Remains of St. Michael's Church, Glastonbury Tor, Somerset Photo: Michael Harding

Legend has it that the Holy Grail, the sacred chalice used at the Last Supper was brought to England and buried near this hill. 

The Vale of Avalon

Somerset Street is a name associated with the legendary Vale of Avalon. It is one of the streets named in 1946 by a three-man committee comprising Ald. Joseph Henry Rodgers Jr.,  Ald. Henry Palmer and historian R. Thomas Orr. It is  part of the Avalon subdivision which was laid out for wartime houses for soldiers returning after the Second World War.  See below.

In their naming of streets in Stratford, this trio chose names associated with the legendary Vale of Avalon, long established as the historic resting place of the first known records of early Christianity. 

Ald. Palmer talked of the naming this way. "The Vale of Avalon is in Somerset in England, and it was in the marshy section of the Vale that early Christians, who set out to spread the gospel, left their 'records.' Somerset Street will be named after the English county in which the Vale is located." The Glastonbury Legend asserts that the Christian faith was brought to the Vale of Avalon in Somerset, by St. Joseph of Arimathea in the year 63 AD, or even earlier. Joseph brought with him the Holy Grail (the sacred chalice of the Last Supper) which legend says he buried at the foot of the hill at Glastonbury. 

The legend of King Arthur and his knights of the round table is based on the quest for the Holy Grail, and King Arthur is said to be buried in the Vale of Avalon in Somerset. Source: Streets of Stratford, 2004. 

Somerset Street, wartime houses

Wartime houses

The houses in this photo are good examples of wartime houses. Between 1941 and 1947, a federal Crown corporation called Wartime Housing Ltd. built 46,000 wartime homes across Canada. They were first built as rental units, but by 1944 the government had started to encourage ownership. Most of the houses were prefabricated and shipped to building sites. This resulted in homogenous developments in almost every major Canadian city. 

The architectural style of these houses has been referred to by a number of names: “Simplified Cape Cod” (because they are a compact version of New England styles), “Strawberry Box” (because they resembled a common fruit container), and “Victory Houses” (celebrating the Allied victory in the Second World War). 

Verterans housing stamp 1998

These houses were small and built from federal government-provided floor plans. The typical styles of the wartime house were detached bungalow, one-and-a-half storey, and two-storey semi-detached structures. The facades were clapboard siding painted white (or brick) with entrances at the front and the side. They had steeply-pitched gable roofs, small sash windows, and small metal chimney stacks. Inside the houses, the main floor often had a living room, kitchen with dining area, bathroom, and one bedroom. The upstairs had two more bedrooms. 

The streets around wartime houses were often curved (like Somerset) or featured cul-de-sacs  Source: War time houses in Ontario

Sgt. Harry Betts, RCAF, of 109 Douro St., among the pigeons in Trafalgar Square. Beacon-Herald photo

Halifax B III bomber

Harry Betts, Veteran

Harry Betts' parents where Joseph Issac Betts and Louisa Smith. They came to Stratford from Hammersmith, England, in 1902. Harry was born in 1915. They lived on 66 Bay St. now a Heritage Property and a B and B operation called Acrylic Dreams (see Bay Street)

In the Second World War, Harry Betts  flew 44 missions as a bomber in the 158 Squadron, which was based at the Lissett airfield near Yorkshire, England. He was a bombardier but held observer status, meaning he could co-pilot  and navigate Halifax bombers. During his tenure he advanced to flight lieutenant. He took part in major battles, including the bombing of French airfields on D-Day, Happy Valley and the Battle of Ruhr, and V-1 and V-2 rocket bunkers. * For a list of his 44 missions, see Missions


According to the 158 Squadron Association their member ages were from 20 to 29  when they flew in 1944. The pilot called his crew “the old men.”

Before he enlisted, Harry lived at 109 Douro St., and when he returned he married Thelma Calcott and lived in the wartime house at 12 Somerset St. (middle house in photo above). He later held senior positions at Ontario Hydro in Kitchener. He retired in Vancouver, where he died at age 94. Source: Paul Wilker, nephew.

His younger brother, Donald Betts, who also lived in Stratford and was in the air force. He was killed in an air crash in Germany at age 21. He is buried in in Berlin.

Harry Betts, back row, extreme right

Bernard Behrens, actor

A Somerset connection with the Shakespearean Festival

Somerset is the name of a character in Shakespeare's Henry VI plays. Shakespeare created the character from two real-life men. Duke of Somerset  

Bernard Behrens (1926-2012), well-known Stratford actor, played the Somerset role in 1966. He had grown up in poverty in Depression-era London, England. As a kid, he did his best to surmount the dire reality of his dismal situation by sneaking into movie theatres, and aspired to become an actor from the age of seven. He made his dream come true. 

After coming to Canada, Behrens helped found a theatre company in Winnipeg in 1951. He worked at the Crest Theatre, at the Stratford Festival, and at the Shaw Festival, as well as in radio, films and television. 

Star Wars fans might have known him as the voice of Obi-Wan Kenobi in National Public radio radio adaptations of the original trilogy of the hit films. His career spanned 50 years. Source: Bernard Behrens - Biography - IMDb