Oshawa – The Manchester of Canada

By Sara H., Summer Student

Even though I have lived in Oshawa my entire life, there is still so much I have to learn about the city!  Working at Parkwood and the McLaughlin Branch of the Oshawa Public Library has given me a great starting point to learn about some of the significant people and industries that made up our city.  The Oshawa Museum has allowed me to continue this research and given me new ways to discover more about Oshawa. For example, Oshawa was once known as the “Manchester of Canada” due to the many industries that set up shop here and helped Oshawa thrive.  We all know about General Motors Canada and the legacy of the McLaughlin family, but what about the other industries that made up the “Manchester of Canada?”  Well look no further than this blog post as I have rounded up some information on these industries from the museum’s Discover Historic Oshawa site!  

Ontario Malleable Iron was established in 1872 by William and John Cowan.  Both men previously worked at the Ontario Malleable Iron Co., and had a great deal of skill and experience from previously running a variety of small businesses.  John served as the first president of the company until his death in 1915 when William succeeded him.  The company was sold to Grinnel Co. of Canada Ltd in 1929, and unfortunately closed in 1977 after a lengthy labour dispute.  The site was acquired by Knob Hill Farms, a Canadian grocery chain, which operated a store there from 1981 until they closed in 2000. 

Black and white photograph of a large industrial brick building. There is a road in front of it with lots of wooden electrical poles and wires running alongside
Exterior of the Ontario Malleable Iron Co., Buildings No. 5 and 7 from Front St.; Oshawa Museum archival collection (A996.1.7)

Smith Potteries was the largest maker of hand-made pottery in Canada, and operated in Oshawa from 1925 to 1949.  They produced a range of hand-painted products such as vases, bowls, and other souvenirs.  The company was very successful and the quality of their white ware pottery put them in competition with other countries such as China, Japan, and Germany.  Herbert C. Smith owned and operated the business from 1925-1938, and installed a gas station at the front of the store to attract motorists and tourists wanting to purchase souvenirs.  Smith Sporting Goods, another business operated by the Smith family, opened on the property and was in business until 1968. 

Our curator has previously written about Smith Potteries: ArteFACTS – Oshawa’s Smith Potteries

Cooper-Smith Co. was located at 19 Celina Street and changed ownership quite a bit before the company was created.  It was once owned by James Odgers Guy, yes, the same Guy from Guy House at the museum, who ran a “flour and feed” store there.  Elgin Cooper bought the property from James Guy in 1905 and turned it into a larger store that sold grain, as well as seeds, oats, and other types of feed.  The company was known for a specialized seed for homing pigeons that gave them increased stamina, and their garden seeds.  The company was forced into receivership and closed in July 1982, but reopened in August 1982 under new owners who were still a part of the Smith family.  Unfortunately, in January 1988 the property was destroyed by a fire. 

A large iron scale, standing in front of square shelves
Cooper-Smith Scale; Oshawa Museum Collection (011.16.1)

Pedlar People Limited was opened by Henry Pedlar in 1861 as a kitchenware shop.  George Pedlar, his son, inherited the company after his father’s death and established a metal stamping plant.  By 1894 the company was the “largest sheet metal factory in the British Empire.”   During the Second World War, Pedlar People was contracted to make a variety of military munitions and materials such as autocannon and artillery shells, army huts and munition shelters.  The company received high praise from the Canadian government and wartime authorities due to their service and quality of products made.  In 1976, the company was bought by a Toronto firm who opened Pedlar Storage Products in the Stevenson Industrial Park.  The Simcoe Street plant was demolished in 1981 to make way for a new shopping centre, and Pedlar Storage Products closed in 1982. 

Williams Piano Factory was started by Richard Williams in Toronto in 1849.  In 1888, the Williams firm purchased the former factory of Joseph Hall Works in Oshawa and began renovations to the building to make it suitable to manufacture pianos.  In 1890 the factory began producing pianos and organs, and the company constructed their first church organ that was sent to Brighton and consisted of more than 100 pipes!  It took ten weeks to three months to make one piano, but each piano was constructed to the “highest degree of excellence in every detail of workmanship”.  The company was globally known as a manufacturer of quality products, but due to the depression and increased mass production of the radio, they closed due to lack of demand.  However, the factory building remained and many other businesses occupied the premises, and the building was even a barracks during the war years.  The factory was demolished in 1970 to make way for the Durham Region Police Headquarters and the Oshawa Times building.  

A brown upright piano with a three pedals and a stool. There is a sign above the piano that reads 'New Scale Williams Pianos, Oshawa, Canada'
Williams Piano, 1903, in Guy House; Oshawa Museum Collection

If you want to find out more information on any of these sites, or find out more information about what used to be in Oshawa, please feel free to visit either of the museum’s websites in the “For More Information” section, or take a look at the Library’s History Pin site! 


For More Information:

Discover Historic Oshawa – Oshawa Museum

Industry in Oshawa – Oshawa Museum

History Pin: Oshawa Street Scenes – Oshawa Public Library


Sources Consulted:

Ontario Malleable Iron – http://discoverhistoricoshawa.com/listings/ontario-malleable-iron/

Smith Potteries – http://discoverhistoricoshawa.com/listings/smith-potteries/

Cooper Smith Co. – http://discoverhistoricoshawa.com/listings/cooper-smith-co/

Pedlar People Ltd. – http://discoverhistoricoshawa.com/listings/pedlar-people-limited/

Pedlar People Ltd. From Industry in Oshawa – https://industryinoshawa.wordpress.com/foundries/pedlar-people-ltd/

Williams Piano Company – http://discoverhistoricoshawa.com/listings/williams-piano-company/   

The Williams Piano Company

Richard Williams began The Williams Piano Co. operations in Toronto in 1849.  In 1888 the Williams firm purchased the former home of the Joseph Hall Works in Oshawa and began renovating the building for the manufacture of pianos and organs.

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The building was originally constructed in 1852 and was initially used by the Oshawa Manufacturing Company.  The factory, a three storey brick building, occupied an entire town block on Richmond Street.  Williams spent more than $40,000 adapting the facilities for the production of pianos.  To this end, the buildings were re-roofed with slate, new hardwood floors were laid and new buildings built.  All of this retrofitting and new construction turned the former Hall Works into a building with enough floor space for what was the largest piano works in Canada.  The company’s total floor space was approximately 100,000 square feet.  In 1890, the new Williams Piano Factory began producing pianos and organs.  The company was also located at other locations such as the lumber yard and some other smaller buildings in Oshawa. Only this part of the business moved to Oshawa, as the centre of the business remained in Toronto.  Smaller instruments such as guitars and banjos continued to be manufactured in Toronto.

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The Town of Oshawa granted Williams $20 000 in ten annual installments as an inducement to move the plant to Oshawa.  The Town also granted the new firm a fixed taxation rate of $250 per year for a number of years.  Once in Oshawa, the newly acquired space allowed the firm to manufacture its first large church organ.  This first organ was constructed for a church in Brighton and consisted of more than 100 pipes.

The company was reorganized in 1902, and the piano was revised.  The piano was adjusted in scale, touch, case-design, acoustic, and tone. It took ten weeks to three months to make one piano.  The company constructed its pianos to “the highest degree of excellence in every detail of workmanship” and the quality of its product determined its success.  The ‘New Scale Williams Piano’ and ‘Player Piano’ soon became one of the world’s most demanded products.

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In 1903 after much hard work, Mr. R.S. Williams became ill and sold his business.  The company was renamed “Williams Piano Company”.  The president of the company was Fredrick Bull and the vice-president was E.C. Scythes.  The factory was huge and prosperous by the year 1911, and employed 250 skilled workers.  The company produced approximately 3,000 pianos/player pianos annually.

After the creation of the victrola in 1926, many people found records to be more convenient and popular than pianos.  The Williams factory was forced into the radio business.  Eventually, after three years the company became the seventh largest manufacturer.  The Williams Piano Factory even widened its horizons in order to build canoes and row boats.  The company was branching out and business was great.  People from foreign countries wanted a Williams Piano and the company exported their product on a regular basis.  The Williams piano was well known all over Canada, from coast to coast, and overseas.

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The company prospered and began to construct 4,000 pianos per annum.  The company was shipping pianos to seven different countries.  The Williams Piano was also displayed in an exhibit at the Wembley Exhibition in London, England in 1926.  In 1927, one hundred and thirty-five men worked for the company and payroll hit a high of $200,000 a year.  At this time, the company was prosperous, but it did not last forever.

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The successful company that was known to so many individuals all over the world was required to change with the times.  Unfortunately, both the depression and mass production of the neutrodyne radio contributed to the demise of the company.  After the closure of this company many other businesses occupied the premises including: Cole of California; Sklar Furniture; and Coulter Manufacturing Company.  The building even acted as a barracks during the war years.

The building was torn down in 1970 in order to make room for the Durham Region Police Headquarters and the Oshawa Times.


References:

Cselenyi-Granch.  Under the Sign of the Big Fiddle:  The R.S. Williams Family, Manufacturers and Collectors of Musical Instruments.  Winnipeg:  Hignell Printing Limited, 1996.

The Oshawa Daily Reformer, October 25, 1926.

The Oshawa Daily Reformer, June 20, 1927.

Oshawa Daily Times, December 8, 1930.

Oshawa Daily Times, September 19, 1930.

Kaiser, M.D., T.E.  Historic Sketches of Oshawa.  The Reforming Printing & Publishing Co., 1921.

 

Stalter’s Music Store

This photograph, from the collection of the Oshawa Archives, depicts a crowd waiting for a parade in 1913.  In the background is a storefront advertising New Scale Williams Pianos.  This is the store of Mr. A.J. Stalter, located at 12 Simcoe Street North.

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Mr. Stalter had been a long standing businessman from Oshawa, who was renowned for managing his store economically, where he carried “a good stock of instruments from which to choose, selling from forty to fifty every year.”  In 1915, his son Percy took over the business and partnered with Mr. Newton Johns, and the business became known as Stalter and Johns.  They did not remain at their 12 Simcoe Street North location, for in 1921, the Stalter Music Store is found at 23 Simcoe Street North, on the east side of the street.

The Williams Piano Company, for which Stalter was an agent, had its headquarters in Toronto, however its manufacturing operations was located in Oshawa, on Richmond Street, west of Simcoe.  They constructed pianos in Oshawa for 50 years.  Their facility on Richmond Street, originally built in 1852, was torn down in the 1970s to make way for the Durham Region Police Headquarters and the Oshawa Times.

*This article originally appeared in the Downtown Oshawa BIA Newsletter. The Oshawa Museum is a proud partner with the BIA to share Oshawa’s history.


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