Oshawa’s streets are full of history

DOORS OPEN: St. George’s Memorial Church.
DOORS OPEN: St. George’s Memorial Church.

Reporter: Aleksandra Sharova

The history of Oshawa can be studied through its streets. Between Charles and King streets, along Simcoe Street – unique heritage sites with their own story and origin are scattered all over the city like giant history book pages which you slowly turn just by walking the concrete pavement and narrow lanes.
The annual Doors Open
Oshawa event makes
discovering this local history and architecture even more interesting and easy. And it’s free-of-charge.
In 2002 the Ontario Heritage Trust launched Doors Open to create access to, awareness of, and excitement about our
history and heritage.
Since its launch, Doors Open Ontario has grown from 17 to 55 annual events,
representing hundreds of
communities across the
province. Visitors to Doors Open Ontario have spent an estimated $39 million in
Ontario’s communities.
More than 20 of the most fascinating heritage sites in Oshawa opened their doors to residents and visitors Sept. 28.
The first stop of my heritage quest was 61 Charles Street. A hard-to-miss yellow sign in front of the building read,
“Discover the story behind every door.” Two floors of 61 Charles were opened to the public. Since this year’s Doors Open theme was cultural
expressions, which recognizes the relationship
between heritage and arts, the
building showcased the
exhibition of contemporary and modern art, as well as short theatrical
performances from Durham
Shoestring Performers.
Built in 1903 as a white goods factory, 61 Charles was expanded by the Oriental
Textile Co. to manufacture
fabric for the automotive
On April 26, 1918 fire almost destroyed the textile factory. The newspaper article from that time read, “The building was full of machinery… not one piece of which escaped undamaged. When the factory employees came to work in the morning many of them were surprised to find their place of employment in ruins, as they had not even heard there was a fire.
The loss of this factory to the town, even temporarily, is very much regretted as they were doing an excellent
business and employing quite a large staff.”
Alger Press Ltd. purchased the building in 1946. Oshawa was noted as one of the main centres of the printing industry in Ontario and Alger Press was one of the three major printing companies in Oshawa. It operated in Oshawa for 71 years
before closing in 1993.
The building now provides classrooms, student services, a library and much more as part of UOIT.
Another UOIT building in downtown Oshawa is the
Regent Theatre. The building reopened in 2010 as a lecture hall for UOIT, as well as for community and cultural events.
Cathy Clarke, Doors Open volunteer, said the previous owner of the building was
going to demolish it, but “the city found out and designated it [as a heritage site] to prevent it from demolition.”
A visitor of Doors Open
Oshawa said, “I remember coming here when I was a kid. I saw Gone with the Wind,
Fiddler on the Roof.”
UOIT did as much as
possible to preserve the
building, and not only the outside, but also the
interior features. “With this
building it’s wonderful adaptive
reuse. The university has been
amazing with its heritage
considerations, gone an
extra mile… It’s important to get somebody like the
university who’s very interested in the heritage aspects of the
building,” said Clarke.
Walking down Centre Street, there was another Doors Open sign, now in front of St. George’s Memorial Church. The church opened in 1924 – the same year Oshawa became a city.
The first thing you notice when you enter the building is the high ceiling. The interior features massive oak beams, limestone columns and arches and pews in rows.
Stained-glass windows, in memory of the rectors and families who built the church, adorn the interior. Light reveals the genius loci of the church.
Doors Open volunteer
Glady Farquharson said the current Cassavant organ has over 3,000 pipes and can be heard during Sunday service accompanying the piano and a volunteer choir of some 30
The tower of St. George’s holds 15 bells. The largest – “Big Ed” – weighs 5,200 pounds. The tower had to be reinforced to accommodate it.
Joan Fontaine, 87, who has been a chimer in the church for seven years said, “We have to climb four flights of stairs to get to the chime room. It’s a little enclosed cabin where the
keyboard is and the bells are above that. The bells are
suspended above that cabin. It helps to keep us from getting damage to our ears.”
She showed the way to a room from which steep flights of stairs soared upwards.
Fontaine remembers the first time she played the bells. She chose to play Nearer, My God, to Thee, because the church’s tower was so high.
To see cultural heritage, it isn’t necessary to travel to
Europe. All you have to do is take a walk down an Oshawa street.