Freeland was so loved by the children he taught, that they collected enough money to erect a fountain in his memory. And what a fountain it was!
It was a fountain for man and beast with stone drinking troughs for dogs, cats, horses, ponies, men, women and children. And it was built in the most important place in Stratford, in front of the original Stratford city hall.
The fountain's official debut was on June 22, 1897, as Stratford remembered Freeland on the same day it celebrated a diamond jubilee, specifically the 60th anniversary of the accession of Queen Victoria to the British throne. Not only was the drinking fountain for man and beast, in typical down-to-earth Stratford fashion, speaking ornithologically, it "killed two birds with one stone" (or one stone fountain).
The fountain bears the inscriptions: "In affectionate remembrance of W. J. Freeland. Erected by the Bands of Mercy in the Stratford Public Schools" and "Queen's Jubilee, June 22, 1897."
The lion spouting water for people had two iron rings, one in each cheek. Metal drinking cups were chained to the rings, providing a romantic opportunity for two young lovers to toast each other by gaslight in City Hall Square. But the fountain's piece de resistance was the kneeling figure of the goddess of liberty, which surmounted the stone pedestal above the lions' heads. The bronze goddess held aloft a gilded globe, representing the world. The statue was the talk of the town.
Though the lower extremities of the goddess were much draped in the Victorian fashion of the day, she was scantily clad above the waist. The Lotta W. Gibson, a well-known Beacon-Herald writer, described the goddess in her own inimitable fashion: "A metal figure of a woman holding up the world, but unable to hold up her own garments too successfully."
Intended as a humane gesture, the fountain bore an inscription over each drinking trough; Be kind to all living creatures and Blessed are the merciful. It is not clear how the low trough for dogs and cats was supplied with water; perhaps they had to make do with the overflow.
In its first decade, the fountain remained in front of the city hall, where it served as a boon to horses driven to the market, which was then held in what is still called Market Square. It also served the horses of draymen, cabmen and others as they made their rounds on the mud pavement.
Then progress intervened. The area around the city hall was paved and the fountain seemed to be in the way. As well, the horse population was dwindling.
In 1907 the fountain was moved to its second location to the Waterloo Street side side of the Stratford Fire Hall (at the corner of Albert Street). But once again progress intervened. Old Dobbin was being pushed off the road by the onslaught of the automobile and health officials were no longer happy with the metal drinking cups being passed from hand to hand and lip to lip. While the practical need for the fountain was on the wane, if had been gaining in stature as a familiar landmark. So there was an effort to preserve it.
In 1931, the fountain was assigned to the parks board, which moved it to the triangle of land formed by the junction of Waterloo Street and Lakeside Drive. When it was rededicated during the Stratford centennial in 1932, members of the Freeland family came to Stratford from London, Ont.
In this new location, the fountain was not connected to a water source; it had run dry. That was not the only problem. Here, it became an easy target, or obstacle, for passing cars, especially when the roads were icey.
There was another hazard. Because the fountain was such an unusual structure, it continued to attract attention. Even though it was no longer serving water, the curious wanted to read the inscriptions and study the remnants of the plumbing to figure out how it worked. While doing that, they were in danger of being bumped by passing cars.
Lotta Gibson had another theory. She said, "Bemused male motorists, barreling along the river drive, turned their gaze to the topless beauty instead of watching the road. I don't think a single woman driver was ever involved in a crash with the fountain, but I have not delved into the records." After one violent crash, she said, "The figure was found on the grass, broken. It vanished, probably sold for scrap metal. That was in September 1944. The Beacon-Herald concluded that "vandals have struck the Freeland memorial on the river drive near Waterloo Street."