T. J. Dolan Drive

Mr. Stratford and the T. J. Dolan Natural Area

T. J. Dolan Drive is a narrow drive along the Avon River. It begins just west of the Huron Street bridge, and runs along the north side of the Avon River to St. Vincent Street. From there, it continues along the south side of the river to John Street. Vehicular traffic is no longer allowed through the T. J. Dolan Natural Area, formerly known as "the old grove." Source: Streets of Stratford, 2004. 

Tom Dolan

Thomas Joseph George Dolan was born in Stratford in 1898 and came to be known as Mr. Stratford. He joined the staff of the Stratford Beacon in 1915 and was associated with that paper and its successor, the Beacon Herald, until 1966 when he retired from his position as managing editor. After his retirement, Dolan continued to write for the paper until two months before his death in 1981 at age 82. He was associated with the newspaper for 71 years.

In 1936, Dolan was appointed to the board of park management and served as a member for 22 years, 14 years as chair. In 1961, Stratford city council named him an honorary life member of the board. He was involved for 45 years. Dolan was also a member of the Rotary Club for 57 years and was known for his organization of the city’s annual St. Patrick's Day festivities. He was also the club's first Paul Harris Fellow. 

Dolan was also on the board of the Upper Thames River Conservation authority for 24 years, as Stratford’s representative after the boar's inception in 1947. One of his special assignments was to oversee the establishment of the Wildwood Dam and Park near St. Mary's. Wildwood Dam & Reservoir – Upper Thames River Conservation Authority He played a major role in the creation of the Thomas Orr Dam (see York Street) that replaced the old dam in 1967.

Dolan is one of four men who did tremendous work to establish and build the Stratford park system. He had a prodigious memory and an extensive filing system, with a disarming sense of Irish humour. Early work had been done by Dr. Edward Henry Eidt, a dentist and city alderman (See Downie Street). Having watched from his offices in the Gordon Block, as the city’s parklands degenerated, he was “determined to change that state of affairs and breathe new and lasting life into the Stratford parks system,” according to Dean Robinson in "Not the Last waltz: and other Stratford stories."

Dolan’s father and grandfather had worked for the Grand Trunk Railway as had other family members. His paternal grandfather was killed in the dynamite explosion (see Flashback: Dynamite Explosion) that rocked the railyards in 1879.

When young Tom, the grandson, was a boy, he worked as a newsboy for the Herald, with its headquarters on Market Place. Mary Jane Lennon, in her book A Stratford Album reports that shortly after the picture shown here, of the newsboys, was taken, in 1910, young Dolan left the Herald to work for the Beacon because they paid five cents more a week.  

T. J. Dolan house 75 Bay St.

Dolan was a noted authority on the history of Stratford and a strong voice for development and maintenance of the parks system around Lake Victoria. He loved the parks so much that he would take a brisk walk each morning through the park on his way to work to keep an eye on the swan population, always checking for signs of vandalism.

* At the time of Tom Dolan's death, Perth historian, Stafford Johnston said, "Local historians not yet born will have cause to thank him for the body of information he collected and organized tidily as a basis for the history of Stratford." Source: Streets of Stratford, 2004. 

Dolan's Love of History. 

Tom Dolan was also involved with Rotary in Stratford for 57 years and acted as both press agent and historian. He was president in 1931-1932. In 1955, he compiled an overview of the club and updated it 11 years later. These documents were key sources for Dean Robinson’s two Rotary books, including his recent one, A Century of Service: The Rotary Club of Stratford, 1922-2022.  In 1974, Tom Dolan was honoured to become the first Paul Harris Fellow awarded by the Stratford Rotary Club.


On the 1970s, Dolan also led a team of local researchers that gathered most of the information that became Floodtides of Fortune, 1980, a history of Stratford, commissioned by the city and written by Adelaide Leitch. It was a book that Tom Dolan had hoped to write but ill health interfered. The Stratford Rotary Club had Tom’s name emblazoned in gold on the front cover of a copy and delivered to him at his home.  It was a fitting tribute to Mr. Stratford.  Source: Dean Robinson, A Century of Service.

Herald Newspaper Boys.1910. Photo: Stratford-Perth Archives

Tom Dolan is fourth from left, in the middle row of the boys who are standing. Armour Keane, (see North Street) who became the city’s ice dealer, and an unofficial caretaker of the swan population on the river, is the fair-haired boy, in the back row. 

Dolan began his career as a delivery boy for The Beacon in 1910 after leaving The Herald. He worked his way up through the mailroom, mechanical and circulation departments of The Beacon and became the newspaper's sole reporter at the age of 17. He spent 16 years as managing editor before retirement in 1966 though he continued to write for the paper until two months before his death. Source: Stratford-Perth Archives, Streets of Stratford, 2004

T. J. Dolan. Photo: Beacon Herald

Tom Dolan Stories. In an earlier article on November 20, 1966 in The Stratford Beacon Herald at the time of his retirement, Tom Dolan talked of the newspaper he loved, his city and some of his adventures.  Here are several stories and memories that he recounted. 

A Night with the Prince. The incident concerning British royalty, with the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VIII, happened during a royal visit in 1919.  Mr. Dolan, along with the late Harry Coghill, Ottawa, who was then sergeant at arms in the House of Commons and had been assigned as the Prince’s aide-de-camp, and Harry's brother, the late J. D. Coghill, Stratford, convinced the Prince he should spend a night away from official duties. They drove to London, where they all danced at McCormick's dance hall. "I've never mentioned this in public before," Mr. Dolan says.

He also met Princess Juliana, Queen of the Netherlands, and Prince Bernhard, when they visited Juliana Barracks, (now Imperial Furniture) during WW2.

Newspaper Work Before Telephones. Before telephones became numerous, reporters had to “leg it" to call on bereaved families for obituary material. It was not quite as unpleasant as following up First World War casualty lists, which came to the local telegraph office-bookstore, where they were passed --"somehow"—to waiting reporters.  Mr. Dolan recalls arriving at the home of a woman, who immediately suspected her husband had been killed. While he was trying talk to her, one of the women from the Patriotic Society arrived at the door, to tell the woman her husband, in fact, had been killed. The Society handled the lists of war dead and the telegraph office delivered the messages to the homes in the case of those wounded

Baseball on Ontario Street.  Also, in the days before radio and television, The Beacon-Herald had a large machine that looked like a baseball park. Three men operated it, in front of the building, presenting baseball games for fans as news was received on the wire service. People jammed Ontario Street for this, and also for election returns, which were flashed on lantern slides.

"The early news wire service," Mr. Dolan says, "gave us about 3,000 words a day, sent through a telegraph office. This was followed by a new machine in 1929 that gave us direct service — all in capital letters. The next model gave us capitals and small letters; the latest—a Canadian Press service — gives us about 40,000 words a day, or about 51 columns of type, in its 16 ½ hours of running time daily."

A Murder? The one murder story he worked on turned out to be not a murder. "Sometime in 1922, a Logan woman came to Mitchell, where she confessed to killing her husband. We took a train out next day to Dublin, where we tried to dig up a good story. People in the community were shocked. Somehow, the bank manager got us into his office and wouldn't let us out until just before the train left for Stratford.  An autopsy showed the husband had not died of poisoning, as the woman had said."

Old Time Hockey Rivalry. “I also remember," Mr. Dolan recalls, "being sent to Wiarton, on a special coach, to cover a hockey game. I used to send telephone bulletins back to the office, but this night, the town went berserk — they lost — and the men at the livery stable wouldn't let me use the telephone. When we got back to the coach on the siding, we found all the windows had been stoned, and we were also snowed in. I made it back to Stratford in time to leave the next day for Montreal where I was to cover the Grand Trunk apprentices' game.  I wrote the story in a Chinese restaurant, sent it back with someone going to Stratford, then stayed in Montreal for the weekend.”

Newspaper Memories. 

In 1916, when Tom Dolan left school, he accepted a job in The Beacon circulation department. Pay was $6 a week, and the young Mr. Dolan was required to buy a pair of long pants. In his new $3 pants, he collected subscription accounts. “Our family paid 10 cents a week but they were a year behind in payment," he says.

In that same year, when “the reportorial staff enlisted," Mr. Dolan took over as the paper's only reporter, filling the position of the one man who left for the war. The paper at that time was owned by W. M. O'Beirne, who was the father of Mrs. K. H. Crane, 1 Erie St.  Papers were printed on an eight-page, flatbed press; William A. Ewart was shop foreman at the time.

Shortly before The Beacon and The Herald were amalgamated in May, 1923, The Beacon was sold to W. J. Taylor, a Woodstock publisher, who sold it in a short time to L. H. Dingman, of St. Thomas, then principal owner of The Stratford Herald. “For a while, the paper was printed at both shops, but eventually all the work was done at 108 Ontario St., which is still the home of The Beacon-Herald." Note: The newspaper is now located at 59 Lorne Avenue East. 

In 1927, the paper replaced its old flatbed presses with a 24-page rotary press, bought in Fall River Mass. One of the old flatbeds went to serve a Chinese daily paper in Toronto, the other to Bogota, Colombia. The old flatbed press and the better rotary press were followed in 1952 by a Wood 40-page, all-color press, which serves the newspaper today. The late, Mr. David Simpson, then mayor of the city, pressed the button to start the press rolling in June 1952.

“There was great rivalry between the two papers before they amalgamated," Mr. Dolan recalls. "In 1922, after we had not published for three days because of a terrific sleet storm, we got a Ford gasoline engine from Fred Heimrich, hooked it to our presses, and, despite the fact there were no lights or phones, printed a paper. We scooped The Herald, but they came out when the power came on, saying their equipment was too modern to run with a Ford engine."

"The Beacon-Herald building was gutted by fire Nov. 15, 1935. It was evening. We immediately divided our staff, sending the mechanical staff and some editorial personnel to The St. Thomas Times-Journal, and some reporters and advertising staff to a vacant store across the street. We were less than half an hour late on our deliveries next day after going to press in St. Thomas. The papers were brought to Stratford daily for about five weeks." Source: Stratford Beacon Herald, November 20, 1966. 

Addendum: Tom Dolan had an amazing memory for detail and maintained an extensive filing system during his long and important service to the city and community. His many papers are now part of the Stratford-Perth Archives inventory Sourced by Gord Conroy

T. J. Dolan Trail

The T. J Dolan Natural Area, formerly known as "the old grove," covers some 57 acres. The Avon River bisects the area, and native species of willows, poplars and maples line its banks, providing shade and erosion control along the river. The T. J. Dolan Trail is part of the larger Avon Trail and park system that surrounds the Avon River (see Stratford Side Trail map).  

The main walking trail loop is 4.4 kilometres with smaller side trails along the way. Over the decades, as factories and other industry moved away from the river’s edge, the parks board worked to create and maintain large areas of parkland close to the Avon River and Lake Victoria. Now, most of that 115-acre formal park system includes manicured areas to sit and relax, such as Confederation Park (see Romeo Street), the Shakespearean Gardens (see Huron Street) or Tom Patterson Island (see Lakeside Drive) as well as more than 60 acres of more natural growth parkland.