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Counting down to Oshawa’s big day

The famed Henry House of the Oshawa Museum.

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

This past weekend, a special occasion was marked as friends and family gathered to recognize Cpt. John Richardson, who fought with the Ontario Regiment during the Second World War.

Richardson then officially celebrated his 100th birthday on Tuesday, May 28.

Five years from now, the City of Oshawa itself will celebrate an event involving one century.

Although first incorporated in 1850, it was in the “Roaring 20s” when the municipality began to see huge growth, quadrupling its population in that decade alone from 4,000 to 16,000.

Propelled by the enormous success of General Motors of Canada and the increasing popularity of the automobile, the area had soared past its small beginnings.

On March 8, 1924, Oshawa shed its 74-year distinction of being a village and was officially incorporated as a city.

Over the past 100 years, the city has continued to grow and based on 2016 census data, is the 31st largest municipality in Canada (and 15th largest in Ontario) by population with 159,458 residents.

Over the years the city has celebrated many anniversaries, including the semi-centennial mark in 1974 and the 75th anniversary in 1999.

As part of the latter, a special mural was painted by artist Tony Johnson on the northeast corner of Simcoe and John streets. The mural highlighted elements of the city’s past and present including Memorial Park, the 43rd branch of the Royal Canadian Legion, award-winning skater Donald Jackson, Parkwood Estate, Col. R.S. McLaughlin and the Canadian Automotive Museum.

And while 2024 is a full five years away, there is already movement in the city to prepare to prepare for the 100th anniversary.

At the latest meeting of the city’s development services committee meeting, officials from the Oshawa Museum spoke on a proposed $7.8 million, 12,300 sq. ft. expansion.

The idea of expanding the museum itself is nothing new, as a feasibility study considering such a move was completed in 1996 and presented to council in 1997.

“The existing structure does not fully support the [Oshawa Museum’s] current curatorial, programming and administrative activities. The artifact and archival collections storage facilities (basements, attics, an unheated off-site storage locker, etc.) are totally inadequate in terms of spatial requirements, accessibility, security and environmental conditions,” the study, completed by Sears & Russell, reads on page 45.

This map depicts the location of the proposed expansion of the Oshawa Museum. Museum officials have asked the city to consider the project as the cornerstone of its Centennial celebrations in 2024. (Photo courtesy of Oshawa Museum)

“Both permanent and temporary exhibits are limited by space and environmental conditions. Education and other public programs are restricted by size and other demands on the program room in the Guy House. The administrative area, also in Guy House, is overcrowded. There are no curatorial work areas, and the archival area is inadequate and inappropriate,” it continues.

Laura Suchan, executive director of the Oshawa Museum, made it clear these pressures remain on the organization more than two decades after the original feasibility study.

In 2016, the Canadian Conservation Institute performed a facility assessment of the museum and a number of its findings echo those in the 1996 study.

On page 11 – “A lack of space is a key constraint for all Oshawa Museum activities, putting existing collections at risk of damage and restricting future collection of Oshawa’s heritage. Oshawa museum staff have exhausted options for using historic spaces efficiently; therefore, new space is needed.”

The CCI report notes that “the key recommendation of the 1996 Sears & Russell master plan is even more pertinent today, twenty years later.”

With this in mind, the museum signifies is reaching out to the city with the idea of revitalizing the place where’s Oshawa’s history lives as part of what may become the largest celebration in the city’s pantheon.

“We propose the museum facility as the cornerstone of the city’s Centennial celebrations,” Suchan said during a delegation to the committee. “It would show Oshawa as a place where heritage and culture
are significant.”

The project is very early in its development, but to make their wish of having it be a part of the 100th anniversary, Suchan says the wheels must begin rolling.

“We would need to do the technical due-diligence this year, and really get moving,” she told councillors on May 27.

The matter will be discussed further with city staff in the months moving forward.

One local resident has been ahead of the game in anticipating the city’s 100th anniversary.

For several years, Greg Milosh has been imploring council to start plotting for the occasion, although he hasn’t always been pleased with the reaction he’s received.

In 2016, Milosh suggested that some kind of landmark or structure be developed for the centennial celebration, akin to the Big Nickel in Sudbury or the giant Canada Goose in Wawa, Ont.

At that time, there was no feedback provided for his idea.

“With the significant nature of my proposal, I expected my presentation would have generated comments and questions from committee members and the mayor. Unfortunately, there was none. No one said a word. In my opinion, this is unacceptable,” Milosh told the Express at the time.

However, he was not deterred and has continued to push his idea of making March 8, 2024, the biggest occasion in the city’s history.

Resident Greg Milosh has made several suggestions for the Centennial celebration, and even began a website to catalogue ideas.

Milosh launched a website, www.oshawa100.ca, in hopes of soliciting ideas and suggestions from the community, and to look for potential sponsors and volunteers.

Suggestions given so far include staging a Centennial gala or costume ball, a 100-person torch relay, commissioning the Songwriters Association of Canada to compose a theme song for Oshawa or have an open competition, and to invite the Prime Minister and Premier to the event.

The city has begun plans to create a committee made up of staff and community members to plan for 2024.

The committee will map out the timeline heading into the 100th-anniversary celebrations.

In 2021, it is planned the committee will begin to meet regularly and develop a work plan and approach for the celebration.

It is anticipated that during this time initial brainstorming with committee members on events, public art, and other initiatives will begin.

Work has already started to prepare for the big day financially as well.

Starting in 2015, the city started banking $10,000 per year into a reserve account marked specifically for the event.

As of Dec. 31, 2018, the reserve balance was $40,000 with the expectation there will be $100,000 in the reserve by the end of 2023.

It truly appears there will a number of different forks in the road to Oshawa’s Centennial celebration.

 

BEHIND THE WRITING

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

Birthdays are the type of event that most of us react differently too.

Some of us can’t wait to be the centre of attention, while others stress over the fact we are a year older – I remember being depressed when I turned 30, I was no longer in my 20s! – or some of us just prefer to see it as another day.

But March 8, 2024, will mark an exceptional anniversary for the City of Oshawa.

On that day, it will be 100 years since the city was officially incorporated.

While five years may seem like a lifetime away at this point, there will need to be a lot of work done before the big day.

The city has already formed a committee comprised of staff and community members to brainstorm events, activities, and ideas for the Centennial celebration.

Resident Greg Milosh has been active in bringing forward ideas to council and city committees over the past few years.

While the reaction from councillors hasn’t always been as enthusiastic as he may have wanted, Milosh was undeterred and created a website, oshawa100.ca, which includes several suggestions for ways to celebrate Oshawa’s 100th birthday.

The Oshawa Museum has also approached the city with the notion of making its much-needed and long-desired expansion as a cornerstone of the Centennial.

I was quite surprised to hear how just desperate the team down at the museum is, and it makes me appreciate their hard work even more.

Again, 2024 is a distance away, but I’m very excited to see how the City of Oshawa celebrates its 100th anniversary.

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