As one would expect, the Albion served many travelers. Locals also used it as a meeting place. Stratford Town Council opted to meet there instead of their usual room at the first Perth County Courthouse. Concerns were raised in the local press about Council convening in a tavern and another meeting space was found in a nearby school until Stratford’s first town hall was ready.
The Albion was the site of an infamous political riot. R.T. Orr, who preserved this photo of a more demure gathering in the same spot on another day to mark the 300th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth, told the tale in one of his Stories of Stratford -
“One of the most famous election battles in Stratford’s history occurred in 1863. The key figure in the riot was Thomas Mayne Daly, son of Colonel J.C.W. Daly, the founder of Stratford. Daly, the Conservative candidate, had won the preceding elections and was sure he would win again. Perhaps he was overconfident and didn’t try hard enough, for he was defeated by Robert MacFarlane, a young Liberal lawyer…The Liberals in the district were elated by MacFarlane’s victory and plans were made for a huge parade. The Beacon records that it was the longest procession ever witnessed in the county, over 300 horse drawn vehicles crowding around MacFarlane. An unfortunate choice of route led the marchers past the Albion Hotel, the Conservative headquarters…As they passed the Albion, T.M. Daly was standing on the balcony overlooking the street, addressing his disappointed supporters. The taunts of the marchers enraged Daly, who declared he would drive the Grits out of town by brute force. To emphasize his statement, he flung his leg over the balcony overlooking the street, preparing to leap down on the hecklers. Some onlookers claim that he never really intended to jump, that he couldn’t have jumped if he had wanted to, for he was lame. At any rate, his fellow Conservatives took him seriously and began to plunge from the balcony onto the crowd below.
The battle was on. The defenders of the Albion began to heave bricks from the roof of the hotel. Men poured from the surrounding buildings and ran to the aid of their friends. Everyone fought. Women put rocks into the toes of their stockings and, swinging the weapons over their heads, joined their fighting husbands. Thomas Daly’s house was near the corner of Erie and Ontario streets and it is said he fortified his supporters by handing out axe handles and whiskey at the back door. Despite the whiskey, the Conservatives appear to have lost the battle for the next day as many of them as could be contacted were summoned to appear in court in Goderich, then the site of the court…When they arrived in Goderich, they seriously embarrassed the local police force by marching around the square shouting loudly “Arrest us, arrest us.” As the Goderich police force consisted of one lone policeman, they were in no danger of being taken seriously and returned to Stratford unpunished.”
Though the Woods family owned the hotel building for about fifty years, the Albion was converted to retail shops by 1875. Some of the earliest tenants were John J. Clark’s grocery, known as the Italian Warehouse; P.J. Woods jewelry store, known as Goldsmith’s Hall and George Klein’s ready-to-wear clothing shop. Later, C.F. Maitland had his home and photography studio on the top floor. Kenner’s Bookstore occupied the space for 10 years before the Thornton and Douglas clothing store opened there in 1904. The building was sold to Northway Ltd in 1927 and they had a store there until 1961 when Frank and Margaret Wade bought it and opened their flower shop. Gadsby’s Clothing Co Inc, has operated from the building since 2014.
Source: Stratford-Perth Archives