Where the Streets Get Their Names – Thornton Road

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

Rev. Robert Thornton was born in Scotland in 1806. He was an ordained minister of the United Secession Church of Scotland and was sent to preach in Canada in 1833 – he married Margaret Thompson in this year.


After a 7 week journey from Scotland to New York, the Thornton’s boarded a ship that they thought would bring them to Toronto but instead, went to Cobourg – it was from here that Rev. Thornton left on foot to go to Toronto to find a new home – when he reached Whitby, he came upon a settlement of Scottish settlers who asked him to become their minister, Rev. Thornton agreed and thus became the first Presbyterian minister in the area.

The first meeting place of the Presbyterians was west of Union Cemetery on Moore’s Hill (at the corner of Garrard and Hwy #2).  In 1837, four years after Thornton arrived in Whitby, the Presbyterians built their own church on the site which is now Union Cemetery – there are indications that the church was large and could seat up to 600 worshippers.

Rev. Thornton also had a keen interest in Education and he organized several schools Toronto and Cobourg and served as the local Superintendent of Education as well as Inspector of Schools.

Rev. Thornton supported Temperance, the abolishment of the sale of whiskey, which was a contentious issue of the times – he saw cheap whiskey as a hindrance to the progress of society, and if the immigrant farmers were to succeed then he would have to practice Temperance – he was credited with organizing the first Temperance demonstration, a march from Oshawa to Whitby.

Robert Thornton’s headstone in Oshawa’s Union Cemetery, Section C.

Rev. Thornton died on February 11, 1875 in his 69th year – on the day of his interment in Union Cemetery, places of business closed and there was a lengthy procession to the cemetery.

Today, Rev. Robert Thornton is remembered by a cairn placed on the site of the log cabin church on Moore’s Hill – the stone memorial at the corner of Garrard and Hwy #2 in Whitby was erected in 1937 to commemorate the centennial of the first Presbyterian services held in the area.

Photograph of Thornton Rd- Taken from 1/4 mile north of Kingston Road (King Street), c. 1919

Thornton Road today is adjacent to Rev. Thornton’s land.


Information for this post from Historical Oshawa Information Sheets, Dr. Robert Thornton

My Reflections of Oshawa

By Jill Passmore, Visitor Experience Co-ordinator

I grew up on the west side of Oshawa, very close to the Whitby border. There have been many changes in that area in the last 30 years. I watched from my backyard as two plazas were being built on the north and south sides of King Street and Thornton Road. Sheridan Nurseries and a van rental company had occupied the land on the south side prior to the plaza being built. When it first opened, a Don Cherry’s Sports Bar was located there. I remember coming outside to hear that my dad and sister had just met Mr. Cherry himself! He was there checking out the restaurant.

We went on many walks and bike rides through Union Cemetery, picking wildflowers to lay on random graves. On one walk my brother fell behind and we heard him screaming like a banshee a few minutes later. We thought he thought he’d seen a ghost or something. It turns out he had just lost a marble!

I attended St. Michael Catholic Elementary School with my siblings and was saddened to hear that it would be closing due to low attendance. But now I am proud to see that it is being used for the Trent University – Oshawa campus.

We practically lived at the Civic Auditorium. Every Sunday in the winter we’d be at public skating. The theme from St. Elmo’s Fire was *THE* song to skate to! We’d always try and make it to the Skate With the Generals events too. Skate with the Generals, watch the Gens practices, go to games. A pretty decent benefit of living close to the Civic.

While I wasn’t born in Oshawa, I’ve been here long enough that it’s my hometown for sure. I’ve grown up with so many wonderful memories of this town, it’s difficult to hear people knock it. They obviously don’t know a good thing when they see it!

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