Street Name Stories – the ‘Knitting’ Streets

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

Those who know me know that I’m an avid knitter. In fact, in the past I’ve written a blog post about a WWI Sock knitting pattern, I’ve examined some of Oshawa’s early woolen industries, and I’ve done a deep dive into one of those industries, the Empire Woolen Mills, available to read on our Discover Historic Oshawa site.

A woman, dressed in historic clothing, is knitting outside
Knitting at an Culture Squared in 2016; thanks to Carla from the RMG for the photo!

As well, I really enjoy this blog series, examining the stories behind many of the street names in Oshawa. Many have local connections, such as Ritson, Adelaide, and Skae, while others’ roots have a larger scope, like the streets names for WWI or WWII battle sites, Simcoe Street, explorers, or royalty.

As I was looking at the Oshawa map, looking for inspiration for a new post, I found quite a few names that are woven into the fabric of the fibre work world (I’m sorry, I was really stretching for that pun!).

I’ve previously written about Kitchener Avenue. His name has been given to a common grafting technique for finishing a pair of socks. In my original post, I made only passing mention of the more controversial aspects of Kitchener as a person – I should have delved further into him and why he is seen, rightfully, as extremely problematic. I know of quite a few knitters who avoid calling this technique by his name because of his actions during the Boer War and the creation of internment camps, atrocities that would be repeated over 40 years later by Nazi Germany.

While we’re talking about knitting and their namesakes, the community of Raglan, and in turn Raglan Road, was named in honour of Lord Raglan, a British commander in the Crimean War. These sleeves continue into the collar of a sweater as opposed to having armhole seams. Having made quite a few cardigans with raglan sleeves, I can say I’m a fan of the technique.

A woman is standing beside a brick building, wearing a t-shirt that says Oshawa
Lisa, standing outside of Robinson House – the cardigan I’m wearing has raglan sleeves

Speaking of cardigans (see what I did there), there is a Cardigan Court can be found northeast of Beatrice and Ritson, just off Trowbridge Road. Cardigans were named for another officer of the Crimean War.  James Brudenell, 7th Earl of Cardigan, was a British Army major general who led the Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War.

Of course, there is Oshawa’s Mill Street. This street is deserving of a post of its own, and I’m sure one will come in due time. Mill Street is located at a run in the Oshawa Creek, and many industries had harnessed the creek’s power for their mills, including Gorham’s woolen mill.

A street sign for Mill Street and Capreol Cr., Oshawa
Mill Street and Capreol Cr., Oshawa

On my ‘bucket list’ of vacation destinations are the Shetland Islands, home to the Shetland sheep, and one of the isles is Fair Isle whose name is lent to a popular and, let’s be honest, stunning, knitting style. Shetland Court can be found southeast of Thornton and Rossland, amongst other Scottish inspired streets.

These are the streets I could find with a few quick searches of Oshawa’s maps that relate to my beloved pastime. Have I missed any? Please let me know!

Our County – Empire Woolen Mills

Originally Appeared Whitby Chronicle, 18 Jan 1884

Our County

‘Travelers’ visits and describes the Empire Woolen Mills at Columbus – labouring under disadvantages which Whitby can and would wish to do away with.

(Special Correspondence of the Chronicle).

Empire Woolen Mills near Columbus, c. 1883 (AX995.169.1)

Columbus, Jan 12., 1884 – After leaving friend Liddle’s, as referred to in my last, I proceeded in a sort of zig-zag fashion, among the fine farms in the section, making many friendly calls, and having a good time generally. By the way, I seldom think of going around by the regular roads now. I have got so used to climbing fences for the sake of a short cut, that it would almost take a Chinese wall turn me. I finally drew up towards evening at the “Empire Woolen Mills” and having unearthed Mr. Robt. Gemmel, the courteous and intelligent Manager, I proceed it to interrogate him as to various matters of interest, to which he not only kindly responded, but showed me through the establishment from bottom to top. If you feel any special interest in seeing through a Woolen Mill, just step into our shadow and get as good a view as you can as it is getting dusky.

The factory is owned by Messrs. Bryce, McMurrich & Co., of Toronto, and went in full blast gives employment to about 40 hands, at wages ranging from 1 to 2 dollars a day. Mr. Gemmel informs me that he has very much difficulty in this out of the way place both in getting and keeping sufficient hands to properly run the mill. Owing mainly to the difficulty there is not more than half the work done and hands employed at present that there might be; a state of affairs that might of course must have its effect on the financial result. Tweeds and blankets are the staple productions, and are produced in great variety of texture and pattern. The goods are mainly sent to the wholesale house of the owners in Toronto, and distributed in all directions from that point.

The machinery in all departments is said to be first-class. That in the main building is run by water-power, but that in the winding and twisting and drying departments (conducted in separate building) is driven by steam. The main building is a wooden structure, in good condition, and consisting of four flats.

Perhaps, instead of taking you either from bottom to top, or from top to bottom, I had better follow the course of the manufacturing process from the wool to the finished bale of cloth. To do this we will have to strike in at the third flat, which is devoted to carding in all its phases. The machinery in operation evidently plays its cards well. When this primary operation of preparing the wool for being spun into yarn is performed, the material is sent up to the fourth flat, or spinning department, where it is converted into yarn of various grades, according to the purpose for which it is intended. The next department may be called the winding and twisting department. This work (as before stated) is done in a separate building, immediately east of the main building. The machinery here seems very complete, and is driven by steam, and the operations performed seem to the uninitiated eye to be both mysterious and marvelous. A 16 horse-power double eccentric engine is used. The twisting machine is a fine piece of mechanism manufactured by Sykes of Hudderford, England. The winding machine is made by McGee, of Paisley, Scotland. I understand that Mr. Gemmel, having a natural taste for machinery, and a quick perception of what is needed to accomplish certain ends, has added some important improvements of his own invention, in different departments of the factory. But I must hasten, as it is getting quite dusky. We will go back to the main building, up to the second flat, which we will call the weaving department. There are eleven looms at work, and the operations of spooling, warping and weaving are all very interesting; but to give a full description of the ins and outs is beyond my power, unused as I am to such operations. Let us return for a minute to the other building and take a look into the Drying department. This is a long room in which the blanketing and other cloth is kept revolving rapidly by a powerful machine said to be unsurpassed if not unequalled in this country. The Drying agent is hot air ingeniously admitted between the folds of revolving cloth, and with such effect that 1000 yards of flannel can be dried in an hour. We will not return to the basement or first flat of No. 1 which is called the finishing department. In this various goods manufactured in the establishment are sorted, finished, marked and put up in cases for shipment; to Toronto or elsewhere. The dye-house is at one end of the finishing room, where dying (sic) in all its branches is carried on. All this is done at various stages of the work, either in the wool, the yarn or the cloth, I need not more fully describe it.

I must now take my leave of the Factory and my friend Mr. Gemmel, as the sun has set, and I have a mile of rough walking ere I reach Columbus. I am well aware that in many respects my account of the Factory is very defective. It is in fact several weeks since my visit, and my notes are now hard to decipher, and my limited acquaintance with machinery would at best be a great hindrance to my giving a good description of it. Just take my sketch for what it is worth, and if you wish for more go and see for yourselves.

There is a store kept in an adjoining building; also kept by Bryce McMurrich & Co. in which goods are sold not only to employees of the Factory but to the inhabitants generally. The store is under the very efficient care of Miss Lawrence, into whose eyes one has only to look to feel fully assured both of her integrity and kindness of heart.

Now it is quite dark, and as my only way of going on is to stop, I will stop accordingly.

Traveller.

Early Woolen Enterprises in Oshawa

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

When I’m not sharing the history of Oshawa or giving tours of the site, I can usually be found with knitting needles and yarn in my hands. A voracious knitter with a dangerous yarn shopping habit, I’m rarely cold as I’m usually covered in wool.  Naturally, my interest is piqued when knitting or wool is mentioned in a historical context, like how I could not resist knitting the pair of socks from a pattern published in the local newspaper in 1916.  In Jill’s post from mid-November, she recounted that in the Sam Pedlar manuscript, the earliest business mentioned is Beagle & Conklin, purveyors of spinning wheels and handlooms in 1793.  Be still, my heart. This got me curious as to how many other woolly industries has Oshawa been home to through the years.

13900235_10154457892429185_3771701797293335892_n
Knitting at an Culture Squared in 2016; thanks to Carla from the RMG for the photo!

Let’s start with Beagle & Conklin. Pedlar serves as the resource for this industry.  After arriving in Oshawa in the early 1790s, Benjamin Wilson was so taken with the area that he wrote letters to those whom he knew in the States, espousing the greatness of Upper Canada, and Beagle & Conklin arrived as a result of one of Wilson’s letters.  They established their business of making spinning wheels and handlooms around 1793.  As stated by Pedlar: “It has often been asked how came it about that Oshawa is such an industrial centre, in the light of its history it is easily accounted for. So long as shaft and pulley revolves in Oshawa’s busy works, may the names of Beagle and Conklin be kept in mind.”

A number of woolen mills, where wool is processed, have also been located in Oshawa through the years.  Perhaps the largest such industry was Schofield, who were located on Centre Street and in our community from 1892-1951. It is worth noting that woolen mills were often large employers of women, and this was indeed the case with Schofield.

a00384

The Oshawa Creek provided power to many of the early mills in our community, including Gorham’s woolen mill, located at what Pedlar called ‘The Hollow;’ he was referring to the area around what is today Mill Street.  The proprietor was Joseph Gorham, and this woolen mill was established in 1822, in the same vicinity of Dearborn & Cleveland’s grist mill.  Pedlar asserts, “this woolen mill so far as the writer has been able to learn is the third industry which utilized the water power of the Oshawa Creek.”  Before long, the Hollow was the home of E Smith’s distillery and Miles Luke’s tannery.  It is not known how long Gorham’s woolen mill was in business, but Joseph himself died in 1839, aged 50 years, buried at the Pioneer Memorial Gardens Cemetery.

An enterprising man, Samuel Hall was a prolific builder in our community, establishing factories, saw mills, helped with a store house and elevator at Port Oshawa, and a woolen mill north of the town.

The Oshawa Creek also provided power to Ethan Card, another woolen and carding mill established around 1842.  His was located at the ‘raceway,’ along the creek north of King Street, where the creek ‘races’ along. He was also laid to rest at the Pioneer Memorial Gardens, passing away in 1854.

If we look to the northern communities in Oshawa, there was the Empire Woolen Mill in Columbus.  It was located just outside the village, another mill that harnessed the power of the creek.  It was reportedly the largest mill in the area.  It was established in 1835 by Mathewson and Ratcliffe and was sold to the Empire Mills Company in 1850. According to information from Archaeological Services Inc., approximately 50 workers were employed by this business, many of whom were brought to the area from Lancashire and Yorkshire in England, and they resided either in boarding houses or small cottages.  The business moved in 1887, and a flood three years later washed away the mill’s dam.

ax9951691
Empire Woolen Mills near Columbus, c. 1883 (AX995.169.1)

Finally, we know our own Thomas Henry dabbled with wool. As per the 1851 agricultural census, amongst his other crops and livestock, he had 27 sheep with 100 pounds of wool.  An interesting note in the 1868 Vindicator tells us Thomas had an incident involving his sheep.  As reported:

Returned – Three of the sheep advertised by Mr. Thomas Henry, have returned home without their fleeces, but marked with a hole in the right ear.  If the man who was kind enough to shear them will be kind enough to return the fleeces and the two missing sheep, he will be paid for the shearing, but not for the marking.

Finally, memories shared by one of Thomas’s granddaughters, Arlie DeGuerre, gives a glimpse into how Thomas’s daughters would have passed time inside the house:

One can scarcely imagine the work it was to clothe and feed a family of 14 children, especially when all the yarn was carded and spun from the sheep’s wool and then woven into cloth right at home.  The big loom was in a corner of the kitchen and it seemed to never stop.  On into the later evening one could hear the shuttle go back and forth; one foot peddle go down and then the other as Mother Henry wove the cloth for trousers, shirts, and dresses and all the woolen cloth used in the home.  Elizabeth the second eldest girl became the seamstress.  She sewed nearly all the time.  The girls knit socks and mitts, pieced quilts, mended and darned socks during most of their spare hours.

Oshawa has long been known as a manufacturing community, the creek providing power to the early industries that became established here, many of which were woolen mills, preparing the fibres so that warm clothes could be made.



Addendum: October 2020 – I was looking in our database at the Thomas Henry Correspondence Collection, a donation received in 2013 and has been written about before on the blog. I was very delighted to see this as part of the collection:

A013.4.221

Unfortunately, this slip of paper is undated and has no additional context, but Thomas Henry is named on this receipt for 10lbs (or 1.0lb) of yarn. A surprise like this was worthy of an addendum to this post.

%d bloggers like this: