Women and the Labour Movement in Oshawa: Bev McCloskey

By Jennifer Weymark, Archivist

The gender wage gap, harassment in the workplace, and finding a work/life balance are frequently in the news as we examine our changing society. It was not all that long ago that women were relegated to certain jobs and were forced to leave once they were married. A driving force in the fight for equality was Oshawa native Bev McCloskey.

Born on January 1, 1929, Beverly Beryl Christian Gibson was introduced to the United Auto Workers when she started work at General Motors in 1949.  In 1954, she was elected as a delegate to the Oshawa and District Labour Council, and in 1956 she ran for the position of Recording Secretary, the only position available for woman, with the U.A.W. Local 222. McCloskey won and held this position for 17 years.

From the very start of her career, McCloskey was a steadfast union supporter and passionate social activist. A fantastic example of this passion is how she chose to spend her honeymoon. Bev and her new husband Patrick honeymooned in Long Beach, California.  Rather than soaking up the sun and sites, the McCloskeys attended the United Auto Workers meeting.  At this meeting, a motion to add a woman to the top executive body of the U.A.W. passed, and Bev spent her honeymoon running for that position. While she didn’t win that race, it didn’t dampen her passion for women’s rights within the Union.

By the 1960s, six members of Local 222 banded together to fight for equal rights for women. The first obstacle tackled by the group was the segregated seniority list and the fact that, no matter how much seniority a female member may have earned, some jobs were restricted to men only. The group worked to form the U.A.W. Local 222 Women’s Committee, and in 1969 the group began work to change the Ontario Human Rights Act.

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In 1962, when the Ontario Human Rights Act was passed, it barred discrimination on the basis of colour, race, creed and national origin.  What it did not include was discrimination based on sex.  The Local 222 Women’s Committee wanted that changed and approached Cliff Pilkey, the Oshawa NDP MPP, and worked with him to draft a bill outlawing discrimination based on sex in employment. After a year and a half of lobbying and protesting, Bill 83, “An Act to Prevent Discrimination in Employment because of Sex or Marital Status” was passed in December 1970 and became an amendment to the Ontario Human Rights Act.

McCloskey and the Women’s Committee continued to work to make the factory floor an environment that was inclusive for all workers.  In 1983, she approached General Motors and the Union to have inappropriate photos, ones that objectified women, removed from workbenches and walls in the plant. Prior to approaching management and the union, McCloskey had been dealing with the issue in her own unique way.  She had special stickers made up that read “THIS INSULTS WOMEN” and she would attach them to any and all offensive photos she came across.

Her social activism was not focused solely on the equality in the workplace. McCloskey took Local 222 to task in 1984 when they came out against the Ontario Federation of Labour’s support of Dr. Henry Morgentaler’s abortion clinics in Toronto and Winnipeg. The opening sentence of her retort sums up McCloskey’s thoughts concerning union’s condemnation of the OFL. McCloskey: “It is with disgust that I take pen in hand to reply to the headline…” and she continues to state that “No issue is more important to women now than that of reproductive choice.”

Even in her retirement, McCloskey continued to champion women’s rights and became a founding board member of the Durham Region Unemployment Help Centre. Bev McCloskey passed away on January 14, 2014. Speaking on her impact, Unifor Local 222 President Ron Svajlenko stated “Bev was very active in the struggle for women’s rights in our union and fought for the equity that women enjoy today in our communities. Her legacy will serve as a standard for activists who strive to create a better society.”

White Bronze Markers in Union Cemetery

By Laura Suchan, Executive Director

Most of the grave markers in Union Cemetery are made of marble or granite, however scattered throughout the cemetery grounds are distinct bluish grey monuments.  Although referred to as white bronze, the monuments were made of a refined zinc which was referred to as white bronze to distinguish it from dark or antique bronze.  Manufactured the Monumental Bronze Company in Bridgeport, Connecticut beginning in 1875, the stones were at their most popular in the 1880s and 1890s.

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Maker’s mark from the White Bronze Company of St. Thomas, Ontario as seen on the “Beath” monument in Section A, Union Cemetery, Oshawa Ontario.

An 1885 issue of Scientific American detailed the manufacturing process of the white bronze monuments.  Initially designs were modeled in clay and reproduced in plaster of Paris from which a cast is taken. This procured a perfect metal pattern from which the monument was moulded and cast in ordinary way. The different parts of the monument were joined together by pouring molten metal of the same material as the castings. Finally the monument was given a sand blast which gave it its beautiful appearance and, according to the manufacturer, much better than copper bronze which becomes black once exposed to the elements.

Although the white bronze monuments were all manufactured in Bridgeport, Ct., the final assembly work was done at subsidiary plants in the United States and in Canada at the White Bronze Company of St. Thomas (Ontario).  Monuments could be ordered through sales agents or catalogues and came in sizes ranging from a few inches to almost 15 feet in height. Embellishments such as flowers, crosses, name plates, figures and symbols could be added to personalize the monument at no cost. A monument could be purchased relatively inexpensively with prices ranging from a few dollars upwards of $5,000.

The White Bronze Company advertised their monuments were almost indestructible due to their composition and were impervious to the ravages of frost, moss, and lichen and would not change colour. The raised lettering remained legible and the removal tablets made customization easy. Scientific American proclaimed the refined zinc was “so well adapted to monumental purposes that it will ultimately supersede all other materials.” Of course these claims elicited strong opposition from the marble and granite dealers and carvers who claimed the bronze monuments would not hold up to the ravages of climate and in fact looked like cheap imitations of stone. Some cemeteries even banned monuments not made of stone due to pressure from the stone industry.

True to their claims, the white bronze monuments are a researcher’s friend as they have legible lettering and have held up well to the elements.

By 1914 metal had become too valuable a commodity due to the war and the White Bronze Monument Company ceased production of monuments, although they still produced name plates and embellishments for many years after.

In Union Cemetery there are 13 white bronze monuments as well as 5 smaller flat laying footstones.

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Left: Mallory gravestone in Union Cemetery featuring “Young St.John” with lambs. According to the Monumental Bronze Company catalogue the statute of St. John sold for $75 and the base was $215 or approximately $6,700 in 2018. Right: Statute of “Young St. John” as seen in Monumental Bronze catalogue 1882.
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The grand Phillips gravestone today faces busy King St. West and is a commanding presence. The shaft of the stone stands over three metres tall and is graced by “Hope” which stands over a metre tall. The four removal tablets are adorned with “Faith” (seen above ‘Phillips,’ on left), “Suffer the Children” (top right), a “Golden Sheaf” of wheat and information on the deceased (bottom right) The entire gravestone most likely cost $410 (over $9,000 today).

Stayed tune for our exciting new Union Cemetery tour featuring the white bronze monuments coming next summer!


All photos by the Oshawa Museum.

The Monumental Bronze Company catalogue is available from the Smithsonian Libraries https://library.si.edu/digital-library/book/whitebronzemonu00monu

Symbols on the Stones in Union Cemetery

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

This Sunday, the Oshawa Community Museum is excited to offer our Annual Union Cemetery Tour.  Oshawa largest cemetery is also the final resting place to a great number of its early settlers and community leaders.  The stones are varied, as are the stories that accompany them.  On Sunday, we will discover the secrets behind the symbols on the stones, and learn about the societies, organizations, and affiliations denoted by the symbols. What can be learned by reading a stone, and what secrets are still to be discovered?

There are many symbols and iconography that are easily identifiable, and there were others that required research as to their history.

The following are some of the symbols you might see on a gravestone in Union Cemetery.

Be sure to join OCM Staff at 2pm for our annual tour, on Sunday September 7, 2014.

George Chapman's gravestone, featuring the Masonic square and compass
George Chapman’s gravestone, featuring the Masonic square and compass
Menagh-Kennedy stone, featuring a cross, indicative that the person was a Christian
Menagh-Kennedy stone, featuring a cross, indicative that the person was a Christian
Monument for the Corinthian Lodge of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.  On the top sphere are the three linked chains, interwoven with the initials IOOF.
Monument for the Corinthian Lodge of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. On the top sphere are the three linked chains, interwoven with the initials IOOF.
Detail of William Strickland's headstone, featuring the Woodmen of the World crest.
Detail of William Strickland’s headstone, featuring the Woodmen of the World crest.