Oshawa Historicist: Buried Secrets of Oshawa’s Past

Coffin handle found during the removal and excavation of the Farewell Cemetery

Coffin handle found during the removal and excavation of the Farewell Cemetery

If you live around Grandview and Taunton, you probably didn’t pay much attention to what was in the ground when your new home was built.

But in 1992, the area was the site of an archaeological dig that unearthed the remains of a First Nations community, and 11,000 of the artifacts discovered are held at the Oshawa Community Museum at Lakeview Park.

As the city grows, the words “Oshawa” and “archaeology” aren’t often put together. And it’s easy to forget that underneath the sprawling subdivisions, movie theatres and shopping centres, traces of Oshawa’s past may still lie.

As International Archaeology Day approaches, Lisa Terech, who works in Community Engagement at the Oshawa Community Museum, tells us how archaeology helps historians challenge Oshawa’s traditional story:

Archaeology is an important part of the interpretation at the Oshawa Community Museum.  Our Grandview Gallery in Robinson House helps tell the story of the Lake Ontario Iroquois, a group of First Nations who called this area home over 500 years ago.

For far too long, the history of Oshawa began with Benjamin Wilson, an American who settled here in 1790 with his family, and so on and so forth.  By saying our history begins with Wilson, we are completely omitting the Lake Ontario Iroquois, who were settled with 10-15 longhouses, who hunted, who fished, and who farmed for a period of over 70 years.

Archaeology and the evidence it has given us helps us challenge the ‘traditional story,’ and we do so on every tour, through our interpretation and through the artifacts we have on display that were discovered during the excavation of the Grandview site in 1992.

Grandview Gallery

Inside the Grandview Discovery Gallery

Over 11,000 artifacts unearthed during that salvage dig excavation, and all 11,000 are part of our collection at the Oshawa Museum.  Not all 11,000 are on display of course, but you can view exceptional examples when you visit!

Two Aboriginal villages in Oshawa discovered through archaeological excavations: theMacLeod Site at Rossland and Thornton was discovered in the late 1960s; and the Grandview Site, around Grandview and Taunton, was discovered in 1992.  Both sites provide valuable information about the lives of the Lake Ontario Iroquois and have helped us at the Oshawa Museum shift how we tell the history of our City.

When people think about archaeology, the ancient ruins of Egypt, Greece, Maya, or early First Nation settlements are frequently what come to mind.

At the Oshawa Museum, we are fortunate to have two collections from late-historic archaeological sites: the Farewell Cemetery Collection and the Henry House Collection.  These two sites date to the mid-to-late 1800s and they provide information about Victorian lives and culture.

The Farewell Cemetery Collection is on display in conjunction with our latest exhibit, Mourning After: The Victorian Celebration of Death, and included in the display are a selection of coffin jewelry, coffin hardware (such as handles), as well as nameplates and viewing glasses.  Curator Melissa Cole gives information on why the excavation took place and about the artifacts in her June 2015 Podcast.

The Farewell Cemetery excavation was performed by the Toronto based firm Archaeological Services Inc., and they will be joining us for Archaeology Day, bringing along artifacts discovered locally, as well as delivering a talk on the Don Jail excavation.

Trent Students

Dr. Helen Haines (centre) and students from Trent Durham from the latest Henry House excavation

Another proud Archaeology Day partner is Trent University Durham, who have partnered with us on this event from its inception.

This year, Dr. Helen Haines and Trent students will discuss the two archaeological digs that have happened here at the Museum.  In 2011 and again this past summer, the heritage gardens of Henry House have been investigated, and the findings have helped us re-evaluate what we know about the Henry family, strengthening our understanding on how they lived. Artifacts that were discovered in 2011 will be on display, and Dr. Haines will deliver a talk on the two excavations.

Archaeology is a fascinating field, and Archaeology Day is an event where we get to celebrate and showcase the amazing history that has been unearthed here in Oshawa. Please join us on October 17 for International Archaeology Day!

The Oshawa Community Museum is located at Lakeview Park, 1450 Simcoe Street South. Gallery Hours are  Tuesday to Friday 12pm – 4pm, Sunday 12pm – 4pm. Admission is a suggested donation of $5. 

About the Author

088 - CopyLisa Terech started with the Oshawa Community Museum in 2007 as a volunteer and joined the staff in October 2010. In the role of Community Engagement, Lisa participates with the Museum team in developing and delivering creative, engaging and consistent public programs. A lifelong resident of the Oshawa area, Lisa truly enjoys going out in the community and being a champion for Oshawa’s history and its future.


Leave a Reply