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Discovering Oshawa’s History

Story, image and video by Ray McNeil

Oshawa has its history.  From the city’s early beginnings, as an 18th century fur-trading stop to the current influx of a post-secondary community, there are thousands of stories to be told.

This is why local residents Glenn McKnight and Robert Bell are searching for the most culturally defining piece of Oshawa’s past. With the 50 Objects of Oshawa project, residents are able to submit a piece that represents the city they call home.

Glenn McKnight (left) and Robert Bell (right) taking a look at Bell’s collection of antiquities

“It’s items that are close to you, that you have a memory of,” said McKnight, pointing to things that have already been collected; a ticket stub from the 1971 performance of Canadian music icons Rush at the Genosha Hotel downtown; a milk bottle from Oshawa Dairy, along with the caps and token that went in it. “These should elicit memories, and other people can share that memory,” said McKnight, “so you post your story, your object, and people vote it down to the top ten things that are emblematic of Oshawa.”

“There is a culture here, and we’re trying to bring it out,” said Bell, a lifelong resident of the city, who also sits on the Oshawa Historical Society.

McKnight first approached Bell about doing the project, after seeing the BBC’s 100 Objects That Shaped The World. “Each week they had an object that they showcased, and that actually morphed into another project called the 50 Objects of New York,” said McKnight, adding that the personal, more intimate story aspect of the project from the Big Apple, inspired him to try the same here. “If New York can do it, we can do it,” he said.

Bell said that one of the first objects that came to his mind was a medallion he received as a little boy. “When I was in public school, Sam McLaughlin turned 100, and the city gave every kid in school a little medallion of Sam McLaughlin.”

Robert Bell shows of his Sam McLaughlin medallion.

But while many have shown interest in the project, few objects have been nominated. “The problem is getting people to actually go out and contribute,” said Bell. “I think everybody thinks of something, but they internalize it.  It’s getting them to share is the problem.”

To learn more about the 50 Objects of Oshawa project, or to contribute your piece, visit the Facebook page for the project.

And check out the video below to see the project’s recent display at the Oshawa Centre.

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