The Appin Way
Downie Street takes its name from Robert Downie, an English member of parliament, and one of the 18 members of the first court of directors of the Canada Company. Robert Downie Esq. was elected at a meeting of the court held in the London (EngLand) Tavern on Friday, July 30, 1824. Though many of the townships in this area are named for members of the Canada Company directors, Downie is the only director for whom a Stratford street is named. In that Stratford owes its existence to the Canada Company, Downie's name is an important link with the past. On an 1829 survey map of this area, the future town site of Stratford is shown with the name "Appin," and it is probable that Canada Company founder John Galt chose this name in honour of his friend, "Mr.Downie of Appin." But the name "Appin" soon disappeared. Downie is one of the oldest streets in Stratford and was first named Downie Road on the 1839 Canada Company map on an 1834 survey by John McDonald (see 1834 Map).
In the early years, Downie Street was just a mud road leading to the townships. It was later paved with logs laid crosswise to form what was known as a corduroy road. The coming of the railway to Stratford in 1856 gave Downie Street its start as an important commercial and residential street. Prior to that, the main development in the town had taken place along Ontario and Huron streets. The early railway stations serving Stratford all were in the vicinity of the present CNR station. During the period of transition from stagecoach travel to rail travel, Downie became increasingly important as the main route to and from the various railway stations. It became the main access to the centre of town, not only for the travelling public, but also for the shipment of raw materials, manufactured goods, livestock and produce. Almost overnight, the focus of commercial development in Stratford swung from Ontario, Huron and Erie streets to Downie and Wellington streets and the area surrounding the present city hall.
The Stratford town hall was completed in 1857 on the same site as the present building. It was considered to be one of the finest town halls in Ontario and quickly became the centre of business and social activity. Its location greatly enhanced Downie Street. The site had previously been occupied by a sawmill and potash works on the stream that still flows in the "Romeo arch" that runs under the Avon Theatre, crosses under Downie Street and Market Place, and eventually empties into the Avon River. In the early days of the Theatre Albert (now the Avon Theatre) it was said that members of the orchestra, playing in the pit, sometimes had to wear rubber boots to keep from getting wet feet. They even did a little "pit fishing" through holes in the "Romeo arch," especially during Shakespearean productions. The new town hall also served as a market building and concert hall. The building's increased activity added greatly to the importance of Downie Street.
The first block of Downie, from Ontario to Albert and Wellington, soon became known as Market Street because it led to the new market. The name stuck until about 1908, when it again became part of Downie Street because of confusion with Market Place. That first block became the focal point of Stratford's red-brick Victorian architectural style. Handsome three-storey business blocks, an arcade and shops lined both sides of Downie Street. The Victorian streetscape was further enhanced by the building of the present city hall in 1898, after fire destroyed its predecessor. Market Street provided the vital link between Ontario Street and Downie and Wellington streets. It was a high traffic area, particularly for pedestrians. For many years, the T. Eaton Co. had a department store on the west side of the block. The old Eaton's store and the Gordon Block were saved from threatened demolition to house new shops in what came to be called Festival Square. Other buildings on the block did not fare so well. Three of the banks destroyed their buildings, all in this block. In their mad dash to enter the computer age, the banks obliterated much of Canada's downtown Victorian architecture. Fortunately, our big red tomato (the city hall), was saved from the same fate and refurbished. Now it even has a garden to welcome you to the front steps.
Stratford is not so easily destroyed. Robert Downie would be proud of the progress his street has made, running as it does, from the centre of the city, through the downtown, to the railway, and into the residential, industrial and park areas of the city's south end, and then into the townships, and even to Tavistock if one is to turn left at Harmony. With notes from Stanford Dingman
Dr. Edward Henry Eidt, grandfather of the city's park system
Theatres: Albert, Majestic, Avon
Among the musical families of Stratford were the Brandenbergers who ran a sausage business and hotel on Wellington Street (the Blowes building). Albert Brandenberger, a Stratford citizen and reputedly a theatre man of some considerable experience, had long wanted to establish a proper theatre in his hometown. His ambition was ignited by the fire in 1897 that destroyed the original city hall, and with it the only performance hall in Stratford worthy of the name. In due course, Brandenberger acquired a building site at the corner of Downie and St. George streets, which hie bought from Mary Patterson, grandmother of the Tom Patterson, who half a century later would found the Stratford Festival.
According to the Beacon Herald of July 7, 1967, the architect of Theatre Albert may have been Harry J. Powell of Stratford. In any event, construction of the building began in 1900. Brandenberger named the building, designed to seat 1,250, Theatre Albert after himself and, some said, also after Queen Victoria's consort. The new theatre, though not completed, opened on Jan. 1, 1901, with The Female Drummer, the first stage show in the city's first legitimate theatre.
By 1910, Brandenberger had enlarged and improved the building, giving most of his attention to the interiors as well as adding on a stagehouse of wall-bearing brick, the timber framed ceiling of which hung 46 feet above the stage. Stage dimensions were a respectable 32 feet back wall-to-proscenium-line, by 54 feet wall-to-wall on the wings. The proscenium arch measured 32 feet wide and 21 feet high. There was an orchestra pit of modest size, part of it taken up by a storm water culvert that conducted Romeo Creek diagonally under the building, as it does today .Once again, the travelling shows, operas and local musical productions could be put on in proper style.
Audience seating for about 1,100 was arranged in aisle-access fashion on two levels, much as it is now, except for the introduction of cross-aisles in the late 1960s. From a centre point, five feet upstage of the proscenium line, the furthermost seats in this house were, and have remained, about 90 feet away, acceptable for lyric stage productions but not so cozy for drama.
The auditorium decor, as it emerged from the 1910 refurbishings, was vaguely akin to Edwardian style, with bas relief touches reminiscent of the brothers Adam. The exterior façade of the building's commercial block, fronting on Downie Street, mercifully replaced by a modern edifice in 1967, was of little architectural merit. In 1910, Brandenberger declares his theatre "The house of polite vaudeville and motion pictures," and changed its name to the Griffin Theatre. He sold his interest in the place in 1924, and it was renamed the Majestic Theatre. Under yet other ownership in the 1940s, the theatre was given the name it now has - the Avon Theatre. In 1956, 30 years after Albert Brandenberger had died, his building once more became the venue for legitimate theatre, opening in the summer of that year with Le Theatre du Nouveau Monde in Three Farces by Moliere, directed by the Jean Gascon. With the founding of the Stratford Festival, the renaissance of Theatre Albert had begun. Source: Canada West Library UToronto Pictures: Stratford-Perth Archives
It can be said that Justin Bieber got his start on the steps of the Avon Theatre.
The Stratford Perth Museum had an exhibit called: Justin Bieber: Steps to Stardom, which opened in 2018. It was an overwhelming hit for the small museum. Prior to the Bieber exhibit, the museum received a few thousand visitors in a good year. With the exhibit in place, that number jumped to more than 20,000 visitors a year, Bieber among them more than once. A book penned by John Kastner presents a behind-the-curtain look at the exhibit. Justin Bieber: Steps to Stardom features 100 colour photos of some of the most iconic pieces of memorabilia in the exhibit, as well as never-before-told stories behind what makes the items significant. Source: Stratford Perth Museum
Click above to see the Star of Stratford - Justin Bieber (before he was famous), playing on the steps 0f the Avon Theatre). The city honoured him with a Bronze Star on its Walk of Fame on July1,v2011.
Pattie Mallette, actor, author
Walk of fame
Bronze stars in front of the Avon Theatre. * Click on slide photos by Fred Gonder below.
Scott McKowen and Christina Poddubiuk
Includes Story of Stratford's War Memorial
The Gordon Block: the final jewel.
The heritage building at 2-12 Downie St., commonly referred to as the Gordon Block, is on a five-sided parcel of land at one of Stratford's most prestigious downtown intersections. The architect of the three-storey red-brick building is unknown, but the date of construction has been traced to 1893-94. William Gordon, mayor of Stratford in 1894-1895 and 1907-1908, was the man behind the construction and planning. The unique form of the Gordon Block is the result of its location at the intersection of Downie, Ontario, and Erie streets in the heart of Stratford. Its large massing and two towers make it an urban landmark within the downtown, and its vertical character provides a unifying quality that matches much of the fabric of the area. The structure abuts a building to the south once known as the Beamish building (1888), and together they form an indoor shopping centre called Festival Square.
Gordon Block Fred Gonder
The Gordon Block is representative of the early growth and development of the City of Stratford. Its construction was one of the projects commissioned by the city's first mayor, William Gordon. The building was also the last brick commercial building of the 19th century constructed in Stratford's downtown core, thus signifying the end of a period of intensive expansion and commercial development (1870 to 1900). Upon threat of demolition in the mid-1970s, the building was restored by a heritage-minded developer and now stands as one of the focal points in the downtown core. The preservation of the building's façade was historically significant, in that it launched heritage conservation practice in Stratford.
The Gordon Block is an excellent example of a late-Victorian commercial building that incorporates design influences from a variety of architectural styles. Among the most notable of the building's features are the two pyramid-capped corner towers along the main (north) façade and the intricate brick corbelling along the roofline. As impressive as those features may be, the Gordon Block is the first building in Stratford to be constructed of a cast-iron frame. Timber frame construction had been predominant throughout the downtown core in the early days of Stratford, but in 1863 a municipal bylaw was passed in an effort to reduce the hazards of fire. The adoption of a cast-iron frame not only helped to curb the threat of fire, it also expanded design opportunities by reducing the amount of space required for structural components. Given that new opportunity, the floor level of the building was designed as a solid curtain of plate glass, allowing uninterrupted views into the building from all three sides. Source: Historic Places
The Idington Block
Myers Block, 69 Downie St. Fred Gonder
Mooney Biscuit and Candy Co.
Joseph Christopher Harrison
Harvey Harrison, son of Joseph.
Addendum: The images below show an ad in Vernon's Stratford Directory in 1924 for the Harrison Family Businesses at 106 Downie Street. Thanks to Nancy Musselman for providing the image. To the right, we see Joseph Harrison in front of his establisment at 106 Downie Street. Note the signs in the windows. The building was on the northwest corner of Downie and George Streets. The wooden building was later replaced by a brick structure which can be seen in the coloured photo. Both photos posted by Bob Toleff on If you grew up in Stratford FB site. Additional family history of later generations can be found here. Joseph Christopher Harrison (1814-1890) - Find a Grave Memorial
The Crown Hotel
The Crown Hotel, at 209 Waterloo St. S. (corner of Falstaff Street) was owned by Richard (Dicky) McArdle from 1896 to 1919. In the photo to the left, he is standing to the rioght of the corner door. In about 1900, the second floor was reserved for boarders, while the third floor was for travellers. The hotel, with its well-appointed bar was a block from the Grand Trunk Railway station, from where patrons could be picked up by horse-drawn carriages.
Richard McArdle (1856-1921) was an avid horseman, but also among the first in Stratford to own a car. After his death, the hotel became the Kent Hotel. After a an eventual downward slide, it burned on Nov. 28, 2003. Said the Beacon Herald, "All the splendor of the 19th century hotels in Strafford is evident in the photograph of the old Crown Hotel at the corner of Downie and Falstaff streets at the turn of the century. The photo shows the owner of the hotel, Mr. Richard McArdle, on the front steps. He owned the Crown Hotel from 1896 to 1919."
It was subsequently owned by his son James, who had 10 siblings. Their mother, Olive (Bart), had roots that traced back to Louis Hébert (1575 – 1627), believed to be the first European to farm in what became Canada. By Paul Wilker Pictures: Stratford-Perth Achives
Keep her feeling close with long listance. It's the next best thing to saying. "Here Granny, hold the baby."
Olive (child in the picture) was well known for her food column in the Toronto Telegram and her radio work with CFRB radio in Toronto. She used the name Louise Moore as her media name, and did a number of ads depicting herself as a kind and wise grandma.
Tir na nOg gates
Photo Fred Gonder
O'Higgins Alley Barbara Storey Art Photography
Thanks to Barbara Storey for photos. At the Agora Gallery Stratford photo contest in 2019, she won third prize for the O'Higgins Alley limited edition giclée fine art print. Barbara Storey Fine Art Photography
105-109 Downie Photo Fred Gonder
Fosters Inn, a heritage site
This heritage site is on the east side of Downie Street, just south of George Street. The two, three-storey buff brick commercial buildings were constructed in 1906 and 1908. This Heritage site was designated by the City in 2000 for its heritage value.
It played a pivotal role in the establishment of the commercial district south of Market Square in the city's downtown. In conjunction with the similar, adjacent buildings, at 105-109 Downie St., these structures form a continuous block of early 20th century commercial buildings.
Joseph John O'Brien owned the land on which the Foster's Inn was built and conducted his well-known tobacco and cigar business from that location. The building reflects a simplified Edwardian Classicism, a style common in commercial architecture early in the last century. E
Edwardian architecture is reflected in the buildings' modest design, restraint in detailing, and simplified, but formal composition. The buff brick exterior produces the appearance of a smooth surface, subtly accentuated with pilaster accents. A cornice adorned with modillion blocks and a frieze, is shared with 105-109 Downie St. Source: Canada's Historic Places
Victoria House Hotel
The Duggan department store at 55-67 Downie St., 1902 Stratford-Perth Archives
J. A. Duggan Ltd. department store
The GTR's greenhouses along Downie Street, south of the YMCA Photo: Dorothy Zorgdrager
The GTR greenhouses
480 Downie St. Stratford-Perth Archives
Pounder Brothers crew Stratford-Perth Archives
Anne Hathaway school
Hudson's, prior to major renovations
Hudson's Department Store
Hudson's, renovated to reveal its original architecture
129 Downie St.
Edward (Teddy) Payne
His published books (available at Fanfare Books) are:
Stratford Edward Payne
Victoria Sponge For Tea Edward Payne
The drive-in theatre was on Downie Street, just south and east of Lorne Avenue. Its memory still generates great nostalgia for those who grew up in Stratford in the 1950s and '60s. Many parents would take their children to movies in their pajamas and let them sleep in the back seat. It was great for dating, too. The popcorn was horrible and the sound system was not stereo, but we loved it anyway. On a personal note, I proposed to my wife in 1965 at the drive -in after watching Psycho. I didn't want to be alone after that. The drive-in was closed in about 1985, leaving an empty field. By Paul Wilker Picture by Doug Gibbons . . . FB
Click on picture to see video.
Beniah (Bunny) Fryer
The Odd Fellows Block from an Engraving circa 1880, showing the Bank of Montreal. (see article below). Courtesy: Brian-Wendy Reis.
Odd Fellows Block razed for Kresge's
The Odd Fellows Block was unique in Stratford. It was an iron-fronted building, the only one in Stratford, but it is no more. It was razed in 1935 to make way for the new Kresge's building. (See Below).
The print was taken from a zinc engraving from about 1880. Brian Wendy Reis on If You Grew Up in Stratford FB described the Odd Fellows Block as a "really cool building." In the engraving, you can see the words IOOF Hall and on the ground floor The Bank of Montreal name. In 1876, the Bank is noted in the Stratford City Directory to be at 32 Downie Street with James Hogg as agent.
The IOOF Hall was on Downie Street just a few doors south of Albert Street opposite the Market Square. It was located immediately south of the Windsor Block which housed stores and the Windsor Hotel.
The IOOF building also housed the Bank of Montreal, and the next building north of it was the first British Mortgage and Trust office which is located there by 1880 as noted in the City Directory. By 1896, the Bank of Montreal is listed at the corner of Ontario and Market Street(now Downie) on the street level of the Gordon Block. (see Gordon Block above). George W. Lawrence and Son, barristers, also occupied the Odd Fellows Block in 1880. Thomas Miller, accountant and insurance agent, also had offices there. The Bank of Montreal was then to move to the southeast corner of Brunswick and Downie Streets by 1928. (see Great Bank Heist story below).
By 1896, Thomas F. Quirk had moved to the Odd Fellows Block. (See image below). He is listed in the 1896 Stratford Directory as being a dealer in liquors and lived at 119 Waterloo Street, with his wife Ellen Colloton Quirk (1863- 1908). They had one son Frank. (1897-1948) Twenty years earlier, in 1876, Thomas had been listed as a clerk who boarded at 17 Waterloo Street so he had done well for himself.
In the early days of Stratford, there were many fraternities and their members aided in the development of the downtown doing good works. The Independent Order of Odd fellows (IOOF) was one such fraternity and its background and philosophy can be found here. About Us – The Grand Lodge of Ontario
The Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF) is a fraternal organization founded in England in the 1600s. At that time people in society were class-conscious and few helped their neighbors. When people got sick or their loved ones died, they were left to fend for themselves. Many didn’t have enough money to bury their dead.
The Odd Fellows stepped up and pooled their money and resources together to help people in need. Since this attitude was converse to how society thought at the time, they considered themselves “odd” — thus the name.
In 1876, the Odd Fellows were already established and meeting in the Oddfellows Block opposite the market on Downie Street. The business men, such as E. K. Barnsdale, of Taylor and Barnsdale, grocers, situated in Stoney's Block, on Market Square, met weekly on different days and were divided into Lodges such as the Avon Lodge or Romeo Lodge. Sources: 1876.pdf (perthcounty.) ;: Stratford and District Historical Society FB; If You Grew Up in Stratford FB; Thomas Francis Quirk (1845-1917) - Find a Grave Memorial
Odd Fellows Building 1910 to the right of the Windsor Hotel. Photo: Vince Gratton.
To the left: Odd Fellows Building photographed in 1884 by reknowned Canadian photographer William Notman (1826-1891).
Vince Gratton, Stratford historian, made the following observation: "[Notman] felt the Oddfellows building worthy of his talents and took the photo attached here on the left. It is now a part of the museum that houses his work." The Notman collection, containing over 400,000 photographs, plus office records and family correspondence, forms part of the collections of the Notman Photographic Archives housed in the McCord Museum of McGill University. Source: William Notman | The Canadian Encyclopedia
See Pierre Berton's article on Notman with pictures and photo techniques of the era explained. Macleans Magazine 1956-11-24 : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive ; William Notman: Photographic Pioneer - Canada's History
Thomas F. Quirk Liquors in Odd Fellows Block on Downie Street across from Market Square. Photo 1905. The Windsor Hotel is to the left of the photo. Source: Stratford Illustrated, 1902, posted by Nancy Musselman, If You Grew Up in Stratford FB
Thomas F. Quirk, liquors
Thomas Quirk (1845-1917) had his business in the Odd Fellows building. Quirk and his parents emigrated from Ireland early in his life. He learned the wine and liquor business in the employ of Sir Frank Smith in London and then set up his own store in Stratford. In 1905, the Stratford Beacon reported his success in the wine and spirit trade since his entry and commented on his acknowledged integrity and courtesy which have won for him a constantly increasing trade. Source: Nancy Musselman, If You Grew Up in Stratford FB.
Thomas F. Quirk, Liquors and Wines
Thomas F. Quirk pottery jug from a bygone era. Source: Nancy Musselman. Posted on If You Grew Up in Stratford, FB.
Kresge's new building is seen here being constructed at 47 Downie Street 1n 1929 between Albert and Brunswick Streets. The Oddfellows building where Quick Wines and Spirits had lived on the ground floor was completely demolished to make way for Kresge's. The Windsor Hotel is seen on the left. Stores occupied the first floor. Source: Stratford and District Historical Society FB.
Kresge's, Canada's first Kresge's store.
Kresge's came to Canada and to Stratford at 47 Downie Street in 1929. It was the beginning of The Depression and times were tough. Perhaps because of that, Kresge's did well. If people had only limited finances, the "five and dime" was an option.
They did so well they decided to build just north of where they were. They purchased the Odd Fellow's Block beside the Windsor Hotel on Downie Street. The Odd Fellows Block immediately south of the Windsor Hotel was then razed though it was unique in Stratford with its iron façade. (see Oddfellows Building and Quirk Wines and Spirits above).
The detail below of the photo to the left shows us the writing on the construction sign: "This store is to be occupied by S. S. Kresge Limited." At the time of the Kresge construction, the Windsor Hotel Block to the left rented space to other stores including the A to D Shoe Store at 43 Downie and, J. J. Sutherland, wallpaper, at 45 Downie. Both moved there in 1929. H. M. Harwood Drug Store was already established on the corner of Albert at 39 Downie but not seen in the detail of the photo. Harwood Drugs would later move to Wellington Street. Times were tough in the hotel business as well and that allowed Woolworth's to move beside Kresge's. .
Woolworth's in Stratford by 1928. Woolworth's was already in town before 1928 but occupied 69-71 Downie Street on the northeast corner of Brunswick and Downie Streets across from the Bank of Montreal . A & P groceries moved in when Woolworth moved out. Woolworth's would move to the corner of Albert and Downie in 1935 after the Windsor Hotel sold half of its building because of the loss of clientele during the severe downturn in the economy which lasted during the 1930s.
In 1935, S. S. Kresge purchased and razed the Odd Fellows Block and built a new Art Deco style building from the ground up. Renovations to the Windsor Hotel by Woolworth's to the left of the Kresge building which would replace the present stores and change the roof line had not yet begun. Sources: International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts - Wikipedia; Photo: Nancy Musselman, Stratford and District Historical Society.
Kresge's was influenced architecturally, by the Art Deco style from that period. The strong vertical lines, the repetition and the symmetry are all part of the style that was highlighted in the Paris Exposition in 1925. Kresge's was a smaller store than Woolworth's but people loved to shop in both. Side by side they were unbeatable for kids and adults alike.
The initials S. S. in the Kresge name stood for Sebastian Spering and he was born in 1867, in Pennsylvania, the year of Canada's Confederation. He died 99 years later in 1966 after establishing his first K- Mart in 1962. In 1977 Kresge Corporation formally changed to Kmart Corporation. Kresge originally thought that the discount stores in the big suburban shopping plazas could coexist with the downtown variety store but by the 1980s, the change from Kresge to K-Mart matched the change all over from the "five and dime" variety to discount.
After Kresge's in Stratford closed in the 1970s, the Municipal Savings & Loan Corporation occupied the building before Tourism Stratford took over at 47 Downie Street. Sources: Finding Aids and Digitized Collections - Perth County; Destination Stratford - Stratford, Ontario | The Arts Are What We Are ; Stratford and District Historical Society FB; S.S. Kresge Co. - Gone but not forgotten); S. S. Kresge - Wikipedia. Complied by Gord Conroy.
Woolworth's buys ... half a hotel!
In 1935, F. W. Woolworth's bought, remodeled, and moved into half of the Windsor Hotel Block and began their iconic stay on the southeast corner of Albert and Downie Streets. Unlike Kresge's, Woolworth's did not raze the building but they did extensive remodeling. Note the changed roof-line and the Tudor style architecture. They were an institution in Stratford and together with S. S. Kresge right next door, the two stores catered to generations of Stratford people of all ages. Woolworth's like Kresge's were stores for people and that meant for people of all ages from kids to adults and seniors. They all could find something they wanted at "the five and dime."
And those were real prices. Woolworths was founded in Utica, N.Y. in 1879 by Frank Winfield Woolworth, who conceived the novel idea of selling a variety of goods for a fixed price of either a nickel or 10 cents – the original "five-and-dime" concept. The company raised its price ceiling to 20 cents in 1932 and abolished price limits altogether in 1935.
F. W. Woolworth Sales Philosophy. On September 16, 1922, an advertisement in the Saturday Evening Post explained Woolworth's philosophy for success.
"In 1879, F.W. Woolworth set forth to do a new thing--to give values for five and ten cents as had never been given before. He knew that values alone will not build a business; the goods must be so displayed that people can see them. 'Our windows,' was one of the reasons he gave for his success."
From the very beginning, the signature Woolworth windows were the company's only form of advertising. They featured standardized lighting (GE's "Edison Mazda Lamps,") and sumptuous and enticing displays, the style of which had been codified by the turn of the century by Samuel Knox, an early partner.
Every window calls out for noses to be pressed up against it, every display beckons the viewer inside, and every counter is piled high, as far as the eye can see. The displays can be elaborate for toys and Christmas but even the more mundane (sewing supplies, stationary, dry goods, toiletries) seem voluptuous and welcoming. Despite the wide variety of stock, the merchandising is remarkable for its consistency. Virtually every item is accompanied with its own little price sign, a constant visual reminder that this treasure can be yours, for only a nickel or a dime. That pricing structure held for a full fifty years. Throughout the 1910s and 1920s, the familiar "Nothing in this store over 10¢!" banner hung in every Woolworth store.
Then came the crash of 1929. That year, a 15¢ line was added to the lower-priced items, and in 1932 the upper limit was raised again to 20¢. Then, on November 13, 1935, the final blow: as later related by the Saturday Evening Post, “The five-and-ten, as an American institution, came to a quiet end. The occasion was a meeting of the board of directors of the F. W. Woolworth Co. The action they took was designed to engineer the company into merchandising more profitably than the price-restricted field of five-and-ten. On that fateful day, the board voted "that the selling-price limit of twenty cents on merchandise be discontinued.’Although Woolworth would stay in business for another fifty years, the five-and-dime era truly had come to an end."
In Stratford as elsewhere, the 1930s were tough. Many were out of work. Jobs were hard to find. Wages were peanuts. The Stratford Strike of 1933 was still raw. The anthem of the Great Depression from 1932 sung by Bing Crosby told the cold, hard facts of the economic collapse, "Brother Can You Spare a Dime." Audaciously, Stratford had built a new outdoor swimming pool (See William Street) and a baseball stadium (See Norfolk Street) during The Depression and this was one more statement of hope.
The Windsor Hotel had fallen on tough times. No one had money to travel. Radical times called for radical solutions. They sold half of the Windsor Block and that move meant they survived The Depression and continue on Albert Street to this day.
Woolworth's eventually became Woolco in Stratford in 1968 and bought and razed the Old Firehall on Albert Street. Eventually Woolco's era passed as well and other small stores bought pieces of the large Woolco including Rhéo Thompson Chocolates . (See Albert Street).
Sources: Finding Aids and Digitized Collections - Perth County; Stratford and District Historical Society FB; Stratford-Perth County Archives; Saturday Evening Post, September 16, 1922; Woolworth Co. | American company | Britannica; F. W. Woolworth Company - Wikipedia Complied by Gord Conroy.
Woolworth's and Kresge's on the northeast corner of Downie and Albert Streets provided bargains and something for everyone in this location beginning in 1935 until the 1960s. Woolworth's purchased part of the Windsor Hotel, renovated and added a Tudor architectural influence outside. Kresge's razed the Odd Fellows building (see above) and built an Art Deco exterior that had its roots in the 1925 Paris Exposition accenting strong vertical lines. The Windsor Hotel built 1881 can be seen on the left of the photo on Albert Street. Note the pay phone booth on Albert Street. Photo: Nancy Musselman, Stratford and District Historical Society.
Earlier Woolworth's history ... at the corner of Brunswick and Downie Streets ... or ... The plot for the Great Bank Heist, Nov 7, 1928, at the Bank of Montreal.
In 1927, J. W. Woolworth 's appears for the first time in the Vernon Stratford Directory and was listed at 69-71 Downie Street. That's the northeast corner of Brunswick and Downie Streets, right across from The Bank of Montreal, at 73-77 Downie Street, on the southeast corner. (See photo below). The manager of Woolworth's was John Warren Spencer of 11 Birmingham Street and later of 105 Douglas Street. When Woolworth's opened in their new location at Downie, Spencer moved to 89 St. Vincent North. Robert L. Whitman, 90 William Street, was the bank manager.
And here is the story...the plot of The Great Bank Heist...as told by Adelaide Leitch in Floodtides of Fortune.
One November day in 1928, Police Chief Joseph Bradley called the newsroom of the Stratford Beacon-Herald and told a young reporter it might be to his advantage to be around the Woolworth corner at Downie and Brunswick Streets across from the Bank of Montreal, in the early evening. Plans for a bank robbery, simmering away for weeks, were about to come to a head.
The date was November 7, 1928. The young reporter was Tom Dolan, later known as "Mr. Stratford." (see T. J. Dolan Drive).
The plot for the Great Bank Heist in Stratford had been dreamed up some time before, in a prison in Detroit. There, serving time, and with little to occupy his facile mind, Freeman J. Talbot mulled over information he received that the Stratford Bank across from Woolworth's carried over $50,000 in cash at times. He devised a scheme. When he was released, Talbot headed for the Classic City and tried to enlist a likely bank employee as accomplice. However, Walter Martus told his manager who, in turn, told the police.
With the supposedly willing employee as bait, a trap was set for Talbot, who was to be provided with a bank key and the vault's combination. November 7 was set as the date. Up cruised Talbot, with a partner at the wheel of the getaway car. Walter Martus, the bank employee, emerged on schedule to give Talbot the key to the bank and the combination to the vault.
But the whole Stratford police force was concentrated in the centre core, and Chief Bradley and staff descended on the surprised Talbot and accomplice, and hustled them off. Thanks to the Chief's thoughtful tip, reporter Tom Dolan (See Tom Dolan Drive) was able to write a fine eyewitness account of the whole episode. Talbot was given three more years in jail for conspiracy to rob. The alert reporter, numerous scoops later, became managing editor of his paper, The Stratford Beacon-Herald. Source: Adelaide Leitch, Floodtides of Fortune. Complied by Gord Conroy.
Downie Street looking south in 1905 from Wellington Street in front of City Hall . Photo: Nancy Musselman, Stratford District Historical Society.
Windsor Hotel extreme left of the photo on the south east corner of Albert and Downie Street. Next, The Odd Fellows Block. The Myers Block is on the northeast corner of Downie and Brunswick Streets (pyramid shaped roof-line). The building on the southeast corner of Brunswick which was the Commercial Hotel will become the Bank of Montreal by the time of the 1928 attempted Great Bank Heist.
Office of Dr. J. H. Moore, Stratford's first doctor. The office was on Downie Street near the present YMCA. Photo: Stratford and District Historical Society FB.
Dr. J. H. Moore, first doctor
Dr. J. H. Moore was the first practising doctor in the hamlet of Stratford in the 1830s, the very early days of Stratford. It's quite possible he first worked out of his house before he had an office.
His office was in a small log shack near the present day Y.M.C. A . building on Downie Street. However, the word, "street," may suggest the wrong picture. The street really was just a mud road running to the townships. It was later paved with logs laid crosswise to form what was known as a corduroy road. When the railroad arrived in the 1850s, Downie Street became more important.
Apparently, Dr. Moore added a second storey to his building at some point. Adelaide Leitch, in Floodtides of Fortune, notes that his offices were on the second storey. His office was in use from 1845 to 1854.
Payment for a doctor's services was not always with cash. Patients who could not pay could clear trees off another lot which the doctor owned....OR...they could offer a little nip of whisky which could sometimes settle the bill.
Source: Adelaide Leitch, Floodtides of Fortune.
Bank of Montreal is presently located at 73 Downie Street on the south east corner of Brunswick and Downie streets. The building seen to the right in the photo was originally the Victoria House Hotel. (see article above).
Bank of Montreal...three notable Stratford locations
The Bank of Montreal came to Stratford in 1860. That's seven years before Upper Canada now known as Ontario became part of Confederation and less than 40 years after the bank received its charter in Montreal in 1822.
The bank was Canada's first bank. It had existed before that 1822 date as early as 1817 but at that time was a joint-stock operation owned by 289 subscribers.
In Confederation Year in 1867, the Bank of Montreal was the largest bank in all of North America.
The Bank of Montreal has occupied three key locations in Stratford in its history. Two have been on Downie Street and the third of the corner of Ontario and Downie Streets. The first location was at 32 Downie Street in the Odd Fellow's building. In the c. 1880 engraving seen above that accompanies the article about the Odd Fellow's Block that was razed to build Kresge's, the sign 'Bank of Montreal' can be seen in the lettering on the ground floor. In 1876, the Bank of Montreal is noted in the Stratford City Directory to be at 32 Downie Street with James Hogg as agent. This is still the location in 1880-1881 and James Hogg remains as manager with his residence on Douglas Street near John.
However, by 1896, the Bank of Montreal has moved to the southwest corner of Downie and Ontario streets. It would remain there until 1922. The Bank occupied the lower level of the Gordon Block built in 1894. Central Business College occupied the second floor. Thomas Plummer is the manager of the Bank of Montreal in 1896 and lives at 340 Ontario Street. By 1900, the Bank of Montreal had purchased the mansion at 90 William Street which would be home to its bank mangers for more than half a century. (see William Street). E. P. Winslow was the first manager to live there at 90 William Street in 1900; K. Ross McNaughton was the last to reside there in 1958.
The advertisement in the City of Stratford Directory for 1896 declared that the bank of Montreal had assets of $12,000,000, plus other assets of $6,000,000 with undivided profits of $800,000.
The Bank of Montreal moved from 32 Downie Street to the Gordon Block on the southwest corner of Ontario Street and Downie Street (known as Market Street for a few years) after the Block was built in 1894. The address was officially 65 Ontario Street. Photo above: Courtesy of Nancy Musselman.
In 1921, the Bank of Montreal would take over the Merchants Bank. (see Albert Street). This merger that joined two of the country’s largest banks — Merchants Bank of Canada and the Bank of Montreal — ensured stability, but at the same time it chipped away at the faith Canadians had in their banks.
However, that merger would prompt a purchase by the Bank of Montreal of the Commercial Hotel at 73-77 Downie Street and a move to the site in 1922. It remains the home base in Stratford for the Bank of Montreal more than 100 years later.
In 1921, the Bank of Montreal was still on the corner of Downie and Ontario Streets but by 1922 it had moved to its present location at 73-77 Downie Street. It would be only a few years before there was a memorable story to tell of 'The Great Bank Heist" at the Bank of Montreal in 1928. See story above. .
Series of Four Photos Below. In the first photo below on the left, we see the Commercial Hotel which gave way to the Bank of Montreal. The photograph from 1898 was taken by Bill Clutton Sr. whose family had a stall at the market situated behind City Hall. The photo on market day is looking east from Market Square and shows the Commercial Hotel later the Bank of Montreal on the southeast corner of Brunswick and Downie Streets in the centre of the photo. South on Downie from the Commercial Hotel in 1898 were Sealy's store, the Hesson property, Berry's grocery; Bowes and Wreford's pump works. Romeo Creek ran next to that building. In 1932, when the photo on loan from the Clutton family appeared in the Stratford Beacon Herald edition celebrating the 100th Anniversary of Stratford's founding, the businesses were Wingefeiders butcher shop and then Swanson's bookstore.
The second photo pre 1897 shows the Bank of Montreal in the Gordon Block on the right. As we look south on Downie Street, known as Market Street for some years, we see the tower of the Market Building which housed not only the market but a large auditorium, the library and the offices of the City Council as well before the building burned down in that same year. The present day City Hall was built on the same site beginning in 1898. (see Wellington Street). Photo: Posted by Rosemary Vail, If you grew up in Stratford ...FB.
The third photo from the left from 1966 posted by William Cole on If you grew up in Stratford...FB, shows the Bank of Montreal entrance at 73-77 Downie Street and the clock that was a well known landmark in Stratford for many years. The north side of Brunswick Street can be seen in the background.
The final photo on the right is from 1976 taken by Keith Beaty of The Toronto Star showing Walker's Department store, The Limelight Restaurant and the Bank of Montreal before the change to the present day roof line. Sources: Vernon's Stratford City Directories; thecanadianencyclopedia.; BMO History - 200 years and counting; If you grew up in Stratford...FB; Financial Institutions in 19th Century Stratford,