The Historic Sites Committee of the London Public Library Board identifies and marks historic buildings, places, and people of local significance. This Walking Guide provides brief histories of the 49 sites marked by the committee, 1970-2000. Where buildings have been subsequently demolished, the plaques have been re-mounted in the Ivey Family London Room at the Central Library, 251 Dundas Street. At the time of publication, a few plaques are missing from their sites, and the committee is working to replace them.
These brief histories are based on speeches given at plaque unveilings, and on research materials collected about each historic site. These materials are available in the Ivey Family London Room -- an excellent place to discover sources for the study of local history (as is the London Public Library website, www.londonpubliclibrary.on.ca).
The first draft of the Walking Guide was compiled by Eric P. Sheppard while a student in the Public History Master of Arts Program, Department of History, University of Western Ontario (UWO). We acknowledge his hard work, and thank his supervisors, Professors Benjamin Forster and Jan Trimble, and his editorial assistant, David Larlee. The staffs of the University of Western Ontario Archives, and of the Ivey Family London
Room, assisted with research and historical photographs. Rob Turner of the D.B. Weldon Library, UWO, designed the map. Netta Brandon, Glen Curnoe, Vince Gray, Elizabeth Hill, Anita McCallum, Catherine B. McEwen, Bill McGrath, and Elizabeth Russell likewise gave invaluable assistance.
The final manuscript was edited by members of the Historic Sites Committee. This has been a collaborative effort and the Committee welcomes notice of any errors. The Walking Guide has been designed by Betty Lueddeke, the Library’s graphic artist. Funding for this project was provided by Landmarks London - Heritage and Museum Network (www.landmarkslondon.ca). Publication of the Guide fits with the mission of Landmarks London
to establish the City of London as a well known and highly valued destination for cultural and heritage tourism.
Since the original manuscript was prepared, the Committee has erected additional plaques. The histories of those sites will be included in the next edition of the Walking Guide, and will be available through the Historic Sites Committee link on the Library’s website.
The following were members of the Historic Sites Committee during the preparation of this booklet: Netta Brandon, Patricia Coderre, Barbara Graham, Peter Griffith, Gary Kerhoulas, George Kerhoulas, John Lutman, Alan MacEachern, Arthur McClelland, Anne McKillop, Mary Marshall, Margaret Mitchell, Hilary Bates Neary, Cliff Oliver, Elizabeth Russell, Sean Stoyles, and Jonathan Vance.
This is the site of the first church of the Black community in London, Upper Canada (now Ontario). This church, however, existed in a much wider historical context. All European empires which began their expansion in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries used some kind of slavery in their imperial territories, with most slaves shipped from the west coast of Africa. The British Empire shipped hundreds of thousands of slaves to labour in the British American colonies. The first legislature of Upper Canada, under Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe, passed a statute on July 9, 1793, that ended the importation of further slaves into the province. The abolition of slavery throughout the Empire received Royal Assent from King William IV on August 28, 1833 , after passage by the Imperial Parliament. Subsequently, Upper Canada became a sanctuary for Black slaves from the U.S., and the London area had a sizeable colony of Black refugees by the 1840s. In 1847, land was bought for the African Methodist Episcopal Church (also referred to as the Fugitive Slave Chapel). It became the British Methodist Episcopal Church in 1856.
It is believed that the American orator and Harper’s Ferry revolt leader John Brown spoke at the church in the summer of 1858, a gathering to which only those who knew the password were admitted. Reports suggest that Brown’s plan was the formation of a Black military company which would join with other units in St. Catharines, Chatham, and Windsor to aid in his planned revolution. This objective was never realized.
In 1869, the congregation moved to Grey Street where it built a new church, Beth Emmanuel, which remains today at No. 430. The congregation’s tenure here is a testament to the importance of religion to Black settlers and the deep faith which gave them hope during a long period of oppression.
The son of a Methodist farmer, Frederick Banting was born on November 14, 1891, in Alliston, Ontario. He developed an interest in diabetes at a young age after witnessing a friend’s lingering death from the disease. In 1916, Banting received his medical degree from the University of Toronto. He then served as a doctor during the First World War and was awarded the Military Cross for tending patients in the field, while himself wounded.
Upon returning to Canada, Banting moved to London and opened a small practice at 442 Adelaide Street while continuing to study diabetes. In October 1920, he was asked to lecture at Western University’s Medical School on the subject of the pancreas. On the night of October 30, he had gone to bed thinking about pancreatic spots which he had been investigating. At 2:30 a.m. he got up and wrote, “Ligate pancreatic ducts of dogs. Wait 6 - 8 weeks.... Remove residue and extract.” 1 He appealed unsuccessfully to the Western University of London, Ontario to grant him research facilities, but obtained a lab and an assistant, Dr. Charles H. Best, at the University of Toronto. After much research, on July 30, 1921, Banting achieved a medical breakthrough by bringing a dog out of a diabetic coma with his pancreatic extract, insulin. On July 11, 1922, it was first used on a person with diabetes, resuscitating him from near death to health. Insulin became a universal treatment for diabetes.
Sir Frederick Banting, who won the Nobel Prize in 2005 1923 and received more honours than any Canadian before him, remained extremely humble, giving away much of his prize money to research. During the Second World War, he was involved in many areas of research including cancer, seasickness, and silicosis. In 1941 Banting died in an airplane crash in Newfoundland while on his way to Britain.
The Banting House was opened as a museum in 1989.
One of London’s finest nineteenth century estates, Beechwood once contained a fine grove of beech and sugar maples. John Birrell, who built the house in 1854, was born in the Shetland Islands in 1815. He arrived in London in 1840 and became a leading dry goods wholesaler (his business being valued at $150,000 at his death in 1875). He was a director of the London and Port Stanley Railway, president of the London, Huron, and Bruce Railway, and founder of the Board of Trade. He helped in the construction of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, was president of the local Conservative Association, and a founder of the Huron and Erie Savings and Loan Society. With his wife, Maria Louisa Sunley, he raised ten children. Birrell died of heart disease in 1875. As evidence of his popularity, there were 167 carriages in the funeral procession.
In 1891, the house was purchased by Colonel William Moir Gartshore, who came to London in 1873 as manager of the London Car Wheel Company. In 1876, he married Catharine McClary, whose family’s stove company played a major role in London’s development as a manufacturing centre. Gartshore was the longtime manager and later president of the McClary Manufacturing 1970 Company.
Gartshore was also an officer in the Queen’s Own Regiment, served in the Northwest Rebellion in 1885, and was later Commander of the First Regiment of Cavalry (later the First Hussars). A director of the Western Fair and chairman of the Victoria Hospital Trust, Gartshore was also briefly mayor of London in 1916, until a vote recount indicated a tie, which was broken in his opponent’s favour.
In 1951, Beechwood passed to Gartshore’s widowed daughter, Edna Cleghorn, and in 1967 the property was left to Victoria Hospital. The house was demolished in 1972. The Gartshore Estate Apartments now occupy the site.
In 1894, Grace went to Minnesota to teach dramatic reading and English, later becoming principal of a school in Indiana, while continuing to send home articles. In 1903, the sisters were sent by the Free Press to New York as art and drama critics. During this period, Grace became one of Canada’s best theatre critics. In 1906, they went overseas. 1988 Susan spent a year in both Germany and Japan, teaching and writing travel articles, while Grace furthered her theatrical education in Europe. Grace wrote much poetry, and her novel set during the First World War, The Man Child, was published in 1930. She helped establish the London Drama League, and was president of the London Women’s Mess Club and the Women’s Canadian Club. Susan was a director of both the Community Concert Association and the Women’s Music Club. She was active in the Western Art League and the London Drama League.
Josiah Blackburn (1823- 1890) emigrated to Upper Canada in 1851 and the following year purchased a London newspaper, the Canadian Free Press, for $500, renaming it the London Free Press. Of the eight children of Josiah and his wife, Emma Jane, four served at the newspaper: Walter and Arthur as publishers; and Grace and Susan as writers.
Grace and Susan were born in 1865 and 1871 respectively. They attended public and high schools in London, and Grace went on to Hellmuth Ladies College. Susan attended the Western University of London, Ontario and in 1900 was its first woman graduate. From 1894 until 1928, Grace, under the penname Fanfan, wrote a weekend column of travel narratives, poetry, and essays. Susan wrote editorials and some travel narratives. They were so well regarded as journalists that notables in the world of art, music, and drama would visit them while in London.
Both sisters died in this house, Grace in 1928, and Susan in 1946.
The Bleak House property remained in the Macbeth family until the London Board of Education purchased it in 1914 to make way for the Lord Roberts Public School, which opened in 1915.
Bleak House was built around 1851. George Macbeth, who named it, was born in 1825 to Scottish crofters evicted in the Highland clearances who had emigrated in 1813 to Lord Selkirk’s Red River Settlement. The family moved to Dunwich Township, Upper Canada, in 1838. The next year, George went to work for Colonel Thomas Talbot.
Talbot was then aged and lonely. After serving in the British army as private secretary to John Graves Simcoe, Talbot was granted land in Dunwich and Aldborough Townships in 1801. He administered land settlement in much of what is now Middlesex, Elgin, Kent, Norfolk, and Essex counties.
George Macbeth became Talbot’s servant, business manager, and companion, travelling twice with him to England and Europe. In 1847, Talbot’s nephew, Richard Airey, emigrated with his family to manage Talbot’s properties. Talbot gave half his estate to Airey, and willed most of the remainder to the faithful Macbeth, who moved to London in 1852.
He and his wife, Anne Gilbert Saunders, rented a fine home on Princess Street, naming it Bleak House in honour of the Charles Dickens novel. It may have been there that Talbot died, aged 81, in 1853. Macbeth ran successfully for the Conservatives in 1854, 1857, 1914 and 1861 in the riding of West Elgin. Unseated in 1863 for political corruption, he was next elected in 1867 and 1869 as alderman for Ward 6 in the City of London.
George died in June 1870 and was buried near his father and Col. Talbot in Tyrconnell Cemetery near Port Talbot.
Harriet Anne Mills, born in Somerset, England in 1835, came with her mother and sister to Red River, near Winnipeg, in 1851. After returning to England in 1856, Harriet married Alfred Roche, a businessman who was involved with the Hudson’s Bay Company. In the 1870s, she travelled with her husband to South Africa, but Alfred died on the return voyage in 1876 and was buried at sea. Two years later, Harriet married the Reverend Michael Boomer, Dean of the Anglican Diocese of Huron, Principal of Huron College2, and a signer of the charter of the Western University of London, Ontario.
Harriet devoted her life to service for the community and played a major role in establishing a number of women’s societies in London. She helped found the London Local Council of Women in 1893, serving for twenty years as its president. She was particularly active in the field of education, becoming the first woman trustee on the London Board of Education in 1898, and a tireless advocate of training in business and domestic science for girls and technical training for boys. She helped establish the local Red Cross branch, which was initially set up to assist Canadian soldiers serving in the Boer War and was a member of the Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire (IODE) which later named a chapter in her honour. In 1903 Harriet became vice-president of the National Council of Women and was the first president of the local Victorian Order of Nurses from 1906 to 1912. She was also active with the Canadian Club, the Mothers’ Union, the St. John Ambulance Association and the Women’s Christian Association.
Upon her death in 1921, the Free Press called her “perhaps London’s most philanthropic and patriotic worker.”3 Given Harriet’s life-long interest in education, it is perhaps fitting that her home was demolished to make way for H.B. Beal Technical and Commercial High School in 1916. (The plaque is located by the auditorium entrance.)
The northern concessions of Westminster Township, through which Commissioners Road passes, were first surveyed in 1809 by an American, Simon Zelotes Watson. After a land dispute with Colonel Thomas Talbot, during which Watson challenged Talbot to a duel (a challenge which Talbot contemptuously rejected), Watson returned to the United States.
In preparation for war with the U. S., a road was driven through the bush from Burlington Bay to the Detroit River. Locally, Commissioners Road soon served its purpose as a retreat route for British General Henry Proctor after his defeat at the Battle of the Thames on October 5, 1813. The retreating column is thought to have engaged in a skirmish with pursuing Kentucky riflemen on what is now Reservoir Hill. During the engagement, local settler Phoebe 1989 McNames is said to have passed out ammunition and assisted with the wounded under fire.
Early settlers, Phoebe McNames and her husband Peter, once owned Lot 34, Concession 1, Westminster Township on which this church and its cemetery are now located. The first burials occurred about 1813, making this one of the oldest cemeteries in the area. American Methodist circuit riders travelling along Commissioners Road preached to local settlers, and a Methodist Episcopal church was organized in 1816. The congregation erected their first church on this site shortly thereafter. They replaced it in 1852 with the present church using brick supplied by one of the many brickyards that gave Commissioners Road its local name, Brick Street. In 1925, the congregation became part of the United Church of Canada. The church was stuccoed in the early 1930’s, and was sold in 1962 to the Free Christian Reformed Church. It is the second oldest church building in London,4 and currently houses a Montessori School.
The area to the west of Adelaide Street was once the eastern outskirts of London and a residential location for the well-to-do. Buchan House, formerly Oakhurst, was built in 1871 of white brick in the Italianate style for Thomas Aspden. In 1887, Thomas Baker Escott bought the house and added the magnificent towered front. Escott established a major grocery wholesale company, with his local operation in a warehouse on York Street where he sold a large variety of foods and spices.
In 1919, the house was sold to Albert D. Jordan and became the London Institute of Musical Arts (later the Western Ontario Conservatory of Music). The attic was transformed into an assembly hall, with a platform for piano and instruments which were played at weekly recitals. Jordan was the organist and choir master at First Methodist Church and a major figure in the Musical Arts Society. In this capacity he also organized concerts. One such event in 1916 was a performance of Handel's "Messiah" by a chorus of 400 and a symphony orchestra which included Guy Lombardo. Other concerts featured such groups as the New York Symphony and the Russian Symphony Orchestra.
In 1945, Branch 279 of the Canadian Legion purchased the building. The branch had been founded in 1936 by a group of First World War veterans. While preliminary meetings were being held it was learned that John Buchan, the first Baron Tweedsmuir, had been appointed Governor General of Canada. Buchan allowed the use of his name for the branch and became its Honorary President. His coat of arms and his sunflower crest were also adopted by the branch. The building has since been renovated many times, and has one of the finest clubrooms in Canada. The Tweedsmuir Branch was active in aiding veterans, and contributed to many organizations such as the Red Cross and the United Appeal.
Carling Breweries was established in London in 1843 by Thomas Carling, a native of Yorkshire, England, who had settled in London Township in 1819. He married Margaret Routledge in 1820, and they moved to London in 1843 with their sons William, Isaac, and John. Thomas established a small brewery on Waterloo Street, an ideal location directly c. 1875 10 opposite the British military garrison, which quartered thirsty soldiers. In 1850, Thomas passed control of the brewery to his son William, and John was made a partner. John Carling later served in Prime Minister Macdonald’s cabinet, was knighted, and appointed to the Senate.
The business expanded rapidly, with a new brewery in Montreal and agencies across the country. Products were shipped throughout Canada and the United States. Between 1873 and 1875, a new brewery was built on Ann Street near the Thames River, the site having been chosen for its proximity to a large spring-water pond. In 1879, a spectacular fire destroyed the building and seriously wounded William Carling, who had attempted to save some files from the burning building. Weakened by exhaustion and exposure, he died of pneumonia two weeks later. The Carlings rebuilt the brewery which was 300 feet long and five and a half stories high, with a seven-story malting tower, and surrounded by a complex of outbuildings and warehouses.
After John Carling’s death in 1911, his son T. Harry Carling assumed the company presidency. Wartime restrictions and prohibition reduced the brewery’s output and it closed temporarily in 1920. In 1924, the business became a joint stock company, Carling Breweries Limited. In 1930 it was purchased by E.P. Taylor and closed in 1936 when amalgamated with the Kuntz Brewery of Waterloo. The building was demolished in 1941.
122 Carling Street was one of many commercial structures built in the 1850s in London. The coming of the railway had turned the village into a city almost overnight. A major land speculation boom followed, with some predicting the city’s population would reach one million by 1900. The 1870 11 financial panic of 1857 destroyed these hopes, and three-quarters of the city’s businesses went bankrupt over the next three years. Of the several newspapers published in London in 1855, only the London Free Press had survived by 1859. The American Civil War had a major impact on the city and the newspaper. Spies, foreign journalists, and Pinkerton’s agents moved in and out of the city’s hotels. British soldiers were ever present, as the local garrison had been reinforced in case of possible invasion by Union troops seeking retribution for perceived British support of the Confederacy. Several Free Press reporters were dispatched to cover the conflict and later reported on the battles of the Fenian Raids. Free Press reporter Malcolm Bremner slept in the field before the Battle of Ridgeway in 1866, to be sure not to miss the action. By 1871, the Free Press moved to Richmond Street and 122 Carling Street became the Queen’s Hotel, later one of London’s leading hostelries, with 28 neatly furnished guest rooms and an elegant dining room.
In 1921, this building housed the Farmer’s Advocate, an agricultural journal founded by William Weld in 1866. It was the country’s longest published agricultural paper, circulating throughout Canada and the U. S. for 99 years. One of its editors, Watson Porter, also became broadcast chairman for the influential radio program, National Farm Radio Forum.
In 1974, the Marienbad Restaurant opened in the building.
The history of the Church of St. John the Evangelist goes back to 1864 when a chapel by the same name was consecrated at the old Huron College on St. George Street. The chapel was a gift of Huron’s first principal, Archdeacon Isaac Hellmuth, and his wife, Catherine, in memory of her father General Thomas Evans, C.B. This chapel was used until 1884, when the congregation moved to the chapter house of the proposed Cathedral of the Holy Trinity.
In 1887, property on St. James Street was purchased for a new Gothic-style church, to be designed by Charles F. Cox, a member of the congregation. The foundation stone was laid on March 8, 1888, by the Reverend Richard G. Fowell, Principal of Huron College. The church cost around $13,000, and opened on November 11, 1888.
Many additions have been made over the years, including a school building in 1895, a spire in 1897, and a chancel screen in 1905. In 1955, a new baptistry, a north aisle, a narthex and cloister on the north side of the church were added. Several memorial windows have been dedicated over the years. Many of the earlier windows are the work of the distinguished firm of McCausland & Co. of Toronto, including three in the chancel: “The Good Shepherd,” “St. John the Baptist,” and “Virgin Mary.” In the cloister is the “Priscilla Window”, the only London example of the work of notable Canadian artist Yvonne Williams. The church also has several works by Londoner, Christopher Wallis, including “The Lamb of Resurrection” and “The Creation” windows, as well as a large stained-glass window commemorating those who served in both world wars.
Other distinctive features are the unique rood screen, stone font, soaring arches, and “inverted ship” ceiling. Also of note are terra cotta panels depicting the apostles around the 1953 13 cross, designed by Londoner Ray Robinson.
Richard Edwin Crouch was born in 1894 and studied political economy at the Western University of London, Ontario, interrupting his studies to serve in the First World War with No.10 Stationary Hospital in France. He returned to Western, and then attended the universities of London and Paris on an Ontario government scholarship.
In 1923, Crouch succeeded Dr. Fred Landon as Chief Librarian at the London Public Library. His career was marked by vision and innovation. He developed the library as a multimedia institution, lending books, films, film equipment, recordings, and art. By the 1930s the late Victorian library was carrying several times the weight of books it was built to house, and cracks had appeared in the foundations. Once Crouch was in the library basement when the building shifted and the ceiling above him dropped two inches. Despite the fiscal constraints of the Great Depression, Crouch successfully appealed to the city for funds for a new library. The London Public Library - Elsie Perrin Williams Memorial Art Gallery and Museum opened in 1940 at 305 Queens Avenue.
Crouch was an early advocate of life-long learning, and worked closely with the Canadian Association for Adult Education. Its pioneering work with the radio programs Citizens’ Forum and Farm Forum were copied by governments in Asia and the Middle East. He believed deeply that learning gave meaning to the freedom of the individual, that libraries informed citizens, and that informed citizens could build a better society.
Thousands of years ago retreating glaciers deposited gravel in the area now bounded by Cheapside, Waterloo, Grosvenor and Wellington streets, including the present Doidge Park. Two early settlers, Richard Jones Evans and John Anthistle, established lime kilns nearby, burning deposits of limestone into lime, which was used in mortar and cement. Evans, with David Margrave Thompson, a local lawyer, subdivided this block of land into building lots in 1856. 5
John’s son, William J. Anthistle, expanded his father’s business and mined the pit for gravel, sand, and cobblestones for home building. He manufactured cement blocks and sewer pipes, and laid some of north London’s first sidewalks. Many of the cobblestone-clad houses he built still stand, including his own home on Cromwell Street.6 For many years he operated a skating rink nearby.
Following Anthistle’s death in 1929, his widow, Annie, carried on the business of making cement burial vaults. During the Great Depression the gravel pit property was taken over by the city. It became overgrown with weeds and was used as a parking area for city machinery. Local children enjoyed tobogganing on the steep hillsides.7
In 1949, local citizens formed the North London Community Association and lobbied to have Anthistle’s old gravel pits converted into a playground. Among the major supporters of this plan was Dr. Edward Pleva, a planner and member of the Department of Geography at the University of Western Ontario. Doidge Park, named after John C. Doidge, chair of the playground committee of the Public Utilities Commission, was opened in 1958 with financial c. 1874-75 15 help from the Kiwanis Club.
Joseph Spettigue, a native of Cornwall, England, came to the Canadas in the 1840s and opened a store on the corner of Dundas and Clarence Streets in 1855. In 1871, he built Spettigue Hall (later the Duffield Block) which contained an elegant 663-seat concert hall on the second floor. Designed in the Second Empire Style, the structure was 197 feet long, 63 feet high, and cost $12,000 to construct.
On September 19, 1871, the London Philharmonic Society gave the first concert in the hall, a cantata entitled “The May Queen” , featuring several vocalists and a lead singer from Detroit. For the performance the stage was decorated with a May tree, flags, Corinthian pillars, evergreens, and flowers. According to the London Free Press, the occasion “was a source of great gratification”, and the hall was “crammed” for the concert. 8
By 1878, the building had several occupants, one of whom was art teacher William Lees Judson. It is believed that artist Paul Peel received his first art lesson in a room on the building’s first floor.
James Duffield bought the building in 1891. He closed the theatre, dividing its space into a third storey, thereby altering the facade. Among the many tenants were J. Gammage and Sons, florists; Arthur Wismer, jeweller; Charles Wismer, druggist; and the Knights of Pythias. The building also housed the Women’s Morning Music Club. Its president was Mrs. John Labatt (Sophia Amelia Browne) and its secretary, Mrs. T. H. Carling (Nina M. Innes).
Engine 86 was manufactured by the Canadian Locomotive Company in 1910. After 48 years of service with the Grand Trunk Railway and the Canadian National Railway, it was donated to the city in 1958, commemorating London’s 100 year history as a railway centre. At the peak of operations in the 1940s, nearly 4,000 Londoners worked for the CNR, the CPR, and the London and Port Stanley Railway. Most of these workers were employed in the massive repair shops near the Western Fair Grounds. By the 1960s, however, consolidation of operations in cities such as Toronto and the advent of diesel engines ended London’s role as a railway centre. Although many railway jobs were lost, General Motors of Canada later came to employ thousands of Londoners manufacturing diesel engines.9 This Mogul 2-6-0 locomotive was originally numbered GTR 1006, became CNR 908 in 1923, and 86 in 1952. In its last years, Engine 86 was used on a mixed passenger-freight line from Owen Sound to Palmerston.10
After its donation to the city in 1958, it was necessary to move Engine 86 one mile from the CNR shops to Queen’s Park. This was achieved by using 60-foot sections of rail, which were moved from the rear to the front as the locomotive was pulled along with a winch. It was estimated that the move would take twelve hours. But the locomotive, once capable of travelling at 60 m.p.h., took four days to reach its destination.11 The engine became an attraction for children. The Public Utilities Commission disabled its bell after late-night ringing awakened the neighbourhood, and sealed its smoke stack after a youngster was found sitting in it.12
Engine 86 was almost moved to St. Thomas in 1980, but public opposition to this plan has kept it here. G. M. Diesel of Canada and other local partners, restored Engine 86 during the years 1996-99.
The earliest Baptist congregations in Upper Canada date from the early 1800s and developed through connections to congregations in the United States, particularly in New York State. The first concerted effort to establish a Baptist congregation in London was at a meeting led by the American Reverend Eleazar Savage and William Wilkinson of St. Thomas in 1845 at the house of Duncan Bell of London.
In its early years the new congregation held its services in the school room of the Mechanics’ Institute building on Court House Square.13 The congregation first partook of the Lord’s Supper in December 1845. There was some controversy as to whether the presiding minister was an adherent of the same doctrine as the members of the new church. Two years after its establishment the congregation appointed its first pastor, Reverend James Inglis of Detroit. He moved the congregation to a former Methodist chapel on the corner of King and Talbot Streets, which rented for 30£ a year. Rev. Inglis is also credited with publishing the first Baptist newspaper in Canada West, The Evangelical Pioneer.14
In 1850, the congregation erected its own church on the corner of York and Talbot streets. For several years church expenses posed a major problem. Several measures were used to address this dilemma, including pew rentals.15 In 1881, a larger church designed by London architect George F. Durand was built at 507 Talbot Street, at a cost of roughly $17,500. Its design was consistent with period evangelical churches in the width of the nave, which allowed a good view of the preacher.16
By the 1950s, the congregation had again outgrown its quarters. The present First Baptist Church was built in 1953 at the gore formed by Richmond, Clarence, and Kent streets. 507 Talbot Street is now occupied by the First Christian Reformed Church.
The Ontario Legislature passed the Free Libraries Act in 1882, providing for the establishment of libraries financed through public taxes. In 1884, London attempted to establish its first public library. On municipal election day a free library by-law was passed, and a Board of Management established. The Board negotiated with the trustees of the Mechanics’ Institute for the transferral of assets according to the Act. The deal fell apart when the City refused to accept the Institute’s liabilities.
In 1888, the London Trades and Labour Council petitioned the City Council to implement the 1884 by-law. A new Library Board was appointed, but when Council realized the cost of converting the Mechanics’ Institute into a public library it referred the question to a public vote. On June 11, 1888, the citizens of London repealed the 1884 by-law.
Concerned that London lagged behind other Ontario communities which had already established public library service, City Council granted funds to the Mechanics’ Institute on condition that they provide free public access to their library and reading room until Christmas 1892. In November a petition signed by 100 ratepayers as required by the Act was presented to City Council. On January 2, 1893, the people of London voted for the third time on a library by-law. The vote was favourable, and a Library Board was re-established. In April 1894, City Council issued debentures for $20,000 to erect a library.
On November 26, 1895, a fine new red brick library building at Queens and Wellington was opened, with Robert J. Blackwell as the first librarian. 17
This site presently houses One London Place.
The first settlers to move into this area made their way north along the stakes and blazes of Mahlon Burwell’s proof line through the middle of London Township. Laid out as a road allowance, it followed Wharncliffe Road northward, bypassing the riverlands of the Medway and North Thames, and following the present Western Road and Richmond Street route before continuing northward.
Early settlers were quick to demand road improvements. Many roads were mere dirt trails through forests and bogs. In swampy areas it was necessary to lay down layers of logs to keep horses and carriages from sinking. Tree stumps and ruts from wagon wheels were further obstacles, and in wet weather roads became rivers of mud. To deal with this situation, the Legislature of Upper Canada in 1810 delegated local justices of the peace to appoint surveyors to lay out and regulate proper roads. Roads were to be constructed and maintained with the costs assessed to local landowners.
In 1849, the Provincial Legislature passed legislation permitting private companies to build toll roads. That same year, a local group formed the “Proof Line Road Joint Stock Company” to grade, macadamize, and bridge the Proof Line Road. The completed road had three toll gates and followed the Richmond Street route north through Arva, Birr, and Elginfield. Several hotels and taverns opened along the road, an indication of its heavy use.
By 1882, however, all publicly owned county roads had been declared free of tolls. The Proof Line Road came to be seen as an anachronism, and citizens often detoured to avoid the toll gates. In 1907, local councils and the province bought the Proof Line Road for $11,000. The occasion was marked by a huge celebration in Arva, during which the collected toll gates were burned in a large bonfire.
George “Mooney” Gibson, a native Londoner, played fourteen seasons as a catcher in the major leagues and was considered Canada’s best baseball player of the first half of the twentieth century. He spent twelve seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates and two with the New York Giants, playing 1,213 games. Later, he twice managed the Pittsburgh team, and once the Chicago Cubs.
It is notable that in 1877 Gibson’s uncle managed the London Tecumsehs in the first game ever played in this park. As a youth, “Mooney” Gibson (the nickname was derived from his round face)18 played on local church and city teams in Tecumseh (now Labatt) Park. In 1903, he tried out with Buffalo of the Eastern League, played the 1904 season with Montreal in the same league, and signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1905.
Gibson was known for his ability to catch foul balls and to throw out base stealers (of which there were many more than in today’s game). In 1909, he set an endurance record by catching 150 games in a row. That same year, Gibson played in all seven games of the World Series in which the Pittsburgh Pirates, including players such as Honus Wagner, defeated the Detroit Tigers led by Ty Cobb and Sam Crawford. Returning to London, Gibson was celebrated with speeches and a parade. Among those in attendance was Gibson’s friend, Hughie Jennings, the Detroit Tigers manager.
In 1921, manager George “Mooney” Gibson brought his Pirates here to play an exhibition match against the London Tecumsehs of the Michigan-Ontario League. Gibson, aged 41, agreed to catch one inning of the game while a teammate from the 1909 World Series pitched.
The first Grand Opera House was built in 1880 at King and Richmond streets. Destroyed by fire on February 23, 1900, a new opera house was built at 471 Richmond Street and opened on September 9, 1901 under the partnership of Ambrose J. Small of Toronto and Col. Clark J. Whitney of Detroit, Michigan. This theatre hosted great actors such as Sarah Bernhardt, Sir John Gielgud, Hume Cronyn, and Jessica Tandy. It was built on part of the cemetery of St. Lawrence Church, the first Roman Catholic church in London, dating from 1833 . During the theatre’s construction workers found bones, including a skull that the newspapers appropriately named “Yorick”.
Ambrose Small began his career as a bartender and usher, and through hard work and business acumen acquired more than 90 theatres in Canada and the U.S. The Grand incorporated advanced design ideas and had one of the largest stages in North America, capable of mounting a full-scale production of Ben Hur, complete with horses. The theatre had superb acoustics, three balconies, and seated 1,800.
In December 1919, sensing the future impact of motion pictures, Small sold his chain of theatres for $2,000,000. That same day, he left his Toronto office and was never seen again. Many searches were conducted in Toronto’s Rosedale Ravine and London’s Grand Theatre. Several theories for his disappearance were advanced, for example that he had been murdered and his body burnt in the theatre’s furnace. Over the years many strange occurrences such as falling props and collapsing sets have been reported. During a Noel Coward play a huge arc light inexplicably fell from high above the stage, narrowly missing the cast. The ghost of Ambrose Small is said to haunt the Grand Theatre to this day.
The Green Gables neighbourhood was once Clergy Reserve land. Following government policy of freeing these lands for settlement, in 1869 the Diocese of Huron divided and sold lots in what is Broughdale today. The first settlers on this property were Charles Dickerson and his wife Lydia, who had purchased a lot north of what is now University Drive.19 In the 1870s, Dickerson, head carpenter at Hellmuth Ladies College, built several houses on both sides of the Proof Line Road (now Richmond Street) between Brough’s Bridge and the present University of Western Ontario gates. Two of these houses are still standing - 1160, and Green Gables at 1148.
Dickerson is also credited with developing what is now Brough Street in the 1880s. His objective was to gain access to the rear of his property without paying the toll at Huron Street levied for use of the Proof Line Road.20
In the three decades following the sale of the Clergy Reserve, lands in Broughdale were subdivided and slowly settled. By 1899, around 25 families were living there, but the hamlet had no school, church, or shops. The closest school was in Masonville, and the closest church was St. John’s in Arva. London, sparsely settled north of Oxford Street, seemed distant. Broughdale’s isolation came to an end in the summer of 1901 when the London Street Railway extended an electric streetcar line into the hamlet, a development that was met with great excitement. Lydia Dickerson, having heard that electricity was good for rheumatism, “intended to ride the cars everyday as a treatment . . . and she did!”21
Samuel Peters and his wife, Ann Philips, the builders of Grosvenor Lodge, left Devon, England, in 1835, and arrived in Quebec City after a six-week crossing. They traveled to London by riverboat, barge, and wagon. The family first lived on Ridout Street, where Peters built a house and an abattoir. He acted as a surveyor in London and elsewhere for the Canada Company. In 1850, Peters purchased a brewery west of Blackfriar’s Bridge, in an area he had surveyed and subdivided. It was known as Petersville.
Peters was an active and respected citizen. A founding member of London’s first Masonic lodge, he helped lay the cornerstone of St. Paul’s Cathedral in 1844.
In 1853, Peters employed his architect-surveyor nephew, Samuel Peters, Jr., to prepare designs for his house. The Tudor Gothic style of architecture chosen was influenced by a manor house in Merton, Devonshire, England, that Mrs. Peters knew. Among the house’s notable features are its locally crafted stained-glass windows encasing “S.P.” for Samuel Peters, and “A.P.” for his wife Ann Philips, in the design of the sidelights and the entwined “S” (Samuel) and “A” (Ann) in the fanlight.
Also of note is the stonework of the gables and windows. The plaques in the matching front elevation gables encase “S.P.” on one side and the construction date “1853” on the other. Among the interior features are wide-planked pine floors and individually carved marble fireplaces. The Gothic Revival fireplace in the dining room is of particular merit.
Grosvenor Lodge is now home to the London Regional Resource Centre for Heritage and the Environment.
In February 1819, Archibald McMillan received the Crown grant for Lot 45, Concession B of Westminster Township. Anson Simons and John Preffer built a carding and fulling mill on part of the property, and then McMillan sold the land to Burleigh Hunt in 1831. Hunt built a gristmill and a dam across the Thames to increase his water power. Two years later he sold his whole business to Cyrenius Hall.
Hall was born in New Hampshire in 1788 and came to Upper Canada in 1810. He contracted for the British forces during the War of 1812, and then developed a forwarding and retail business in Fort Erie. Moving to Westminster Township, Hall added a distillery and tannery to the mill complex, and employed three of his sons in the growing business. The small settlement became known as Hall’s Mills owing to his many enterprises, and later became Byron.
Hall sold the gristmill to William Denning in 1848. Severe flooding on the Thames damaged the mill and dam in 1851, and little business was done that summer “owing to a deficient supply of water”. Local miller William Binn bought the mill in 1852, and sold it in 1858 to Robert Summers. An Irish settler, Frederick H. Kenney, bought it in 1870. The Middlesex County directory for 1871-1872 describes Kenney’s mill as “a frame two storeys high; his custom work averages 100 bushels daily.” 22 The Thames flood of 1883 severely damaged Kenney’s mill. It was repaired and sold to William Griffith in 1886. Isaac Crouse, a local builder, bought the mill in 1889 and replaced the millstones with iron rollers.
The gristmill was destroyed by fire in 1907 while owned by Neil Galbraith and Dr. Cecil Clarkson Ross. Ross rebuilt it and operated it well into the twentieth century. Partially dismantled in the 1930s, the remains of the Byron gristmill were carried away in the Thames flood of 1937. 23
This plaque is mounted on a grindstone from Hall’s Mills.
Charles Smith Hyman, Idlewyld’s builder, was born in London in 1854, son of Ellis Walton Hyman and Annie Maria Niles. Educated at Hellmuth College, Charles worked for John Birrell and Co. until 1874 when he became a junior partner in his father’s tanning business. In 1876, he married Elizabeth Birrell and built the original Idlewyld, a large brick home, in 1879 on land purchased for $4,000 from Elizabeth’s sister. Two years later, Hyman commissioned the architectural firm of Tracy and Durand to design an addition and alterations that would cost more than the original house and outbuildings. The architects integrated the picturesque roof line and heavily ornamented gables of the 1879 Queen Anne design with a simpler addition featuring parapet gables at each end. Inside, identical Eastlake molding unified the two early parts of the house.24 In 1912, a ballroom was added to the eastern wing.
After his father’s death in 1878, Charles took over the tannery, entered municipal politics, and became mayor in 1884. Elected M.P. for London in 1900, Hyman became Minister of Public Works in 1905. He had close ties with Sir Wilfrid Laurier who stayed at Idlewyld when he visited London. Charles was also a noted sportsman. Seven times in a row he was the Canadian Men’s Singles tennis champion. He was also captain of the Canadian champion cricket team and a member of the London Tecumsehs baseball team. Hyman was exceedingly generous and loyal to his friends. He was known to have given away $1,000,000, including $100,000 to sporting and social clubs. After the death of Elizabeth in 1917 he married Alexandra Rechnitzer, becoming stepfather to her four sons, who took over Hyman Tannery when Charles died in 1926. In the last years of his life, Charles took an extensive world tour including several months in China.
Today, Hyman is remembered by the street named after him and this house which later became a luxurious inn.
Sometime before 1840 in the town of Templemore in Tipperary, Ireland, Thomas Kingsmill opened a dry goods business. It failed ten years later, a casualty of economic hardship, famine, and epidemic. Kingsmill and three of his children died soon after. His oldest son, Thomas Frazer, was apprenticed to a store owned by the family of his mother, Mary Frazer. He married a widow, Anne Ardagh Buriss, and emigrated to New York and then briefly to Georgia.
The poor import trade resulting from the American Civil War forced the Kingsmills to move again, this time to Toronto, where Thomas’ uncle, George Kingsmill, and a niece of Anne’s had settled. After working for a Toronto company and considering various locations, Kingsmill established his store in London in 1865, chosen because of its growing prominence as a military, industrial, and educational centre.
The Kingsmills’ three daughters attended Hellmuth Ladies College, and their eldest son, Thomas Frazer Kingsmill, Jr., graduated from Huron College, but left the ministry to work in the store. Another son was a graduate in medicine from Western University’s Medical School.
In its early years, Kingsmill’s specialized in the sale of imported carpets, linens, and cashmeres as well as embroidered handkerchiefs and gloves. Its range of retail goods was later expanded to include furniture, lamps, china, and housewares. In addition to their role as local merchants, members of the Kingsmill family are well known for their contribution of time and resources to service clubs, community events, church functions, and charities.
Adelaide Street was the eastern boundary of London until 1885. Beyond this lay London East, an industrial community that had its origins in a foundry established in 1856 by Murray Anderson (London’s first mayor). Anderson’s foundry was located on the west side of Adelaide across from Lilley’s Corners, and its presence stimulated further industrial development in the area.
Charles Lilley moved to London as a young man and worked as a telegraph operator before becoming a grocer. Around 1869 he moved his business to the southeast corner of Dundas and Adelaide streets, where he also ran the Crown Hotel. In 1871, he built a two-storey block on the corner, and by 1873, five brick stores on Adelaide Street. It is a mystery that the inscription on the corner of the Lilley Block reads “1867,” since there were no buildings on the site at that date.
The post office took the name “Lilley’s Corners” when it was opened in 1872, with Charles Lilley as postmaster. Two years later, a telegraph office was established in the same building.
Lilley was also active in local politics and was elected a London East councillor in 1875, and a deputy reeve in 1880. In 1884, he became London East’s first mayor and helped negotiate its amalgamation with the City of London in 1885, after which he served as an alderman. In 1886, Lilley retired as postmaster and opened the Crown Livery on Marshall Street at the rear of the building. Charles Lilley died in 1927 at the age of 94 and was buried in Woodland Cemetery.
Locust Mount was one of London’s finest homes, an example of the suburban estates built during the prosperous period between 1849 and the panic of 1857. Its builder, Elijah Leonard, Jr., was a London businessman who became a major figure in southwestern Ontario’s economy in the late nineteenth century.
The Leonard family emigrated to Massachusetts from Wales in 1652 and became iron founders. After moving to Upper Canada in the 1830s, Elijah established a foundry in St. Thomas in 1834. During the 1837 Rebellion he fell under suspicion after purchasing some surplus cannon balls to melt down. Leonard moved to London in 1838 and built a foundry on Ridout Street. He converted his industry to coal use and replaced horse power with steam engines, which he eventually produced himself. In 1853, he purchased three lots on the west side of Talbot Street where he built his home, naming it Locust Mount, for the black locust trees on the property. Leonard entered municipal politics, serving as an alderman and then as mayor in 1857 during an economic crisis in which he almost went bankrupt. Prosperous times returned during the American Civil War.
In 1861, he was elected to the Malahide Division of the Legislative Council of Canada and became a senator after Confederation in 1867. In 1884, he was a founder of the Huron and Erie Savings and Loan Society (later Canada Trust) and saw his other businesses flourish. By 1890, Leonard and his sons employed 140 men. He died in 1891 and Locust Mount remained the home of his wife, Emmeline Woodman, until her death in 1895. The house has since been occupied by several residents, most notably George Tyler Brown, of Beddome and Brown General Insurance Agents, for a time one of the largest insurance companies in London. The building was most recently a fraternity house and suffered a calamitous fire in 2000.
London Armouries and Victoria Park are reminders of London’s military history. In response to the Rebellion of 1837-38, the Imperial government stationed a military garrison in London, which was strategically located. Part of the site chosen later became Victoria Park. It was used until the British withdrew most of their troops from Canada in 1869, leaving the defense of the country to the Canadian militia. When the former garrison building was destroyed by fire, the local militia required a drill shed. When this became inadequate, an armouries was built at Dundas and Waterloo streets, and opened with great fanfare on February 1, 1905. Attending this event were Sir John Carling, Mayor Adam Beck, and Colonel Peters, militia commandant. 25
Constructed by Sullivan and Langdon, the Armouries cost about $135,000.26 Distinctive features included two massive, three-storey, crenelated towers at the entranceway, smaller corner towers, octagonal chimneys, and large, arched windows. 27 Architecturally, the London Armouries was similar to others built during this period, such as the Toronto Armouries (now demolished.) 28
The London Armouries served as the headquarters of militia units from nearly every land forces branch: infantry, artillery, cavalry (later armoured regiments), engineers, and units of the service and medical corps.
In 1976, the Department of National Defence closed the Armouries and its demolition seemed certain. But in 1988, a developer converted it into a luxury hotel, adding a twentystorey tower in the centre of the building, and leaving its exterior walls intact.
Future writer Arthur Stringer was born in Chatham, Ontario, in 1874, a descendant of a fugitive of the 1837 Rebellion. The Stringer family moved to this house in 1884, and Arthur attended London Collegiate Institute. He later studied at the University of Toronto and briefly at Oxford University. During these years, his poems were published in Toronto’s Saturday Night and Canadian Magazine.42 In 1895, he took a position at the Montreal Herald. He later moved to New York where he became friends with such literary figures as Bliss Carman and Charles G. D. Roberts 43 and wrote for Atlantic Monthly and Harper’s Magazine. In 1903 his first novel, The Silver Poppy, was published and he married Jobyna Howland, an actress. They spent several summers at a fruit farm on Lake Erie and wintered in Europe and North Africa. After they divorced in 1914, Stringer married his cousin, Margaret Arbuthnott.
By this time, he had published several other books, including The Wire Tappers and The Prairie Wife. In 1918, Stringer spent a year in Hollywood, where he wrote screenplays. Some thirty of his stories were made into films.
In 1921, he and his wife moved to Mountain Lakes, New Jersey, where he continued to write. He spent time leading camping expeditions in the woods, and traveled extensively in Canada, the United States, and Europe. An eclectic personality, Stringer was equally comfortable as journalist, poet, novelist, screen-writer, bohemian, and backwoodsman. Actress Mary Pickford (about whom he had written a book) once aptly called him “Chameleon Arthur.”44
Stringer published fifteen volumes of poetry, 45 works of fiction, and countless articles. He died at Mountain Lakes in 1950.
On February 1, 1900, the first class of prospective teachers began their studies in the new London Normal School. Coming from diverse backgrounds and communities in southwestern Ontario, they were attending what was considered to be the most modern teacher-training school in Canada. The faculty consisted of Principal Francis Walter Merchant, Vice-Principal John Dearness, and four teachers.
The decision to locate this new school in London was influenced by Premier G.W. Ross, local MPP Colonel F. B. Leys, and chair of the London Board of Education Dr. C.T. Campbell. They had promoted London as a desirable site owing to its location, size, and excellent educational facilities.
In 1898, ground was broken in South London for the third normal school in Ontario. The structure is trimmed with cut stone, and its now weathered brick was once red-orange in colour. A tower dominates its facade. Rising from the roof (originally of slate) are several miniature cupolas, typical of Victorian architecture. The grand staircase is the most striking feature of the building’s interior. Several rare varieties of trees were planted on the grounds, and oaks and maples were later added in memory of deceased members of the faculty, including John Dearness.
By 1958, the London Normal School was no longer adequate, and a new teachers’ college was built on Western Road. The old building functioned briefly as a junior high school. It became the administrative centre of the London Board of Education in 1963, and of the separate school board in 1986. In 2005, the London District Catholic School Board will move to new quarters, and the future of the former London Normal School is uncertain.
Transit service in London was first supplied by the privately-owned London Street Railway Company (LSR), which was incorporated in 1873 and began operation in 1875. The city’s population of 18,500 was served by horse-drawn cars traveling on three miles of track on Dundas Street, employing six horses and four drivers. In the first year of operations the line was extended east to Salter’s Grove (now Queen’s Park), and north on Richmond Street from Dundas Street to Oxford Street. Service continued to expand, and when the system was changed to electric-powered streetcars in 1895 (five years after electric lights came into use), track length totaled almost twenty-four miles. Electric power was supplied by the General Electric Company until 1896, when the LSR began operating its own steam-powered, electricitygenerating plant on Bathurst Street. In 1923, the first gasoline-powered bus was introduced on the Quebec Street route. The changeover to an all-bus system was gradual, and was planned so that the final streetcar line (on Dundas Street) would cease operating on December 1, 1940. A heavy snowstorm that damaged many power lines advanced this date to November 29, 1940.
In 1950, the city acquired the system from the London Street Railway for $1,000,000, after a rate-payers’ referendum had turned down the previous asking price of $1,325,000. An earlier referendum had rejected the idea of an entirely new system at a cost of $1, 895,000 in favour of purchasing the London Street Railway system. In 1951, the City of London Act, Chapter 107, establishing a city-owned system, was passed by the Ontario Legislature. The transit system, under the name of the London Transportation Commission, has continued to operate under this Act. In 1972, municipal and provincial subsidies were implemented to maintain reasonable fares and assist municipalities with urban traffic problems.
In 1854, Thomas McCormick established a biscuit and confectionery manufacturing business on Clarence Street. Success attended his enterprise, which soon outgrew the original plant, forcing a move to larger quarters at the southeast corner of Dundas and Wellington streets. The business gained a reputation for the quality and taste of its biscuits and candies, and increased demand for these products necessitated another move.
To encourage industries to locate in the newly-serviced plots in the east end, City Council offered fixed-rate taxes and temporary tax exemptions. McCormick’s benefited from these incentives and moved to 1156 Dundas Street in 1914. Years of study had gone into the new factory’s design, and many features were suggested by Thomas McCormick Jr., based on knowledge he had gained from visiting facilities in the United States and other countries. His new plant was one of the largest, most modern and sanitary factories of its kind in North America. The building was constructed of fireproof, reinforced concrete, and covered more than eight acres. The interior was finished with white enamel terra cotta.
Prior to the First World War public concern about the purity of processed food prompted the government to increase its scrutiny of food manufacturing. McCormick’s shiny clean appearance inside and out reflected the company’s hygienic manufacturing process. This responsible attitude was also extended to labour relations, unusual in an era when sweatshops were common. Employee amenities included large dining rooms, rest rooms, medical facilities, a library, gymnasium, and locker rooms. Outside were tennis courts and a baseball diamond.
In 1926, McCormick’s purchased its competitor, D.S. Perrin and Company Ltd., and in the 1940’s was itself sold to George Weston Ltd. In 1990, the business was acquired by Culinar Foods of Montreal, and in 1997 by Beta Brands Inc.
Mechanics’ Institutes, the forerunners of present-day public libraries, originated in Scotland. Their founder, Dr. George Birbeck, a lecturer at Anderson’s University in Glasgow, was lacking a piece of laboratory equipment and worked with local glass and metal craftsmen to construct the apparatus. He came to realize that, apart from their mechanical skills, these artisans had little exposure to education. He, therefore, began to hold evening lectures for them. After a period of trial and error, the Glasgow Mechanics’ Institute was founded in 1823, followed by the London (England) Mechanics’ Institute. They proved to be so popular that by 1853 there were more than 700 such institutes with a membership of over 120,000. Mechanics’ Institutes offered courses of instruction to workers in the scientific principles of their trades, but quickly expanded into many other fields. In addition to lectures, the institutes sponsored concerts and art shows and circulated a wide range of books. The movement spread to Canada in 1831, first to Toronto and Kingston and, in 1835, to London. The local institute’s premises were originally built on the Court House Square and then were moved to Talbot Street in 1855. When these became inadequate, the directors purchased a lot on Dundas Street for $4,500 as a site for a new building. The cornerstone ceremony was such an occasion that the railways ran special excursions for those attending. The new Mechanics’ Institute was formally opened in September 1877, at a final cost of $24,000.
In 1895, London opened its first public library under the Free Libraries Act of 1882. Under this act, the Mechanics’ Institute was dissolved and its book collection transferred to the public library.
In 1823, Rev. Robert Corson, a Wesleyan Methodist circuit rider, came to London Township to conduct worship services in people’s homes. By 1833 , London’s first Methodist church was built at the corner of Ridout and Carling Streets. As the congregation grew, larger churches were built, in 1839 and 1842. In 1854, North Street (later Queens Avenue) Methodist Church, thought to be the largest west of St. James in Montreal, was built on the corner of North (now Queens Avenue) and Clarence streets. In 1895, a disastrous fire reduced this church to a shell. Undaunted, the Board of Trustees made plans for a new church on Wellington Street. Samuel McBride, who had been a trustee when the North Street Methodist Church was built, agreed to oversee the construction, even though he was 76 years old. During the process, he presided over 96 of the 99 planning meetings.
The church was built in the Romanesque Revival style on a foundation 184 by 96 feet with a bell tower rising 170 feet. It could seat nearly 1,400 worshipers, though the congregation was then half that size. The cost of the site, the building, the furnishings and the organ came to just over $97,000, a substantial sum even for what was then the wealthiest Methodist church in London. At the laying of the cornerstone in 1895 the Free Press called it “Methodism’s Magnificent Temple.”31
The new church was known as First Methodist Church until the congregation became part of the new United Church of Canada. This new denomination brought together Congregationalists, Methodists, and Presbyterians on June 10, 1925. The first service under the name Metropolitan United Church was on June 14, only four days after the union of churches had taken place.
In 1842, two years after London’s incorporation as a village, its citizens organized a volunteer fire department. A by-law required householders to keep fire buckets in their homes. Fires were fought by lines of people who passed water buckets from a nearby source to the fire. The Great Fire of London in 1845 destroyed more than 300 buildings and prompted such measures as the placement of water tanks at intersections and the acquisition of a handoperated pump engine. A large fire bell replaced the trumpets used to alert people to fires.
The first fire hall was erected on Carling Street in 1847 and was replaced by one on King Street in 1853. This hall served the entire city until new fire stations were added: No. 2 on Rectory Street in 1885 and No. 3 on Bruce Street in 1891. A permanent, paid firefighting force had been established in 1871.
At the turn of the twentieth century, Fire Chief John A. Roe requested a new station to serve the north end of the city. In 1909, No. 4 Fire Station was built on the corner of Colborne and St. James streets, and No. 5 was built on Adelaide Street. Architect Arthur E. Nutter designed both stations in an abstract Italianate style, featuring a simplified Tuscan tower, broad eaves, and pilasters above the fire hall door.32 These stations complement the residential streetscape.
In 1912, London purchased its first motorized fire truck. By 1925, the fire department was completely motorized with three pump engines, three chemical and hose trucks, two ladder trucks, one aerial ladder truck, and two chiefs’ cars. In 1999, there were eleven fire stations in London equipped with ten engines, nine special units, six tankers, three aerial ladders, and two chiefs’ cars.
Since 1939, archaeologists postulated that a native settlement existed here centuries ago. The Norton Attawandaron Village was discovered in 1988 during an environmental assessment for a PUC pipeline.33 The site is believed to have been occupied in the late Woodland period, from about 1400 to the early 1500s, although Attawandarons are thought to have come to this area more than 1000 years ago.34 By 1400, there had been three major settlements in the London area. It is likely that the inhabitants of the Norton site were Attawandarons as were the occupants of the Lawson Prehistoric Village site in northwest London.35
Attawandarons were also known as Neutrals because they tried to avoid involvement in the wars prevalent between the Hurons and the Iroquois. Remaining neutral would prove difficult, since the warring factions lay both to the north and south of the Thames River.
This village consisted of nine longhouses sheltering between 500 and 1000 occupants. Artifacts found here have included potsherds, clay pipes, deer antlers, and carbonized corn kernels. These natives were largely agrarian. They surrounded their village with palisades of poles to protect the settlement from periodic attacks, most likely by bands of Iroquois. Competition created by the early fur trade was one factor behind Iroquois attacks on the Hurons and Attawandarons during this period.36
After centuries of farming and hunting in the Thames River district, the Neutrals left the area in the sixteenth century, moving east toward present-day Hamilton. There, for a time, they formed part of a powerful Neutral confederacy. This confederacy was dispersed in the mid-seventeenth century, after repeated attacks by the Five Nations Iroquois ( Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas and Senecas), who had moved north from the present New York State area.
John Siddall (1782-1870) and his wife, Diana Rowden, natives of London England, moved to the Gore of London Township in 1818, taking up 160 acres of Crown land, lots 7 in Concessions A & B.38 By 1820, Siddall had built this house which still stands, one of the oldest in the area. In 1824, Siddall was commissioned in the 4th Division of the Middlesex Militia as a lieutenant.39
Westminster Township settlers who had been active Masons before coming to the district petitioned the Kingston Convention on November 4, 1820 to form a new Masonic lodge. Mount Moriah, No. 773, began operating in 1820 under a dispensation granted by the Convention. It was continued in 1822 by warrant of the second Provincial Grand Master, Simon McGillvray, Chief Factor of the North West [fur trading] Company of Montreal. From 1820 to 1829, Siddall House was the meeting place of Mount Moriah, the first Masonic lodge established in the London District. The first extant minutes from a meeting on May 12, 1829 recorded John Siddall as Worshipful Master.40
In 1831, Welsh settlers in northwest London Township persuaded Siddall to relocate to the Lobo/London Township line and operate a mill on Nairn Creek. This mill became a great asset to settlers in the area as the nearest grist mill was in Kilworth, twelve miles to the south. In addition to the mill, a blacksmith’s shop, distillery, hotels, stores, and a wagon shop were built, forming the hamlet of Siddallsville.
After Siddall moved to Lobo, the Mount Moriah Lodge met in various taverns: Joseph Flanagan’s and Swartz’ on Commissioners Road, Hartwell’s on York Street, and the Mansion House Hotel on Dundas Street. The lodge was placed under great stress by the Rebellion of 1837, as many members were involved on both sides of the conflict. Mount Moriah formally disbanded in 1847 after several members, including John Siddall, joined St. John’s Lodge 209 in London. 41
The Pines, later known as Woodfield, was one of only two stone houses in the London area in the mid-nineteenth century. Its builder, Reverend Benjamin Cronyn, and his wife, Margaret Anne Bickerstaff, arrived in the area in 1832. A native of Ireland, he received his M.A. from Trinity College, Dublin. From 1836 to 1842, Cronyn was rector of St. John’s, Arva and St. Paul’s, London. After 1842, he moved his family to York Street in London. In 1845, he purchased land between William and Adelaide Streets, an area wooded with large white pines. He built his house after 1845, using stone from the Thames River and pine and black walnut for the woodwork. The wall stone was cut into smooth blocks and the windows were fitted with heavy walnut shutters. The house had two large chimneys and twelve fireplaces. Its finished cellar served as sleeping quarters for male servants, and as an area for candle-making and meat-curing.
Verschoyle, one of the seven Cronyn children, later wrote about life at The Pines in his reminiscences of early London, In Other Days. He recalled his father’s fireside tales, as well as walking home alone at night while being wary of possible encounters with bears, as the area was still quite wild at the time. Other occasions he described included the funeral of his eldest brother, Tom (a student at King’s College), and the wedding of his sister, Jane, whose nuptial breakfast was served on the verandah.
The Pines was sold in 1853 to J. B. Strathy, the Customs Collector, and in 1884 to Charles Murray, manager of the Federal Bank of London. In 1887, the property was bought by John Labatt, who gave it to his daughter Amelia in 1892, on her marriage to Hume Cronyn. She renamed the house Woodfield. The house later passed to her daughter, Katherine Harley, who lived there until 1967. It was demolished the following year.
St. Peter’s Rectory was built in 1870-72 to serve as the Bishop’s Palace of the Roman Catholic Diocese of London. Designed by London City Engineer, William Robinson, it was a handsome, white brick building with a Mansard roof, and the classical proportions of the Second French Empire style combined with Gothic window and door details.37 Its construction was supervised by John Walsh, Bishop of London from 1869 to 1889 and Archbishop of Toronto from 1889 to 1898, who also directed the building of the present St. Peter’s Cathedral (1880-1885). From 1873 until 1913, St. Peter’s Rectory was the residence of four bishops: John Walsh, Dennis O’Connor, Fergus McEvay, and Michael Francis Fallon.
St. Peter’s Seminary was established in the rectory in 1912, and the Bishop and his staff moved to a new residence, Blackfriar’s, a Neo-Georgian mansion overlooking the Thames River and Blackfriar’s Bridge. The rectory then housed the cathedral priests, the seminary’s seven professors, and 31 students. In 1917, the cathedral priests moved to a house on Talbot Street, and then to one on Kent Street. They returned to the rectory in 1921 when the philosophy (pre-theological) students moved to the old Labatt home on Queens Avenue. The professors and theological students remained at the rectory until 1926 when the present St. Peter’s Seminary was built on Waterloo Street.
Over the years many have contributed to the maintenance and restoration of the rectory. In 1948-49 Monsignor J. Feeney restored and elegantly redecorated the interior. Feeney and Bishop John C. Cody also completed St. Peter’s Cathedral in 1958-59 by adding tops to the towers. The rectory was demolished in 2004. A new parish centre is planned for the site.
When prospectors were drilling for oil near Dundas Street and the Thames River in the late 1850s, a huge gush of sulphur water shot to a height of 400 feet. Commercial interests quickly became involved, and in 1868 Charles Dunnett opened a Victorian health spa, the Ontario White Sulphur Springs.
Londoners patronized the spring and its healing waters to aid in the treatment of various ailments, and enjoyed drinking water bottled from it. Taking advantage of the city’s excellent railway connections, clients came from as far as the southern U.S. to visit the spa, often staying at the nearby Tecumseh Hotel. American tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt visited in 1869 and, apparently rejuvenated, married his divorced first cousin twice removed, Frank Armstrong Crawford (for such was her unusual name), on August 20th in the Tecumseh Hotel.45
The sulphur water originated from a 1000 foot deep aquifer that could supply one million gallons a day. The baths could be taken in a variety of forms, including shower, sitting, and spray. The water issued from the spring at 45 degrees Fahrenheit and was then heated by a furnace, which allowed bathing at any desired temperature. The 1892 Guide to the City of London describes how “the bathing house and lovely park surrounding it . . . have been fitted up in a way to commend ‘The Springs’ to both sexes. The women’s baths are entirely secluded and a matron is constantly in attendance. The men are also cared for by a competent superintendent. The large swimming tank is admirably adapted not only to the needs of the expert swimmer, but also to the beginner, the depth of the water being regulated by means of a graded floor, from a few inches to several feet. Gymnastic appliances are at hand, and these with convenient dressing rooms and courteous attendants make up all that is required.”46 The bathing house operated for 38 years, closing in 1906.
In June 1858, Common School trustees purchased a lot on Talbot Street for a new school from pioneer London resident, William Kent. Later the same year, a two-room frame school was built to accommodate the overflow of children from the old Union School on King Street. In 1865, 114 boys and 95 girls were in attendance. By 1882, the old school was seen as grossly inadequate and was replaced by a two-storey brick building with four large classrooms. On a wintry school day in 1892, the building caught fire. According to the firehall diary, problems arose when the fire hydrant was found frozen. A second fire wagon arrived, but by this time the roof had fallen in and two firemen were injured. The evening London Free Press reported that although the school had been gutted, all 500 children had escaped, thanks to fire drill training.47 Even before the fire was extinguished, the school board had met and arranged for students to attend class in the London Collegiate Institute, the Park Avenue Presbyterian Church, and the First Methodist Church. The rebuilding of the school was finished in time for September classes.
Talbot Street School housed London’s first kindergarten, and also its first Mothers’ Club in 1905. This club aided the establishment of nursing services and welfare projects in the schools.
For many years this school served the finest residential area of London. Among its pupils were children of well-known London families such as Calder, Carling, Gillespie, Gunn, Harris, Ivey, Kingsmill, Labatt, Meredith, Reid, and Westervelt. One pupil, Benny Wilson, became a Rhodes Scholar; Frank Gahan was later Magistrate for the Channel Island of Guernsey; and Floy Lawson married Duncan MacArthur, Minister of Education in the Hepburn government. Twenty Talbot students gave their lives in the First World War and eleven in the Second World War.
Talbot Street School was demolished in 1981. Condominiums now occupy the site.
The history of the Thames River can be traced back more than 15,000 years to its origins as a spillway for water melting from retreating glaciers. Around 7,500 B.C., aboriginal peoples migrated to this area, attracted by abundant fish and game. Centuries later, Neutral tribes lived along this river they called Askunessippi, (antlered river).48
French fur traders called it LaTranche (the ditch), and Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe renamed it the Thames. In 1793, he designated the forks of the Thames as the future site of the capital of Upper Canada. It was not until the 1820s that substantial settlement began along the river. The Thames became a transportation route, source of power for mills, and provided water for domestic and industrial use. The picturesque shoreline attracted prominent Londoners to build large estates along the Thames, such as Eldon House and Thornwood. The river was popular for boating, from competitive rowing to steamboat excursions. The most tragic incident on the Thames was the sinking of the steamer “Victoria” on May 24, 1881, which claimed 182 lives.
The Thames has long been a subject for artists, from early British topographers such as James Hamilton, to later painters like William Lees Judson and Jack Chambers.49
By the mid-twentieth century, industrial development along the river had rendered the area polluted and unsightly. In the 1960s, a civic renewal program was begun to convert the river lands to recreational areas with parks, gardens, walking trails, and bicycle paths. Today, most of London’s 2,800 acres of parkland is along the Thames River.
The beginnings of London East can be traced to 1856 when Murray Anderson built a foundry at the city limits of London, which stimulated the development of a new industrial community. After the discovery of oil in Lambton County in 1858, oil refineries were constructed east of Adelaide Street. London East was incorporated as a village in 1874, and as a town in 1883. $40,000 was spent on waterworks, and construction began on a town hall.
Designed by architect George F. Durand, the building’s distinctive features include its central tower, mansard roof, and Second Empire Italianate windows. 29 Since the town hall cost twice the original $7,000 estimate to build, London East could not afford to complete its waterworks. In 1884, the Great Western Railway carshops were destroyed by fire, and the railway refused to rebuild until fire protection was guaranteed. Fearing the loss of industry and facing fiscal disaster, London East citizens, led by Mayor Charles Lilley, voted to amalgamate with London, thus making the new town hall redundant. 30
Over the years the building has served as a cigar factory, fire hall, Odd Fellows lodge, and school. Its auditorium has seen many musical performances. Around 1900 outdoor evening concerts and plays were held on stages and in tents set up behind the building. Travelling herb doctors promoting panaceas sponsored these events. The first branch library of the London Public Library was located in this building from 1915 to 1926.
In 1969 the building was refurbished as the new site of Aeolian Hall. Today it is home to the Canadian National Conservatory of Music, and is used for arts-related events.
Prior to 1849, each of the city’s four wards had its own small school. The incorporation of London as a town in 1848 enabled the municipality to replace these with a union school. To mark the laying of the foundation stone, students and teachers of the ward schools marched from the market square to the new site where a ceremony was held. The school opened in 1850 with three teachers and some 300 pupils, the ward students occupying separate classrooms. This arrangement was short lived as rivalries between groups resulted in many playground fights, and trustees directed that girls be dismissed early to allow them to get home safely. Later that year three women teachers joined the staff in the hope that they would be more effective at student discipline.
The school’s first headmaster, Nicholas Wilson, was chosen after a two-day oral interview attended by the trustees and interested citizens. Wilson taught for almost sixty years until his retirement in 1909 at the age of 76.
Examinations were held in mid-summer, and were public occasions where citizens could watch the exercises and listen to the performance of the students. When the Common and Grammar School Boards were amalgamated in 1865, the Union School was renamed the Central School and placed under the direction of Principal Benjamin Bayly.
In 1890, the now obsolete building was demolished and part of the site was subdivided into building lots. The London Free Press later said of the Union School that “the bricks that made up its walls are now the under layer of the walls of more than one fine residence in the city.” Alexandra Public School opened on the site in 1911-12.
In 1819, Colonel Thomas Talbot located Tilley Hubbard and his family on the future site of the White Ox Inn. Settlement duties required Hubbard to build a dwelling within a year of receiving his property. When London suffered the first of three cholera epidemics in 1832, Hubbard`s house was appropriated as a hospital. Most of its patients were poor immigrants since persons of means were treated in private homes. As many as 25 deaths may have occurred out of a population of 300. The victims were buried in the cemetery on the northwest corner of Dundas and Ridout streets.
In 1838, Samuel Parke bought this property and sold a two-acre lot in 1851 to George Pegler who “built” the White Ox Inn three years later. It is not known whether Pegler’s building was a completely new structure or an expansion of the Hubbard home. Apparently the Inn was named for an ox that had collapsed in front of it. The location of the hotel was ideal, since Hamilton Road was a main thoroughfare into London. Legend has it that British troops from the London garrison stopped here in 1854 on their way to serve in the Crimean War.
In 1868, the hotel was sold to John Wilson, who had previously kept a hotel in the old Orange Hall at 267 Wellington Street. John Pegler (brother of George) operated a pottery business at the rear of the inn, and his son Anthony ran a successful florist business from greenhouses he had built on the property. A street in the neighbourhood is named after the Pegler family.
In 1896, Robert Butterworth and his wife Betsy, who were dentists from England, bought the property. Their son Chris sold it in 1945 to Charles Garnett who ran a restaurant in the old inn. In 1961, the interior was damaged by fire. After standing for over a century and a half, the Inn was demolished in 1982.
Henry Corry Rowley Becher, builder of Thornwood, was born in London, England in 1817, son of Alexander Becher, a Royal Navy officer, and Frances Scott, daughter of the Anglican rector of Kingston and Port Royal. His family had interesting naval and literary connections. Henry’s cousin was the novelist William Makepeace Thackeray, and his brother Alexander was an admiral.
In 1835, Henry came to London and articled as a lawyer. His studies were interrupted by the 1837 Rebellion, and he took part in the destruction of the rebel ship “Caroline”, which was cut loose and sank in the Niagara River above the Falls. Becher was called to the Bar in 1841, was made a Queen’s Counsel, and later gained a reputation for court duels with Oliver Mowat and Edward Blake. He was well connected with the local elite and invested successfully in toll roads, banks, oil, real estate, and railroads. In 1882, he became a barrister of the Inner Temple in London, England.
Becher married Sarah Evanson Leonard, daughter of the Sheriff of Niagara, in 1841. The couple had seven children; their son, Henry Jr., was London’s mayor in 1885. Their original wooden house, Thornwood, was built in 1844 and burned in 1852. Becher replaced it with a brick design of his own which included Gothic and Tudor styles. The house is situated on high land overlooking the Thames River and its floodplain (now Gibbons Park). A verandah, added in 1856, contributes to its architectural and domestic charm. 50
Becher and his descendants entertained many dignitaries at Thornwood, including the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII), the Duke of Connaught, Sir John A. Macdonald, Sir Robert Borden, and the young Winston Churchill, who planted a birch tree in the yard.
In 1891, Michael Cullen and Walter Milburn operated a blacksmith shop in the building that now houses the Toddle Inn. William Lashbrook took over the shop in 1893, just as Richmond Street was about to undergo a transformation as electric trolleys and street lights replaced horse-drawn streetcars and oil lamps. New houses and businesses were being built, including Lashbrook`s home (now 642 Richmond Street) next to his blacksmith’s shop. In1924 he leased the smithy to Richard Weir. Lashbrook died in 1938, but his wife Sarah retained ownership of the building until 1947, when she sold it to Charles W. Egleston.
Ironically just south of the blacksmith shop, a Cities Services Oil Company gas station had been established at the northeast corner of Hyman and Richmond streets as early as 1931. With the increased number of cars on the roads by the late 1940s, the need for blacksmithing declined.
Egleston converted the shop into a restaurant to cater to the bustling neighbourhood which included a bank, barber shop, grocery, and a coffee shop.
Egleston’s new enterprise, the Toddle Inn, opened as a modest establishment with a simple menu and a large, horseshoe-shaped counter. His customers were mostly single people and students. In later years, tables were added and the Toddle Inn expanded its menu to appeal to a broader clientele.
More than fifty years later, the Toddle Inn is still operated by the Egleston family.
The Western Hotel pictured here opened in 1854, replacing an earlier hotel of the same name on another site, which had been destroyed by fire in 1850. The new hotel’s first proprietor was 21 year-old Peter McCann, an Edinburgh native. By 1855, the Western Hotel was considered to be one of six first-class hotels in London, along with the Robinson Hall, the City Hotel, the Golden Ball, the American Hotel, and the Prospect House.
London was experiencing a land boom created by the coming of the Great Western Railway in 1853. McCann, like hundreds of others, invested heavily in land. In the ensuing financial collapse of 1857, McCann lost everything, including ownership of his hotel.
The hotel served as a southern terminus of the London-Lucan stage coach lines, one of which was owned by William Donnelly. Bitter rivalry between these companies contributed to a long-standing feud, culminating in 1881 in the savage murder of five members of the Donnelly family in Biddulph Township.
No longer a first class establishment, the Western Hotel remained in operation until 1917 when James Washington Westervelt acquired the building and established his business school in the upper stories. The building was demolished in 1989, and an office and retail complex was then built on the site.