oral History Project Student

Hello everyone. I’m Mia, one of the summer students here at the Oshawa Museum. I have presently finished my second year at the University of Toronto, majoring in socio-cultural anthropology and history while minoring in French. Since learning about different cultures and eras of history has been a passion of mine ever since I can remember, I have naturally always gravitated toward museums. Being on the other side of the museum experience – helping to bring the history the museum offers to the wider public – is something I’m very glad to be able to do, not least because it is something I want to continue to pursue once I finish my studies.

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In taking on the role of Oral History Project Coordinator, I have focused a lot of my time on familiarizing myself with the museum’s ongoing Displaced Persons project. The aim of the project is to collect and preserve the memories of individuals who immigrated to Canada and Oshawa after the Second World War – from those people themselves or from those that knew them. In continuing this research so far, I have compiled some of the stories and artifacts into online exhibits for a website I’ve created. In comparing the similar experiences of people’s accounts, I feel that I’m getting a better feel for this time period of history than I ever could otherwise. I am so pleased to be able to work on such an important and genuinely fulfilling project, as I am convinced that these are stories that need to be told and ones that will continue to resonate with so many people.

To continue to talk about my experience at the museum so far, I must point out the people – the staff who have been so welcoming, as well as the visitors that come in. It’s great to work with people who are so clearly passionate about what they do and, with the new faces that come in every day, there has certainly hardly been a dull moment. As such, I have greatly enjoyed the opportunity to tour people through the houses, including the children that come through! It was quite something to put on a Victorian dress and guide groups of kindergarten kids through Henry House. You never know who among them will grow up to be history lovers, too! Although I was initially just a bit apprehensive about what it would be like to lead a tour, I have since learned so much about what it is to engage people with history. The chance to give tours is now already one of my favourite things to do here at the museum.

Additionally, I have enjoyed learning about the history of Oshawa, since I didn’t know very much local history until now. I have a particular fondness for the First Nations exhibit in Robinson House, which tells of the communities who made their homes in Oshawa as early as the 15th century. This exhibit puts the scope of Oshawa’s history into perspective for me – enabling me to visualize the layers upon layers of history that can be uncovered. I also love touring people through this floor, as so many are just pleased as I am to see the way the exhibit is set up (with the interior of a longhouse!) and to learn more about this piece of Oshawa’s past.

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Our three summer students, Adam, Lauren, and Mia!

Given that each day differs to the next, I am looking forward to what the rest of summer will bring.

Student Museum Musings – Lauren

By Lauren R., Summer Museum Assistant

Hello there! I’d like to start out this blog post by saying how excited I am to be working as a summer student for the second year in a row. I am already at the end of my third week back at work and it feels as though I’ve picked up right where I left off at the end of last summer. This summer I am once again having the pleasure of being involved with numerous projects, including two larger projects that are a constant work in progress. Trust me – it’s keeping me on my toes!

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Lauren assisting with silver polishing earlier this month

The first of the projects that I have undertaken this summer has to do with the Education Kits that the museum offers as resources to schools to enrich the learning experience for students. While these programs are very useful it was put to me that we may be able to do more with them. Specifically, that there may be more of them! With this in mind, I am helping to look at new ways to present the material that we already have and at how to make more of these kits available for teacher use, bridging a vast range of topics. In my first few days back on the job full-time I went through each of the kits, reading all of the information that they had to offer and then examining their complementary artefacts. From there I made it my goal to read several books on programming to see if there was anything that they could offer me to enrich the way that I was looking to construct the programs. After all of this research, I had the pleasure of joining one of my colleagues at a school to see how these outreach kits work in person and the response that they produced from students. Thus far I have come up with 7 new programs that can be introduced to our selection of Education Kits. I am going to endeavour to make each of these 7 kits flexible so that they can be used by both older and younger grades, bringing the count of new education kits to 14!

The second thing that I have been engaged in this summer is research for the new Medical Exhibit being created! For this I have been hard at work reading up on the history of the Oshawa General Hospital and how it came to be. So far I am finding the story fascinating! The original building for the Oshawa Hospital came about as the result of the hard work of a group of determined women. In 1906, the debt of the St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church was cleared with the work of some of the local women’s societies. Seeing that their work had been completed, and that they could focus their attention on a new and worthy cause, Mrs. R.S. McLaughlin gathered a representative from each of the local societies to vote on the next cause that should be attended to. The cause that was chosen was the Oshawa General Hospital. In 1906 the campaigning for the hospital began and it was built soon after and opened in 1910. I have absolutely fallen in love with the story of how the Oshawa General Hospital came to be. It highlights the great things that can be accomplished when a group of strong-minded and determined people come together for the greater good. I look forward to learning more about each bit of Oshawa’s medical history as I strive to construct an interesting and engaging exhibit around it, though it is proving difficult to narrow down what fascinating facts to include when there is so much interesting information at hand!

There have been many more interesting things I have been doing but there will be another blog post for me to talk about those. For now I work diligently at the Medical Exhibit and wait with baited breath to see it come to reality…

Oshawa’s Post Office

By Heather Snowdon, Durham College Journalism Student

When Bryan Jacula was ten years old his parents, Mary Nee Rudka and Michael Jacula, owned a store. Located on King Street and Westmount Avenue in Oshawa, it was a sub post office, which means it was a post office as well as a general store. Now in his fifties, Jacula still lives in Oshawa.

“It’s been so long since I’ve thought about that store,” says Jacula.

It was 1835 when Edward Skae came to Oshawa. Back then it wasn’t known as Oshawa, the town was small and was just starting to grow. Skae was well liked by residents and the town became known as Skae’s Corners.

As Skae’s Corners grew, there was a need for a post office and in 1842 Skae sent in an application to Home District in parliament, a form of government at the time, asking for one.

In the 1800s, it was common for residents to go to general stores to pick up mail. Many small towns didn’t have stand-alone post offices. Sub post offices, located in general stores, were the norm.

To avoid confusion, parliament told him he could have a post office if Skae’s Corners changed its name since there were too many towns in the area with the name ‘corner’.

The townspeople held a meeting and many wealthy residents in Skae’s Corners were in attendance, Moody Farewell was one of them. He was a farmer and large hotel owner in Oshawa. Legend has it he asked his Indigenous friends what the name of the town was and they told him it was called Oshawa.

Another legend says Farewell was angry with the First Nations for coming to the meeting and there was a confrontation between them. Jennifer Weymark, archivist at the Oshawa Museum, says one of the legends is likely true.

The Indigenous named the town Oshawa, which was translated from Ojibwa, an Algonquian language, means to portage or to take the canoe out of the water and go over land. Other translations include the crossing of the stream where the canoe was exchanged for the trail.

Skae opened Oshawa’s first post office in 1845, known as a sub post office, because it was located in his general store. He became Oshawa’s first post master. Skae was post master for three years, following his death at the age of 44.

In the 1800s, mail was delivered by sleighs and stage coaches, which are horse drawn carriages. Before that, men on horseback delivered mail from Kingston to Toronto on what we now know as Highway 2 or King Street. It took 18 days for mail to reach Quebec from Pickering, Ontario. Lake Ontario became a lifeline to early settlers who used it as their only means of transportation, and in 1822 settlers began to establish themselves along Highway 2.

It wasn’t until the 1850s that Canada would start the Trans-Atlantic mail delivery and in 1856 Canada opened the Grand Trunk Railway and mail was no longer carried by stagecoaches or on horseback.

The closure of Skae’s post office sparked a change in Oshawa. In 1872, a new sub post office was opened on King Street.

As Oshawa continued to grow, there was a need for a larger post office.

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Location of the former Post Office at 40 King Street East

In 1907, Oshawa acquired its first stand-alone post office, located on 40 King St. E. It was running until 1950, when the City of Oshawa decided to sell it.

A fire in 1955 left no one to bid on the property and in 1957, the first stand-alone post office was demolished and left Oshawa forever. The actual whereabouts of Oshawa’s first sub post office, in Skae’s General Store is unknown. Myths surrounding its location suggest the building was put on the corner of King and Queen Street in 1825.

According to an archival article, written in 1949, by Oshawa’s Daily Times Gazette, was torn down for a grocery store in the early 1950s.

There was a demand for a post office in Oshawa after the closure of the 40 King Street’s post office in 1950. In March 1951, the Jacula family opened a sub post office in their convenience store, located at 399 King St. W.

“It was a tight fit, putting the post office in the convenience store,” says Jacula.

According to an article provided by Eva Saether, local history and genealogy librarian at the Oshawa Public Library, in 1950 two residents living on Church and William Street in Oshawa were asked to vacate their homes for a new post office. In 1952, the new stand-alone post office was built. But it was only temporary.

Many postal closures happened in 1986. In Oshawa, there were 5,955 rural and urban post offices. By the 1990s, there were 93 urban and 1,442 rural post office closures, leaving 14,000 workers in the postal services without jobs. From 1989 to 1992, 2,250 rural post offices closed and there were 153 urban closures from 1992 to 1993. Canada Post fired an average of 47 workers per month in 1992.

Canada Post was planning to shut down public post offices by 1996, saying it would make sense economically to have one public post office.

A new post office was opened at 47 Simcoe St. S. in 1954. This building is still being used today, and this location is the implemented plan from Canada Post. In Oshawa, there is now only one public post office.

Bryan Jacula says his parents were adamant about the importance of having a post office in Oshawa.

“I’m glad we were a part of it,” says Jacula.


The land where we stand is the traditional territory of the Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation.

Durham College‘s newspaper, The Chronicle, launches a new feature series called The Land Where We Stand, about the hidden stories that shape our region.

Some of the articles found on this blog have been provided through partnerships with external sources, and we welcome reader engagement through comments.  The views expressed in such articles/comments may not necessarily reflect those of the OHS/OM.

Ajax’s Defence Industry Limited

By Tracy Wright, Durham College Journalism Student

When the opportunity came for Louise Johnson to work at Defence Industry Limited (DIL), she took it, with the blessing in the only letter she ever received from her father saying, “Go for it, it sounds like a great opportunity.”

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This was a historical moment. In 1942, almost all jobs for women were in the home, taking care of the family. “Back then,” says Johnson, “you worked the farm and married the boy down the road.” But the Second World War changed that.

Men had been recruited to go to the Second World War, which lasted from 1939 to 1945. There was a shortage of workers, so women were needed to fill the jobs men would normally do.

Defence Industries Limited (DIL) was a shell filling plant, says author and historian Lynn Hodgson.  Its main purpose was to build shells with explosives and have them crated then transported by cargo then rail and finally shipped to England to the men in field, according to Hodgson.

Louise Johnson was 21 years old, living in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.  She was single and working at Saskatoon City Hospital in the nurse’s residence. Louise said she was lucky to have been at home when the call came from Civil Services (now known as Human Resources) about working at DIL.

DIL opened in the summer of 1941. It had 9,000 employees and 75 per cent of these employees were women, explains Brenda Kriz, Records and FOI coordinator for the Town of Ajax. The women came to Ajax from across Canada, as far away as Northern Alberta and Nova Scotia.

Before the Second World War, Ajax was not a city. It was all farmland.  “It became Ajax, after the war,” says Hodgson, who wrote Ajax Arsenal of Democracy.

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The women at DIL were called Bombgirls. Johnson, like the other women, did not know what to expect when she arrived in Pickering Township.  When she was recruited, she was told the job was dangerous. She was assured she and the other 9,000 employees would be taken care of; they would receive housing and meals along with a uniform, and if they did not like it there, they would get a train ticket back home.

Defence Industries Limited was built in 1941 on 2,800 acres of land. “The land was expropriated from Pickering Township to create Defence Industries Limited,” says Kriz. This was the largest shell plant during the British Commonwealth, according to Kriz. The township of Pickering set up the factory to build bombs for the Second World War.  Pickering Township, now Ajax, was considered the perfect location.  It was away from residential areas and water supplies, which was very important because it required million gallons a day to support the site, says Kriz.

There were 600 wartime homes built as temporary residences close to the plant. “There was a community hall, movie theatre and a convenience store and a post office so you didn’t have to go outside,” according to Hodgson, who goes on to explain that “loose lips sink ships” and this is why DIL didn’t want workers speaking to the public about their job.

When the plant closed, the idea was the homes would be broken down and sent to Britain to help with the housing shortage there, but instead a town was established.  Ajax was named after a battleship called HMS Ajax.  Naming of the town came after the post office in Pickering Village could not handle the loads of mail sent there.  For a post office to be in a town, the town had to have a name.  A vote was held by to choose between Dilco, Powder City and Ajax, after the mythological Greek hero.

DIL had been in operation for about five years before Ajax got its name.

To get access to the plant, you would walk across the Bayly Bridge which is no longer there but you would have crossed over the 401 at Harwood and Bayly. This is how you’d enter the gates for DIL. From there you would take a bus that would bring you to the line where you worked.  “At the end of your shift, you’d take the bus back over the bridge and then walk back to your residence,” explains Hodgson.

“There were four lines each line produce a different kind of shell,” says Kriz.

There was heavy security at DIL, Johnson recalls.  “If you did not have a badge, you could not pass through the gates,” says Johnson.  The whole facility was surrounded by barbed wire fence.  Hodgson explains, “Security was very tight; the guards were armed veterans from the First World War.” For safety reasons, no matches were allowed on the property.  If you were caught with matches, you would go to jail. One guy served 30 days in Whitby jail for smoking behind the line, says Hodgson.

Johnson worked on line 3. Here she measured cordite, which is another form of gunpowder. Her job was to weigh it on a scale and she had to be very precise. If not filled properly, the ammunition could either explode in transport or not detonate in the field. Work was in rotating shifts each week: eight hours a day six days a week. Each shift was represented by a different colour bandana: blue, red and white. Johnson’s was blue.

The only day off was Sunday and Christmas day.  “On Sundays, you just watch the walls and cook dinner,” says Johnson.

Life at DIL was not just about work. Relationships were built there. “I met my husband at work,” laughs Johnson. “He was the cordite deliverer.”

Russell and Louise were married in 1944 and had one child, a daughter named Lynda. Russell died in 1965. “He worked hard, but was not a well man,” Johnson said.

With the end of the war, the need for shells ended too.  The lines at the factory were shut down one by one. When it came to Johnson, she was called to the office and asked if she knew how to type.  She said, “I could look for keys,” she said, “and make a stab at it.”

Johnson was assigned the task of typing quit slips. She placed her slip at the bottom of the pile and when the time came typed her own quit slip. She was the last production employee at DIL.

Johnson then went to Selective Services, now Employment Insurance, to receive her compensation.  Johnson asked the lady behind the desk if she should comeback after her EI ran out.  She was advised to not come back as there was no work for women.

Men were coming back from war. “It was a two-sided coin,” Johnson says. “The men left work to go to war and they came back.”

Not only were the jobs few, Johnson’s husband did not want her to work. She stayed home and took care of her daughter, who was eight years old.  She did start working again and was able to work from home.

Johnson now aged 96, lives on her own in the same wartime bungalow she purchased with her husband.

Comparing the workforce for women from 1942 to now in 2018 Johnson says, “Hasn’t changed.”

As for DIL, “few buildings remain. But not many,” says Kriz.   The original DIL hospital became Ajax/Pickering hospital.  The original building was demolished in the late ’60s, according to Kriz. The Ajax Town Hall sits in the same place the DIL administration office was. “The heart of the community has always been on this site,” says Kriz. Without DIL, “There would be no Ajax a town born overnight,” says Hodgson.


The land where we stand is the traditional territory of the Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation.

Durham College‘s newspaper, The Chronicle, launches a new feature series called The Land Where We Stand, about the hidden stories that shape our region.

Some of the articles found on this blog have been provided through partnerships with external sources, and we welcome reader engagement through comments.  The views expressed in such articles/comments may not necessarily reflect those of the OHS/OM.

The Legacy of the Regent Theatre

By Michael Bromby, Durham College Journalism Student

“Oshawa in the 1920s was never fancy,” says Louise Parkes a former city councillor. Then the Regent Theatre opened.

Louise Parkes is one of many individuals who contributed to the history of the Regent Theatre throughout its years of operation.

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The elegance and magnificence of Hollywood came to Oshawa when Famous Players Canadian Corporation opened the Regent Theatre in 1921.

Judy Garland, Bob Hope and Lucille Ball were the stars of many films at the Regent Theatre. The theatre had sold out shows almost every night, according to Jennifer Weymark, an archivist at the Oshawa Museum.

Weymark says the Regent Theatre brought in a sense of community.

“It gave them opportunity, it had a chance to do musicals and movies,” says Weymark. “Those who came got the chance to be part of the larger world in ways they couldn’t before.”

Leon Osier was the general manager of the theatre during the 1920s and into the 1940s. Frederick Kinton was hired to be the first projectionist in Oshawa after he returned home from the First World War with wounds which later caused to his death.

During the Second World War, Osier began playing videos and clips about the Second World War on the big screen. Communities across Canada sent materials to make guns and ammunition which included tin foil, and scrap metal. Osier helped the Canadian men by allowing people to donate their recycled metals which were sent overseas to help the war.

“They collected tinfoil for the war efforts, so it became a community hub,” says Weymark.

As the times changed, more brand name cinemas such as Cineplex moved into Oshawa, which took business away from the historic theatre. Throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s, the Regent Theatre struggled to make money. The theatre closed its doors in 1989, but was given an adrenalyn rush in 1997.

In 1997, four local business men purchased the theatre from Famous Players Canadian Corporation and turned it into a night club. The night club, Adrenalyn Rush, never took off, despite being in the heart of downtown Oshawa.

In 1999, the owners closed the night club and applied for a permit to have the theatre demolished.

“The theatre was threatened with demolition and supposed to be a parking lot,” says Parkes.

The historic building was almost replaced with asphalt but Heritage Oshawa got involved. Louise Parkes, a member of this committee, decided this was not going to be the end for the Regent.

“We all have passion projects and this is one of mine, saving the theatre,” says Parkes.

Parkes moved to Oshawa with her family in 1988 and remembers seeing shows at the Regent throughout her childhood. The theatre became a passion in her life and she wanted to see it grow.

Parkes is the owner of Parmac Relationship Marketing in downtown Oshawa. She also helps her husband Darryl Sherman run Wilson Furniture in Oshawa.

Parkes wanted to have the old theatre turned into a performing arts centre. The city turned her down and sold the theatre to Mike Burley, a 21-year-old man who was given a five-year contract in 1999. Burley owned Hourglass Theatre Productions and used the Regent Theatre as a space to host his group.

“The opportunity was lost, which motivated me to come onto council,” says Parkes.

Parkes was elected as a city councillor in 2000, she continued to advocate for the theatre. She brought in Janis Barlow, who specializes in the design management of theatres across North America.

Barlow wrote a report to the city explaining how this was the best location in Oshawa for a performing arts centre. However, the bad luck continued for the Regent as the city council voted no.

Parkes became frustrated with the city council and began working with councillor Kathy Clarke to find a different approach in saving the theatre.

“You have to do things eventually or else people are going to leave the city,” says Parkes. “When I came on council there was not a new public building in Oshawa for 26 years.”

Burley failed to keep the theatre open due to the cost of running it. The city bought it back in 2001. It remained closed because the theatre needed construction work before it could be re-opened.

To bring life back to the theatre in 2007. Parkes and Clarke got the city to negotiate a deal with theatre expert Glyn Laverick of Toronto.

Laverick was the CEO of the Danforth Music Hall in Toronto. He has worked with Oshawa theatre company Dancyn Productions which is run by Joan Mansfield. Laverick made her his artistic director at the Regent Theatre in Oshawa during his time of ownership.

The city agreed to give Laverick $700,000 to re-construct the entire building, but it had to be complete by the end of 2008.

“Glyn Laverick restored the front and made it into what we see today,” says Parkes.

The theatre opened in October of 2008, however, Laverick failed to meet his deadline. During the movies or live performances, construction equipment was visible throughout the theatre.

The Regent failed to take off once again, and it closed in January 2009. Laverick failed to complete work on the theatre and contractors were left without money. Lawsuits were filed against Laverick. Complainants owed the contractors money for work, many said they lost up to $200,000.

Parkes decided to focus on her business, which she shares with her husband Darryl Sherman, and gained the courage to go back to school.

“It bothered me every day of my life not finishing school, so I decided if not now when?” says Parkes, who completed her degree in history at Trent University in Oshawa. She is planning on going back for her master’s degree in history later this year.

While Parkes was furthering her education, a new owner took over the theatre.

The city was in possession of the Regent Theatre and decided to sell it to the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT). The remaining construction was completed and the theatre opened once again in 2010.

“The city and the University have made an effort to change the downtown and bring culture and art back,” says Weymark who has been with the Oshawa Museum since 1999.

UOIT uses the Regent for lectures and educational studies for students, while also putting on throwback movie nights featuring “Barefoot in the Park”, and live performances such as “Abbamania and Night Fever”.

One of the live performers coming to the Regent Theatre is Canadian singer Shania Twin, she has spent 20 years of her life impersonating Shania Twain. However, this is her first time performing in Oshawa.

Donna Huber currently lives in Cobourg, Ont. but is on a tour across North America. She is performing at the Regent Theatre on March 4th but this show is going to be special for Huber.

“It hits close to home, I have a ton of friends who are always asking me when I am going to play close to home, and now I am,” says Huber. “I am excited and I hope we pack the place.”

Shania Twin is just one act you can see at the Regent Theatre. Other upcoming shows in February include The British Legends musical on the 16th. For Family Day weekend, the Regent hosts Treehouse’s Splash n’ Boots.


The land where we stand is the traditional territory of the Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation.

Durham College‘s newspaper, The Chronicle, launches a new feature series called The Land Where We Stand, about the hidden stories that shape our region.

Some of the articles found on this blog have been provided through partnerships with external sources, and we welcome reader engagement through comments.  The views expressed in such articles/comments may not necessarily reflect those of the OHS/OM.

Sources:

Veterans Affairs Canada, November 27th 2017.
http://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/remembrance/history/historical-sheets/material

Dancyn Productions Theatre Company,
https://www.dancynproductions.com/the-dancyn-story