Oshawa Historicist: Richmond Street and King Henry VIII

As Canada was colonized, Britain influenced everything from the structure of Parliament to fashionable style of dress. In Oshawa, our colonial past is often overlooked, but most of us see traces of it every day.  

Lisa Terech, Community Engagement at the Oshawa Community Museum, discovered how a royal title created for the illegitimate son of King Henry VIII became the name of one of Oshawa’s oldest streets:  Richmond.    

Like Simcoe Street, Richmond Street is an Oshawa road whose namesake is not local. Simcoe Street was named for John Graves Simcoe, the first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada; Richmond Street, an east-west road measuring at just over half a kilometre, takes its name from a Peerage of England, the Duke of Richmond. The Dukedom has an interesting history, as does the story behind this street name in Oshawa.

by Sir Godfrey Kneller, Bt, oil on canvas, circa 1703-1710

by Sir Godfrey Kneller, Bt, oil on canvas, circa 1703-1710

First, let’s explore the street’s namesake.  The Dukedom of Richmond has been created four times in British history. It was first created in 1525 as Duke of Richmond and Somerset for Henry Fitzroy. He was the son of King Henry VIII (the King with six wives), and Elizabeth Blount, his mistress. Henry Fitzroy is the only acknowledged illegitimate child of King Henry VIII. When Fitzroy died without children, the Dukedom became extinct.

It was created again in 1623 by King James I for Ludovic Stewart; it became extinct with his death in 1624. The third creation was for Ludovic’s nephew, James Stewart, in 1641 by King Charles I. It was passed to his son Esmé, and in turn Esmé’s cousin Charles before becoming extinct.

The fourth and final creation of the Duke of Richmond happened in 1675. Once again, we see a Dukedom being created by a king for his illegitimate son; this time it was created by Charles II for his son Charles Lennox. His descendants have continued to hold the title of Duke of Richmond; the current Duke is Charles Henry Gordon-Lennox, the 10th Duke of Richmond.

Richmond Street may not be as old as the Dukedom it is named for, but there is evidence of a Richmond Street dating back to the mid-1800s.

Detail of 1877 Map of the Village of Oshawa, showing ‘Duke of Richmond Street’

Detail of 1877 Map of the Village of Oshawa, showing ‘Duke of Richmond Street’

Tracing early street history can be challenging because of the lack of primary sources. Challenging, but not impossible! There is an old Oshawa legend that claims the original name of the street was to be Duke of Richmond Street, but the ‘of’ was misread, resulting in ‘Duke Street’ running from Mechanic Street (now McMillian Drive) to Simcoe, and Richmond Street running from Simcoe to Mary. It is a nice story, rather charming really, but it is difficult to put much stock in it.

The 1869/70 County of Ontario Directory shows people living on Duke Street and on Richmond Street – notice the distinction: two different street names.

The 1877 County of Ontario Atlas may be where this legend got its roots, because in the map for the Village of Oshawa, the street has clearly been labelled Duke of Richmond Street.

The 1884 Fire Insurance Map shows Duke running west from Simcoe and Richmond running east from Simcoe. The 1911 Fire Insurance Map shows the same. By 1924, the street had been renamed to Richmond Street West (Simcoe west to Mechanic) and Richmond Street East (Simcoe east to Mary).

Ultimately, we are left with the question: was the street’s name intended to be Duke of Richmond, or was there supposed to be two different street names, Duke and Richmond? Perhaps it is a moot point because there is no longer a Duke Street in Oshawa. Ultimately, it does make for a fun story, doesn’t it?

This article was originally published on the Oshawa Community Museum blog in August 2015. Used with permission.  


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