Water Street

Water Street was one of the first streets laid out by the Canada Company, and was named for its proximity to the "water" of the Avon River, which was then a stump-filled stream. 

In 1829, surveyor John McDonald described the river as the "east branch of the Thames, half chain wide, one foot deep; runs swift." A chain is 66 feet. He also noted it was a "good mill site."   The name "Water Street" was written on the 1839 Plan of the Town of Stratford on Avon in the Huron Tract, based on the 1834 survey. For many years, Water Street was closest to the Mill Pond, as the widened part of the Avon was then called. Ballantyne Avenue and Lakeside Drive did not exist until much later.

The 1879 Perth County atlas map shows North Street running north from Water Street to the Mill Pond. The large triangle of land between the river and Water and North streets, like most of the land bordering the Little Thames, as the river was then called, had been reserved by the Canada Company for grist mills, lumber mills and other industries requiring waterBy Stanford Dingman

Stratford was established  as a river-crossing settlement known as Little Thames. That crossing was at the point where the Huron Road crossed the river.  Water is still central to Stratford's existence, as residents and tourists alike flock to the Avon River to soak up its beauty. 

But its existence was not always secure. In 1885, the city passed up a chance to buy the dam and mill pond, then the widest part of the river. Instead, those properties were sold to the "Lake Victoria syndicate" for $4,000.  Thatr privately owned company became known as "the dam syndicate" and was unpopular with many people who thought the river should be in the public domain. In 1899, the company announced plans to drain the river and divide the river-bottom into building lots. Fortunately, that scheme never materialized. Instead, it helped in the creation of a city parks board in 1904. In 1913, the city voted, by only 127 votes, to keep the Canadian Pacific Railway from running tracks along the north side of the river. 

Thankfully, Water Street still has beautiful water nearby to justify its name. Source: Streets of Stratford, 2004. 

 The McLagan house, originally built in 1907, seen as it is in 2023 at 210 Water St. The fountain was not part of the original landscaping. 

The Grange

In 1834, William Fredrick McCulloch was deeded a sizable block of land south of the dam on the mill property, which was on the original map of the Plan of the Town of Stratford on Avon. In 1834, there were  34 people living in the Town of Stratford, which by then had not reached even village status. Enter John McDonald with orders from the Canada Company to lay out a plan for a city to eventually accommodate 35,000 people. And that he did. 

By 1842, Col. McCulloch had arrived from Ireland and began accumulating more riverfront land. One piece was a choice broad estate, "the Grange" property. 

The Grange property straddled the river. On the south side of the river, at what is now 210 Water St., McCulloch e built a luxurious home in the 1840s for his wife and 11 children. As other properties became available,. he bought them as well. He became Stratford's leading aristocrat and wealthiest landowner. He was a miller, distiller and lumber merchant ,and a most astute businessman. 

The McLagan house on Water Street, viewed from Cobourg Street in about 1910. The approaching laneway eventually became Trow Avenue. 

The Grange was the largest property in Stratford, 100 acres of prime real estate. It included all of what is now Queen's Park and more. It extended from what today is Ontario Street north to the river and then north beyond the river and mill pond to what would become Delamere Ave. In the east, the Grange extended from the railway land, which is now Arden Park  west to Front Street.

The Grange house, erected in the 1840s, was described this way by Adelaide Leitch in Floodtides of Fortune:  "The estate had impressive ornamental gates guarding the two entrances. An oval driveway led to the house, surrounded by neat paths, formal gardens and a fine stand of pine and spruce."

The property came into the hands of James Trow (see Trow Avenue) in about 1860. It was then bought by George McLagan (see McLagan Drive), who tore down the house and built afresh, apparently on the original site and foundation. What he created was magnificent. Today it is Stratford's one surviving "mansion."

The McLagan house later became home to the Perth Insurance Co., later the headquarters for the Perth County Board of Education.

In 1851, Col. McCulloch (see William Street) laid out a plan for his property, naming the streets for members of his immediate family. Elizabeth Street was named for his oldest daughter. Hamilton Street was named for his wife Elizabeth Hamilton. Emily, a child born later, had no street named after her. She married a doctor, Dr. Donald B. Fraser (see Fraser Drive). Source: Adelaide Leitch, Floodtides of Fortune. 

Former Stratford Normal School   270 Water St.

Sidney Silcox    Vince Gratton

Harold and Mabel Martyn in the parlour at 233 Water St. in the 1940s, before a gala at the Stratford Normal School

Stratford Normal School

The former Stratford Normal School occupies a prominent position in the southwest corner of Upper Queens Park. Montreal architect Frederick G. Todd was consulted on the landscape design for the school.

The Stratford Normal School was associated with the Ontario government's involvement in the education of teachers during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The government constructed several "normal schools," to provide standard provincewide training practices for teachers. 

The building in Stratford is one of four such schools built from the same plans. The other three were in North Bay, Peterborough and  Hamilton). The school, which became known as the Stratford Teacher's College in 1953, trained close to 14,000 teachers before closing in 1973. The building is now owned by the city and leased to the Stratford Festival.

It reflects the Italian Renaissance style of architecture. Of the four "normal schools" built in 1907-1908, the Stratford school is the only one to survive without substantial alterations. 

The three-storey building consists of a rectangular floor plan with a central bay projection, portico entrance and a copper-clad dome. The window pattern around the building is a double hung, single pane configuration with pre-cast sills, lintels and voussoirs. There is a continuous brick parapet on all sides adorned with minimal metal detailing.  Source: Heritage Places

Sidney Silcox, principal

When the Normal School opened its doors to 184 would-be school teachers in September 1908, there were 156 females and 28 males. Sidney Sheddon Silcox, age 42, was chosen by the department of education as the new principal. Through to his death in June 1935, he became over those 26 years, not only the school’s longest serving principal but its guiding light.

From the get-go, he insisted on students having literary and musical societies, as well as their production of a yearbook. He encouraged readings, concerts, socials and sports programs that involved all members of the student body. He arranged for formal teas, at which students and faculty would mingle and discuss the news of the day. For all, the teas were an exercise in communication and decorum.

Silcox also brought in noted Canadians from the political and arts communities as speakers, including E. J. Pratt, the most important poet of his generation.

He then quickly broadened the scope of the literary society to include both a glee club and a Shakespeare society. Many students took part in both over the years. Thousands benefited from his vision. One of those was a man who came to be intimately connected with the Stratford Festival for 17 years, Vic Polley (see Polley Place). 

Stratford honour Silcox by naming a street after him (see Silcox Place). Source: Taken from Dean Robinson's  Not the last waltz, and other Stratford stories 

Harold Martyn, principal

Harold Martyn's father, George Howe Martyn, came to Canada in 1862, from Sheepwash, Devon, England. In 1905, Harold (1874-1948) married Mabel Rickard. Both were teachers, so it is assumed there was a connection through either their families or their profession. Mabel (1881-1967) grew up on a farm near Bowmanville, Ont. Harold also lived in Durham County. It is believed they moved from Waterloo to Stratford prior to Harold beginning as a schoolmaster at the normal school in 1915. They had a son and three daughters.

Harold was principal of the Stratford Normal School from 1935 to 1944. Family lore suggests he was a stern man with a keen intellect, and high standards for his offspring.  Thanks to Marthe Jocelyn (see below) for the text and picture. She is a granddaughter of Harold and Mabel Martyn.

The Ontario Heritage Plaque for The Stratford Normal School Reads:

In the 1900s, concerns about the quality of rural education prompted the Ontario government to build four new Normal Schools to increase the supply of qualified teachers in the province. Identical Italian Renaissance buildings were constructed in North Bay, Peterborough, Hamilton and Stratford. The Stratford Normal School attracted women and men from surrounding districts and educated them with an emphasis on conditions in the rural schools that employed most new teachers. Known as the Stratford Teachers' College from 1953 on, the school trained close to 14,000 teachers before closing in 1973. It is the only one of the four Normal Schools opened in 1908-09 to survive without substantial alteration. 

The 1920 story in the Beacon-Herald offered this description of the window.

“The central figure of the window is Sir Galahad . . . above him are the angels of his vision (in the poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson) . . . In front of Sir Galahad are white lilies and a few scarlet poppies and behind an oak tree with clinging clematis, while the whole group has a border of laurel leaves reversed, thus representing victory through death. 

This central group is surrounded by a paneled frame in which to right and left are the names of the fallen [from WW1] on cartouches and above and below these are the names of the chief battles . . .

Below the side panels are the dates ‘1914-1919’ on shields surrounded by laurel and surmounted by crowns, while beneath the central space containing the main group, is a panel in which the emblems of Canada and Great Britain are strikingly displayed, with the following text: ‘If ye suffer for righteousness sake, happy are ye.’ 

The top of the window contains three panels, the two side ones carrying the emblems of the infantry and the cavalry, with the Tudor rose cleverly inserted, while the centre panel displays the school crest, a burning lamp with the school's motto ‘docendo discimus’ (By teaching, may we learn) surrounded by laurel and maple leaves. The background of the panels is purple, and much of the design is in gold, thus using the school colours effectively and artistically.

Memorial window, dedicated 1920

The memorial window at the Stratford Normal School, which highlights its south face, was unveiled and dedicated on Jan. 31, 1920. The Stratford Beacon-Herald described the service this way in its Feb. 2, 1920, edition.

“On Saturday afternoon at the Normal School before a large assemblage, a memorial window was unveiled to the late Lieut. H. V. Pickering, former English Master at the Normal School and the 13 former students of the school who gave up their lives ‘In Flanders Fields’.  The service was of the most impressive character, and the large attendance present to pay their tribute to their brave boys, spoke volumes and was a safe assurance that Canada will not forget her sons.”

The article described the ceremony, complete with various students and faculty members of the school reading tributes, poetry and the names of the honoured soldiers.

A Union Jack that had been covering the window was lowered and there was a moment of silent reflection. Finally, In Flanders Fields was performed by the normal school glee club, followed by the sounding of the Last Post by a 110th Battalion bugler.

It was at that time that two regiment colonels were asked to make some remarks on the solemn occasion, and both Col. John Lant Youngs – whose son Jack died in the war (see Youngs Street)  and Col. G. Williams spoke eloquently about their fallen brethren and the human cost of war. The names of those brave men honoured in the memorial window from World War 1 are as follows:

Lt. Howard V. Pickering, English master, S.N.S. (Winona, Ont.); Lt. John Rowland Geddes (Port Elgin, Ont.); Lt. Russell Williams (New Hamburg, Ont.); Stanley J. Creighton (Elginfield, Ont.); Wilfred R. Eidt (Stratford, Ont.); James M. Finleon (Auburn, Ont.); John A. Holdsworth (Vandecar, Ont.); William J. Leake (Mitchell, Ont.); Charles W. Lott (Brussels, Ont.); Norman Martin, M. M. (Science Hill, Ont.); Robert W. McIntosh (Clover Valley, Ont.); Lester G. Nimmo (Ripley, Ont.); Adam N. Reid (Pinkerton, Ont.); and Elwyn Rivers (Cromarty, Ont.).

The names of the graduates who gave their lives in the Second World War are: 

Stanley Byers, Forbes Fisher, Charles W. Hostetler, Earl J. Haid, Robert Cawthorpe, Leslie L. Garner, Kenneth J. MacLean, Thomas F. Wilson, Charles E. Conroy, Keith A. Hills, A. Monroe MacDougall, William E. Kew, Alan H. Durnin, John Robertshaw, Roderick. A. Finlayson and L. George Vallance.

Sources:  Sarnia Observer, January 2020 from Reflections article, Stratford-Perth Archives by Shireen Sasani; Dean Robinson's book Hardly Normal

Marthe Jocelyn       Photo: Terry Manzo, 

Marthe Jocelyn, children's books

Stratford resident Marthe Jocelyn has written and/or illustrated more than 30 books and novels for young readers. In 2004 she released Mable Riley: A Reliable Record of Humdrum, Peril and Romance, inspired by her grandmother’s diaries. Mable is a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse in Perth County in the early 1900s. In those days teachers were trained at “normal schools."

Ms. Jocelyn’s father was the noted teacher, musician and actor, Gordon Jocelyn. (see Strachan Street). Her grandfather, Dr. Harold Martyn, was principal of the Stratford Normal School from 1935 to 1944. Mable Riley won the TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award for most distinguished book of the year. She won the inaugural TD Canadians Children’s Literature Award in 2005 and the Vicky Metcalf Award in 2009. Her picture book, Hannah’s Collections, was shortlisted for the Governor General's literary award for illustration. She has written five novels for older readers and five picture books. See: Marthe Jocelyn  Source: Stratford Literary Walking Tours

Mable Riley

The fictitious diary of a young girl living near Stratford, Ont., in the early 1900s and her encounter with the suffrage movement. 

Winner of the 2005 TD Canadian Children's Literature Award

Marianne Brandis        96 Water St.

Marianne Brandis, writer

Marianne Brandis was born in the Netherlands and came to Canada with her family in 1947. They lived in British Columbia and Nova Scotia before moving to Ontario. She received a BA and MA from McMaster University in Hamilton. During her middle years, in addition to writing in her spare time, she worked as a writer at private radio stations and the CBC, and from 1967 to 1989 she taught writing and English literature at Ryerson Polytechnical Institute (now Toronto Metropolitan University) in Toronto. She is now a full-time writer and lives in Stratford, Ont.

In 1977, she began writing historical fiction, and since then most of her work has had a strong historical element. The Tinderbox, The Quarter-Pie Window, The Sign of the Scales, Fire Ship, and Rebellion are set in Ontario in the early 19th century and have been used in schools to help teach history. Elizabeth, Duchess of Somerset is a fictionalized biography of a duchess who lived in England in the time of the Stuart Restoration and Queen Anne. 

The process of reconstructing the life of Elizabeth, Duchess of Somerset, led to an interest in non-fiction biography and autobiography – life-writing, which is also history. Finding Words: A Writer’s Memoir appeared in 2000. It was followed by a biography of Marianne’s mother, Frontiers and Sanctuaries: A Woman’s Life in Holland and Canada, and by a professional biography of her brother Gerard titled “Artist at Work: Gerard Brender à Brandis, Wood Engraver and Bookwright.” 

An important area of Marianne’s work is her collaboration with her brother Gerard Brender à Brandis (see Brunswick Street  Studio), the wood engraver and creator of handmade, limited-edition books. Though much of their work is done independently, they have created more than a dozen books together, including some of Gerard’s handmade books, as well as trade publications. Gerard’s wood engravings appear in most of Marianne’s historical fiction, and the siblings have collaborated on several chapbooks. For more information see mariannebrandis.ca  Thanks to Marianne for text and picture

Audrey Conroy at the organ in the Ontario Street Baptist Church

Audrey Conroy, pianist and teacher

Audrey Conroy (1916-2000) was a gifted pianist and dedicated teacher with the ability to support and encourage others in their musical lives. Her father, Thomas George Whiteside, ran the Stratford Paper Box Co. (see St. Patrick Street) in Stratford for 50 years, after his arrival from Toronto in 1912.

Audrey studied with Cora B. Ahrens (see Hibernia Street),  earning her Associate Toronto Conservatory of Music (A.T.C.M. later A.R.C.T.) in 1936 and her associate membership in the Royal School of Music in London in 1938. As a teen, she travelled with Miss Ahrens to give solo concerts throughout southern Ontario and in Stratford and area, and did duet work first with Jack Richardson and later Gordon Jocelyn (see Strachan Street), both talented students of Miss Ahrens during the late 1920s and 1930s. She first was an associate teacher in Miss Ahrens’ studio on Market Place in the 1930s and then established her own teaching studio as a member of the Ontario Registered Music Teachers’ Association (ORMTA) from the 1940s until her formal retirement in the 1960s.

As a young pianist, Audrey was awarded many scholarships and medals at music festivals, and worked with J. Theo (Ted) Priest (see William Street) and Newman O’Leary as accompanist for a number of Stratford Collegiate operettas in the 1930s. She was also involved as accompanist with the Orpheus Ladies Chorus (1936-1946), led by Irene Jocelyn (later Irene Bird), except for her time as music teacher for two years in Kirkland Lake after her marriage to Charles Conroy (1913-1943) of Stratford in 1940.

After her husband’s death in the Second World War in 1943, and her return to Stratford, she moved to 195 Water Street in the late 1940s, where she continued her teaching, working extensively with the ORMTA and the Kiwanis Music Festival. She began concert piano-violin work with Campbell Trowsdale, violinist, (see William Street) and served as accompanist for him in Stratford and for other southern Ontario concerts in the early 1950s. From 1953-1959, she was a member of and accompanist for The Elizabethan Singers led by Gordon D. Scott (see John Street and Waterloo Street). She was a member of The Elizabethan Singers (see Waterloo Street ) when they appeared in The Merchant of Venice in 1955. In 1957 she appeared in Twelfth Night as a wandering musician, along with Gordon Scott and Cam Trowsdale. At the time, she was part of a violin, cello, piano ensemble with Cam Trowsdale and Charlie Trethewey (see St. David Street), and did piano and organ work with Gordon Scott at St. John’s United. Later, she was accompanist for the Stratford Boychoir (see  Waterloo Street), started by Gordon Scott in 1972, and the pianist for the folk mass performed on Wingham television led by Gordon Scott with the choir of St. John’s United Church, and the Stratford Senior Choir led by Jean Moorehead.

For more than 25 years, she was also organist and choir director at Ontario Street Baptist Church. She provided personal outreach as a pianist at churches, hospitals and nursing homes in Stratford and area, and as far away as London and Hamilton. She played for public ice skating in the Stratford arena for many years, and had the opportunity to play the organ at The Crystal Cathedral in California.

Music bursaries in her name support young musicians at McMaster Divinity College and the Kiwanis Music Festival in Stratford.  Source: Picture and text by Gordon Conroy

Paul Helmer, pianist

Paul Helmer was a piano prodigy.  At age 11, he came to Stratford to live for two years with Audrey Conroy (see above) at 195 Water St. and her son Gordon. He attended Falstaff school and pursued advanced piano studies weekly at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. He made his symphony debut with the Toronto Symphony at age 15.

He had a special talent for the piano. He sat down at the keyboard and, without music, played all the pieces his older brother was studying. At  age 10, he had to travel close to 400 miles to Toronto by train for lessons every second week from his Kirkland Lake home. That meant a sleepover on the train both ways.

Audrey Conroy, and a friend of the Helmer family, offered to have Paul live in Stratford so that he could take lessons every week in Toronto.

Audrey was both a family support and teaching resource for him, as was Cora B. Ahrens (see Hibernia Street). In 1951, the Helmer family were able to move to Toronto and Paul continued lessons from their home. In 1953, he returned to Stratford to share the stage with another young Stratford performer, John Boyden (Waddell Street) on Tuesday, April 28, 1953. The city hall was packed to overflowing.

After that, Paul Helmer was on his way to a noted career. During an extensive solo career, he appeared with major Canadian orchestras and on radio and TV.

As a chamber musician, he played with the Orford String Quartet, the Tudor Singers of Montreal, the Elmer Iseler Singers, and the Festival Wind Soloists. He appeared frequently as accompanist to such artists as Cathy Berberian, and Moshe Hammer.

In 1981 he performed the complete works for solo piano, by Maurice Ravel, in Montreal and Toronto, a series of concerts that was subsequently broadcast on CBC radio. In later years, he continued to perform occasionally as soloist or accompanist, his repertoire ranging from Beethoven's piano sonatas to electroacoustic works. In 1995 he performed the 32 Beethoven piano sonatas at McGill University to full houses. He also toured Japan with cellist Vladimir Orlov.

As a musicologist, Paul Helmer was a respected authority on Western liturgical chant but also pursued interests in the piano music of Ravel and 19th-century salon music. He mounted dramatic and musical productions to display the results of his academic work, including a performance of The Mass of St James of Compostela as a liturgical service, presented with incense, costumes, and slides. The production was broadcast by the CBC on Palm Sunday, 1987. His edition of the work was published in 1988, and issued on compact disc in 1992 as Missa Sancti Iacobi. His additional research topics and publications included the emigration of European musicians to Canada 1937-55, and a 1997 edition of Le Premier et Le Secont Livre de Fauvel.   Source: Gordon Conroy and the Canadian Encyclopedia  Paul Helner Photo: Lutheran Synod Seminary

Paul Helmer     

Paul Helmer, Audrey Conroy and Gordon Conroy at 195 Water St.  in 1950. (Gordon Conroy)

Paul Helmer at Audrey Conroy’s Steinway at 195 Water St., 1949  Gordon Conroy

48 Water St. Looking east from Waterloo Street.Stratford-Perth Archives

Looking east at the Waterloo Street Arena built 1895 in front of the curling club/Casino which was built 1906  Stratford-Perth Archives

Note:  The following building and bowling greens bordered on  Water Street, Waterloo Street and Lakeside Drive.

The Waterloo Street arena

In 1885, Stratford became a city and the Stratford Rink Co. received a provincial charter to build a proper arena for skating and curling. The company chose a site on the east side of Waterloo Street between Water Street and the Avon River. The new wooden structure ran west to east from Waterloo Street, where its main entrance was topped with a large rectangular steeple. Along both sides were dozens of large hinged windows to allow light and fresh air to flood the interior, where there was a natural-ice surface measuring 200 feet by 89 feet. 

The arena was the largest in the province. Many people had a financial stake in the building, but Sheriff John Hossie was a key player (see Hossie Terrace).

To fulfil its mandate as a multipurpose enterprise, the rink could simultaneously accommodate skaters and curlers by using planks to divide the ice surface. Curlers played for the first time in 1893 and hockey was officially organized in 1891 at a meeting in the Albion Hotel. It was in this rink that Howie Morenz spent much of six winters in the Waterloo Street rink. From here he went to Montreal and a hall-of-fame career in the National Hockey League. 

In winter it was not unusual for bands to provide music for skaters. In the summer, bands played for dancers and they had boxing matches and screened silent movies.

As mentioned, the curlers and hockey players shared the same ice, which presented problems. So in 1895 the curlers agreed to invest in an addition on the east side of the Waterloo Street rink which be would be for curlers only. They erected an extension to the building on the east end in in the same east-west direction. It was removed when the new Curling Rink was built. That rink became known as the Casino later.

On March 13, 1924, the Waterloo Street rink hosted its final hockey game. A few months later, a long slapshot to the east, the Classic City Arena was opened, complete with artificial ice.  The cost was $105,000, more than a million and a half dollars in today's funds. 

At the time of the opening, the main entrance was on North Street. Dean Robinson includes further details of the Waterloo Street arena in  "The life and death of the Casino" in his book Not the last waltz and other Stratford stories.   

The curlers in 1906 as a Christmas present received five shiny sheets of ice under an arched roof with no hockey players. 

The Curling club

The building later known as the Casino was the original curling club built in 1906. The curlers had agitated before that date for a rink of their own in a separate structure although they had an extension on the east end of the Waterloo Street arena beginning in 1895, and had already formed the Stratford Curling Rink Co. Ltd. In 1906 the company announced plans to erect their building running north south beyond the east end of the Waterloo Street rink. And that is what they did. 

The building fronted on Water Street and included four "parlours' (lounges), two each  on the first and second floors. Views of the ice could be seen through large window spaces. See photo on the left courtesy of the Stratford Beacon Herald and the Stratford -Perth Archives. . 

The building measured 183' x 72' (56 x 22 metres) and included five sheets of ice. The design was by Stratford architect Thomas J. Hepburn. The new facility officially opened on Christmas day. The Daily Herald carried a front page story the following day with this headline," STRATFORD CURLERS FINE CHRISTMAS BOX," and the sub-head, "Handsome New Building was Used Yesterday by Devotees of'Roarin Game.'" The curlers numbered about 50 in 1906. 

In 1909, an acetylene explosion damaged the front of the building and blew out windows in nearby houses. Repairs were made, the popularity of curling increased, and by 1917, two curling clubs were using the rink, the Stratford Curling club and the Thistle Curling club. They amalgamated under the former name. 

 At the end of their season, in 1918-1919,  the curlers installed a hardwood floor and leased their building to Westly Irving Kemp Sr., proprietor of the Oasis Confectionary at 20 Wellington St. His grandfather, Joseph Kemp, produced the Kemp Manure Spreader. In the refurbished curling rink, Kemp called his dance hall the Avon Casino.

In 1931, the the parks board took over the building and leased facilities to both the curlers and lawn bowlers. . In that same year, the curlers reorganized as the Granite Club of Stratford, but the club soon fell dormant for two decades though it never disbanded. The problem stemmed from the hardwood dance floor which had been installed in 1919 and caused the ice to be softer than the curlerws wanted or needed The Stratford Badminton club replaced the curlers in the facility known as The Casino in 1933. 

In 1951, the curlers came back to life. They wanted to buy back the casino but that offer was refused. The parks board also said no to a new arena south of the Classic City arena and having the same compressor supply ice to both areans. Instead, in 1952-1953,  the curlers returned to the ice in a small steel building at the fairgrounds as part of an agreement with the Stratford Agricultural Society. That same building was used for the actors to rehearse in before the Stratford Festival opened in July 1953. After seven years, the curlers moved to new quarters at the Stratford Country Club, 53 Romeo Street North,  where they have remained to this day.  

 Dean Robinson includes further details of the Stratford Curling club in story #14, "The life and death of the Casino" in his book Not the last waltz and other Stratford stories.   

The curling rink extension built 1895 is seen at the left of this 1906 photo at the eastern end of the Waterloo Street arena. The photo was taken from the north side of the Avon River. The extension allowed the curlers to have separate facilities with great ice ungouged by the skates of the hockey players. It was used until the curling rink, later  known as the Casino, was constructed just over a decade later in 1906.  Photo: Vince Gratton Collection. 

The curling rink, later knowen as the Casino, to the left, is viewed in this 1918 photo from the north side of the Avon River. On the right is the Waterloo Street arena demolished in 1924 after the Classic City arena was built just east of the curling rink. In between the two structure is open space which was created when the curling extension seen in the photo on the left was taken down.  The space between the structures became the bowling greens for the Stratford Lawn Bowling Club. Photo: Vince Gratton Collection.

48 Water St. Stratford-Perth Archives

Lawn bowlers, beside the former Casino  Stratford-Perth Archives

Note:  The following building and bowling greens bordered on  Water Street, Waterloo Street and Lakeside Drive. Later tennis courts were added. 

Stratford Lawn Bowling Club 

In Sept. 9, 1898, the inaugural meeting of the Stratford Lawn Bowling Club was held on leased land at 51 Albert Street, just east of the Albert Street Inn. By July 1899, new greens were ready for use iat the Albert Street location

In October 1901, the SLBC purchased property on the north side of Ontario Street (west of 272 Ontario St.) but in 1915 the Ontario Street site was sold to a local contractor who wanted it for houses.

In 1915, the SLBC negotiated with the city parks board for the Lakeside Drive property and on May 29, 1931, the club celebrated the official opening of additional greens with a new lighting system. That expansion to 22 greens was possible because the Waterloo Street arena had been demolished in 1924 after the opening of the Classic City arena now renamed the Allman. As well, the SLBC was given space in the Casino for use as a clubhouse after fire had destroyted their clubhouse in September, 1929. The covered veranda, in the photo to the left,  was an addition, in use by 1945.

* Early in 2018, the Kiwanis Community Centre and the original Tom Patterson Theatre (formerly the Casino dance hall, the The Third Stage and the badminton club) were demolished and the lawn bowling greens destroyed so the Stratford Festival could build a new Tom Patterson Theatre. The Stratford Lawn Bowling Club relocated to the Municipal Golf Course after 104 years on Lakeside Drive. Source: Bowling Club History

Dean Robinson includes further details of the Stratford Lawn Bowling club "The life and death of the Casino" in his book Not the last waltz and other Stratford stories.   

The Casino

The Casino was used for curling, concerts, and badminton over the years.  See articles on The Waterloo Street arena and the Stratford Curling Club above for details of the original building's construction as a curling rink in 1906. 

Bands came from far and wide to play the Casino, many of them from the United States as well as Ontario. There were plenty of orchestras to hire and plenty of dance halls in Stratford. (Dean Robinson lists about 12 dance halls in Stratford in his book Not the last waltz and other Stratford stories.)

In 1921, the Shiners circus ran for four days. In 1924 the Casino was used for roller skating. In the same year, Paul Whiteman's Orchestra, known as the king of jazz, played there to a crowd of 2,000.

In 1930, the city acquired ownership of the Casino and rented the building to David Rodgers who reconditioned the floor. Over the next several years, many Stratford events took place at the Casino. The number of bands that played the Casino is too large to list here. For a complete list of events and bands read: Dean Robinson's entertaining book  Not the last waltz and other Stratford stories. He has listed more than 117 orchestras. Some notable ones are Bobby Downs, Don Messer, Ozzie Nelson, 1925 Casino Band (Art Shaw) and Herbie Fink.

In 1929, fire destroyed the lawn bowler’s riverside clubhouse. By then the Waterloo Street rink was gone, having been declared redundant, and demolished. That freed up property when it came to re-establishing the lawn bowling facilities. The curlers abandoned their plans for a new clubhouse and accepted an offer to use the curling rink.

By the end of their 1932-33 season, the curlers had tired of ice problems that plagued them. So after more than quarter of a century in a building erected for curling, the club fell dormant for two decades. In 1941 the parks board received the deed for the Casino.  

When the Stratford Festival was formed in 1953, the Festival presented musical offerings in the same huge tent used for theatrical programs for two seasons. In 1955 the Festival leased the Casino and featured Marcel Marceau as well as The Soldier's Tale with concerts by Maureen Forrester and Elizabeth Schwartzkopf. In 1956, the Festival added Jazz to its music program with concerts by Oscar Peterson and Duke Ellington. More Jazz was added in 1957 and 1958  with Dave Brubeck, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, the Gerry Mulligan Quartet, the Teddy Wilson Trio and Billie Holiday.

The Festival then used the Casino and the Arena for an exhibition Hall. It hosted rare Shakespeare books, displays of Indigenous and Inuit art and paintings from the National Gallery. In addition, the Canadian Book Publishers had a large display. 

Still later, it became the Third Stage and then the Tom Patterson Theatre. Source: Taken from Dean Robinson's book Not the last waltz and other Stratford stories.

Billie Holiday in 1957

Festival exhibition hall Gord Conroy

Third Stage and original Tom Patterson Theatre, 2010 

The Third Stage, renamed the Tom Patterson Theatre

In 1971 the Festival built a new stage in the Casino. It was designed by Desmond Heeley. It had capacity for 410 patrons and was renamed the Third Stage. It later became the Tom Patterson Theatre. It was to be an experimental theatre for new work and home for the Festival’s third company. Over the years it put on Shakespearean plays as well as other popular plays. In 1973 the Festival was given a 25-year lease. That included clauses to protect the conditions and privileges relating to badminton and lawn bowling. 

The Tom Patterson Theatre

At its meeting on Feb. 1, 2018, the Stratford city council formally approved negotiations for the sale of the city-owned property at 48 Water St. to the Stratford Shakespearean Festival Holding Foundation. The Stratford Lawn Bowling Club moved to the 91-year-old municipal golf course at 251 Norfolk St. The old theatre was torn down. Funds for design and construction were raised from substantial donations from the federal and provincial governments, companies and private donors.

The theatre was designed by Siamak Hariri of Toronto-based Hariri Pontarini. Winner of more than 50 architectural awards, including the Governor General’s Medal in Architecture, it was finished in 2020 but did not open until 2022 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Photo Fred Gonder

Kroehler Field, heroes

Kroehler Field was located where the Stratford Tennis Club is now, at 371 Water St.  It was there that the Kroehler men's and women's  softball teams played.

In the 1950s, one of the most successful and dominant teams was the Stratford Kroehler women: great in 1950, champions in 1951, runners-up 1952, champions again in 1953. They are on the Stratford Sports Wall of Fame, along with other notable athletes, teams, builders and legends .

On April 28, 2012, the City of Stratford, honoured four inductees to the sports wall. In the team category  were the 1953 Kroehler women.  

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Kroeler Girls

The Here for Now Theatre in Stratford produced the play Kroehler Girls in 2022. Playwriter Kelly McIntosh was  appointed General Manager of the Stratford Perth Archives  Nov. 20, 2023.

It’s the early 1950s and Stratford’s all girls softball team is known for building furniture by day and dominating the ball diamond by night. Can the Kroehler girls live up to their reputation after a devastating loss the previous season? Times are changing at breakneck speed in these postwar days and these players, and their hometown, have to prove they have what it takes. 

This comedy celebrates all that is Stratford in the early '50s: the remarkable furniture company and its legendary softball team.

For more of the story see : On the ball diamond, the Kroehler Girls call the shots and swing the bats