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“The Manchester of Canada”

Oshawa is recognized as a city with a rich history of industrial growth. The development of numerous manufacturing establishments in the area has sparked comparisons to the industrial city of Manchester in England. Oshawa is home to many notable businesses which have extended their reach across Canada and even internationally. From its early settlement days, Oshawa has expanded to become a thriving urban environment and sought-after location for industries.

The history of Oshawa’s identification as an industrial town begins at the lakefront, as it was the area best suited for transportation and communication. Businesses popped up around the harbour and continued along the Oshawa Creek. As the industries prospered and grew, the area saw increased settlement and employment opportunities.

The first industries to be established in Oshawa were generally tanneries and foundries. Beginning as early as the 1830s, the tanning industry continued as a steady business in Oshawa until late into the 20th century. One of Oshawa’s earliest tanneries was the Bartlett tannery, which was purchased and became the Robson Leather Co. Ltd. Eventually it came to be considered one of Canada’s foremost in the industry. The foundries were significant employers for those living in Oshawa, as the manufacturing of metal products came increasingly into demand. Companies such as Ontario Malleable Iron and Pedlar People Ltd. played a highly important role during times of war, as they dedicated their production to helping Canada’s cause.

 Advancements in modes of transportation would ultimately lead Oshawa to become a renowned Canadian “motor city”. The McLaughlin Carriage Company was founded in 1869 by Robert McLaughlin, who moved the successful business to Oshawa in 1879. Eventually his son, R.S. McLaughlin, established the McLaughlin Motor Car Co., after a trip to the United States that had exposed him to the popularity of the automobile. His business became extremely successful, and in 1918, along with the Chevrolet Motor Car Co., it was merged with General Motors. The result was the creation of General Motors of Canada, an important event in Oshawa’s history; it has continued to be one of the city’s biggest industries into the present day.

It is interesting to consider the incredibly wide variety of products that come from Oshawa’s industries – from carriages to sheet metal ceilings, from textiles to agricultural implements, from pipefittings to pianos – it is a history of significant industrial accomplishment. This exhibit is dedicated to acknowledging these industries and their contributions to Oshawa’s history and identity.


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