William J. Freeland, teacher of music

Freeland Drive is named in honour of William J. Freeland, the first teacher of music in Stratford's public schools. He came to Stratford from Ingersoll in about 1886, and he was in Stratford for only about nine years.

In 1887, a choir of 1,000 children and 1,000 adults performed under the baton of W. J. Freeland at a public school concert in the Waterloo Street skating rink. Freeland also formed the Stratford Juvenile Select Choir, which presented a cantata at the city hall 1889. James Bottomley, Freeland's successor, continued the annual school concerts and organized the Stratford Public Schools Music Contest, 1901-12.  The Freeland Fountain was erected in memory of William Freeland. 

Photo: Will Bailey

Photos by Fred Gonder

A fountain of history

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."

1897  June 22, Dedication of the Freeland Fountain   Photo: Vince Gratton

It continued to suffer from the abuse of automobiles and snowplows, and in about 1959 it was removed and put in storage beneath the pavilion in Upper Queens Park.  By strange coincidence, the pavilion had been dedicated on the same day as the fountain. In 1969, Fire Chief James Gillespie hauled the fountain out of storage, intending to use it as a base on which to mount the 500-pound bell that had been removed from the old fire hall. But that kite didn't fly, and the fountain was instead relocated in Upper Queens Park, across the drive from the humpback bridge  leading over the railway tracks to Confederation Park, and the art gallery (then called the Rothmans Art Gallery). City council and the parks board had discussed relocating the fountain to its original address, in front of the city hall. There, it was thought, it would serve as a handsome Victorian centerpiece and for the new city hall park. With notes from Stanford Dingman

In 1982, while planning for Stratford's 150th anniversary celebrations, Ald. Betty McMillan once again suggested  the Freeland Fountain be returned to the city hall. Not happening. decided the council; it was staying in Upper Queens Park, but the area around it would be beautified. The costs would be less, said parks director Ed Martin, to restore the fountain where it stood, and plant some flowerbeds around it, than return it to the downtown.

The Local Architectural Conservation Advisory Committee (LACAC) responded by erecting a plaque beside the fountain in Upper Queens Park. It was in place by July 1995. The text is more speculation than fact, its tone reflects the sentiment that had resulted in honouring Freeland with the fountain almost a century earlier. A member of LACAC said, “We wanted people to know what it (the Fountain) is, because passers-by don’t know, and even people in Stratford don’t know what it is."

The plaque reads:

W. J. Freeland came to this city in 1886 as the first supervisor of music in Stratford public schools. Over the next eight years, he conducted numerous bands and choirs that were noted both locally and provincially for their performances. As well as their morality and charity. As as one of the area’s first music teachers he was renowned for his ability to draw out his pupils’ voices and to teach them to sing by note.

In 1897, the Bands of Mercy, a junior branch of the humane society, and Freeland’s numerous other students, erected this fountain in his honour. Freeland’s thoughtfulness and charity toward animals is evident in that the fountain provided drinking troughs for both horses and dogs as well as for humans. It is obvious that W. J. Freeland was fondly remembered for his many contributions to this community.

In 1999, the millennium was just around the corner, and civic projects were the order of the day. One brainstorming session resulted in the restoration of the Freeland Fountain, and its return to a place of honour in Stratford. Leading that move, was the Stratford and Perth County Horticultural Society (popularly known as “the Hort”), an organization that predated Freeland's arrival in Stratford. The Horts wanted the the fountain back in the city centre.

Not before it had considered a number of ideas, the parks board eventually sided with the Horts, and their plan to relocate the fountain once again, this time to the Memorial Garden, which was due for renovation. Monies from private contributions, several service organizations and the provincial government covered the considerable cost of the fountain's restoration. City resident and Celtic harp virtuoso and recording artist Loreena McKennitt, without hesitation and knowing little about the fountain except its historical significance, donated $1,500. 

On Sept. 15, 20o2, a small crowd gathered for the unveiling. Darlene Irwin and Bruce Wilkinson were there, along with other members of the Horts. Cellist Charlie Tretheway, 88, whose aunt had studied with Freeland, was there, as was Dave Bradshaw, an outspoken advocate for the preservation of Stratford’s heritage, and Mayor Karen Haslam.

A century plus five years, two months, 23 days, and four hours after its first unveiling in front of Stratford’s original city hall,  the Freeland Fountain was returned to a central place in the community that had chosen to honour its music teacher.

But there is more . . .

 In 2004, Friends 0f the Freeland Fountain was a  committee formed to create a replica of the Goddess of Liberty. Co-chaired by Allan Watts and Darlene Irwin, with help from John Banks, the committee's plan was to raise funds to replicate the bronze statue. A search ensued to find similar statues that could be used as models, and to find artists who would be interested in the project.

When Banks accessed the websites of the famed Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D. C., it led him to the senior objects conservator in the Center for Materials Research, Carol Grissom. Here, through the happiest of circumstances, was the motherlode for determining the provenance of Stratford’s Goddess of Liberty. Then the unexpected happened in the form of an electrifying phone call from Carol Grissom. While browsing in The Brass Knob, a Washington, D. C., antique shop, she came across a copy of Johann Gottfried Schadow’s sculpture, missing only the bronze globe of the Stratford design. Someone with a good eye had found it at a flea market and then sold it as an antique.

By the end of April 2005, thanks to the inspired research of Banks and the invaluable assistance of Grissom, Stratford had a replacement figure for the Freeland Fountain. But yet again, there was need for another fundraising campaign to pay for the statue.

Why not a strawberry social? Let's run an ad: On Sunday afternoon a strawberry social will be held in the Shakespearean Gardens to raise money to restore the Goddess of Liberty to her original place atop the Freeland Fountain. The Goddess will be in attendance. In addition to strawberries and ice cream, there will be music by two ensembles of the Stratford Concert Band (see Avondale Avenue), as well as demonstrations on the lawns by the Stratford Badminton Club.

And so it was, on Aug. 4, 2005, the Goddess of Liberty was returned to the top of the Freeland Fountain, after some stories about Freeland and his Fountain by Stratford Summer Music’s Harry Somers. Committee member Reg White was able to track down descendants of William and Sophia Freeland, so three great-great-grandchildren and a great-great-great granddaughter were invited as special guests to the program and and unveiling.  Information from Campbell Trowsdale's paper.

* The full story of W. J. Freeland and the fountain in his name, by Cam Trowsdale, can be found in Flashback.

A moving monument

The original site, in front of the city hall

Photo : Nancy Mussleman

Veterans Drive, fountain in background    Photo: Vince Gratton

Upper Queens Park:  -Notice the new statue on top.

Corner of Riverside Drive and Waterloo Street. Cars ran into it.  Photo: Nancy Musselman