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A look back at Oshawa in the early days of confederation

A clipping from the Oshawa Vindicator, the city's newspaper at the time, details some of the goings on in the early days of Confederation in 1867.

A clipping from the Oshawa Vindicator, the city’s newspaper at the time, details some of the goings on in the early days of Confederation in 1867.

By Jennifer Weymark/Archivist

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Constitution Act – the piece of legislation that unified the provinces of Canada (Canada East – modern day Quebec, and Canada West – modern day Ontario), New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. What did Confederation mean to citizens of Oshawa? How did they mark this occasion?

In 1867, Oshawa was still a growing village. The year marked the start of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), an organization that continues to play a strong role in the community. Oshawa’s industries continued to grow. The year saw the development of the Provincial Exhibit prize-winning cheese vat manufactured by W.H. Pellow and A.M. Walton. The Joseph Hall Works began manufacturing the Gordon Printing Press, a press that was well received by printers both in Oshawa and beyond. An early closing movement began with local merchants. It was decided that businesses should close by 7 p.m. throughout the year except in June, July and August, when they would stay open until 7:30 p.m. The year saw the competition of a familiar landmark in downtown Oshawa as the new Methodist Church, today Simcoe Street United, was constructed.

The newspaper of the day, the Oshawa Vindicator, shows that the citizens of Oshawa had a strong interest in politics, both at home and abroad. The year began with a Jan. 7 council election that saw a close race between Silas Fairbanks, commander of the recently formed 34th Battalion, and W.D. Michael. On election day, there were a number of close calls for electors who were voting. A number of electors had to climb over fences and through windows in order to cast their votes for either candidate before the polling booth closed and votes were counted. Fairbanks won his campaign for Reeve with 175 votes.

In Oshawa, the passing of the British North America Act was a relatively quiet affair, even though it had been designated as a celebration of Confederation for the country. The day started with the firing of guns and ringing of bells, and many houses flew flags. There was a parade along King Street and speeches were given in front of Gibb’s Store and Fowke’s. A picnic was held later in the day at Cedar Dale for those people of the community who did not go elsewhere, such as the Town of Whitby, to celebrate. It is estimated that 7,000 were present for the events in Whitby.

Even with the spirit of celebration, there was no way to know what would happen with this newly founded country, and the Vindicator published an editorial that expressed this sentiment.

“Yes, Canada is a nation! Are we to prove ourselves worthy of the proud title of Canadian, or are our narrow sectional views, so long appealed to by politicians, still to confine our patriotism within the limits to the province in which our lot may chance to be cast? What are to be our reflections as each anniversary of our national birthday recurs? Is Dominion Day of Sixty-Eight to find us united only in name by divided in all that renders union a guarantee of strength? We hope, we pray, aye, we are hardly afraid to assert that it will not be so.”

Given that we are celebrating the 150th anniversary of Confederation, it would appear many of these concerns were misplaced.