Federick, Duke of York

The grand old Duke of York

York Street and York Lane run behind the buildings fronting Ontario Street from behind the courthouse to the back door of Tango Bistro and Mercer Inn.

York Street West was originally part of Huron Street, and was also known in early Stratford as the Avon Line, because of its proximity to the river. Stratford's pioneer aristocrat, and leading landowner, William Frederick McCulloch, owned all the land between Ontario Street and the Avon River, from Huron Street to Erie  Street. In 1852 he laid out survey plan No. 66, and divided his land into building lots fronting on Ontario Street. Named for Frederick Augustus, Duke of York and Albany (1763-1827), York Street first appeared on the 1857 map of the village.

Frederick Augustus was the second son of King George III of Great Britain, younger brother of George IV for whom George Street is named. 

King George IV gave royal assent to the bill which granted the Canada Company its charter in 1826. George IV was the first of 15 children born to George II and Queen Charlotte Sophia of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. Frederick, after whom Frederick Street in Toronto and Stratford is named, became the Duke of York. He was the second of nine sons, in a family that also included six daughters.   By Stanford Dingman

Frederick was thrust into the British Army at an early age and was appointed to high command when he was 30. He was given the command of a notoriously ineffectual campaign during the War of the First Coalition, a continental war following the French Revolution. Later, as commander-in-chief in the Napoleonic Wars, he oversaw the reorganization of the British Army. For establishing vital structural, administrative and recruiting reforms, he was said to have done "more for the army than any one man has done for it in the whole of its history.

Frederick had several military setbacks in 1799, which were inevitable given his lack of moral seniority as a field commander, the poor state of the British army at the time, and conflicting military objectives of the protagonists. After that ineffectual campaign, he was mocked, perhaps unfairly, in the children's rhyme The Grand Old Duke of York               

Source: Wikipedia 

 *  Click picture for the song 

R. Thomas Orr Dam

On Monday, April 27, 1937 the waters of the Avon River rose higher than they had been in 100 years, and contaminated the city's potable water. The waste treatment plant overflowed, houses were flooded, and power was lost in whole sections of the city. The pergola beside the dam was swept away. 

More than 150 million gallons of water are thought to have rained down on Stratford in three days. The Thames River overflowed as well, and London took a soggy hit. Thomas Orr said the convergence of feeder streams (including the Avon River) had caused the Thanes to overflow.

He believed there needed to be a multi-pronged approach by all municipalities in the Thames Valley to prevent flooding and conserve water. So, in June 1937, 20 elected officials from five western Ontario counties met in London, and agreed to place flood control responsibility in th lap of the provincial and federal governments. The group called itself the Thames River Conservation Committee.

 In 1943 the provincial government passed the Thames River Control Act. Four years later, through the efforts of Orr and others, the the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority (UTRCA) was created officially.  At age 76, Orr was named the group's vice-president.

Within three years, the UTRCA had planted 55,000 trees, acquired 2,000 acres of land for conservation purposes, and was working on designs for three new dams and reservoirs. One phase of the Stratford flood control plan was the dredging of Lake Victoria, which happened in  1964. That exercise removed enough silt to cover a football field to a depth of 40 feet.

The crowning glory of the control project was Stratford’s new dam, built to replace the one that had stood, at times not well, for 50 years. The new dam was officially christened in October 1967 and, fittingly, was named in honour R. Thomas Orr. He had died a decade earlier, but not before he received the title of the UTRCA’s honorary vice-chairman.  Source: Taken from book by Diane Sewell:   R. Thomas Orr, A Lifetime Devoted to Stratford. Thanks to Rick Orr

R. Thomas Orr Dam      Photos by Fred Gonder

Ed Herr

The old boathouse

Stratford's original boathouse was built by the parks board in 1913, on the north side of the Avon River, just above the dam. In part, it was designed to help deflate the Canadian Pacific Railway's intent to run a tracks along the north shore of the Avon.

In the summer of 1965 Ed Herr and Bruce Holmes leased the city's boat house . They were not going for that kind of venture but they were interested in securing more on-water training for their sea cadets. Edd and Jack signed a five-year lease calling them topay the parks board $825 a year. They also got $500 from the park board for purchase of three paddle boats and 14 canoes. Thus, H and H boats became Stratford' newest business.  At their own expense they painted and renovated the boathouse.   Source: text and pictures Dean Robinson's book 42 Wellington,The music and the memories

Bruce Holmes

Located near the boat house

Boathouse, 30 York St., lower level  Fred Gonder

Plaque reads: Site of the first mill built by the Canada Company 1832. operated by water power. Erected 1932  Photo by Fred Gonder

The millstone

This millstone marks the site of the Stratford settlement's first sawmill (1833) and the adjacent first grist. The builder was an American, John Sebring, who was working for the Canada Company. The site was near the south end (York Street end) of what is now the R. Thomas Orr Dam. The huge water wheel provided the power for the mills.  

Sebringville was named in honour of Sebring, who was in the area as early as 1834. He can rightly be considered a founder of Sebringville. His son David was first storekeeper and postmaster in Sebringville. In 1903, that village had a large general store, a drugstore, a tin, stove and hardware store, three hotels, a flour mill, chopping and planing mills, two cider mills, a flax mill, two sawmills, a furniture and undertaking establishment, two blacksmith shops, a wagon shop, a jewelry store, a harness shop, and two shoe stores. Source: History of Perth

Pergola  Photo Fred Gonder

Washing away  Photo Bob Meldrum

Remembrance by by Nancy Musselman

In the big flood of 1937 the water reached as high as Falstaff school and swept the pergola away. My grandfather Milton Scott used the Pergola columns he pulled from the river at the old grove to hold up the veranda on his house on West Gore Street. He used the other lumber he found to build raised beds for his pigs in the barn. Their farm was 589 West Gore St. where all the new subdivison was built. 

The pergola

The original pergola, built in 1931, was washed away on April 25, 1937, when heavy rains overwhelmed the floodgates of the old dam across the Avon River at the west end of Lake Victoria.

The new pergola, built in the fall of 2009, was dedicated on Sept. 11, 2010. The fundraising for the rebuild was spearheaded by the Stratford Civic Beautification and Environmental Awareness Committee. Members of the Stratford and Area Builders Association handled the construction in honour of Al McLean, president of the Ontario Home Builders Association 1997-98. The majority of materials were donated by Pounder TIM-BR mart in memory of Thomas Albert Pounder (1875-1946), whose company erected the original structure in 1931.

Construction underway

In the late 1930s, near the site of the Thomas Orr Dam, a touch of Greek architecture provided an interesting contrast to its natural surroundings on the banks of the Avon River. The pergola graced this scene for only a few years before it was lost in the flood of 1937. The couple posing in the foreground show evidence of the strong presence of the sport of tennis in 1930's Stratford. 

Art and text by Rick Thistle