St. Andrew Street, site of the first church, first school and first permanent house in Stratford 

St. Andrew the Apostle 

St. Andrew Street was one of the original Canada Company streets laid out on the 1834 map. 

A short street, which begins by the Perth County Courthouse and ends in a cul-de-sac by the Stratford Intermediate School at 60 St. Andrew St., has been a focal point in the life of Stratford since its beginnings. 

St. Andrew Street is named for the St. Andrew the Apostle, who was crucified in 60 AD. His name was attached to St. Andrew's Church of Scotland, a frame building erected on St. Andrew Street in 1835. It was the first church built in Stratford.  

   The log schoolhouse, town pump, St. Andrew's Church and the first house, owned by  the first mayor of Stratford, J. C. W. Daly. Daly's home   and land was sold for $3500 and the house demolished to build the Perth County Courthouse  beginning in 1885.       Stratford-Perth Archives     Drawing by Bruce Stapleton 

The first schoolhouse 

The first Stratford schoolhouse, built in 1841, was a log building 20 feet by 30 feet, built by the people of the town, which in that year numbered about 50 adults.  The log school was on the triangle of land between St. Andrew and Church streets, now the lawn in front of the Stratford Public Library (see below). The large rock with the plaque in the photo below marks the spot of the first schoolhouse, built nine years after the settlement's first building, the Shakespeare Hotel, wasa erected. The house on the right in the drawing by Bruce Stapleton was built in 1833, a year after the first hotel. It belonged to the Canada Company land agent, John Corry Wilson Daly (see Huron Street). It is believed the front door of the Daly house was in the identical location of the main front door of the courthouse which now occupies the site.  

The school was a "common" school, meaning all children were allowed to attend. There was a mix of 31 both boys and girls in the first year. Students used individuals slates with pencils for their work; they created quite a screeching sound. The first schoolmaster was Alexander McGregor (see McGregor Street), who taught all subjects and maintained the heat stove in winter. 

There is a water pump in the drawing by Bruce Stapleton, above, which was important for both the students and the villagers. First made of wood and later of iron, it was a popular gathering place for school children and adults.  

After about a decade, the log was deemed too small. It was advertised in the newspaper, sold and taken away. By 1855, there was a new brick school, a larger more spacious multi-roomed school, known as Central Common School. It was planned for and built on the site of its log predecessor. That school was razed in 1917, after the construction of ward schools in the 1870s, all of them given a name connected to Shakespeare. The city was divided into wards and a school built in each ward.  Sources: Adelaide Leitch, Floodtides of Fortune and Streets of Stratford 2004. Compiled by Gord Conroy

Stratford Public Library

Unlike most Carnegie libraries, the Stratford Public Library does not have the name Carnegie above its front doors. And as you might guess, there is a reason for that. 

When the wealthy American industrialist and steel magnate, Andrew Carnegie, donated  $15,000 to build Stratford's public library, citizens were divided as to whether the city should accept the money. Some argued Carnegie had made his fortune by underpaying his employees. Others referred to his donation as "blood money," accumulated at the sacrifice of the working man. That was a reference to the labourers shot and killed during the 1892 strike against the Carnegie steelworks in Pennsylvania. 

Photo Fred Gonder

"That was interesting about the first school"

It is a short walking distance to the Shakespearean Gardens on Huron Street.           I will  stop there to see the Sundial  in Knot-Garden  designed by  Sir Archibald Flower (great name).

However, after much public debate, the donation was accepted and the library built. It was opened on Sept. 19, 1903, with no mention of Andrew Carnegie in the newspaper coverage. In 2003, library officials held a public and grand "official" opening of the library -- marking its 100thg birthday.

Though not the first Carnegie library built in this country, the SPL is now Canada's oldest surviving Carnegie building still functioning as a library. It followed the pattern of many Carnegie libraries, in that it was built on a hill, necessitating steps but also giving the building an air of loftiness. The current design reflects the talents of local architect James Russell (see Shrewsbury Street) and the firm of Kyles, Kyles & Garratt. Source: Stratford Public Library

First Library Renovation 1926. 

The photo below from 1926 shows that the original entrance was changed from St. Andrew Street to its present location.  It also details the plaque commemorating the first log schoolhouse built in 1841 that stood on the lawn of the present library. That log schoolhouse was moved and a new Central School replaced the log building on the same site from 1855 until it was razed in 1917. It was after the razing of Central School that the library entrance could be changed and other interior modifications made. to the library itself. 

Library renovation and addition 1975

The official opening of the library renovation and addition took place on Sunday, Sept. 7 1975, before a crowd of 300. Lloyd Robertson (see Wellington Street), one of Stratford's own and a noted television news anchor who had moved the year before from CBC to CTV, was the special guest. He reminisced about his childhood at the library, which included the stuffed squirrels in the children's department and the smell of the janitor making his lunch in the basement. Musical entertainment was provided by The Stratford Boychoir (see John Street) and The Royal Canadian Legion Band. As well, the Stratford Festival presented a video version of She Stoops to Conquer; the National Film Board sponsored a display of photography; and Stratford native Charles Trethewey (see St. David Street) presented a slide show entitled  A walk along the Avon.

The cost of renovation and construction, estimated at $585,000, was part of a federal winter works project that contributed $175,000. Construction by Pounder Bros. of Stratford was completed under budget between Nov. 15, 1974, and May 31, 1975, so the federal grant could be applied.  

The 1975 renovation and addition replaced the custodian’s apartment in the basement with a colourful children's section. As well, a new audio-visual department and a lounge area featuring young adult books, comfortable chairs, and a music listening area were added. The building’s facilities were upgraded throughout and made more accessible. On the top floor, a new auditorium replaced the assembly room and small stage that had been used as overflow classroom space in the 1950s.

During construction, the library moved to the vacated A and P grocery store at 145 Erie St.  The architects for the southerly addition at the left of the picture and the main building renovation in 1975 were Kyles, Kyles and Garratt.

Sources: Dean Robinson's book Overdue, Stratford Library Services 1846-2003; Photos: Stratford-Perth Archives and Fred Gonder.

Stratford-Perth Archives

"That was interesting about the first school"

Close by is the Shakespearean Gardens on Huron Street. I will  stop there to see the Sundial  in Knot-Garden  designed by  Sir Archibald Flower (great name).

Julia Merritt, SPL photo

Julia Merritt, author

Stratford Public Library CEO Julia Merritt released her first book in March 2022, horse/man,  about a man who lives through the transition from horsepower to machine power in the mid-20th century. 

The book is the culmination of about 11 years of research, story planning, writing and rewriting. She is working on her second novel.

She started her career in public libraries as a page, and worked up to being a leader in the field. She has been CEO of the Stratford Library for 10 years. A lifelong equestrian, in 2017 she became certified in Equi-Bow, a bodywork modality for horses. In December 2022, she left the SPL for an executive role with the Annapolis Valley Regional Library in Nova Scotia. Her place at the SPL, thus far on an interim basis, has been filled by Krista Robinson.

*  For Julia's bio  and where you can acquire her book see Julia Merritt 

Stratford Collegiate Institute 

Stratford Collegiate Institute was built in 1878 as a vocational school. Officially, it was the Stratford Collegiate and Vocational Institute. It began with eight rooms, five staff members, and 183 students. The building was designed by Edward James Lennox, who was known for several landmarks in Toronto, such as the Old City Hall, Casa Loma and St. Paul's Church on Bloor Street.

In its first few years, the Stratford Collegiate was an important building in that it hosted many events and important meetings for the community. Its main function, of course, was to educate, though at first, only students who had money and could read and write, and who planned to become teachers, doctors or lawyers, were considered for admission. At that time, 30 per cent of Ontarians could not read, and 25 per cent could not write.

62 St. Andrew St.  Stratford-Perth Archives

However, in the 1920s, the collegiate found itself the most overcrowded school in Ontario because of the increasing population in Stratford and surrounding areas. The city board of education decided to put an addition on the school in 1927. Ther was another addition in 1958. The latter renovations and addition cost $575,000 and provided room for another 530 students, which brought the new overall capacity to 1,660 students. The official opening was in the evening on Feb. 4, 1959. Most of the 1,500 citizens expected to attend thought otherwise when a wet snowstorm struck. The attendees numbered just 350, leaving uneaten most of the more than 3,000 cookies baked by the home economics students

The collegiate was noticeably affected by the two world wars. The First World War stirred formation of the Stratford Collegiate Institute cadet company, which provided military training for male students on the schoolgrounds. The female cadet company was not formed until 1944. Physical education classes included rifle technique training and marching drills instead of soccer and rugby. Five hundred former collegiate students enlisted to serve in the First World War; 49 never made it back.

 The Second World War resulted in the loss of 84 former collegiate students. After the war, two plaques were erected in the school with the names of all the former students who had lost their lives in both wars. The plaques are still in place, near the main office, there to remind today's students of the precious gift of life and youth.

In the 1960s, there was public debate about the postwar worth of the cadet companies at the school. In response, a motion was passed that declared military training a non-compulsory course for the students. In 1979, the last of the cadet companies' equipment was removed from the building and the grounds were back to sports fields. Source: Beacon Herald Millennium Edition Jan. 1, 2000

Personal Note: Cadet Day. In the 1950s, every boy in high school had to dress up in an army uniform and march past real army brass on Cadet Day. This was to give us a taste of what army discipline would be like. The grade 9s had last choice of uniforms. They were made of heavy burlap-like material that was hot as hell and itched like crazy. They were always 'way oversized for our pip-squeak bodies. We looked like Sad Sack. The lower grades carried wooden rifles while the upper grades had the real thing. The parade was held near the end of the spring school term, in the hottest days just before summer. I was miserable standing in formation in the blazing hot sun for several hours playing soldier. This is me in Grade 9, 1956, in my snappy uniform.  Paul Wilker

Note: Stratford Central Secondary School, Its History, 1853-1979 – K. D. Malvern is available at the Stratford Public Library Internet Archive. 

James Reaney,  poet and plawright

James Reaney was born near Stratford and became one of Canada’s foremost poets, playwrights, and librettists. He won the Governor General's Award three times, for Red Heart (1949, poetry or drama), A Suit of Nettles (1958, poetry or drama), The Killdeer and Other Plays (1962, poetry or drama) and Twelve Letters to a Small Town (1962, poetry). The fifth of those 12 letters is titled The Cloakroom at the High School.

His stories influenced later writers of the same "southern Ontario Gothic" style of writing, authors such as Timothy Findley (who coined that term), and Alice Munro.  Margaret Atwood has attributed Reaney's work to putting her own writing on a different path. 

Several of his plays have been produced on the Stratford Festival stages, most recently his adaptation of Alice Through the Looking Glass, in 2015. James Reaney graduated from Stratford Central High School in 1944; the school's auditorium now bears his name, as it was the venue in which his play King Whistle was first performed. Source: Stratford-Perth  Literary Walking Tours 

Stratford-Perth Archive

Frank Licsko

Frank Licsko started painting when he was 13 in Stratford, Ont., and quickly became known as a local prodigy. His paintings were collected before he left high school. Some of his originals are in collections all over the world, including those belonging to Emperor Akihito of Japan and former U. S. secretary of state Hilary Clinton. One of his paintings, remains on public display in Perth County. 

This photo here of Licsko at an unveiling at Stratford Central Secondary School. The students council commissioned him "to do a suitable painting for the school” as a Canada Centennial project in 1967.  Admiring the new painting are, from left, Bob Dempsey, Sebringville, president of the students council; Douglas W. Clark, chairman of the Stratford Board of Education; and, Jack A. Hamilton, principal at Central. Licsko now lives and creates his art on Vancouver Island.  Source: Stratford-Perth Archives 

St. Andrew's Church      Photo Fred Gonder

 St. Andrew's Church, at 25 St. Andrew St.

In 1838, when the village of Stratford boasted 40 souls and 22 buildings, the Canada Company granted to the Presbyterian congregation a parcel of land on St. Andrew Street for a church and cemetery. The congregation was recognized as Presbyterian with connections to the Church of Scotland in the Huron Tract. Stratford became a “separate charge.” 

In 1843 there was a major split within the Church of Scotland. Hundreds of ministers and congregations broke away from the established church to form the Free Church of Scotland. St. Andrew's Church found itself caught up in the debate when, in 1844, their minister and a majority of the congregation withdrew to form a Free Church (see Norman Street). That they were the majority of the church members, they felt entitled to the building and records of St. Andrew’s. It took a civil court decision in favour of the established church for the issue to be decided. 

During the next 20 years, the congregational membership grew and prospered, so that in 1868 a new white brick church was built. That building continues as part of the church structure and is the core of the Christian education and office facilities.

 In 1903, land was “given over” for the Stratford Public Library which is adjacent to the church. Another lot, specifically 46 Church St., was made available and on it the church built a red-brick manse. In 1911, with a congregation of 600, there was need for a larger church, which is the present-day sanctuary. The large stained glass windows installed were considered unique because they were lined with bronze castings instead of the universal lead framing. Modern technology no longer provides for that kind of construction.  Source: St Andrew,s Church

You can read a comprehensive book about the church's history here called Ever Forward an Adventure in Faith 1838 to 1988


Earl Clark, teacher and organist

Earl Clark began his tenure at St. Andrew's in 1960, after having been the organist at Kincardine United Church. He found a home in both St. Andrew's and Stratford, and has since remained here as a teacher, choir leader and organist. Clark will retire in the summer of 2023 as choir leader and organist after 63 years of service. His music will be donated to Western University in London. 

As a child, Clark copied what his mother played and ended up taking lessons at about the age of six or seven. Clark began playing the pipe organ as a young teenager, when an Anglican organist offered him lessons to pay for outstanding bills from the Clark family-owned grocery store. He continued his studies at Western University while taking additional organ lessons as a private student. He also studied at the Royal School of Church Music at Addington Palace in the United Kingdom.

Clark's repertoire ranges from classical to contemporary, and as organist, he often chooses the words first to match the theme of the worship, followed by the music.

In addition to his role as organist and choir director, Clark taught music in Stratford privately and in 22 schools. Those schools included King Lear Senior Public, Central Secondary, and Stratford Northwestern Secondary, until he was appointed as the consultant of music for Perth County. He retired in 1988. He was a part-time faculty member at both Wilfrid Laurier and Windsor universities, and the adjudicator at many music festivals at the local and provincial levels.

In 1977, Clark performed at the celebration of Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee in front of an audience that included the lieutenant- governor of Ontario. He also was commissioned to write a special anthem for Stratford’s 150th anniversary. At St. Andrew's, he has overseen two organ rebuilds, in 1971 and 2015.He was also honoured with a lifetime membership to the National Convention of Organists in July 2019.

The foundation of Clark's music ministry is his belief that the mind, heart and soul are motivated by the partnership of music and word. One cannot exist without the other.  Source: Woodstock Sentinal  and St. Andrew's History; april_001.pdf ( .

After 63 years at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church music director Earl Clark retired  from his position after his final Sunday service on June 23, 2023

Stratford gaol (British variant of jail) 

When Perth County separated from the Huron District in 1853, one of the conditions was that it build a land registry office, courthouse and gaol in Stratford, the county seat. The first gaol (jail) was on Elizabeth Street, at Hamilton Street, with the courthouse facing William Street. (see William Street). Within several years, it was obvious the jail was not adequate; it was too small and poorly ventilated. After years of debate, the decision was made to build anew. The preferred site for the first jail in the newly created City of Stratford was at what is now is 30 St. Andrew St. It was built in 1886 and is still serving. 

It was designed by London architect George F. Durand, who was also the architect for the Perth County Courthouse (see Huron Street), Gallery Stratford (see Romeo Street), and the city's first general hospital (see Avoncrest). Both the courthouse and the jail were designed in the Queen Anne Revival Style. Features of that style include the use of different textures and colours, different-sized windows, features borrowed from other styles, and the use of decorative chimneys that were not always functional. Excerpts from “Reflections” Source: Stratford-Perth Archives Collection

Hugh Nichol (1842-1921) was the city's head jailer (or warden or governor or gaoler) for many  years. Twice married, he had at least one child with his first wife, Mary Jane McDonald (1846-1874), whom he married in 1868. He had at least seven children with his second wife, Mary McDermid (1850-1908), whom he married in 1876. He moved with his family to reside in the jail when the new facility was built on St. Andrew Street, and worked there until he died in 1921, at age 79. Hugh Nichol (1842-1921) - Find a Grave Memorial.  Stratford-Perth Archives

Hugh Nichol, jailer. He served during the Fenian Raids in 1866 and was a lieutenant in the Perth Regiment.                  Stratford-Perth Archives

Hugh Nichol.mp3

Hugh Nichol,  The Highland Grim Reaper  Audio

There were two hangings in this jail. The first was in 1895, after Amédée Chattelle was convicted of murdering 14-year-old Jessie Keith, and in 1909, after Frank Roughmond was convicted of the rape of a farm wife, Mary Peake. See The Trial and Execution of  Amédée Chattelle Stratford 1895

This photo,at 30 St. Andrew St., was taken in about 1900. In front of the jail is the warden, Hugh Nichol, and his family. The Nichols lived in the jail.

The land registry office

The land registry office was designed by Stratford architect Thomas J. Hepburn (see Ontario Street), the oldest of city engineer Alexander Hepburn's three sons. T. J. Hepburn (1861-1932) deliberately matched the building's style with the buff brick, and plum-coloured sandstone, featured on the neighbouring courthouse and jail.

Perth County council's property committee recommended the tender from Pounder Bros., a Stratford construction company, to build the “complete structure as per plans and specifications, for the sum of $10,168.” The recommendation was accepted in April 1910. 

A plaque in the foyer commemorates the formal opening of this building later in 1910. The building, at 24
St. Andrew St., has been described as a “fireproof fortress for the preservation of public records.”

At one time, the only wood in the building was a toilet stall in the basement, and wooden flooring and baseboards on the main floor. Even the door frames and doors were clad in metal. The staircase is concrete and cast iron, though is now covered with carpet for safety and comfort. Gas lamps were never needed because the relatively new and safer option of electric lighting was available when the building was constructed. Its masonry walls and room dividers, combined with supporting metal arches in the basement, meant the building could easily support the tons of heavy documents and records housed here.

Stratford-Perth Archives occupied the building from 1981 until 2015, when it was moved to new and larger quarters just beyond the city's western boundary. The registry offices had been moved to larger quarters after the rapid increase in land sales that followed the Second World War. In the interim, the building was used as a driver's licence bureau and offices for the county health unit. The building awaits historic designation or demolition. Source: Stratford-Perth Archives Collection