Orr Street

Orr Street honours R. Thomas Orr, historian, and prime supporter of Stratford's park system.

Thanks to Rick Orr

R. Thomas Orr (1870-1957) is one of the most prominent figures in Stratford's history, with a long list of accomplishments and a lifetime of public service. He was a lifelong member of the Stratford parks board, and driving force behind its parks system. He led the fight to save the riverfront and millpond from railway development in 1913 and oversaw the transformation of the former industrial area into parkland.

In 1936, Orr's plan to strengthen Stratford link with the birthplace of the English playwright, William Shakespeare, led to the creation of the Shakespearean Gardens.

The parklands provided an inspirational setting in 1953 for the birth of the Stratford Shakespearean Festival. During his life of community service, Orr also helped to establish Stratford's library and the war memorial, to extend Highway 7 to Stratford, and to found the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority and the Stratford Historical Society.

An historic plaque honouring him is near the Avon River bandshell he helped establish in 1929 (see Veterans Drive).

Diane Sewell's book, published in 2018, chronicles the life of R. Thomas Orr (1870-1957) with stories and memories from his namesake and grandson, R. Thomas (Tom) Orr (1938-2018) and from her extensive research at the Stratford-Perth Archives. Sewell spent the winter of 2017 at the Stratford-Perth Archives digging through 35 banker boxes, containing 600 files, some nearly 200 years old, of information collected by Orr. The author also sifted through about 50 personal scrapbooks.

This is an excerpt from the introduction in her book: "Every so often in the life of a community - that is, if it's lucky enough - someone comes along who is so civic-minded, so driven to improve things that the community is literally transformed . . . Such is the case with R. Thomas Orr and Stratford."

Orr's accomplishments include convincing American industrialist Andrew Carnegie to make a sizable donation to help launch Stratford’s first freestanding public library in 1903 (see St. Andrew Street); arranging to have famed sculptor Walter Allward design a war memorial in the city (see Erie Street); rallying 24 neighbouring communities to persuade the government to build a paved highway between Toronto and Sarnia; and leading the construction of the the riverside parks system while successfully keeping a railway out of the area.in 1913 (see Veterans Drive).

The book also details Orr's personal and family life (see Cobourg Street) and that of his father who was an architect and builder who came to Stratford (see Waterloo Street), and the founding of his insurance company in 1895 (see Cobourg Street), which still thrives four generations later.

Stanford Dingman, in 1984 in the Beacon Herald, stated that during R. Thomas Orr's six-decade career of public service, from the 1890s to the 1950s, " he never stopped striving to restore, improve and enhance the Stratford environment."

Sources: A vital chapter in Stratford’s history | London Free Press ; About Us | Orr Insurance and Investment; Reflections: Celebrating 70 years of a very fitting memorial | The Kingston Whig Standard; and It doesn’t happen very often’: Family-run Stratford business hits 125 years | The Stratford Beacon Herald. Compiled by Gord Conroy

Orr and Russell architects

In 1902, Thomas Orr opened his own office as an insurance agent, and as an architect in partnership with James S. Russell. Their partnership ended in 1908. Below are the projects they worked on in Stratford. Source: Architects in Canada

  • MOONEY BISCUIT and CANDY CO., Downie Street, factory, 1903

  • WINDSOR HOTEL, Albert Street, major addition and alterations, 1903

  • ST. PATRICK STREET, double house for Mrs. Jane F. Scholz, 1903

  • YOUNG MEN'S CHRSTIAN ASSOCIATION, Downie Street, about 1904

  • KINKORA, ONT., new sacristy and improvements to St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church, 1905

  • STRATFORD WHOLESALE GROCERY CO., Downie Street at George Street, warehouse, 1905


  • SHAKESPEAREAN GARDEN, Huron Street, Bird Tower - a conversion of the chimney ruin left after the fire at the Dufton Woolen Mills, 1925