Blog Look Back – Top 5 of 2018

Happy New Year! Throughout 2018, we shared 72 posts articles on the Oshawa Museum Blog, showcasing so many different stories from our city’s past. It was a highlight to partner with Durham College Journalism Students in the spring who shared 8 articles about ‘The Land Where We Stand.’  This series uncovered hidden stories about the land upon which our community is built and was a feature series for the Durham College Newspaper, The Chronicle.

We’re planning our new and dynamic posts for 2019, but to start the year, let’s look back at our top 5 posts of 2018

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Where the Streets Get Their Names: Oshawa Boulevard

One of the common questions asked (besides if the Oshawa Museum is haunted!) is what does the word ‘Oshawa’ mean? We used our popular ‘Street Name Stories’ series to help answer this question.  The current alignment of Oshawa Boulevard is a result of consolidating three consecutive streets, and we also highlighted how this road evolved through the years and what happened to Oshawa’s Yonge Street and St. Julien Street.

The 1918 Plane Crash

It was dubbed Oshawa’s most heavily photographed event; on April 22, 1918, a plane crashed into the northwest corner of King and Simcoe.  To mark the 100th anniversary of this event, we looked at how this was covered in the media and shared a few amazing photographs from our collection!

Where the Streets Get Their Names: Harmony Road

Two of our top five posts were looking at the stories behind Oshawa street names.  In 2017, we profiled streets that contributed to building our nation; this year, we used a number of posts to examine the history of Oshawa’s many villages and hamlets, including the former Harmony Village, through which Harmony Road traverses.

The Scugog Carrying Place

In honour of Indigenous Month, which takes place in June, Melissa Cole, OM Curator, highlighted at an interactive map that is found in our exhibition: A Carrying Place: Oshawa’s Indigenous Story.  This map depicts the approximate location of the Scugog Carrying Place trail, and Melissa explains how this map was carefully created.

Llewellyn Hall

In advance of the opening of our 2018 feature exhibit Community Health in the 20th Century: An Oshawa Perspective, Melissa looked at the history of Llewellyn Hall, its inhabitants through the years, and its brief history as a Maternity Home!

 

These were our top 5 posts written in 2018; the top viewed post for the year was actually written a few years ago, Keeping Warm: The Ways The Victorians Did! Perhaps our readers have an interest in vintage bedwarmers, or perhaps some are looking for inspiration for keeping warm during the cold Canadian winter months!

Thank you all for reading, and we’ll see you all in 2019!

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.

Regent theatre

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

Oshawa Sports Hall of Fame

By Pierre Sanz, Durham College Journalism Student

The Oshawa Sports Hall of Fame has been inspiring athletes since it opened in 1986.  It began in 1982 when Oshawa City Council made a request to open the Hall of Fame and the Oshawa Civic Auditorium Corporation formed a committee to make it happen.

“How it all started was back in 1982,” explains Dan Walerowich, the current chairman of the Oshawa Sports Hall of Fame, “there was a city council at the time and they made a comment about how it would be nice to have a Hall of Fame in Oshawa that would recognize the accomplishments of athletes in the community.”

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In 1983, the founding Board of Governors for the Oshawa Sports Hall of Fame were approved by Oshawa City Council. Council also approved a constitution with a mission to recognize and honour the great achievements of individual athletes and teams in Oshawa who have accomplished excellence and notoriety in sports and have also made a huge influence to the expansion of sport.

Terry Kelly, who was the chairman of the founding Board of Governors in 1986, was approached about making the Hall. He put together an induction committee to get the creation of the Hall going. The committee had Eric Wesselby, Charles Pell and Steve Keating, to name a few.

On May 21, 1986, the Oshawa Sports Hall of Fame was officially opened by name, the chairman of the Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame. The Oshawa Civic Auditorium was the home of the Hall of Fame when it first opened.

A total of 34 inductees were honoured during the first ceremony. Ever since then, an annual induction ceremony with free admission has been held on the last Wednesday in May.

A few of the first inductees back in 1986 were Barbara Underhill (skating), Bill Dell (football), Eddie Westfall (hockey) and Andrew Stewart (baseball). All of them were born in Oshawa.

From day one, Walerowich says the Board wanted to open a museum and showcase athlete memorabilia.

The first logo the Hall of Fame adopted lasted from 1986-2006 then a new logo was released. The new logo, which was unveiled once the museum opened, has four pillars in it, which represent ability, sportsmanship, character and contribution.

After the Hall of Fame was located at the Oshawa Civic Auditorium, in 1997 the Board of Governors wanted to move the location from its corridors to a 2,100 square foot fitness room adjacent to the box office lobby at the facility.

On April 7, 2008, mayor John Gray approved the move into the General Motors Centre. When the GM Centre was changed to the Tributes Communities Centre, the Hall of Fame was not impacted.

The Oshawa Sports Hall of Fame had a big impact on Nick Springer. Springer is an inductee from 1992 for his achievements in soccer.

Springer is a Hungarian native who arrived in Oshawa in 1958. He is the founder of the Oshawa Turul Soccer Club, which has over 3,000 members. Thanks to his work in founding the club with his organizational abilities, Springer was granted three outstanding National Achievement Awards.

Once the Hall opened in 1986, Springer always thought of being inducted as a dream. What helped him achieve his induction was his contribution to local soccer, along with his success. Springer led the Oshawa Turul under 19 team to gold at the Sao Paulo Cup in 1985. He was recognized with the 1987 Olympic Celebration Medal as a coach.

Springer was always a very modest guy. “I don’t know if I deserve to be here,” he said in an Oshawa This Week article after his induction in 1992.

The history of the Hall of Fame will continue to grow and become richer every year as new athletes get inducted. The next induction will take place Wednesday, May 30, 2018.


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.

Hotel Genosha

By Austin Andru, Durham College Journalism Student

“Instead of my mom cooking Christmas dinner, my dad used to take his mom and stepdad and my mom’s mom and all his kids and my mom and we’d go to the Genosh to have Christmas dinner,” said John Henry, the mayor of Oshawa. “It goes back to a memory that I have over 40 years.”

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Hotel Genosha was Oshawa’s first and only luxury hotel. It was built in 1929 in Oshawa’s downtown core as it was becoming known as “Canada’s Motor City.”

It was advertised as, “One of the finest hotels in Central Ontario.”

The name Genosha was made by combining the words “General Motors” and “Oshawa”.

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During the 1930s, Hotel Genosha was a common place for social events and weddings in Oshawa. Jennifer Weymark, the archivist for the Oshawa Museum said, “It was the major hub for business people travelling in and out of Oshawa.”

“It was where the upper management of General Motors met,” said Weymark.  “When the Genosh was built it was, high end, high class, it was where the wealthy wanted to go.”

Genosha’s most prestigious visitor was Queen Elizabeth, the wife of King George VI in 1939.

Henry, who has been the mayor of Oshawa for almost 8 years, says the people who visited the Genosha play a big role in the history. Henry says Canada’s military involvement in the Second World War makes him wonder, “who might have stayed there and who might not have stayed there?”

When Ian Fleming, the author of the James Bond novels, trained at Camp-X in 1942, the camp was at capacity, according to the official Camp X website. He was encouraged to visit the Genosha in Oshawa. It is not clear if Fleming ever stayed as a guest overnight at the Genosha, but he did visit for the entertainment.

The only way to access parking when mayor Henry visited was through Bond street.

“Did James Bond get his start in Oshawa?” Henry asks.

After training elite spies in the Camp-X facility in Whitby, Fleming went on to create the famous James Bond series.

The Genosha didn’t face difficulties until the early 1980s when industry started moving away from the city centre. When General Motors started changing its operations, there was a lot less people downtown, says Henry.

“As the downtown declines, you saw the Genosh declining,” Weymark said. “They’re tied in together.”

A strip club called “The Million Dollar Saloon,” opened in the basement. It was eventually closed in 2003, leaving the building empty. In 2005 it was designated a heritage site, and 5 years later the sign was taken down.

Many people attempted to revitalize the building. Student housing was proposed, as well as 66 apartment units. These ideas never went through.

Genosha

Richard Summers, the current owner of the building, who has already purchased the property once before, says maintaining this property this was made possible by Durham Region council approving a funding assistance of over $500,000.

The old building hasn’t retained much of its original self. It has undergone a partial interior demolition and the only remains of the original hotel is the Juliet fixtures on some of the windows and the painted “Hotel Genosha” sign on the exterior.

One of the marble staircases that was fitted in the lobby was severely damaged. Summers said this was because, “construction workers were sliding stoves down the stairs.”

Summers has ambitious plans to turn the building into 102 luxury micro apartments with commercial space in the main floor. The focus will be on bachelor units.

The roof currently houses a flock of pigeons. Summers said he would’ve liked to have a rooftop lounge. “Something you’d see in Toronto,” he says. Summers says it’s something he wouldn’t be able to do because of the way the Genosha is built.

Weymark says that while the new developments won’t be like the original hotel, downtown Oshawa is in need of proper housing rather than a luxury hotel.

“Now we see a resurgence and a revitalization in the downtown and you’re seeing that with the Genosh as well,” said Weymark, referring to the developments by Summers. “Along with the Regent Theatre, those two large buildings represent the evolution of downtown.”

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It is estimated the residences will be completed by 2019.

Mayor Henry said, “It will never be the hotel it was, but it has a great future.”


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.