The Birth of the New Court House History of Perth County to 1967 Hugh Johnston

Old Court House Built 1851

Court House Elevation

After the passage of 30 short years the Court House on McCulloch's hill (see McCulloch Street) ranked as one of the old landmarks in the County. Between 1852 and 1882 hundreds of log shanties were pulled down to make room for stone, brick and frame houses.

In that period of time Stratford changed in appearance from a raw pioneer village to a substantial town that had already acquired many of its twentieth-century characteristics. The post office with its clock-tower, the high school overlooking the river flats, the Windsor, Royal Exchange, Albion, Mansion, Commercial andQueen's Arms Hotels and many of the latter-day business blocks were standing in 1882. The tall spire of Knox Presbyterian Church, completed in 1873, dominated Waterloo and Ontario Streets.

Standing on the timber "long bridge" on Waterloo Street and looking downstream, a sightseer in 1882 could catch a glimpse of the Court House on his right almost hidden by the willows. At closer range the viewer realized that the building was quite small despite its imposing exterior. If he went inside, he was surprised by the cramped little rooms in which the County's officers worked. These rooms had been small enough in the beginning; with the accumulation of 30 years of documents they had become smaller still. Space was so limited that Daniel Home Lizars, (see Hamilton Street) the Judge of the County Court, could not find a proper place to hold examinations.

The Judge grumbled that his vault which contained documents involving thousands of dollars was useless in caseof fire. Sheriff John Bossie and the lawyers complained that their healthwas harmed by the poor ventilation in the courtroom. The windows were set high above the floor of the courtroom which was on the groundlevel; nobody considered it possible to improve the flow of air by

remodelling the building.

Hon. Adam Wilson

The Hon. Adam Wilson, Chief of the Queen's Bench Division of the High Court of Justice, knew nothing of the history of Perth or its councils. During the second day of the assizes in Stratford in March 1884, however, Chief Justice Wilson was not thinking of his own past. He was aware of one sensation; the air in Perth County's courtrooms smelt oppressively foul.

The Chief Justice had not been told that Mr. Justice Featherston Osler had been made ill by the stuffy atmosphere of the same room at the last assizes. Without any prompting, Wilson discovered the air to be unhealthy. Furthermore, he resolved not to sit in such a place for a

moment longer.

Justice Osler

A short conversation with Sheriff Hossie (see Hossie Terrace) determined his action; the Chief Justice adjourned the court to the town council chambers in the market building. This step focused public attention on the old Court House. Mr. Justice Osler had already indicted the County for failing to provide a proper building as required by law.

In September, 1884, a committee representing the County Council met the Attorney-General in Toronto. The County Council received a letterfrom J. G. Scott, the Deputy Attorney-General, with this message: "in view of the long series of remonstrances it is impossible for the Attorney- General to forbear any longer in enforcing the law which makes it th eduty of counties to provide proper court houses." Now that they were committed to the task of putting up a new cour t house, they shared a desire to do the best possible job. George Leversage, John McMillan, William Fletcher Sanderson and Dan iel D. Campbell, members of the committee on county property, were opposed to half measures. If new buildings were required ,they should be designed to meet the needs of the county well into the foreseeable future.

The committee on county property made good progress in the late winter and spring of 1885. In February a young architect from London, Ontario, George F. Durand , was chosen to draw up plans. In March the property at the head of Ontario Street which had once been J. C. W. Daly's home, was purchased from the Daly estate for $3,500. By the middle of May, Durand had completed his plans. In June four tenders for the erection of the buildings were examined and thrown out. Earlyin July, the County Council looked over four new tenders and awarded the contract to a local partnership, Scrimgeour Bros., for $65,700.

For the next two years the Court House gradually took shape. The foundations were built of limestone from St. Mary's White brick was used for the largest part of the walls which were trimmed with red sand-stone from the Credit Valley. By coincidence, construction work began on the Legislative Assembly at Queen's Park Toronto while the Perth Court House was still in progress.~ 1 Stone-cutters were quarrying Credit Valley sandstone for the Provincial and County buildings at the same time.

In the spring of 1887 the County Council was pleased to learn that the Court House would be finished in June. The city of Stratford was preparing to celebrate Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee on June 22,1887. The Council decided to open their building on that day and to invite all living past and present municipal officers in the County to attend. Five hundred dollars were set aside to cover expenses. Those who came to the opening of Perth's Court House were impressed by the interior. The contrast with the old building was remarkable. Except for the stairway and the furniture which were made of oak, the building was finished in white pine. The hallway on the ground floor was laid with English tile which has remained in good condition to the present day.

The Stratford Beacon said "The transition from the old to the new room is from the extreme of dinginess and discomfort to a chamber fit for a monarch".

A large stained-glass window with the Canadian Coat of Arms in its top pane was located at the first landing of the main stair-case. The offices of the Sheriff, County Clerk, Treasurer, Registrar and Judge each possessed a vault for documents. A number of fire-proof vaults had been built in the basement. The second floor housed the courtroom, council and grand jury room. With innocent pride the Beacon told its readers that "from the judge's chair to the dock for the prisoner, everything is on a costly and magnificent scale." 22 Outside the Court House the spectator's eyes were directed at first towards the 115-foot tower which could be seen far up Ontario Street

Nancy Musselman FB