In this centennial year 1967, I am endeavouring to write a history of the Oshawa schools from their earliest years and some of the people involved with them.
I think it will be an appropriate starting point to paint a small word picture of what this country was like before the white man came. What wild grandeur it had! The country was heavily wooded in South Ontario and those stands of evergreens and other trees were truly magnificent. Every season brought its beauty, but in the fall when the leaves of the deciduous trees were coloured, it was almost indescribable.
The water in the lakes and streams was clean and sparkling clear. Spring brought a profusion of wild flowers with the earliest warm date, such as, the white trillium with its star-like bloom which has since been chosen as Ontario’s floral emblem. The marshes teemed with all sorts of wild life and many animals roamed about the country; a very plentiful one as the beaver, that busy little carpenter of woodland and stream, which appears in the emblem of Canada.
The Indians had their homes here for unknown centuries and they roamed the forests of Ontario. It was the Iroquois who were in this region when the white man first came. They were primitive but they developed their own way of living and a means of survival in spite of their many hardships. All this has changed radically for them since the white man arrived. It really seems as if they haven’t had a square deal. However, the white man is here and no one knows what the future holds for either.
I have written this history of the schools of Oshawa starting at the very earliest years of its discovery. No records were kept then, so dates are scarce. The country was described by the newcomers as having been “nothing but a black ash swamp,” and most inhospitable. One wonders why they stayed. Possibilities must have been seen by them, for the future, even then. They paddled up and down the lake and streams in canoes, trading in furs with the Indians and established a trading post at the mouth of the creek. There was quite a large settlement of them north and west of Port Perry. They were the Mississauga’s, a peaceful tribe, spoken of as being “poor cousins of the Iroquois.”
There were times when the settlers were hungry. Their food supply was very uncertain. It was brought in by boat from Montreal or other points east that had been settled. Men walked long distances, over rough tracks, through the forests with large bundles on their backs or on horseback if they were lucky enough to have the horse.
The Indians helped the settlers to find foods that were native to this country, such as Jerusalem artichokes, something like potatoes, how to bait the fish and make maple sugar and syrup. We might not have liked the way they made their syrup. They put the sap in any container that would hold liquid and threw red hot stones in it until it was thick. It is said by the time it was thick there were plenty of small stones and dirt in it, but as long as it was sweet that didn’t matter.
As time went on, some well educated people came to the district. They brought their children with them and later others were born here. Of course the question of education arose. With no schools to go to, it is said that classes were held in some of the private homes on the Kingston Road, in Harmony. It does not say by whom this instruction was given, or just where. If the children were clever and showed a real desire for learning, the parents taught them themselves or anyone else who was capable. Otherwise, they did not force them to take an education; they let them go their way.
In the year 1793, Governor Simcoe ordered the Kingston Road surveyed. His object was to open the district east of York for settlers. The American Civil war came and went, and they declared their independence in 1776.