Ontario Street      

Longest street

One of Stratford's oldest, longest and widest streets, Ontario Street, was originally part of the old Huron Road, which led into the Huron Tract from the east and continued through to Goderich on the eastern shore of Lake Huron. The trail was first blazed by Dr. William (Tiger) Dunlop, who brought a survey party through in May, 1827. Ontario, Erie and Huron streets were named for the lakes to which they led.

Ontario Street was well named, because the Huron Road was the main route from Stratford to Lake Ontario settlements. Ontario Street derives its name from Lake Ontario and the name is believed to be a corruption of the Iroquois Indian phrase "Kanadario."

According to an early traveller in Ontario, Father Louis Hennepin, the word means "sparkling or beautiful water," and was used by the Indians to describe the beautiful lake now known as Lake Ontario. Another source says the name Ontario means "rock standing high or near the water," probably referring to the Niagara Escarpment, but we will stick with the "sparkling water" school. By Stanford Dingman

1 Ontario St., a storied past

Scotiabank with its sleek, modern look at 1 Ontario St., now dominates the junction of Ontario, Church and Huron streets across from the Queen Anne Revival-style courthouse (see Huron Street) and has since 1997. To some in Stratford, it seems to have been a part of the city fabric forever. To others, there is more history. 

The building itself has been there since 1962, commissioned by British Mortgage and Trust. (For early history as British Mortgage and Loan see Corcoran Drive) Some may remember the architect who raised many an eyebrow with the brilliant but radical design that changed the Victorian streetscape. He also designed the Stratford Festival's permamnent theatre. Robert Fairfield was his name and his story can be found here (see Fairfield Drive).

It's the story of the site, 1 Ontario St., that is our focus. In the early settlement days of the 1830s, the site was occupied by the Monteith general store. It was a wooden building that, like many of its era, have given way to multi-storey Victorian stone and brick structures. The building at b1 Ontario St. housed furniture builders and sellers, undertakers, another grocery business, and for many years the Public Utilities Commission offices, before financial institutions dominated the corner. Many will remember British Mortgage and Trust and its dark days of 1966, and the advent of Victoria and Grey Trust, before Scotiabank took over the site. 

The story of 1 Ontario St. is presented in a Feature Article (see 1 Ontario Street).

Brooks factory Stratford-Perth Archives

The Brooks' Steamer, "the gentle giant of motion"

Developed by an American financier and based largely on an American model, the Brooks Steamer was built in Stratford, Ont., from 1923 to 1929. 

This was an unusual venture. By the 1920s, the era of the steam-powered automobile, which was never very popular at the best of times, was drawing to a close.

For Brooks, Stratford was a wise choice because it was at the intersection of three railways, which would merge and become the Canadian National Railways. It was, therefore, a major maintenance centre for steam engines, and had an excellent pool of workers skilled in steam locomotion.

The Brooks' Steamer, produced only as a sedan, had a standard wood frame. But its body was made of a leather-like fabric called Meritas, which consisted of wire, canvas and artificial leather. Meritas was produced in Walkerville, Ont., home of the Ford Motor Co.'s Model T factory. The Brooks' steam car, though easier to drive once it was moving, took a long time to get started and then could reach a maximum speed of only 56 km/h (35 mph). Compared to the similarly priced, gas-powered Cadillac, which could reach a speed of 80 km/h (50 mph) or more, the Brooks Steamer was a hard sell.

Steam engine  Stratford-Perth Museum

Dubbed the "Gentle Giant of Motion," the Brooks sold for the gigantically uncompetitive price of $3,885 or about the same as a Pierce-Arrow. That explains why, along with its lack of performance and operational complexity, there were few takers. To showcase his cars, Brooks established taxi companies in Stratford and Toronto using his steamers. 

As the business began to fail, Brooks misled his investors by reporting inflated production figures; in reality, the company built only 18 cars in 1926. When it went into receivership in 1929, Brooks Steam Motors Ltd. had assembled only 180 vehicles and its investors had lost close to $4,000,000. Brooks disappeared with "millions of dollars unaccounted for" and, after the mid-1930s, there was nothing heard of him and his "beautiful second wife and playboy son" until a death notice appeared in a Florida newspaper in 1961. Avalon Fabrics (later Collins and Aikman Ltd.) took over the Brooks plant at 494-500 Ontario St., but the building was eventually torn down and on the site now is a luxury hotel, The Bruce, on the corner of Ontario Street and Park View Drive

In 2014, the Stratford Perth Museum acquired a long sought-after artifact from Stratford’s brief heyday as a Canadian auto manufacturing centre. The museum's general manager, John Kastner, said it took seven years and fundraising for $50,000 to buy a 1926 Brooks Steamer. “It is a complete car, and fully restored," he said, "But no, it does not run," For anyone interested in a Brooks that does run, Kastner suggested Jay Leno. “He has one, and it runs.” Sources: Haggerty Media;  Motoring Memories: Brooks Steamer, 1924 - 1926 - Autos.ca; Brooks Steamer | Designed by Canadians | In Search of the Canadian Car 

 * For more information on the Brooks Steamer see Flashback article: Brooks Steamer Stock Certificate  

Footnote: Vince Gratton noted that the first job for a future Stratford mayor, Clarence H. (Dutch) Meier, was at the Brooks factory. His role included driving new cars to the train yard and helping to load them for shipment. (see C. H. Meier Street). 

Brooks Steamer  Stratford-Perth Museum

A Brooks Steamer returns home 

Thanks to the efforts of the Perth County Historical Foundation the opportunity to buy one of the last surviving Brooks vehicles became a reality for Stratford back in 2005. The 1926 Brooks was a complete non operating example and one of only eight known to exist worldwide. Owned by a car collecting group in Orillia Ontario it was bought by them as its wood and faux covered body was manufacture in Orillia. These bodies were covered with “Meritas” an artificial leather stiffened with wire mesh. Deemed surplus by the car group they were happy to sell it off to the Foundation. 

A price of $43,000. was agreed on and with a non-refundable deposit it was ours. Once trailered back home it became a big volunteer effort to raise the balance of the money needed to honour the deal and it would be 2014 before the deal was honored. The car was hauled to numerous vehicle events and other venues where it would be welcomed. Many of the Foundation members volunteered their time and local business their expertise and money to help with fund raising. In 2014 the Foundations Board made the decision to gift the Brooks over to the new Stratford-Perth Museum for permanent display.  Source: Vince Gratton

Stratford Place, mural paintings

This public art installation comprises 23 original paintings by Rich Thistle. Images depict historic and contemporary scenes of Stratford Ont. Commissioned in 1998 by the building's owner, Vic Hayter, these acrylic works were created using sepia tones for the historical scenes and full color for the contemporary images. A tribute to historic and current Stratford, the work is permanently mounted across the front façade of Stratford Place, 136 Ontario St., in the heart of downtown. See the sample slides here or go to Rich Thistle Art Studio to see all 23 paintings with description. Thanks to Rich Thistle for his art.

Rich Thistle, visual artist

Rich Thistle is a multi-disciplined, Canadian visual artist respected for his aviation art as well as watercolor and acrylic landscape paintings of Ontario's lake country. His work extends to other subjects including horses, cars, trucks, motorcycles, tractors, sailboats, canoes and portraits. 

Rich spent 30 years as a visual art educator and consultant in Perth County, Ont., while developing his career as an artist. He studied at the Ontario College of Art (and Design), earned a bachelor of arts (visual arts) from the Western Ontario University, and is a graduate of the Stratford teachers college. 

His original paintings are in the collections of the Canadian War Museum, Jersey Museum Channel Islands, HRH Prince Charles, 431 (AD) Squadron Snowbirds, Canadian Forces Base Greenwood, Bombardier/Canadair, Penn West Energy and numerous other corporate, military, public, museum and private collections worldwide.   

Over the years Thistle has given numerous presentations to service clubs, historical and community clubs, aviation associations and veterans groups. The presentations feature his paintings and career as an artist with particular focus on the Canadian history depicted in his many historical aviation images depicting both military and general aviation aircraft. For more on his  bio and art work See:  Rick Thistle Art Studio

Rich Thistle

Art Picture: by   Rich Thistle

The majestic post office

This impressive federal building stood proudly on the north side of Ontario Street from 1882 until it was demolished in 1961. Its strong 19th-century design became a prototype for post office buildings across the country. It was designed by Thomas Seaton Scott, who designed the first parliament building. Memorial Park now occupies this site. The city fathers, in their great wisdom, tore it down. 

Personal Note: In the early 1950s, my father joined the Stratford RCAF Ground Observer Corps. Once a week, he had to take his turn at night to stand on the roof of the Stratford Post Office, and look into the skies for possible bombing raids from Russians. The old post office was a beautiful stone building; it would have been a shame to have it hit by a bomb.  Who would want it to be destroyed?

Post office bell. The building of the Ontario Street post office was completed in 1884, shortly after the installation of this bell, which was cast in the Henry McShane Foundry in Baltimore. When the post office was torn down, the bell survived, and it now hangs at the entrance of the Stratford Perth Museum.

The Henry McShane Foundry produced more than 300,000 bells.

This two-part glass clock face came from the Stratford post office that was demolished in 1961, and it was restored. Scenic painter, Kevin Kemp refurbished the glass and repainted the numbers using archive images of the post office. Jeremy Cox built a frame to hold the heavy clock face, recreated the original hands and designed the clocks lighting. Greg Bride, master electrician at the Avon Theatre, helped to deliver light and electricity to the clock, which now keeps good time.

Rankin's, 81 Ontario St.    Stratford-Perth Archives

Rankins Soda Fountain

For about 90 years, the Rank1n name was well known in Stratford in the baking, confectionery, candy, ice cream, and restaurant business. The names Rankin's candy, Rankin's hand-rolled chocolates, Rankin's own ice cream, sodas, sundaes and milkshakes were able to make Stratford mouths water. The Tin Roof was a favourite.    See more on Rankin Street

Tin Roof

"Boy that was good"

Now  I will take short walk down Ontario Street to St. Andrew Street to return a book and stop to read the stone in front of the library about the Stratford's first school . 

The Woods Albion Hotel. The horse and wagon are coming up the hill from the Avon River, off a street we know today as s Lakeside Drive. The stables were to the west of the hotel. Stratford-Perth County Archives.

 The "old " Albion Hotel

The Albion Hotel was built in about 1854 but, of course, it wasn't called "old" then. It was the second hotel in the village, opening about five years after the Shakespeare Hotel burned. (see Sargint Street). The Shakespeare Inn had been a wood-frame landmark at 70-76 Ontario St.  By 1854, James Corcoran had erected a store on that site and it remained in business until 1890. Brown’s department store was located there for many years, and it's now home to Pazzo Taverna and Pizzeria. The Shakespeare Hotel and the commercial stores were about a block east of the Albion Hotel, at 54 Ontario St. In 1882, the town's first post office was built between those two Ontario Street addresses. It was demolished in 1961.

The Albion Hotel was built by Peter and James Woods and was one of the village’s earliest and finest hotels. 

However, the Albion was not the only hotel constructed after fire had taken down the Shakespeare Hotel. John Sharman (see Sharman Street), a blacksmith, built the Farmers Inn at the corner of Mornington and Huron streets. The Rob Roy hotel was south of the river on Ontario Street ,as was the Union hotel. Robert Johnson arrived in town and opened his Queen’s Arms, a fine wooden hotel. (see below on Ontario Street). And soon after that, Peter Woods had The Albion.

In the wake of the Shakespeare Hotel, the Albion was probably the best known of the early Stratford hotels. In Floodtides of Fortune, Adelaide Leitch wrote, “It pulled in the farmers from the township and the citizens from the village and the commercial travelers en route to Goderich. Ben Douro, a black man, drove for the hotel with a fine team of grey horses and a wagon. Adjoining the hotel, were Corey’s Livery Stables which operated the Albion Hotel minibus to and from the(railway) station.”

According to Mary Jane Lennon in Stratford, An Album, the overhanging balcony “witnessed many fiery speeches, not to mention a riot or two.” The Albion was a favourite meeting place for Tory politicians just as the Queen’s was the special headquarters for the county councillors and their friends.  

When the hotels began closing, Stratford acquired business “blocks.” After 1875, the historic Albion was replaced by three stores: a grocery known as the Italian Warehouse; a jewelry store (Goldsmith’s Hall); and George Klein’s dry goods and ready-to-wear clothing. By then, there was a “new" Albion Hotel (see below on Ontario Street), farther east on the opposite (south) side of Ontario Street. It had originally been the Waverley House. After the new Albion was built, the hotel was referred to as The Albion Block and later it too was converted into a business block, known as the Waverley Block, at 87 Ontario St.

The original Albion Hotel, at the northwest corner of the junctions of Erie and Ontario streets and Lakeside Drive, was home to many other businesses in Stratford after the first three stores became part of the "old" Albion Block. Over the years, it housed J. H. Kenner’s City Bookstore, Thornton and Douglas men’s wear, Northway’s ladies wear (see Northway Circle) and Wade’s Flowers.

Sources: Adelaide Leitch, Floodtides of Fortune and Mary Jane Lennon, A Stratford Album: Memories of the Festival City. Compiled by Gord Conroy

The "new" Albion Hotel

 The "New Albion," as it was known, was located a block east of the "old" Albion, but on the opposite side of Ontario Street.  A hotel, known as The Waverly, was already where the New Albion would be, but after the Waverley was seriously damaged by fire, it shortly after reopened as the New Albion and was considered "the grandest place in town.” That was 1871. 

The guest rooms were spacious and comfortable with many having open fireplaces. There were large sample rooms for visiting salesmen, and the huge dining room often provided settings for banquets and balls. The hostelry also contained the post office, a telegraph office, and several stores.

The "new" Albion Hotel on the south side of Ontario Street

However, like most downtown hotels, it was unable to survive the economic ravages of The Depression. It also suffered the debilitating effects of at least two more fires, including one in 1936 that burned all day, and destroyed the mansard roof and entire top floor. Only a fraction of the original structure remains, at 111 and 115 Ontario St. Source: Stratford-Perth Archives

In 1939, "New" Albion Hotel is still part of Ontario Stretscape. Photo taken by Bob Meldrum's father on June 14, 1939 after he climbed to the roof of Knox Church. Looking southeast toward  City Hall showing south side of Ontario Street. Source Bob Meldrum Family Collection. 

"New" Albion Still part of 1939 Streetscape 

In 1939, the full street level front of the Albion Hotel was still in place but only two stories of the original four stories remain. The rest had been destroyed in the fire in 1936 and taken down. Note the open space behind. Businesses right to left -111 Cast Cleaners 113 Superior Shoe Repair 115 vacant 117 Albion Apts. 119 Trethewey & Thomas Radios 121 Ontario, Floral 123, Johnston & Fletchers, 125 Wheal Restaurant. Today [2018] only the four second story windows and the two stores at street level to the right are left. Wong's Cafe became the Commodore and it and the double building to the right were lost to fire in 1978.  (see Greenberg Place ). Vince Gratton 

Source: If you grew up in Stratford FB.

This modern streetscape of the south side of Ontario Street shows the location of the six remaining windows from the original "New" Albion Hotel from 1881. Photo: Bob Toleff on If you grew up in Stratford... FB. 

Edison Cafe and Bar Inn

Edison’s Cafe and Bar Inn at 48 Ontario St. is named for Thomas Edison (see Edison Place), who in 1863 had a room in the Edison’s Inn

Edison’s Café was originally part of the Albion Hotel, referred to as the "old" Albion, built in 1855 by Peter and James Woods. The original Albion included the neighbouring building on the corner of Lakeside Drive and Ontario Street, opposite Erie Street. The café section of the hotel has changed hands over the years from Glen’s Gothic store to the Sputnik Café and now to Slave to the Grind.

When this historic, two-storey building went on the market, once an inn but with only its ground-floor coffee shop operating,  Bruce Whittaker and his wife, Atlee, bought the property. 

Left untouched for more than 70 years, the 1845-built structure required substantial plumbing, electrical and structural improvements. The upstairs remains relatively unchanged from Edison’s days. For a story of the renovation see Article. Whitacker has also restored 2-6 Ontario St.  

You can read about Edison’s history in Stratford in detail by Bruce Whittaker 

Knox Church before the 1913 fire

Knox Church after the 1913 fire

New church with proposed addition

Knox  Presbyterian Church

Knox Presbyterian Church was established in 1844 when a large number of families withdrew from what is now St. Andrew's Church to form a "free" church. Worship services were in the log school house on the lawn of the present-day Stratford Public Library. The first permanent church was built on the southeast corner of St. Vincent and Norman streets. When the congregation outgrew the Norman Street building, plans were made to build on the present site, 142 Ontario St.

The new church was consecrated in January 1873. At about 1 a.m. on May 13, 1913, the spire was struck by lightning and the resulting fire not only destroyed the sanctuary, but the fire chief, the police chief and a police constable were killed as they helped fight the flames.

The Sunday School area at the north end of the church had been added in 1907 and escaped the fire. It has remained in use. The present building, erected to replace the destroyed church, was dedicated on Sunday, March 21, 1915. This Knox congregation voted to remain part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada at the time of church union in 1925. 

In 2020, they proposed to redevelop the church with a new condo development, with both affordable and market-rate options to meet social and outreach community needs. The plans also include a state-of-the-art performance space where local, community-based organizations can showcase professional quality performances.  Source: Knox Church History  and Gord Conroy

The plaque near the church reads:


It was a dark and stormy night, when at about 12:45 am, on May 13th, 1913, the famous spire at Knox Presbyterian was struck by a great bolt of lightening, which set it ablaze; it resulted in tragedy never before experienced by our City's First Responders.

At 1:30 am, Fire Chief Hugh Durkin 41, Police Chief John Augustus McCarthy, 67, and Constable Matthew Hamilton, 46, were moving and securing a ladder on the west side of the Church, part of the Steeple collapsed,  striking and killing these unselfish servants of the City of Stratford.

On this The 100th Anniversary of that tragic event, the community remembers the sacrifice of these brave men.

MAY 13, 2013

Fire Chief Hugh Durkin, an accomplished horse rider, was described as a “courageous, daring and efficient firefighter” (see Fire Hall Albert Street). He was buried on May 15, 1913, in Avondale Cemetery, St. George section.

Const. Matthew Hamilton had been on the force for five years and, as the night policeman, he discovered the fire and raised the alarm at 12:35 a.m. He was described as a constable who would go out of his way to help someone rather than simply throw them in jail. He was 46 years old when he was struck with debris during the collapse of the church steeple. He was buried on May 15, 1913, in Avondale Cemetery.

Chief John Augustus McCarthy Jr. (see McCarthy Road) followed in his father’s footsteps as Stratford’s chief constable. He started his career as a county constable, and later a town constable under his father. In 1883 he was employed as a detective on the Grand Trunk Railway and was known for his clever detective work. He was appointed chief of police for the City of Stratford in 1888. He was 67 when he died and was buried on May 15, 1913, at Avondale Cemetery. Source: Gord Conroy

 *  A History of Knox Church,  1844-1931 – A.W. Fisher  is available at the Stratford Public Library

Funeral procession down Ontario St. turning on to Huron St.

Funeral procession passing City Hall on Wellington St.

Funeral procession down Ontario St. passing Court House  Photos  Vince Gratton

Ralph Donaldson

Ralph Donaldson was the caretaker at Knox church at the time of the disastrous fire. He supervised the work of rebuilding and took part in much of its reconstruction. 

In was in his honour for his splendid services, which extended over a period of nearly half a century, that the Knox congregation installed a stained glass window to honour him. The window bears the inscription “And He laid His hand upon him and gave him Charge.” The window depicts a knight in armour kneeling before Christ and taking his oath to serve faithfully.

See his window (Jones Street).

230 Ontario St.

Ontario Street Baptist Church

The Ontario Street Baptist Church, a substantial red-brick structure at 230 Ontario St. was built in 1889 at a cost of $12,000. It was not the first meeting place of Stratford's Baptists. In 1857, Thomas Birch, a newcomer from Brantford, gathered about a dozen others of the faith, and for some months they held prayer meetings in the village's log cabins.

On April 3rd, 1869, 16 charter members formally organized Ontario Street Baptist Church, with Thomas Birch and George Larkworthy (see their houses below) its first deacons. One of the earliest members of the congregation was a woman who had been a slave in Kentucky.

For a time, the parishioners met the town hall, with students from the Baptist Literary Institute of Woodstock conducting services. Plans for a church building, at the corner on Front and Albert streets were approved on Jan. 26, 1860. At that time a resolution was passed urging each member to set aside at least one cent a week for missionary purposes.

In May 1861, when the frame building opened for worship, it had 41 members. Rev. R. McClelland was the first minister. Following him, in 1862, was Rev. C. J. Shrimpton, whose annual stipend was $400. During 1862, the congregation members agreed to set aside six and a half cents a week to pay off the church debt. 

A decision was made in 1866, to tear down that church, and rebuild on the former Ontario Street site of Stillman's Creamery, on the northwest corner of Nile and Ontario streets, which the congregation bought for $400. When construction began in 1868, the church refused to supply whisky for the workmen, as was the custom of the day, so the men refused to work. As a result, the Baptists started the job themselves. Deacon Birch described proceedings as follows:

"We lifted until we saw stars, but the frame did not go up. We felt something slipping and knew, if it fell, someone would get hurt. Suddenly there was a roar by an unfamiliar voice and the frame went up as if by magic." A group of Perth County farmers had come to the rescue.

The first pastor (in the new church) was Rev. John McLaurin, who departed the following year to become a missionary in India. The church was torn down in June 2019 because of a dwindling congregation and to make way for a condo development. Plans for that development have been enacted. 

Dick and Karen Rigg compiled a history of the church. The History of Ontario Street Baptist Church Sesquicentennial Celebrations 1859-2009 Stratford, Ontario: The Ontario Genealogical Society Collections  Source:  Church History

The historic Larkworthy House

The Larkworthy House, at 248 Ontario St. (north side of Ontario Street), is just east of the former Ontario Street Baptist Church, which was on the corner of Nile and Ontario streets. The two-and-a-half-storey red-brick house was built in 1926.

It was designed by prominent local architect James Simpson Russell (see Shrewsbury Street), whose work is evident throughout Stratford. Some of his notable projects include St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Zion Lutheran Church, Avon Public School, Falstaff Public School and the Masonic Temple. The house is named to honour George Larkworthy, a Stratford butcher, a member of Ontario Street Baptist Church, and the first resident of the home.

248 Ontario St.     Photo: by Fred Gonder

The Larkworthy House incorporates a variety of architectural styles popular at the time of its construction in 1926. Edwardian Classicism is most prevalent on the exterior. Typical of this style is the simple composition, massing of form and large fenestration. Though missing the Edwardian detailing, Tudor influences can be seen in the half-timbered gables and clipped roof ends. A large Prairie-Craftsman-style veranda adorns the front of the house. Source: Historic Places

Daisy Macklin, one of the first female doctors

Daisy Mary Moore Macklin, born on May 8, 1873, was the seventh of the eight children of William Macklin and Hester Ann Godfrey. At the time of Daisy’s birth they settled in Stratford. 

The family had apparently moved frequently. The 1881 census listed them in the  downtown St George’s ward in Toronto. The census described Daisy as “going to school.” By the 1891 census, Daisy (by then 18) and her family were living in Ellice Township. The family’s dry goods business operated out of the handsome Macklin Block at 6 Ontario St., across Huron Street from the Perth County Courthouse.


Daisy attended elementary school and the collegiate institute in Stratford before following in the footsteps of her brothers William (1860-1947) and Alfred (1868-1948) to study medicine. Jenny Trout and Emily Howard Stowe were the first women admitted to study medicine in 1871 in Toronto and the first women licensed to practise medicine in Ontario. Daisy graduated from the University of Toronto medical school in 1895, giving her the distinction of being among Ontario’s early female physicians.  

196 Ontario St.

Following graduation, she practised in Stratford but later opted to be a medical missionary in China. After a few years, she returned to her practice in Stratford. In 1911, according to the census, she was living at 196 Ontario St. with a boarder and two teens, for which she was providing care and support. 


Her brother, Dr. William Macklin, and his wife Dr. Dorothy DeLany, went to China in 1886 to found a medical mission in Nanjing, which was sponsored by the Disciples of Christ Church. In 1892, the Nanjing Christian Hospital was built, and they served the hospital and the people of Nanjing for 40 years, before returning to North America in 1927. Shocked by the opium trade and addiction, William opened an opium clinic in the hospital. He objected to Western economic imperialism in China and helped translate progressive books in an effort to advance reform in China. More than 100 years later, that hospital is still open and part of the Nanjing Drum Tower Hospital, one of China’s important treatment and medical research facilities.


Daisy Macklin died in 1925 at the age of 42 and was buried in St. James Church in Toronto. She and others of her large family remain an inspiration.   Source. Historic Plaque PropertiesDr. Daisy Mary Moore Macklin (1873 – 1925) – Stratford & District Historical Society (sdhs2019.ca) 

Alexander Hepburn Stratford-Perth Archives

Alexander Hepburn, architect

Alexander Hepburn was an architect whose office was above the Waugh Drug Store (see below) at 36 Ontario St. 

He was a remarkably prolific architect who lived and worked in Stratford, Ont., from 1855 until his death in 1902. He was a dominant force in the architectural profession in Perth County for more than 30 years, and his prodigious output included more than 120 buildings throughout the region. They included commissions for commercial, industrial, institutional, ecclesiastical and residential builds throughout Perth County. The legacy of the Hepburn family of architects includes his son Thomas J. Hepburn, who trained under his father, and was the successor to his father’s practice after 1902. 

Born in Dufftown, Moray, Scotland, in 1830, Alexander Hepburn was educated there, trained as an architect in the city of Aberdeen. He immigrated to Canada in 1854, and by December 1855 had settled in Stratford, Ont., where he worked as a carpenter in the building trades. He began to style himself as an architect in December 1867, and a local paper commended Hepburn for having proven himself to be “as good with the pencil as at the (carpenter's) bench.” In 1868, he had taken on new architectural commissions, but was still sought after by other architects for his carpentry skills. 

The London, Ont., architect William Robinson secured Hepburn for the woodwork contract on St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church and the Toronto firm of Gundry and Langley obtained Hepburn's services on the interiors of the new St. James Episcopal Church.

His major commissions in Stratford include the Royal Canadian Bank (1868), Romeo Ward school (1873-74), and the Phoenix Block (1875). Among his signficant works ion nearby Mitchell, Ont., were the Royal Block of stores and hotel (1872-74), the Hicks House hotel and stores (1872-73), and the Oddfellows Hall block (1875). After 1880, Hepburn became the city engineer in Stratford, and was joined in his architectural office by his son Thomas J. Hepburn. 

A major collection of original architectural drawings by Hepburn has survived, and is now held by the Stratford-Perth Archives. This collection includes more than 120 projects, dating from 1867 to 1892. A detailed finding aid to the collection was prepared in 1995 by Kent Rawson, a Toronto architect. A list of Hepburn's works can be found at  Biographical Dictionary of  Architects in Canada    Picture: Stratford-Perth Archives

Thomas Hepburn, architect

Thomas Hepburn was the successor to his father Alexander Hepburn, a prolific Stratford architect during the late 19th century. Born in Stratford on Oct. 14, 1861, he was educated at elementary and secondary schools in Stratford. He trained under his father and later worked as an assistant in his father’s office from 1880 until 1897, when he opened his own office on Market Street. He was among the first architects from western Ontario to join the new Ontario Association of Architects in March, 1891, while still employed in his father’s office. 

His best known Stratford works include the substantial Romanesque Revival headquarters for the Perth Mutual Fire Insurance Co. building in 1897 (since demolished), and the Perth County Registry Office (1910), a late example of the elaborate High Victorian style of architecture which he employed, in this case, to reflect the appearance of the adjacent Perth County Courthouse (built 1885-87, designed by George F. Durand of London, Ont.). 

Hepburn died in Stratford on Nov. 3, 1932. The Stratford-Perth Archives in Stratford holds a small collection of his original architectural drawings from about 1900 to 1930. A  list of his works can be found at  Biographical Dictionary of  Architects in Canada


George J. Waugh,  druggist

George Waugh's drugstore was at 36 Ontario St.

At one time, he was the oldest merchant in Stratford, having been in business for 51 years, always in the same commercial block. He and his wife Jennie were born in Hamilton. He studied at the New York College of Pharmacy, and then came to Stratford to open a store.

In those days there were no paved streets or streetlights, so he carried a lantern home with him after work. The business section at the time was in the vicinity of Huron Street, and the sidewalks were but two boards, and the mud on the roads in places could be as deep as one's knees. Waugh served as president of the Ontario College of Pharmacy, and held various offices with the Masons. He was treasurer of local Masonic lodge for 25 years.

Thanks to Jeff Waugh for photos and text

The photo above is George Waugh standing in front his store at 36 Ontario St., which was in the block  at the far end on Ontario Street, on the right. The photo below was taken in 1928. By this time the Waugh store had become James Meyers' hardware business. The building has lost its cornice and the street façade was refurbished. The stairs to the middle level were gone, but the second floor was intact.

Old Boys Reunion parade, 1928. Looking west on Ontario Street, with Erie Street, at left, running south Stratford-Perth Archives

102-104 Ontario St., 1907 

The Beacon building

The Beacon building, at 102-104 Ontario St., was built in  1907. Through the years, in addition to newspaper and fine printing operations, the building also housed a book bindery. 

* The Beacon building is now a hotel and restaurant. Mercer Hall 

The front of the building in 2022

A memory: My great grandfather, William Mark O'Beirne (1854-1921) was the proprietor and publisher of the Beacon from 1891 to 1921. He built the original Beacon building on Ontario Street in 1906, mostly to increase its office space. In 1923 the Beacon merged with the Herald (which was at 15 Market Pl.) to form the Beacon-Herald. In the former newspaper building on Ontario Street now is Mercer Hall, a hotel and restaurant. Tim Robertson: If You Grew Up in Stratford . . . FB

Perth Mutual Insurance at 160 Ontario Street dominated the northeast corner of Waterloo and Ontario Streets opposite Knox Church and the Queen's Hotel before it was sold and demolished in 1960 after attempts to sell and refurbish failed.   Photo: Stratford- Perth Archives.  

* The building was offered to the city for $10,000. Source: Nancy Musselman post on If you grew up in Stratford...FB. 

Perth Mutual Insurance 

The Perth Mutual Fire Insurance Co was organized in 1863 with its first offices in the Jarvis Block over Dutton's drug store. It soon had offices in the Mowat Block at the corner of Wellington and Market (Downie) Streets. (see Wellington Street for photo). It later moved to 160 Ontario Street for more than half a century at the corner of Waterloo ( see photo to the left) and still later to the former McLagan mansion at 210 Water Street. (see Water Street for photo).

Early History. In 1863, Dr. John Hyde (1819-1889) (see Brunswick Street and Hyde Road) was chosen as president, and William J. Imlach as secretary. The company was set up originally to transact business on farm property only. It was a mutual company owned by its policy owners to provide insurance only to its members.   That narrow focus changed quickly as William Johnston points out in his History of Perth County 1825-1902, published in 1903.  

"It appears to have been intended to transact business on farm property only. Progress for several years was necessarily slow. Subsequent to Mr. Packert being appointed secretary, in 1877, a change of policy was effected, it entering the field as a competitor for commercial risks. This has been followed by marked success. 

"Under its first year's operations - in 1863 - 262 policies were issued, amounting to $156,234. As security for this large sum premium notes for $2,656 were held. These were days of small things, however, previous to a period of expansion and decided success. 

"For the year 1902 there were in force 16,840 policies, covering property valued at $18,382,724. As security for these risks were mortgages, debentures, and other assets, amounting to $241,509 over all liabilities. "

The Stratford City Directory in 1876 still lists the Perth Mutual Fire Insurance Office in the Mowat Block. Dr. John Hyde was still president. He was also the coroner for Stratford and area, with his office over The Beacon, on Ontario Street. His home was on Brunswick Street near Waterloo. (see Brunswick Street). 

Other officers of the Perth Mutual in 1876 read like a who's who of Stratford: William James Trow, M.P. vice president; William  Davidson, warden, general agent for South Riding; William S. Cowan, general agent for North Riding; Wm. J. Hyde, brother of Dr. John Hyde, assistant secretary; William Mowat, owner of the Mowat Block and owner and manager of Mowat and Sons Bank in the same building, as manager and secretary.

Mr. Imlach was succeeded as secretary by that same Mr. William Mowat, and he, in 1877, by Mr. Packert. Dr. Hyde, as president, was followed by Mr. James Trow, and he by Mr. William Davidson, county clerk, who was president in 1902..

In the 1880s, Thomas Ballantyne, of cheese fame, was a director of the Perth Mutual Fire Insurance  Company. Ballantyne was at the height of his influence. He had moved to Stratford around 1878, and devoted himself almost exclusively to politics and his mercantile interests. Ballantyne led the consortium of Stratford businessmen who bought out and reorganized the British Mortgage Loan Company in 1879 (see Albert St. and One Ontario St.). Source: Biography  For a more detailed entry, see Ballantyne Avenue

Perth Mutual moves to 210 Water

Later History.  In 1950, the Perth Mutual is still at 160 Ontario Street. By 1951, the Perth Mutual has moved to the McLagan mansion at 210 Water Street.  It is a major move with consequences for the historic building at 160 Ontario Street.

Other smaller insurance companies remained for a few years at 160 Ontario but eventually, in the later 1950s, the building was put up for sale and then demolished. The city was offered the building for $10,000 but did not exercise the option to buy. Tim Horton's then built on the property and now Popeye's is there.

On Water Street, in the 1950s, the Perth Mutual then built an addition to the back of the McLagan mansion which largely duplicated the original home to handle their expanded business. 

After the Stratford Festival began in 1953, the Festival also began an archive, the oldest formally constituted theatre archives in the world. When it outgrew the Festival space, the Perth offered space in their expanded quarters. The Festival archives are now situated at 380 Douro Street.

Perth Mutual also survived a fire at 210 Water Street in 1961.  But the insurance business was changing. Perth first merged with Gore Insurance and later with Economical in 1968. 

Perth Mutual is now known as Perth Insurance and in 2023 operates as a wholly owned subsidiary of Economical, providing non-standard personal auto and property coverage from a North York office.

In 1982, the Perth Mutual then known as Perth Insurance ended its Stratford connection after 119 years of service from 1863.  The Thank You to the left was published in The Stratford he Beacon Herald special salute to the City of Stratford in 1982.

By 1984, the McLagan mansion building on Water Street had became the home of the Perth County Board of Education.  It has now become a private residence once again. Sources: William Johnston, History of Perth County 1825-1902; Adelaide Leitch Floodtides of Fortune; Vernon's City of Stratford Directories: If you grew up in Stratford. 

The Queen's Arms Hotel, on the southeast corner of Ontario and Waterloo streets.  Though modernized, the basic structure has been retained 

Queen's Arms Hotel, since 1858

Robert Johnson built the original Queen’s Arms Hotel in 1858 on land he purchased from the Canada Company. Named in honour of Queen Victoria “the graceful frame building” provided free transportation for guests to and from the railway station and stabling for close to 100 horses. John Forbes, who lived at 131 Nile St. (see Nile Street) was an original owner of the hotel.

John Corrie bought the hotel in March 1866, and it remained in the Corrie family for almost half a century. John Corrie was an member of Stratford society and, according to the 1879 Perth County atlas, the Queen’s Arms became the preferred  headquarters of county councillors and politicians. John operated the hotel for a number of years and then retained managers until his son Fredrick John Corrie assumed responsibility for the hotel about 1892.

Fred Corrie was born on Jan. 21, 1862, in St. Marys, Ont., the second child of John Corrie and Mary Ann King, who both had emigrated from England and were married in Stratford on Feb. 23, 1860.

Fred Corrie began running the Queen’s Arms in 1904 and immediately rebuilt it as “The New Queen’s Arms,” which opened in 1905. The new hotel was constructed in the Neo-Classical Revival Style, characterized by the cupola on the angled corner of the building that includes a doorway that led to the original tavern. That tavern, according to contemporary newspaper accounts, had "the finest bar in the province . . . built of massive quarter-cut oak.” The hotel was lit through by a combination of electric and gas lamps. The restaurant was decorated in an oriental style, fashionable at the time, and the second- and third-floor hallways were carpeted in red velvet. There were bathrooms and lavatories on each floor, with hot and cold running water. In the 45 spacious guest rooms were Belgian carpets. The rooms rented for $1.50 to $2 per day. Fred sold the hotel in 1914  Source: Stratford-Perth Archives

There were other owners including the Pinkney family, father and son. In 1992, the Ford family took over the Queen's and the Boar's Head restaurant and then in 2024,  the Queen's was sold again. It became part of the the Marriott Group and is slated to re-open in 2024 after a major five million dollar re-modelling as a 31 bed boutique hotel: the Queen's Cue Marriott Tribute Hotel. Jay Ford, who himself started to work at the Queen's in 1994 after his parents bought the establishment, will remain in charge of the Cheers-like pub.  Dan Mathieson, former Stratford mayor, is a member of Boarshead Hospitality Inc., a local company backed by the same developers as the Bradshaw Lofts. (see Downie Street).   Source: The Beacon Herald, Feb 15, 2024; Stratford Today, Feb.17, 2024..          

A 1907 photo of the Queen's hotel livery stables, operated by Roy Brothers and Peter Borman. Stratford Ontario Historical photo postcard 065 from Vince Gratton

Queen's hotel livery

The Queen's hotel livery was at 85 Waterloo St. S., behind the Queens Hotel. Originally it served only the hotel patrons, for the care and feeding of their horses. After the new Queen's was opened in 1905, the building was leased to independent operators.


At the time of this photo, in 1907, it was advertised as a stable with fresh stock and boarding, as well as auction services. The proprietors were partners Roy Brothers and Peter Borman. Their stables were described as large and well ventilated, with a total floor space of 5,000 square feet. They offered stabling for 20 horses. They also had their own 15 "fine horses," and stylish carriages, coaches and light rigs, all available for hire. They advertised "special attention" for weddings and funerals.

In 1959, the building was razed, and in its place the federal government built the city's current post office, with accommodation on the second-floor for its own agencies and services. Source: Vince Gratton 


Photo by Fred Gonder

Diana Olson, Balzac's

The president and founder of Balzac’s Coffee Roasters, Diana Olsen, found her passion while at university studying French literature. She discovered a kindred spirit in Honor De Balzac and his genuine passion for coffee. 

After graduating, she spent a year and a half in France, immersing herself in authentic French culture. She passed many enchanting afternoons in the grand cafés of Paris, which inspired her to bring such sophisticated celebration of coffee and social tradition home to Canada. But San Francisco was her next stop, in 1993, to learn the craft of coffee roasting and bean selection at the West Coast Specialty Coffee Training Institute. In 1996, the first Balzac’s café was opened at 149 Ontario St., in Stratford, Ont., and now there are 16 locations across the province. Source: Women of Influence

Diana left Balzac's in December 2020 to start a new venture called Inner Beach. It sells beach-oriented products online and out of its store in Port Credit.

To hear about Balzac's history click below.

Three Bradshaw generations  involved in Bradshaw's China Hall.  A fourth generation  now own and manage Watson's Chelsea Bazaar, honouring the owner from which J. L. Bradshaw purchased stock. 

Watson's Chelsea Bazaar

When Peter Watson, an early Stratford businessman, died, undertaker John L. Bradshaw, (see Bradshaw Drive), was asked to dispose of the stock in Watson’s china shop. That was 1896, and J. L. Bradshaw began a business that has lasted four generations. 

 John L. became so interested in the business that he decided to purchase it himself and carry on under the name Bradshaw’s China Hall. The business began at 58 Ontario Street and later moved to 84 Ontario. The business remained in the Bradshaw family until it was sold to Gordon Wreford in 1975. The Bradshaw business then moved across the street to 129 Ontario and later a second store was opened at 149 Ontario. 

Ten years later, David Bradshaw opened a new china and glassware business at the familiar 84 Ontario St., and named it after the original purveyor of china and crockery, Peter Watson. His daughter, Carole, and her husband, Todd Rowe, now carry on the original business started by her great-grandfather., J. L. Bradshaw.  Source: Watson's Chelsea Bazaar David's daughter 


Peter Watson is the man honoured by the contemporary business Watson's Chelsea Bazaar. In 1896, after Watson's death, L.J. Bradshaw, great-grandfather of the present owners,  purchased Peter Watson's china stock and thus began the Bradshaw China business that has served Stratford for four generations.

46 Mornington St. 

Thomas Birch house, historic place

In 1853, architect Peter Ferguson bought what is now 46 Mornington St. from Col. William Frederick McCulloch and built the original two-storey structure that would become the rear of the house. The property was across the street from the first Perth County Courthouse, which Ferguson also designed and is considered his prized work.

In 1863 he sold the house on Mornington to Thomas J. Birch, who hired Thomas Orr, a local builder and architect, to build a one-storey cottage addition on the front of the original structure. Birch operated a local hardware store and was active in town affairs including the founding of the town's first local fire company. He was also one of the first deacons of the Ontario Street Baptist Church, which he had helped to establish.

218 Ontario St.

William Joseph McCully

Born in 1876, William Joseph McCully left his native Seaforth, Ont., at an early age to go to Black Creek, where where he worked in a cheese-making factory. He later went to a Strathroy school to take a short course for dairymen. When he came to Stratford, he managed Thomas Ballantyne's cheese-making  plant in the Edington Block on Erie Street.  After two years, McCully and a partner built a creamery on Erie Street.

In 1901, the Stratford Herald ran the description of a house that 

architect James Russell (see Russell Road) was to build for William Joseph McCully at 218 Ontario St.: “It will be of red brick with brown stone trimmings and to have (a) slate roof; will contain nine rooms as well as a bath room. The bath room will fitted up in the best manner. The house will have grates and mantles, bevelled plate and stained glass, laundry in the cellar, etc., and will be 36 feet by 43 feet in size, with verandas, balconies.”

McCully was a 27-year-old "dairyman" when he bought the land for his house from a marble cutter, James Gadsby. The house he had built was valued at $2,750.In the 1911 census, McCully was listed as a grocer. After his success in the creamery business, he partnered with John Haugh in the purchase of a grocery business. He remained a grocer, first at 12 Downie St., and then at 92 Ontario St., until his retirement in 1933. He became widely known throughout Ontario for his business integrity and at one time was president of the Ontario board of the Retail Merchants Association.

 McCully was interested in all sports and was a promoter of soccer, softball, hockey, and horse racing. He was also among the founders of the Stratford Country Club.  Source: Historical Plaque Properties

330 Ontario St. is now called the Avery House (Avery House B and B), 2023

The Avery House

In 1874 a house was built on the property now known as 330 Ontario Street but which was originally part of a larger tract of land owned by James A. McCulloch, a lawyer in Stratford. James was a son of William F. McCulloch, a miller, distiller and lumber merchant, Stratford’s wealthiest businessman and the first reeve of the new village of Stratford when it was incorporated in 1854.

In April 1874 John Avery became the first occupant of 330 Ontario Street when he moved in with his wife Martha and their daughters Margaret Elizabeth, known as “Maggie”, age 9 and Martha who was 6 years old.  Both were born in Ingersoll in Oxford County.

A plasterer by occupation John Avery was born in Bristol England in 1830 and after immigrating to Canada, married Martha Hicks, born in Ireland, who grew up in East Nissouri, Oxford County, where her father Robert Hicks was a Toll Gate Keeper.  Several roads in pioneer Ontario had toll gates established at various locations along the way for the purpose of collecting fees, or tolls, from travellers to accumulate funds for maintenance and future construction.

The Avery family’s stay in this early Stratford house was brief as they moved back to Ingersoll in 1876 where a third daughter, Mary Ann was born in August 1876. According to Canadian census data John continued his work as a painter/plasterer in Ingersoll where he died in November 1893. Source: Historic Plaque Properties

The Rapid Transit Company

The the wooden four-wheeled conveyance in this photo was Stratford's first public transportation vehicle. Operated by John Stevenson, it is parked in front of the Stevenson house at 330 Ontario St. Known as The Rapid Transfer Company, for most of its well-dressed passengers it was likely their first ride in a bone-jarring motorized vehicle. Early in the 1900s, these people movers were built on chassis supplied by firms such as Packard. They were termed forward-control power-chassis that also were suitable for use as trucks, buses and delivery vehicles.  Text and photo: Vince Gratton

Edythe Patricia Fowler,

The Fowlers lived at 511 Ontario St. The house was demolished shortly after this photo was taken in 2016.

Edythe Patricia Fowler

Aerial photographer Edythe Patricia Fowler was among the trailblazers of the Royal Canadian Air Force’s women’s division which she joined in 1943. She became the first woman to be recognized with a Remembrance Day banner in Stratford.

Under pressure from women lobbying to serve their country in uniform, the Canadian military began establishing women’s divisions in 1941. According to Veterans Affairs Canada, 50,000 women served in the Armed Forces during the Second World War, including 17,400 in the Royal Canadian Air Force.

Edythe, better known as Pat when she was raising her family after the war, was working in a photography studio in Fredericton, N.B., when she approached a military recruiter on one of her lunch breaks. Within a week, she was in Ottawa for a medical and then sent to basic training.

After spending some time at her first posting as a press photographer, in Toronto, 22-year-old Edythe was sent to Borden, Ont., where her aerial photography helped in the training of new pilots. Her rank was leading aircraftwoman.

After the war, Edythe (Braun) and her husband Kenneth settled in Stratford, his hometown. She stayed home with her children while Kenneth worked at as a master upholsterer at a furniture manufacturer on Ontario Street. Edythe died in 2005, the year of her 60th wedding anniversary. She was 82. 

Her Remembrance Day banner was among the latest 12, including one for her husband, Warrant Officer Kenneth W. Fowler, to be raised. (See below). He was a tail gunner she met at CFB Borden. They married and moved to Stratford after the war. See  A Banner Day  Source:  Stratford Beacon Herald

Ken Fowler 

Kenneth Walter Fowler, veteran

Kenneth Walter Fowler  was born in Stratford in 1924. He was a veteran of the Second World War, in which he saw active service with the Royal Canadian Air Force, in support of the Royal Air Force, based near York, England. As a member of 77 Squadron, he completed 38 missions over enemy territory as a tail gunner in a Halifax bomber (1942-1945).


During the war Ken met his future bride, Patricia (Pat) Braun (see above) of Fredericton, N.B., who also was a member of the RCAF, serving as an aerial photographer. They married in November 1945 and lived throughout their marriage in Stratford, Ont.


A faithful member of Memorial Baptist Church, Ken served as a deacon, Sunday school teacher and usher, and was a member of the choir for many years. In 2007, he was recognized by the church for his long service, dedication and willingness to assist others. He was also on the executive of the seniors luncheon program at Woodland Towers, and volunteered at Spruce Lodge as a Bible study teacher.


He was an accomplished upholsterer for 44 years at Kroehler Manufacturing, from which he retired in 1989. He died in 2018 at age 95. Source: W. G. Young Funeral Home

*  He was honoured with a banner on a Stratford light post during Remembrance Day month. See A Banner Day

Vogue Theatre and the Saturday matinee 

A personal remembrance. It seemed every kid in Stratford went to the Saturday matinee at the Vogue Theatre.  at 168 Ontario St. We had to because we did not want to miss the next episode of the cliffhanger serials. Did Batman really go over the cliff in the Batmobile? Also, there were great John Wayne and Roy Rogers westerns, the Three Stooges, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Abbott and Costello and cartoon marathons, and popcorn. The Vogue was torn down to create (what else?) a parking lot.  By Paul Wilker

The Vogue  Theatre 168 Ontario St.

1984  Photo: Joel Meier

The Supertest station at 356 Ontario St. in 1931.  Vince Gratton

Tudor Supertest station

The northwest corner of Ontario Street and Trow Avenue was once a part of the Johns family's taxi business. Their horses would graze on the open area closest to Trow Avenue.

In about 1930 that open area (356 Ontario St.) became the address for a Tudor-style Supertest service station

It was first owned and operated by Jasper and Weber. Then it was Scrim's second location, and finally finally it belonged to Ralston Harold Shore (1918-2003), known to one an all as Rolly. He and his wife Hilda (1917-2005) lived not far away, at 268 Cobourg St. Their place of business reflected the Supertest company's standard architecture and was a full-service facility for the motoring public.

The twin gas pumps were called Canadian Double Pumps and were manufactured by Service Station Equipment in Toronto. The series of light bulbs surrounding their top covers made these pumps unique. The vehicle parked at the pumps awaiting fuel is a 1931 Plymouth PA 3 window coupe.

Jasper and Weber  Vince Gratton/Doug Jasper

This house, at 352 Ontario St., in 1910, was owned by Thomas Johns and family. His son William (known as Billy) entered the family's service-centre business as a young man and operated it until the mid-1960s out of this house. He was a pleasant man and a classy operator. His taxis were always black and spotless. In the hands of Thomas, and then William, their business had a long run.

In 1959, the original Tudor gas station and the Johns family home were leveled and replaced by a larger and more modern Supertest building. After extensive renovations, the building today houses a UPS store.  Source: Vince Gratton 

Stillman's Creamery . . . later Silverwood's, just east of the Queen's Hotel 

Stillman's Creamery, 185-187 Ontario St., 1926. Stillman employees, from left: Harold Brodhagen, Irwin Ellah, Frank Milson, Doug Oliver, George Wright, J. Poyner, Joan Meldrum, Lillian Maslen, George Ford, George Burton (butter maker and superintendent), Charles W. Stillman, Ervin Elliott, William Drown, Russell Mann, Martin Graver, Harry Kingsley, Jack Coonan, Alex Cowan and Wesley Coulter. Photo courtesy Brian Wendy Reis . . . FB,  from Stratford-Perth Archives, originally donated by Mrs. John R. Bell from the Beacon-Herald.  

This is Stillman's dairy at 185-187 Ontario St. as it was in 1926. By 1930 this business became Stillman's Sparkling Beverages at 11 Cobourg St. What follows is a memory by Brian Reis from If You Grew Up in Stratford, You Will Remember When . . . FB

"As many of you have likely never seen this building, I'll try to get you oriented. The Salvation Army Citadel would have been to the left. That building later became the Odeon Theatre, which later became the Vogue Theatre. (see Silverwood's picture below). The building to the right of the dairy was the Classic City Bakery. The signboard reads, "The home of Butter Krust Bread." Apparently there had been another building to the right of the bakery, but it had been torn down shortly before this photo was taken. In my day, there was Kennedy’s Shell gas station here (Ralph Pike later worked here before he opened his own business, but that's long gone, too), and you can see the Queen's Hotel behind the tree. 

"Originally the dairy building had been one of several livery stables that were located around the city, mainly in the downtown area. I'm not sure what year, but Stillman's was bought out by Silverwood's Dairies from London. Silverwood's Dairy store, where you could buy milk, ice cream, and other diary products, was at the front of the building. The milk processing section was behind that, and there was a long barn behind the main building that went through to Albert Street. 

"You can just see the barn at the extreme left. The horses were stabled here. The wagons were stored here, and there was a huge grain bin for storing the horses' oats, and space to store hay and straw. It was a special treat to get there early enough in the morning, to watch them harness up the horses to the wagons. They had already been loaded with the milk products that were being delivered that day.

"There is a note that goes with this photo concerning the difficulty that all dairies in town were having with local health officials, and their ongoing attempts to close down the dairies. Stillman's slogan was: The home of Stillman's pasteurized dairy products, where cleanliness is paramount. As far as I can remember, dairies were just as clean then as they are today." Source: Brian Wendy Reis . . . FB.

Silverwood's Dairy . . . delivery to your milk box, a Stratford institution 

Silverwood’s Dairy was a big hit in Stratford after it arrived in 1928. It had been started by Albert Edward Silverwood in nearby London, Ont. Silverwood’s bought Stratford Dairy on Albert in 1928, and then took over the Stillman Creamery premises at 187 Ontario St., next to the Queen’s Hotel. The purchase included the dairy stables on Albert Street.

Silverwood's Dairy delivery men in a photo dates 1948. But is that the correct year? Check the "van" photo below for a clue.  Originally, dairy products were delivered by horse and wagon, and later by van and trucks. Two pictures show the two methods of delivery but both seem to have been taken for archive purposes on the same day. Clue: the movie Sentry is listed on the Vogue Theatre's marquee in both photos. So is the word “cool,” which was great news for those seeking relief from the summer heat courtesy of the theatre's new-fangled air-conditioning system.

*  "It was one of our duties as young boys and girls back then, to beg for rides in the horse-drawn milk and bread rigs. One of the easiest marks, and everyone's all-time favourite guy, was Silverwood's Danny Fooks. He was such a cheerful, friendly guy, and I'm not sure if he ever had a bad day in his life. " Source Brian Wendy Reis . . . FB 

Some may remember the Silverwood motto for its ice cream: Smooth as velvet. Or, how about the catch phrase in this Silverwood's ad that was popular for a long time: “You can whip our cream but you can’t beat our milk.” Many would agree.

Albert Edward Silverwood (1876-1961) did not start his work career in the milk business. In 1903 he joined Silverwood Produce, a company that dealt mainly in poultry. That business made him a wealthy man. He started his dairy company in 1928, but by then he was a dairy magnate. He bought local dairies and owned subsidiaries as far away as Western Canada. By 1928 his company was taking in more than $4 M in sales. His dairy operation was a force in Stratford for more than half a century. Home delivery of milk continued here until the late 1960s.

Silverwood Dairy drivers, Stratford Ont., 1952

From left, T. Mills, M. Schiebel, H. Smith, P. Gardner and Danny Fooks stand in front of their milk delivery vehicles, in the early 1950s. Silverwood 's expanded across Canada by buying up local dairies. 

 *   Vince Gratton helped date the picture, as did a Vernon's Stratford City Directory, which does not list the Vogue Theatre before 1951. The Chevrolet panel van could be “anywhere from a late 1947 to a 1953 model 3100."In appearance they were alike. This fan, he thinks, was a base model Thrift-Master. He noticed there are Chevrolet, International, Dodge and GMC trucks in that line-up, and concluded that Silverwood’s “must have been trying to keep in good grace with all the locals.” Source  Vince Gratton

Part of Silverwood’s success was its willingness to invest early in new products. In 1914 he bought a multi-storey building from the London Cold Storage Co. (a company he would later buy outright). Silverwood used that building as a creamery and soon after invested in ice cream equipment. When his company began to manufacture ice cream, it was one of only two wholesale manufacturers in London. Silverwood supported the financial losses of his ice cream branches with his cream and butter production, just as he had once done for those products with his poultry returns. It paid off.

By 1919, Silverwood had seven dedicated ice cream wagons. They delivered ice cream, but also crushed ice to keep it cold. The First World War years created opportunity for fluid milk production, and Silverwood supplied pasteurized milk to the soldiers at London's Wolseley Barracks in 1916. In 1922, he began his commercial sale of milk, and in 1930 he installed Canada’s first plate-type pasteurizers in his production facilities.

"Pasteurized" on milk labels 

Doug Wilson and his sister on Blake Street. Posted by Bob Meldrum on FB

Tickets often were used instead of cash. 

In the 1920s there was a huge increase in inter-city delivery rates. Rather than succumb to the higher overhead, Silverwood bought more facilities in outside markets. He bought out local businesses and reformed them in places such as Hamilton, Caledonia, Chatham, Woodstock, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Peterborough and Regina. He set up businesses in many others, including Stratford. Into the 1940s, Silverwood continued to expand his reach.

Though fluid milk and ice cream became primary money makers, Silverwood remained diversified. In addition to his mainstays, he produced evaporated milk, creamery butter, milk powders, condensed milks, powdered buttermilk, cheddar cheese, and poultry and eggs.

Albert Edward Silverwood and one of his most beloved products for youngsters -- and it came with a wooden  "spoon."

Ad courtesy of Nancy Musselman from the 1932 souvenir centenary edition of the Beacon-Herald

Silverwood’s sold everything you would expect. Milk was the staple and sold in bottles that were delivered to small milk boxes, most of them at the side or rear of houses. Empty bottles were left there for return. Many customers had recurring orders; some required two trips to the door. Payment was commonly "on account" or by cash, or by tickets issued and sold by Silverwood's. In addition to milk, deliveries included cream and butte. Additional products, such as ice cream, popsicles, frozen novelties, and would you believe, ready-to-serve chocolate pudding, were available at the dairy and in stores. (See Feature Article dairies)

At times, drivers had helpers, especially in the summer when employees took holidays. The helpers' pay was minimal, but there was some compensation, often a bottle of chocolate milk and the joyful opportunity to care for the horses: feeding, watering and grooming. There were not many helpers in the winter months. 

Delivery people built friendships with customers and kids and were noted for their kindness and honesty. "Our milkman was Greg and we used to feed his horse carrots or apples. Those were the days. Greg used to just come in and put the milk in the fridge. Never locked our doors.” Linda Winters, If You Grew Up in Stratford . . . FB.

Silverwood's was an important part of everyday life, not just in Stratford. A. E Silverwood made quite an impact as well. Later in life, he established the A. E. Silverwood Foundation (1948). He was a great supporter of racial equality in Ontario as well as a benefactor to Western University’s business and music programs. Sources: Photos: Vince Gratton; If You Grew up in Stratford . . . FB; Biography of Silverwood and History of the Dairy; Vernon's City of Stratford directories.

What about the Silverwood's stable?

There is an answer to that question and the research comes from Vince Gratton who provided both the photograph and the brief explanation.

In 1904, this building that you see in the picture was moved to the north side of Albert Street just east of Waterloo Street.  "After this building was settled, it would over time become the livery stable for Silverwood's, with its entry on Albert Street." Source: Vince Gratton

A memory. "My husband's grandfather, W. J. Atchison used to store his horses in the Silverwood's barns. He used to deliver merchandise to various businesses with his wagons. He also would help clear Ontario Street of snow in the winter. They would load the snow onto wagons, then drive the horses and loaded wagons to the Avon River, and dump the snow into the river. " Source: Maggie Muggins on If You Grew Up In Stratford . . . FB. 

Dempsey's Creamery, 2 Ontario St. in 1900.

This industrious scene from 1900, shows men unloading milk containers at the York Street side of Dempsey's Creamery, at 2 Ontario St.

Daniel Dempsey operated his creamery at this address for five years and then, after partnering with William McCully, moved to Erie Street. 

Upon Daniel Dempsey Sr.'s  death, his son Daniel managed the creamery business. 

Before this time, in 1876, 2 Ontario Street was the business of McPherson and Farquharson dealers in Groceries, provisions, China Glassware and Seeds. D. R. McPherson lived at 56 Daly Terrace. John Farquharson lived on Elizabeth Street beween St. George (Mornington Street between Huron and Church)  and Mary (Waterloo). This Ontario Street building was later home to Lloyds Wholesale (see Lloyd Court) and still later Canadian Tire.  (See story below) In this photo, posted by Dave Schulthies on If You Grew Up in Stratford...FB, the Perth County Courthouse is visible across Huron Street to the right. 

The building has now been refurbished and is a small hotel. Source: Brian Wendy Reis. If You Grew Up in Stratford . . . FB

Children's Aid Society building, 1945. Photo: Brian  Wendy Reis, originally published in the Beacon-Herald

Children's Aid Society

In 1945, this photo of the Children's Aid Society, at 219 Ontario St., appeared in the Stratford Beacon-Herald.  The house was across the street from the Ontario Street Baptist Church , which was on the corner of Nile and Ontario streets.

There were six or seven houses between Nile Street and the Salvation Army hall on the south side of that section of Ontario Street, just east of the Queen's Hotel.

"Another house in that row that really sticks out in my mind, was next door to the orphanage. The couple in that house raised and sold canaries, and once a year, the Baptist Church held a special service, and the sanctuary would be adorned with perhaps seven or eight cages of these canaries, and they would be singing up a storm all through the service. 

"Eventually, of course, most of those houses, and the Salvation Army hall were torn down to make way for the new Loblaws store, and the Odeon (Vogue) Theatre. Now both are gone. Loblaws has become  a Shoppers' Drug Mart and on the the Children's Aid property is a takeout pizza business. The Ontario Street Baptist Church was demolished in June 2019 (see above). 

"The orphanage was built in 1911, and it seemed to me there were likely seven or eight, or maybe more, kids there at one time. This Beacon-Herald photo looks like it was probably taken in the spring of 1945. The sign on the front calls it the "Children's Aid Society Home." Source: Brian Wendy Reis, If You Grew Up in Stratford . . . FB.

Classic Palm Garden, 1914-1917, and a casualty on the home front

The Classic Palm was run by Mrs. Harriet Saunders and her three sisiters who are seen in this newspaper photo.  Photo: Brian Wendy Reis.

The Classic Palm Garden restaurant is a good example of how businesses suffered because of wartime shortages. 

This restaurant, on Ontario Street, was opened in 1914 by Harriet Sanders of 123 Church St. It specialized in light lunches, sodas and sundaes. Harriet Saunders was also connected to the hospitality business through the Saunders Hotel. 

Mrs. Sanders was helped by her three sisters, seen in the second photo: from  left, Mrs. Sadie Campbell, Mrs. Fannie Bennett and Alice Hird (later Mrs. Roy Leake and the maternal grandmother of Stratford writer Dean Robinson) . 

Supply shortages caused by the First World War forced the restaurant to close. Source: If You Grew Up In Stratford, Brian Wendy Reis

2-6 Ontario St.: heritage ties from Stratford in the 1860s to today's Perth County Inn

Perth County Inn, newly restored in 2018 as seen here, facing Huron Street, has a new address of 4 Huron Street but is the same building known since 1868 as 2-6 Ontario Street. Photo: Perth County Inn - Hotels - 4 Huron St.

In 1868, James A. Redford, a prominent businessman built 2-6 Ontario St., which replaced earlier wooden structures dating from the late 1830s.  It is known as the Redford Block, one of the oldest commercial blocks in Stratford. In 2018, it was restored by Bruce Whitaker, who also restored Edison's Inn at 46 Ontario St. (see article above on Ontario Street).

In July 2022, Whitaker received the James Anderson Heritage Preservation Award for his Redford Block restoration. Anderson was a teacher and the founder of the Stratford-Perth Museum. He became an influential and uncompromising heritage advocate. 

The refurbished building includes eight residential apartments, the Perth County Inn, a trendy taco shop and cocktail bar, an antique store, an event space, and soon a Japanese takeout restaurant. It also includes gardens and deck areas. 

The triangular building, now serving as the downtown core’s revitalized western anchor, is across the road from the Perth County Courthouse and has frontages on all three sides – York, Huron and Ontario streets.

Various retailers have occupied the building through the years, including Dempsey's Creamery (see above); and James Lloyd, a grocery store owner and wholesaler who imported fruits from the West Indies, Italy, California and Mexico. (see Lloyd Court). However, it’s the building’s more recent tenants who will likely trigger nostalgia for many Stratford residents.

Canadian Tire moved into the building after the Second World War and remained there until 1958. The building was also home to the popular Family and Company toy store, until it closed about five years ago.

Lloyds Wholesale 1905. Later moved to a building where Park Towers is today (35 William St.). Photo Nancy Musselman . . . FB

Canadian Tire in the 1950s. Looking east on Ontario Street from the Perth County Courthouse, by then a street revitalized. Phot0: If You Grew Up in Stratford . . . FB 

The building had started to fall into disrepair by the time Whitaker bought it in 2018, That was two years after, his first major downtown renovation project, the building up the street at -a building down the street famous for housing inventor Thomas Edison during his brief stay in Stratford.

Structural repairs and window and door replacements were among the most needed exterior fixes. Whitaker maintained the building’s elaborate brickwork, including dichromatic brick quoins and buff brick window surrounds, matching the original red and yellow when it was necessary. He also replaced That the dirt floor in the basement and the wooden support beams. Inside the five-room Perth County Inn, Whitaker has paid homage not only to the building itself but also to Stratford’s broader history. A 40-foot timeline of the city’s most interesting historical tidbits are illustrated on the walls and there are also sections dedicated to the city’s great musicians and actors, including artifacts shared by the Stratford Perth Museum. Source: Stratford innkeeper honoured for heritage efforts | The Stratford Beacon Herald 

Canadian Tire Store 2-6 Ontario St. in about 1946. Photo: Don Thompson, posted by Brian Wendy Reis . . . FB 

Canadian Tire, a beginning at 2-6 Ontario St. 

George Thompson was a man on the move. And when he moved, he took his Canadian Tire store with him. His first store was at 29 Ontario St., where he set up shop in 1938. In 194o he moved across the street and re-settled at 16 Ontario St. Five years later, he moved west, to 2-4 Ontario St., across from the Public Utilities Commission offices and within  shouting distance of the  Perth County Courthouse. In 1959, he bought a building at 45 Erie St., where today there is a city parking lot. At that address Thompson built a new store, which opened in 1960. Upon his retirement in April 1973, the store management  passed to his son Don. It was Don who built the current store, at the east end of Ontario St. (1093 Ontario St.).

Let us not overlook Don's brother, Ken, who met customers with a smile and an offer to help. He could lead one to any item in the store, regardless of the changing product lines and the store's size.            Source: Brian Wendy Reis, If You Grew Up in Stratford . . . FB 

            Canadian Tire catalogue 1956                photos: Betty A. Petrie De Vos . . . FB

Forbes Livery Stables

Forbes Livery c. 1900.     Mural Painting by Rich Thistle 

This painting by Rich Thistle based on the photo on the right. Before the turn of the century, J & R Forbes Livery & Stable & the W. J. Cleland blacksmith shop were located side by side on the site now occupied by 'Stratford Place', the building on which these twenty-three paintings are mounted. Before the larger building was torn down in the 1980s it served as a popular bowling alley. 

Forbes Livery beside Knox Church

The importance of livery stables in Stratford in the 1800s cannot be overstated. They were dotted throughout Stratford. Here is information about Forbes Livery on the north side of Ontario Street beside Knox Church. The church can be seen at the top right of the photo behind the tree. Forbes owned several stables in Stratford. 

The Livery Stable, earlier Forbes Livery, Knox Church and the Perth Mutual Fire Insurance building. c 1900. The photo is looking east along the north side of Ontario street to the corner of Waterloo and Ontario Streets. Source: Stratford Beacon Herald from Brian Wendy Reis. 

John and Robert Forbes were owners of Forbes Livery as seen in the 1876 Stratford Street Directory. They boarded and sold horses and livery equipment.  By 1900-1902, it is Rankin and Easson Livery  and Cleland's blacksmith shop just east and situated there in 1876 is now Barresdale and Parker blacksmiths.

The stable is seen here to the left of Knox Church. This photo dates  from c 1900 before the fire at Knox in 1913 that took the lives of three from Stratford [see below] and destroyed much of the church including the steeple. The Perth Mutual Fire Insurance building no longer in existence is seen beyond Knox Church on the north east corner of Waterloo and Ontario Streets. (see separate articleson Ontario Street  for the history of both Knox Church and the Perth Mutual). 

The following is a memory from Brian Reis. "As a bit of a follow-up to the posting about the livery stable that became Stillman's Dairy, here's two photos, separated by several years, of another nearby Ontario Street livery stable that catered to everyone's mode of travel in the "good old days;" the horse. 

Looking at the first photo, [ to the left], I'm sure most of you will recognize it, because you may have either bowled or been a pin-boy in the second-floor bowling alley; Stan and Earl Craig's, "Uptown Alleys." 

The main floor morphed through several tenants, but I imagine most of you remember it as Cluett and Peabody's, "Arrow" shirt factory. 

The building to the immediate left of the stable (empty in this photo), had replaced a previous board and batten structure that had been Cleland's blacksmith, saddlery, and builders hardware shop, [ see picture and painting by Rich Thistle above] and to the left of that building, was a wagon shop. 

The building to the right of the stable is of course Knox Presbyterian Church. This was before the fire that toppled that beautiful steeple that killed then Police Chief, John McCarthy Jr., Fire Chief, Hugh Durkin, and Police Constable, Matthew Hamilton. There were other livery stables in Stratford, and another one that comes to mind, was once Vern Tuer's "Bowlmor Lanes" on Waterloo St. Note also the wooden sidewalk in the photo."  Sources: Brian Wendy Reis, If you grew up in Stratford...FB. Finding Aids and Digitized Collections - Perth County 

Note: Despite efforts to save the building, it was demolished in the 1980s. Stratford Place now occupies the site. 

A& P  1952       Photo: Vince Gratton

A&P Store

Time line: 

The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, better known as A&P, was an American chain of grocery stores that operated from 1859 to 2015.[1] From 1915 through 1975, A&P was the largest grocery retailer in the United States (and, until 1965, the largest U.S. retailer of any kind)..

A&P was considered an American icon. At its peak in the 1940s, A&P captured 10% of total US grocery spending. Known for innovation, A&P improved consumer's nutritional habits by making available a vast assortment of food products at much lower costs.

A&P was founded in 1859 as "Gilman & Company" by George Gilman, who opened a small chain of retail tea and coffee stores in New York City, and then expanded to a national mail order business. The firm grew to 70 stores by 1878; by 1900, it operated almost 200 stores. A&P grew dramatically by introducing the economy store concept in 1912, growing to 1,600 stores by 1915. 

In 1930, A&P, by then the world's largest retailer, reached $2.9 billion in sales ($50.8 billion today) with 15000 stores. In 1936, it adopted the self-serve supermarket concept and opened 4,000 larger stores (while phasing out many of its smaller units) by 1950. After two bankruptcies, A&P finally closed the last of its doors in 2015.

In Canada  A&P Canada Company operated from 1927 until 2009, when its stores were rebranded under the Metro name by Metro Inc.

In 1927, A&P opened its first stores in Canada. By 1929, A&P was present in 200 communities in Ontario and Quebec.

159 Ontario Street. Then and Now series (2023). Bob Toleff Photos: If you grew up in Stratford...FB. 

Stratford Steam Laundry

We usually think of Stratford Steam Laundry in this heritage building at 159 Ontario Street on the couth west corner of Ontario and Waterloo Streets directly across from Knox Church. However, before Ontario Street, the business was located at 55 Wellington Street.  

Stratford Steam Laundry was run by members of the Chowen family until George Lindsay bought it in 1935 after the death of Edward Thomas Chowen in 1934.  John William Chowen (1861-1926) was the proprietor as noted in the Stratford City Directory of 1896. It moved to 106 Ontario Street as recorded in the 1905-1906 directory and was run by the Chowen Brothers. By 1907, it was situated at 159 Ontario Street with E. T. Chowen (1871-1934) as the manager. 

This picture on the left shows a photo dating from circa 1905 of the building that dates from 1882. We then see the building today as photographed by Bob Toleff as part of his Then and Now series posted in If you grew up in Stratford...FB. 

In the original photo, it looks as if there was a large sign painted on the side of the building. This is not true. Local historian, Nancy Musselman, discovered in her research that the original photographer superimposed the image on the photograph. It did not exist as shown but the sign itself did exist. 

And there is an explanation.

The photo below from Vince Gratton shows the authentic original sign set back in the portico entrance to the building. Mystery solved courtesy of Vince and his extensive personal postcard collection  of Stratford history. Sources: Stratford-Perth Archives; Bob Toleff, If you grew up in Stratford... FB; Vince Gratton, Stratford History photo collection, Nancy Musselman, Stratford historian.  

Stratford Steam Laundry. Photo: Vince Gratton Collection.  We are looking south on Waterloo Street from Knox Presbyterian Church with the mother and daughter, we presume, approaching the church entrance. The Queen's Hotel is seen on the left across Ontario Street. The original fire hall and bell tower can be seen at the corner of Albert Street. The recessed authentic Laudry sign can be seen in the setback of the entrance to Stratford Steam laundry off Ontario Street. 

The Classic Theatre. Cliff-hangers for just ten cents. 

Does anyone remember Flash Gordon and Gene Autry and their cliff-hanging adventures during the movie serials on Saturday afternoons at The Classic Theatre on Ontario Street?  That would have been the 1940s and the cost of admission was just one thin dime. However, the movie excitement existed long before that. The photo gbelow shows The Classic Theatre  about 1923. 

Below is the only view of the Classic Theatre that we have found.  It comes from Cinema Treasures and is thought to be circa 1923 when John V. Ward was theatre manager. The man in the photo gives us a sense of the size of the posters and the standee. 

This is the Classic Theatre in Stratford where its manager John V. Ward has a nice front for “The Isle of Lost Ships” staring Jason Robarts Sr. with numerous three-sheet poster and a DIY standee circa1923.  Source: Avon Theatre in Stratford, CA - Cinema Treasures 

This photo places the Classic Theatre just west of the corner of Waterloo and Ontario Streets on the south side of Ontario.  Part of the sign for the Queen's Hotel can be seen in the top left of the photo.  The overhanging Classic sign, which was added later in the life of the Classic Theatre  can be seen, though not clearly, in this  detail from the original wider streetscape photo. Source: Stratford-Perth Archives. 

Many people will know of the Vogue Theatre on the same side of the street and a block further east and, of course, the Avon Theatre on Downie which had an earlier life as Theatre Albert but some may not know of the Classic Theatre that was in business for more than 35 years from 1914 to 1950. 

The Classic Theatre was located at 145-147 Ontario Street. It was operating by 1914, the year WW1 began, and played a role in the lives of Stratford people both young and old right through WW1 and both The Great Depression and WW2 until 1950.

The Classic Theatre was not listed in Vernon’s Stratford Directory in 1912 but it was there by 1914.  It disappeared from Vernon’s Directories in 1922 but was included again in 1924.  Then it is  listed from 1927 on right through the depression years in the 1930s and through the 1940s during WW2 and the immediate post-war years until 1950. It is not listed in 1951.  

Beginning in 1951, the location was vacant for a few years. The first listing in Vernon's Directory after that is 1957 for Metropolitan Life Insurance at 145-147 Ontario

Wesley Kemp Sr. was the manager of the Classic Theatre in its early years with John Ward taking over in the 1920s. Later, Walter F. Helm who was also associated with the Avon Theatre was the manager.

But what was it like to attend those Saturday afternoon serial adventures? Here is a short memory by Brian Reis who grew up in Stratford and attended shows at the Classic Theatre in the 1940s. 

"Can't say that I've seen anyone talk about the Saturday afternoon serial movies at the Classic Theatre. They were usually Red Ryder, Hopalong Cassidy, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Charles Starrett [The Durango Kid] or even Batman. There'd be at least four or five episodes of each, and of course, each episode ended with the hero in some sort of dire predicament, so you just had to get back the next Saturday to see if he got out of it or not. Admission was 10 cents (at some point it went up to 15), and we'd usually start lining up about half and hour ahead of the box office opening. The line-ups got to be pretty long, so you wanted to be there early. My worst punishment at home, if I strayed off the straight and narrow (an easy accomplishment for me) was to be banned from going to a Saturday serial. Source: If you grew up in Stratford...FB.

The Classic Theatre's location on the right just before the Queen's Hotel can be seen in this early view of Ontario Street in 1914. There is a show advertisement on the side of the building. We are looking east. Knox Church is on the left. The Knox fire was just a year before in 1913. (see article above). The Perth-Mutual Insurance building can be seen on the northwest corner of Waterloo and Ontario Streets. The history of that business and the building is also detailed in an article above. Photo: Vince Gratton Collection. 

Jumbo Ice Cream 122 Ontario Street. 

Jumbo Ice Cream. The real scoop!

The Jumbo Ice Cream Parlour was an institution on Ontario Street from the 1930s to the 1960s in two major locations.  The first location was on the north side of Ontario Street between the Stratford Beacon Herald newspaper at 104-108 Ontario Street, now the Mercer Hotel, and Knox Presbyterian Church at 142 Ontario on the corner of Waterloo. The second major  location was 17 Ontario Street beside the  present location of Scotiabank. 

The first Jumbo location wasn’t fancy as you can see in the detail from this Ontario Street photo from the early 1950s provided by Bob Toleff.  It is the small white, frame building on the right. The full streetscape appears below. 

When you entered the Jumbo, a U-shaped counter greeted you and you could choose the chrome, swivel stool of your choice...and then you had your choice of shakes, sundaes or cones. And, if you had a family who knew the old- time popular songs, you may even have known at least a few words of the 1925  78 RPM hit, “I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for Ice Cream.”  

And we did. 

There was nothing fancy about the Jumbo. There was no juke box as in some of the restaurants during the 1950s. However, there were newspapers and we kids would devour the sports pages and argue while we enjoyed our sundaes or shakes and spun around on the stools. All the ice cream freezers were right there behind the counter and we dreamed about being locked in over night.

In 1937, the property at 122 Ontario which became the Jumbo was vacant.  It had been the home of Model Tire Services in 1935, but by 1939, Vernon’s Stratford Directory has the Jumbo listed there.

And so, proprietor Dennis Edward Laughton (1891-1965) first opened the doors about 1938 at 122 Ontario Street not far west of Knox Church. For those of us growing up in the 1940s and early 1950s, an alley to the Beacon Herald was immediately to the east of the Jumbo toward the church and then the Uptown Bowling Alley above the shirt factory in the former livery stables. Before that, it had been Stratford Tire and Battery for many years at 132 Ontario Street with the Bowling and Recreation Club upstairs at 136 Ontario. 

William Fraser from Stratford remembered the early prices for cones. In the 1940s, if you could not afford 5 cents for a regular 2 scoop cone, you could get 1 scoop for 3 cents. 

Here we see Grafton's Men's Wear opposite the Jumbo Ice Cream shop.  We still have angle parking till 1959. This photo provides the panorama of the street from circa 1952 as we look west from just beyond Knox Church and the Old Livery Stable.   

The Jumbo was not fancy. It would never be mistaken for Rankin’s across the street and down the block at 81 Ontario Street, beside Swanson’s Jewelry Store near Downie Street but it was part of Stratford’s social fabric just the same. The Jumbo had  many flavours, more than anywhere else in town at the time, and Irene Ellis Freiburger remembers on If you grew up in Stratford...FB, that two bricks of ice cream sold for 35 cents. And for the next 20 years, the Jumbo scoop was in.  

Serving customers behind the counter in 1950 were Den and Bert. Paul Schlemmer remembers working there later on with Bruce Schlotzhauer where Stratford Place is now. 

Garth Logan has this memory. "The Jumbo was actually a separate building between the old livery stable building & where Floral Craft was. The Laughtons owned it back then and made their own ice cream out the back." One of Garth’s favourite memories was of his dad taking him there on Saturdays.  He said that  “...I could have as many milkshakes as I could consume but I could only ever get part way thru the second one much to my dismay...”  Milkshakes could be regular, double or triple.

By 1961, the original Jumbo Ice Cream location at 122 Ontario Street is vacant. The Jumbo had been relocated at 6 Ontario Street beside Marten’s Sports Centre at 2 Ontario. Tamara Schlotzhauer, niece of Bruce, remembers the owners were Percy and Edie Schneider who purchased the business from Dinny Laughton. Her uncle, Bruce Schlotzhauer, bought it in 1960 and after brief stays at other Ontario Street addresses, he moved it to 17 Ontario Street, where it remained until it closed in 1966. 

Jumbo Ice Cream. 17 Ontario Street. Photo Vince Gratton. 

This is a photo of the final location of the Jumbo Ice Cream parlour right beside British Mortgage & Trust, now Scotiabank. This photo, circa 1963, courtesy of Vince Gratton, shows this south side location near the Court House during this time period.

In 1965, It was sold first to Elmer Atkins and then to Scott Payne who then sold to Brian Thomas. By 1967, Vernon’s Stratford Directory confirms that the location was no longer Jumbo Ice cream. It now housed Thomas Coffee Shop and British Mortgage & Trust had become Victoria & Grey Trust.

John Dyke remembers this story of Elmer Atkins. His family and the Atkins were next door neighbors. “Elmer had a big old car from which he removed the back seat, so he could carry the milk cans. Sometimes on a warm summer evening he would load the neighboring children into this ‘cool old car’ to take us to the Jumbo for ice cream.” 

Many of us whose memories go back to the 1940s and 1950s remember the original location. Vince Gratton remembers it this way. “It was a one-story frame building. Nothing short of a lean-too. It was torn down about the same time the Jumbo relocated.”

The look didn’t matter. The Jumbo was always busy. Homemade ice cream. With a taste that grows more delicious with each passing year. What can we say? That’s the scoop.

Jumbo Memories 1940s.

In the 1940s, the standard two scoop cone was 5 cents, and you could get 4 scoops piled on for 10 cents. If you were really short of money, you could get 1 scoop for 3 cents.” That memory comes from William Fraser. As does this addition. “A brick in the 1940s cost 10 or 15 cents and, often, on the way home from the movies, my mom would buy a brick, take it home and cut it in half and we would eat the whole thing, because we only had an icebox and could not keep ice cream.”

David Drane has a similar memory of good times at the Jumbo. “My favourite was a chocolate shake made with chocolate ice cream and chocolate milk with extra chocolate syrup. I think it was ten cents in the late fifties. One time three of us went together and got a banana split and I think that was a quarter. We were all stuffed when we finished it.”

Jumbo Memories 1950s.

Vince Gratton remembers that they would stop in on the way home from the Lions Pool in the 1950s and he would “... get a Maltshake if I had the coin.”  Bob Hart remembered that a Maltshake “... was thicker because they put a scoop of powdered malt in it.” Milkshakes could be regular, double or triple. It was a busy place.

Bill Douglas remembers that the Jumbo had the best milk shakes. I remember they had aluminum holders for large cone shaped paper cups which fit in them. The shake came in large metal containers which would fill the cup 3 or 4 times. They only had chocolate and vanilla but they were filling. When I was buying them, they were 25 cents.

Many kids who delivered papers for the Beacon Herald would head to the Jumbo after pay days to spend it all. Paul Lameront has this memory from 1958-1959 when he delivered papers. The Beacon Herald was behind the Jumbo. Weekly, on Saturdays, the carriers had to go into the Beacon to pay their portion of our collection money. In those days a weekly subscription cost about 35 cents. Now you can only imagine the carriers’ profit! The Jumbo was the next stop after paying our bill. I remember a double scoop butterscotch sundae served in a tin dish. Remarkably we still had money left over.

Jumbo memories 1960s.

There was a juke box in the south side location at 17 Ontario Street. Vince Gratton thinks it might haver been owned by Dutch Meier, who was in that business. Meier later became mayor of Stratford, and Gratton remembers this comment from Meier: "Want to make money? Feed them and entertain them."

Sandy Keane remembers that there was a Felix the Cat clock in that south side Jumbo location when she was in high school. The tail was the pendulum.

Doug Hughes explains about the making of the ice cream and the selling.

My father-in-law owned the Jumbo Ice Cream when it was beside the V&G. All the Ice Cream was home made in the basement of the Stratford Hotel with the flavouring coming from the Kist Beverages Lab. as well as a place in Goderich. We would make this Ice Cream starting about 3 A.M. both tubs and bricks. The refrigeration units were there as well. I forget how many different flavours we had, but it was around twenty. I finally was able to convince Elmer Atkins to make a coffee flavored Ice Cream which I loved when we travelled into the United States and stopped at a Howard Johnson's. I was working the counter one evening and after the swimming pool closed a lot of the kids would come in for their treat. One young lad asked for a 35 cent cone. That at 5 cents a scoop was a hand full. I had to write his chosen flavours down on paper first, then build the cone from the hardest scoop on the bottom first, then work my way up to the softest on the top. This way I had a better chance of handing it to him without it tipping over. I would say as soon as you touch the cone, you owned it. We need another place like the Jumbo in town, however it is harder to get the flavouring, proper milk etc. and keep the prices down so that it would be a treat you could enjoy frequently. Source: If you grew up in Stratford...FB

1982 Photo Showing "Sew What" storefront. This site was the location of the First LCBO in 1927 at 88 Ontario Street. Photo: Stratford-Perth Archives

LCBO. 1927. First location after prohibition 

In 1927, prohibition ended in Ontario. The Liquor Control Board of Ontario was created and set up shop in a number of centres including in Stratford at 88 Ontario Street on July 13, 1927. This building had been used by the Stratford Motor Club and the Stratford Chamber of Commerce before the LCBO. The photo shows the location at 88 Ontario Street clearly but the year is 1982 when it was the Sew What store. No detail of a 1927 photo is available.

There was great anticipation of the opening and regular updates in the Stratford Beacon-Herald but on the actual opening day, there was little fanfare. However, there was a steady stream of customers, and when business slowed down in the afternoon, the poor staff members who had been up till 2:00 a.m. stocking shelves the night before, would have been grateful, according to research by Ellen Thomas of the Stratford Perth Archives.

Purchasing alcohol in the newly opened store was not a quick or easy process. Ellen Thomas in her research outlined a number of steps. “First, you had to apply for a permit and then move to the middle of the room to fill out a requisition slip. Separate slips were required for each different product. You would then take your slips to a censor, who checked your permit and order. If it was approved, the slips were taken to the cashier for payment. Then it was on to the delivery counter, where your slips were handed over. The whole process could take up to 45 minutes. Although it seems to have been a long, slow process, no one seems to have complained about the paperwork, the lines, or the wait.”

What was important in all this? The province was no longer dry and liquor was now readily available. Legally, that is. Bootlegging, as it was fondly known in some circles, had always been part of the Stratford scene whether the town and the surrounding small hamlets were “wet” or “dry.”

The term, “bootlegging,” apparently arose in the 1880s from the practice by Americans of concealing flasks of liquor in their boot tops. And at the local hotels, which were serving liquor, if there were no stools at the bars, customers were just as happy to “belly up to the bar.”

There were many stories of family bootlegging operations and often sympathy when someone was caught. Fines were often stiff as this story illustrates. In 1923, a man named Patrick Hogan was rounded up in Mitchell where he was kept until the Provincial Officer from Stratford was notified to come for him. Police Magistrate Makins gave Hogan a hearing and he was given the option of a $1000 fine or six months in the county jail in Stratford.  He could not pay the fine and so jail was the alternative. There was much sympathy for his wife and family. As Ellen Thomas pointed out in her research, it is no wonder that Patrick Hogan chose six months in jail since a $1000 fine in 2024 currency value would be the equivalent of $17, 500!

Other fines for bootlegging that were paid in 1923 included one for $200 so money was made in the business. Even so, that fine today would be valued at $3500. On occasion, the fine was as low as $50 ...still valued at $830 today so that was still not cheap.

And before we leave this year of 1927 and the story of the first LCBO in Stratford, let’s remember that Charles Lindberg had made his solo flight across the Atlantic in May and Babe Ruth would hit an impossible 60 home runs by the end of September and Laurel and Hardy would begin their on-screen partnership. And in Canada, people started to get their Old Age pension cheques and Connie Smythe renamed the Toronto St Patricks the Maple Leafs. In Stratford, the Brooks Steamer that had arrived in 1923 was in receivership (see Ontario Street) but the Stratford Beacon Herald that carried all these stories also carried the announcement for the first time of the first new year’s baby in Stratford and its many gifts. You can read about that 1927 story in Ellen Thomas’ Reflections article here. (link needed)

Circa 1923 photo from Vince Gratton Collection.  The site of the First LCBO in 1927 at 88 Ontario Street would be the building on the right with the awning closest to us.  The Beacon-Herald building is in the right foreground at 104-108 Ontario.  The two papers joined together in 1923. Alexander bookshop and stationary can be seen at 115 Ontario Street in the foreground on the left of the photo. Wong's Cafe can be seen at 107. Wong's was replaced by the Marigold Cafe by 1927 so we know the photo is earlier than 2027.. 

And what other businesses surrounded the new LCBO? J. L. Bradshaw’s China (see above on Ontario Street) was right next door at 84 Ontario. Kenner Books was at 76 Ontario and William I. Becker (see Becker Street) photography was at 74 Ontario. Margaret Grant who had started the Perth County Music Festival the year before with Cora B. Ahrens (see Ahrens Drive) and William Rothwell had a music studio at 72 Ontario which also housed the family’s insurance business, J. and R.J. Stevenson insurance agents. And to the east, looking toward Knox Church, (see above on Ontario Street) was The Stratford Beacon Herald, now the Mercer Hotel, at 104-108 Ontario Street.(see above) 

Just a block down the street on the same north side of Ontario on the right of the photo was the original Post Office at 60 Ontario Street (the clock tower is partially visible beyond the first tower at 70 Ontario then occupied by Walsh Brothers Grocers and now by Pazzo Pizza)  where the park now is right across from where Downie Street meets Ontario. John Northway’s ladies’ wear store (the lower building beyond the post office) was directly across what was then Erie Street (now Veterans’ Drive) at 54 -56 Ontario. (For Northways, see Albion Hotel above)

And across the street from the LCBO on the south side of Ontario was Rankin’s Confectionary (see Rankin Street) at 81 Ontario; Standard Drugs was now where the former Bank of Montreal (see Bank of Montreal) had been on the southwest corner of Downie and Ontario. Pequegnat and Sons jewellers and Patterson’s books were both across the street at 71 Ontario and 101 respectively.  

The LCBO remained at 88 Ontario until after 1961 and by 1963 it had moved to its new store at 91 Wellington on the corner of St Patrick opposite the Mansion House now The Parlour This location had been the location of Tolton’s Esso Service. The LCBO then added another location which was self-serve out Ontario Street in 1973 at Westcliffe Mall at 925 Ontario. The newest location is now at 1067 Ontario Street.   Sources: Ellen Thomas, "Prohibition in Perth County," Beacon Herald, Feb. 17, 2024; Stratford Perth Archives; Stratford City Directories.