Durham Region is only reaching middle age this year but it has surpassed a lot of milestones already.
Turning 40 this year, the Region of Durham is an area spanning approximately 2,537 kilometres. It is essentially “the largest geographical jurisdiction in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area),” according to the book Experience Durham.
From transportation and infrastructure to population growth and prosperity, the region looks and operates quite differently than it did a few decades ago.
Durham Region, as it’s known today, was previously called the County of Ontario, which was organized in January of 1854. According to historical notes from J.E. Farewell, at the time there was a population of about 30,000 people. There were nine major municipalities, with 13 officials representing them.
On Dec. 19, 1972, The Toronto Star published an article outlining the new boundaries for the region. By then, there were nine – spanning all the way from Pickering to Haldimand. The population of the region was then just almost 237,000. The estimated population of Durham Region in December 2013 was three times that, about 651,000.
When plans were first announced to establish the unnamed region, newspapers at the time “hyped fear of change…Communities seemed concerned that they would lose their identities and strength to larger, more established political powers,” according to the region’s website.
On Feb. 10, 1973, an Oshawa Times newspaper article showed varying opinions of residents in the county about what the area between Pickering and Cobourg should be named, with most residents’ saying the name should be the same as the city or town they resided in.
On Monday, Oct. 1, 1973, popular vote determined Durham was the new name for the region. The name came from John Graves Simcoe who in 1792 divided Upper Canada into 19 counties, naming Northumberland and Durham after two adjacent counties in England.
Rosie Mammone, clerk for the region, says the municipal council for the County of Ontario had a lot to do with the region as we know it today.
According to Mammone, John Ham Perry was a reeve for the County of Ontario from 1854-66. The four corners in Whitby were owned by Peter Perry, his father, in the 1800s, and several landmarks in the region are named after that family – such as a street in Scugog where he also owned a number of houses near the lake.
On Oct. 15, 1973, the first Durham Regional Council meeting was held at G.L. Roberts Collegiate and Vocational institute in Oshawa.
John Aker was one of ten Regional Councillors elected, and has served the region for 12 terms. He was elected again this year.
“The original council was very enthusiastic. They knew what the task was ahead of them and proceeded to fulfill their duties,” said Aker. “The region of Durham, when it first came into existence, had a period of growth and prosperity. Then there was a period of time where there was less growth. With the advent of the 407 continuing across Durham Region, growth and economic activity has returned.”
There are many things that contribute to the region’s success thus far, including historical sites.
Samantha George is curator for the Parkwood Estate in Oshawa. She believes the estate is a big contributor to where the region is today, in terms of infrastructure and business.
“A lot of museums are purpose-built buildings, like the ROM was created to hold a museum collection, or they happen to be like us which is a historic home that’s usually given to a town or a city to hold a museum,” she said. “He (Sam McLaughlin, original owner of the Parkwood Estate) thought Parkwood could have been used as a nursing hospital. There was also some discussion of Parkwood being used as a maternity hospital.”
The Parkwood Estate was in the McLaughlin family from 1917-72. Sam McLaughlin commissioned the mansion to be built on the site of a former park after his success with bringing General Motors to Oshawa. It is now a place for people to pay homage to the McLaughlin family, and is kept exactly as it was when Sam McLaughlin died in 1972 and the family handed over the keys to the city.
Along with well-known buildings, the region boasts a large transit system.
Gary Carroll, director of engineering for the city of Oshawa, says GO Transit was one of the major developments to allow Durham Region to advance to where it is today.
“Prior to that there was no commuter transit type of system in Durham Region. It was a collection of the five lakeshore community transit systems,” he said. “There was not a unified system.”
GO Transit, a name that is actually an acronym for Government of Ontario transit, expanded to Oshawa on Oct. 1, 1990, using existing rail lines. The official GO Train line came into service Jan. 8, 1995.
“That brought access to Durham Region people, literally across the entire GTA, in terms of a commuter rail system,” said Carroll.
Durham College is actually older than the region it resides in, with its official grand opening on Sept. 18, 1967 –six years before the region received its name. The school consisted of 16 portable classrooms when it first started. Current students know these portables as the Simcoe building.
The region of Durham has suffered a few growing pains in its short 40 years of existence, but has grown exponentially to a place bustling with business, infrastructure, and vibrant college and university institutions.