St. Catharines from Confederation to 2017

Around the time of Confederation, Canada was still predominately rural but undergoing rapid changes. The population was starting to grow in towns and cities and the demand for amenities such as larger or newer churches, schools, hospitals and libraries increased. Technological changes allowed for improvements to communications, transportation by rail and ship, and industry.

St. Catharines was not immune to these changes and saw the construction of a railway terminal, connecting not only to the other towns nearby but to the rest of Canada and the United States. The city was also home to the world’s first continuous electric streetcar system, allowing for easier movement around the city. A deeper and wider Third Welland Canal was built and a new hospital founded to service both the sailors on the canal and the city’s occupants. Mills and other industries were encouraged to set up in the vicinity and many such as Riordan Paper Mill and the Neelon’s Grist Mill were established.

St. Catharines was growing and advancing quickly.

Public Library and Reading Room,
St. Catharines, Ontario (established 1888)

In 1851, a Mechanics Institute was established in St. Catharines. It moved to the Haynes Block on Ontario Street in 1862. In 1882, the Department of Education took over responsibility of the Mechanics Institute, and in 1887, the “Friends of the Mechanics Institute” presented a petition to city council asking that the library become the possession of the city and made free to the public for use. In January of 1888, a by-law was passed to establish the free public library and the library moved from the Haynes Block to the Masonic Temple on Ontario Street. The library and its contents were then destroyed by a fire so it had to start anew in the Victoria Chambers building on Queen Street – the building shown in the picture. The library remained in this spot from 1895 to 1905 when construction on the new Church Street Carnegie Library was complete.

Riordan Paper Mill,
St. Catharines, Ontario, c1889.

Born in 1834 in Ireland, John Riordon came to Canada West with his family around 1850. He tried his hand at being a dry goods merchant for a few years but decided he would rather manufacture paper. He then constructed a paper mill in Merritton on the east side of the old Welland Canal. With his brother Charles managing the mill and introducing all kinds of new technology and John selling product, they turned the mill into one of the largest paper-makers in the country. They were the chief suppliers of newsprint to the Toronto Globe and the Toronto Mail. In 1882, John Riordon was injured by a fall from a horse and thus transferred control of the mill to his brother. The Riordon Paper Mill closed in 1920.

Neelon’s Grist Mill,
St. Catharines, Ontario, c1890

At the end of Geneva Street, a small grist mill owned by Oliver Phelps stood next to the canal. The mill, owned in partnership for a time with William Hamilton Merritt, was later purchased by James Norris and Captain Sylvestor Neelon. When this partnership ended, Sylvestor Neelon built another larger stone grist mill in the same spot in 1882. Neelon’s Grist Mill, the one seen in the picture, was then purchased in 1895 by the Packard Electric Company and converted into a plant for making lamps, transformers and electrical motors. This factory was torn down in the summer of 1965.

General and Marine Hospital,
142 – 144 Queenston Street,
St. Catharines, Ontario, c1911

Dr. Thiophilus Mack, a physician, moved to St. Catharines in 1844. He was one of the key people in establishing a facility in the town that would treat the sick and the poor. This facility, started in 1865, was called the “General and Marine Hospital”. The first hospital was in a home on Cherry Street and offered four beds. The second, with twelve beds was in a building on Hainer. In 1870, the Winsor Chase home on Queenston Street, which had room for twenty five beds and enough land for expansion, was purchased. A Jubilee wing was added in 1897 and McSloy Wing in 1911. Although more recent than 1900, this picture shows the original Winsor Chase home at the right in the photo.

View of the Grand Trunk Railway Station in West St. Catharines, postmarked 1915

The first mention of a railway station in St. Catharines is in the 1874 St. Catharines City Directory. When a railway station was being proposed, the town was in favour of a more urban train station. However, to get to downtown St. Catharines, one was required to cross the 12 Mile Creek Valley and the Second Welland Canal. As a result, the station was built on Western Hill and a wooden trestle bridge was built south of town, crossing the 12 Mile Creek but not the canal. This avoided the expense of constructing a railway bridge over the Second Welland Canal, but unfortunately, also ensured that the main part of town was by-passed by the railway. The station was later destroyed and a new station was constructed in 1918 in the same place. The image seen here is the old Grand Trunk Railway Station before it was replaced.

A Lock on the Third Welland Canal
(date unknown)

After the construction of the Second Welland Canal, shipping requirements soon outgrew the capacity of the canal. Ships became too large for the size of the locks and an enlargement of the canal system was required. Several new route options were proposed but it was ultimately decided to cut a new channel from Port Dalhousie to Allanburg (Thorold,) right through present day St. Catharines. A total of twenty-six locks were constructed on the new canal – twenty- five lift locks plus one control lock (Port Colborne) that adjusted for lake levels. Lake Erie became the water supply for the canal instead of using the old feeder canal system adopted by the First and Second Welland Canals. The new locks were 270 feet long, 45 feet wide and 12 feet deep (later changed to 14 feet deep). Construction on the Third Welland Canal was finished in 1887.

St. Thomas Anglican Church, c1904

Christ Church Parish was established on “Western Hill” in St. Catharines in 1872. Attendance in services increased greatly over the next few years and, in 1877, a committee was formed to plan the building of a daughter church on the other side of the Welland Canal. The design of M.E. Beebe, an architect from the city of Buffalo, was chosen for the new church and a piece land, situated on Ontario Street opposite Church Street, purchased. The contract for the construction of the church was awarded to Timothy Sullivan and the cornerstone laid on September 12th, 1877. On November 19th, 1879, St. Thomas Anglican Church was formally opened.

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