A retrospective look at an evolving Oshawa in 1867

Farming and agriculture machinery manufacturing were the key industries 150 years ago.

COMMUNITY Jun 15, 2017 by Barbara Howe  Oshawa This Week

OSHAWA — “That point at the crossing of the stream where the canoe was exchanged for the trail.” This is the English translation for the name of the largest municipality in Durham Region.

The meaning of Oshawa is as relevant today for new immigrants as it was for the Wendat people who lived here in the 15th century, the French fur traders, and European settlers who began to farm the land in the 1790s.

It signals a new step in a journey.

By 1867, Oshawa had become a large village with more than 3,000 inhabitants. Previous settlers, mainly from the British Isles, arrived by boat and tamed the heavy bush, carved out farmsteads, and built homes along the shore close to the lake’s transportation link.

The Grand Trunk Railway, which ran between Toronto and Montreal, along with Oshawa’s natural harbour enticed businesses to the area.

The four corners which anchor today’s downtown core were already established.

According to The 1846 Gazetteer, there was a general store, a post office, three churches, a foundry, a grist mill, a fulling mill, a brewery, a couple of distilleries, a machine shop, and some cabinet makers.

Simcoe Street, which followed the path of an existing native trail, ran from the harbour to Lake Scugog, and connected Port Sydenham (now the Port of Oshawa) to the expanding settlements along Kingston Road.

Jennifer Weymark, the archivist at Oshawa Museum, said early settlers relied on farming for their livelihood, and agriculture-related industries began to grow as more people came to farm the land.

“There were some pretty major industries that played a role in bringing people to Oshawa and making a very strong economy,” said Weymark. “The Cedar Drive Works manufactured agricultural implements, as did the Joseph Hall Works, which I believe was the largest in the British Commonwealth. It was a huge industry.”

As well as machinery factories, Weymark said there were also mills and tanneries and a significant school building on Centre Street large enough to accommodate students from Grade 1 to the end of high school. E.A. Lovell P.S. (now Durham Continuing Education) still stands on the original site.

One of the earliest photographic images available at the Oshawa museum is a streetscape circa 1877. The photograph depicts Oshawa’s four corners looking south down Simcoe Street. Though vastly different from today’s perspective, the scene is still recognizable by the steeple of Simcoe Street United Church dominating the skyline.

“Downtown looked a little different,” said Weymark, pointing out the dirt road. “Even in these early days, the downtown businesses would complain about the dust and the mud. That’s where the wooden sidewalks came along.”

According to Weymark, Confederation, or Dominion Day, was a low-key event in 1867. The Oshawa Vindicator, the local paper at the time, reported the day dawned with the firing of guns and ringing of church bells, and many houses flew flags. Later, a celebratory picnic was held at Cedar Dale.

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