When the Buffalo Roamed

When the Buffalo Roamed.

This year Lakeview Park, Oshawa’s beautiful lakeside destination is celebrating its 100th anniversary.  One of the most interesting parts of Lakeview Park’s history is the time several buffalo called the park home.

In early 1924, an application was submitted to the Honourable Charles Stewart, Minister of the Interior by Lawson Omar Clifford, M.P. for Ontario South, to request the loan of three buffalo (two cows and one bull) for Lakeview Park.  The idea for a zoo in Lakeview Park was first proposed by George W. McLaughlin who agreed to cover all expenses related to the relocation and  transportation of the buffalo. A $900 bond accompanied the application to guarantee the buffalo would be well cared for in Oshawa.  The buffalo were to come from Buffalo Park in Wainwright Alberta, responsible for the protection and regeneration of buffalo in Canada.  The agreement with the Park stated that any offspring born to Oshawa’s buffalo were to be returned to Alberta if requested.

Credit: Archival Collection of the Oshawa Museum

With the application submitted the construction of a buffalo house and corral, located to the northwest of the historic Henry House, began.  Douglas Mackie remembers the time the buffalo lived in the park writing in Lakefront Memories: A Memory Book Project that, “A monstrous chain-link fence was erected when the buffalo were brought to the Lakefront.  The fence was about seven feet high.  A ‘house’ was (also) constructed for the buffalo.”

By the early 1930s, the excitement of having buffalo in Lakeview Park was starting to wear off.  Visitors to the park complained the animals looked dishevelled and their odour wafted throughout the park particularly on days with a breeze.  In the best interests of the welfare of the buffalo and park visitors, a decision was made to relocate the buffalo.

Credit: Toronto Daily Star, Friday August 21, 1931, page 3

There was a great deal of excitement in Oshawa on August 20, 1931 when , the buffalo were to be moved.  Walter Armsdon, an animal trainer from Montreal, was brought in to oversee the capture and transportation of the animals.  It was estimated 300-400 people were in attendance that day watching Walter and his team capture and then crate the buffalo.  All seemed to be going according to schedule when suddenly a bull buffalo broke free of his crate and scattered the crowd.  Newspaper reports from the day described people climbing trees and posts, seeking shelter behind vehicles and climbing to the tops of sheds to escape the angry buffalo.  Fortunately no one was injured however one man was very nearly gored when he tripped and fell in front of the angry buffalo!  Douglas Mackie witnessed the events of that day and wrote in Lakefront Memories, “The day the buffalo were being shipped out was quite a day!  They didn’t know how they were going to catch the buffalo.  On the moving of the bull, he got away.  At the time there was a crowd of spectators watching the whole procedure… As the bull was running, one man ran out to scare him, but the buffalo ran after him instead.  The man was running and screaming for his life.”  Armsdon and his crew quickly gained control of the scene when they lassoed the buffalo and placed him in a hastily constructed much stronger crate.  The era of buffalo in Lakeview Park came to end with three of the animals being taken to the Dominion Experimental Farm in Ottawa and the remaining three sent to a zoo in Toronto.

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