The earliest known settlement near present-day Oshawa began in 1400 when Lake Ontario Iroquois settled a large village of approximately 12 longhouses near what is now known as Harmony Creek. Benjamin Wilson and his family arrived in 1794 at the Oshawa lakefront and established themselves in an abandoned log building originally constructed by French traders in the 1750s.
In 1816, John Kerr became the first settler, purchasing land at the northwest corner of what are now King and Simcoe streets. For many years, the settlement was simply called Kerr’s Creek. In the 1830s, Edward Skae ran a general store at this same corner, and the hamlet soon became known as Skae’s Corners. The name Oshawa was ultimately chosen to represent the settlement – it translates from the native dialect to mean the point at the crossing of the stream where the canoe was exchanged for the trail. Oshawa was incorporated as a village in 1849, and by 1853, the Port of Oshawa was established as a clearing and warehousing port.
Oshawa's industry continued to grow with the coming of the Grand Trunk Railway. Robert McLaughlin relocated to Oshawa in 1876, drawn by its flourishing rail and harbour facilities. With the help of a $50,000 interest-free loan from the town, the McLaughlin Carriage Company quickly developed into the largest carriage works in the British Empire. With the automobile fast gaining popularity, the McLaughlins contracted with the Buick Motor Car Company of Michigan to incorporate the Buick engine in the McLaughlin car. The McLaughlins acquired the rights to build Chevrolets in 1915 and the Chevrolet Motor Car Company of Canada was formed. Three years later, the McLaughlin Motor Car Company and Chevrolet Motor Car Company of Canada merged to create General Motors of Canada Limited – with Robert McLaughlin as its president.
Between 1900 and 1924, the town expanded further – with sewers, hospitals, paved streets and municipal parks. On March 8, 1924, with a population of 15,545, Oshawa was elevated from town to city status. Today, with a population of 157,000, Oshawa is the largest municipality in the Regional Municipality of Durham.
Oshawa is a growing and evolving city that fosters the development of diverse economic sectors and knowledge-based industries. Although still a centre of strength, especially in the field of engineering, automotive is no longer Oshawa’s sole focus. Oshawa’s diversified business platform focuses on five emerging key sectors: advanced manufacturing, health and bioscience, energy generation, multi-modal transportation, and logistics and information technology. Oshawa is home to three highly acclaimed post-secondary institutions – Durham College, Trent University and the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT). In addition, Queen’s University School of Family Medicine has established a residency program at Lakeridge Health Oshawa.
Oshawa is also rich in arts and cultural assets – with over 500 cultural businesses, events and festivals. The new Culture Counts: Oshawa's Arts, Culture and Heritage Plan, supports and builds on Oshawa’s cultural vitality. This plan, in partnership with community groups and cultural organizations, will guide our arts, culture and heritage for years to come.