Forgotten Families

by Jan 27, 2023Turner Tales1 comment

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by Lary Turner

I would submit that every community has individuals or families that have been prominent and important in their history, but are not widely remembered due either to moving away or simply through the passage of time. This tale is meant to honour one such Hespeler family.

Gideon OchsGideon Ochs was born Sept. 1, 1836 in Waterloo Township. He settled in Bergeytown, in the early years of the hamlet, and was a cabinet maker and carpenter by trade. He wed Catherine Wiffler (Sept. 15. 1861), a step-daughter of Joseph Oberholtzer, and set about building a life for his family of nine children.

In 1860, he entered into a business partnership under the name of Gideon Ochs & Co. and became the sole owner of the company in 1867. He operated successfully until 1874 when he took a position as millwright with J. Schofield & Co. (the big textile mill that later became Robt. Forbes Co./Dominion Woollens & Worsted Ltd./ Silknit Co./Len’s Mill Outlet).

In 1876, Gideon Ochs retired from the company and bought a farm on the Guelph Road (Guelph Avenue today) and farmed until his death June 14, 1921. He is buried in New Hope Cemetery. A pretty successful and ordinary life, except Gideon had a son who would become important in the history of Hespeler.

Dr. Anthony OchsAnthony Ochs was born June 21, 1862 in the Village of Hespeler and spent most of his life here. He attended Hespeler Public School (the old school house on Kribs Street) until the age of 17, then studied at Galt Collegiate and embarked on a teaching career. Through hard work and determination, he qualified for a 3rd. degree teaching certificate and taught locally for four years. But Anthony had a strong desire to help others and abandoned his teaching career to study at the School of Medicine in Toronto.

Graduating in 1888, he set up his first practice in Breslau, but relocated to his hometown the following year after opening a new office in the “Swan House” (now site of 74 Queen Street East). He later purchased, remodeled and moved into the Smellie Block on Queen Street West; with his office on the 1st. floor and the family residence above (he married Rosa May Glick June 5, 1894 and they had ten children).

He took a special course at the Post Graduate School in New York City and the Polyclinic School (1896)  and received professional certification as an eye, ear & nose specialist. Dr. Ochs built a very successful and respected career practicing in Hespeler, Preston and Breslau and surrounding area.

But it is not as a prominent doctor that we should remember Dr. Ochs, for he was a progressive citizen. He took a lively interest in municipal affairs, the local public-school board, the educational system, and was known to all as a respected and forward thinker. He was also elected as a Warden of Waterloo County.

Waterloo County Council 1906

For many years he advocated for the Village of Hespeler to incorporate as a town. Scoffed at by many prominent citizens, he took every opportunity to forward his position. Through the courage of his convictions, he convinced enough residents that the change was both progressive and necessary for the future growth of our community. It was mainly due to his efforts that incorporation of the Town of Hespeler became a reality in 1901. Dr. Antony Ochs died Jan. 18, 1935 at Preston.

This tale could well end here, except that Dr. Anthony Ochs had a famous son as well!

Harold Anthony OaksHarold Anthony Ochs was born in Hespeler November 12,1896 and like his father received his early education at the old Hespeler Public School on Kribs Street and Galt Collegiate. Following the outbreak of World War 1, he enlisted in 1915 and served with the 1st. Divisional Signal Corps in France. In 1917, he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps and was given the nickname “Doc” Oaks (anglified version of Ochs) by his fellow airmen. Harold Anthony (Doc) Oaks earned his pilot’s wings and a promotion to Captain, served in France as an ace fighter pilot with No. 2 and No. 48 Squadrons, Royal Air Force (RAF), and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (D.F.C.) for gallantry.

At the end of WW1, he attended the University of Toronto and graduated as a mining engineer in 1922. During the summer months he worked as an assistant geologist for Mackenzie River Oil Company. He worked for the Canadian Geological Survey in the field for a year, then joined Hollinger Gold Mine, prospecting for minerals in northern Ontario and Quebec. In 1924 he was hired by the Ontario Provincial Air Service after receiving his Commercial Pilot’s License, and flew forestry patrols out of Red Lake, Ontario.

Following a year of prospecting for minerals in the same area, he organized and managed Patricia Airways and Exploration Company at Sioux Lookout, Ontario, in 1926, with air mechanic Sammy Tomlinson. Their main service lines were to the gold mining regions of Red Lake and Woman Lake north of Dryden, Ontario.

Oaks envisioned the saving of time and money with low-cost air transport of people and equipment over vast distances. He persuaded financier James A. Richardson, who had a similar vision, to form a new airline. In December 1926, Western Canada Airways was incorporated at Winnipeg, Manitoba. Oaks became general manager and sole pilot, flying a Fokker Universal from its base at Hudson, near Sioux Lookout. This company expanded rapidly, and became the first of Canada’s major airline services. Under Oaks’ command, Western Canada Airways fulfilled a Canadian government contract in March of 1927 to airlift men and equipment from Cache Lake, Manitoba, to Fort Churchill, on Hudson Bay. Two pilots were hired for this difficult undertaking, the first of its kind ever attempted. Bernt Balchen and F.J. Stevenson flew in open cockpit aircraft through sub-zero temperatures and over alien ground, to make possible the creation of a new open port for Canada. In a month’s time, they made twenty-seven round trips, transporting thirty tons (27,200 kg) of material and equipment and a crew of fourteen government engineers.

It was at this time that Oaks and his air engineer, Al Cheesman, designed and built the first portable nose-hangar to enable mechanics to work on an aircraft’s engine without freezing in the bitter cold. The small three-sided frame structure was equipped with a heater and a canvas flap which allowed the aircraft’s nose to be inserted inside and kept relatively warm. Oaks was the first person to be awarded the Trans-Canada (McKee) Trophy. This was for the year 1927 in recognition of his work in organizing and operating air transport in northern Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

When Northern Aerial Mineral Exploration Limited (N.A.M.E.) was formed in 1928 to search for potential mining properties in areas far removed from civilization. Oaks accepted the post of General Manager and Director of Air Operations. During this period, he was involved in a number of emergency flights. One of the most notable was in the company of T.M. ‘Pat’ Reid, when they flew 1,600 miles (2,575 km) along the sub-Arctic shores of Hudson Bay through inclement weather to locate a party of 13 stranded prospectors and return them to base. It was the first mid-winter flight into the area by a private company.

As one of the earliest known pilot/geologists. Oaks foresaw immense financial potential locked in the far reaches of the Canadian Shield, accessible only by canoe through twisting waterways. In 1928, he based his operation at Fort McMurray, Alberta, and flew engineers and prospectors, with their supplies, into promising wilderness locations. His pioneer flights into unmapped territory spurred other aviators to penetrate still further into the Northwest Territories. He remained with this company until 1930, when he formed his own aviation concern, Oaks Airways Limited, operating from Sioux Lookout until 1935, and from Port Arthur, Ontario, until 1943. During this time, he earned his Air Engineer’s License.

In 1943 Oaks was associated with the Clark Ruse Aircraft Company at Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Central Aircraft Manufacturers at London, Ontario, as Manager of Flight Operations. From 1945 to 1953 he continued his work as a mining engineer at Port Arthur. In 1953 he became an aviation consultant to James A. Richardson and Company in Toronto.

 “Doc” Oaks, was one of five famous “bush pilots”; a leader in pioneering air transport in Canada in the 1920’s. He introduced the use of aircraft to fly men and equipment to outlying areas for mining and development work, at the same time helping two industries, aviation and mining, to thrive by working together. He died in Toronto on July 21, 1968 and is buried with his parents in the Preston Cemetery.

Harold Anthony (Doc) Oaks, D.F.C., B.A.Sc., was inducted as a Member of Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame in 1974 at a ceremony held in Edmonton, Alberta and the Waterloo Region Hall of Fame.

Aviation Hall of Fame

1 Comment

  1. Ruth murray

    My great grandfather Oscar Zryd was a prominent citizen of Hespeler. Was local tinsmith. Ann Martha and lean or were his daughters . Anna married john Limpert and my
    Mum was Anna mccausland born in 1900 in Hespeler. Is this information of any interest to you


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