St. Catharines from Confederation to 2017

During the 1900 to 1930 time period, there were many years of happiness, optimism, invention, and change in Canada. Although initially a rich man’s toy, the motor car became increasingly more popular as the years went by. Roads were paved and new bridges built to handle increased motor traffic. Cities and towns were linked together by railways criss-crossing the nation. Hydroelectric power provided a cheap and more efficient source of light and power than coal, oil or gas. Newspaper reading increased greatly and, by 1925, Canada was the world’s largest supplier of newsprint. Recreational pastimes changed as bands played and people danced to more exciting tunes, beaches became a craze, and moving pictures evolved.

But there were also years of sadness, economic depression, and unemployment. World War I saw the enlistment of young men for service overseas and an increase in women working in industries rededicated to producing materials for the war effort. Wounded soldiers came home to recuperate in military convalescent homes after the war. Many of the men returning home could not find work, and then in addition to that, inflation quickly ate through life savings as prices rose higher.

St. Catharines saw the construction of both the Glen Ridge and Burgoyne Bridges. These bridges aided motor traffic into both the west and south ends of the city. The NS & T railway system flourished into the 1920’s. Tracks were extended to meet the Grand Trunk railway, a new station opened up and freight facilities were expanded. However, both passenger and freight rail service gradually declined partially because of the increased use of the automobile. Montebello Park, although established around 1887, got a new band shell and a beautiful rose garden. Lakeside Park in Port Dalhousie was opened to the public after a new NS & T rail line to Port Dalhousie was completed. A Military Convalescent Home was established in St. Catharines during the war, and the St. Paul Street business district was rapidly expanding.

Montebello Park Pavilion and Band Shell, c1910

William Hamilton Merritt Jr. began building his home on a piece of property near downtown St. Catharines. Construction advanced only as far as the foundation before he died in 1860. This parcel of land was acquired by the City of St. Catharines in 1887 from Merritt’s estate and turned into Montebello Park. The foundation of Merritt’s home supposedly formed the base of the park pavilion seen peeking out from behind the trees in the picture. The band shell, with the rounded roof to the right of the pavilion, was erected around 1905 and designed by builder Edwin C. Nicholson. A rose garden, not visible here, was added to the park around 1913.

The beach at Lakeside Park in Port Dalhousie, c1910

Lakeside Park was developed around 1901 by the Niagara St. Catharines & Toronto Railway, which had just completed an electric streetcar line to Port Dalhousie. They developed it in conjunction with N.S. & T. Navigation Company, which ran passenger steamers between Port Dalhousie and Toronto. The new park had a beach, a pier, a dance pavilion, music, rides, snack bars and paddleboats. It was very popular with St. Catharines and Toronto people alike. However, in the late 1940’s, regular steamer runs stopped, precipitating the slow decline of Lakeside Park. Sid Brookson bought the park in 1949 and operated it until it was no longer feasible to do so. In 1970, the midway was dismantled and sold to the city of St. Catharines.

Independent Rubber Company,
Merritton, Ontario, c1912 – 1919

The Independent Rubber Company factory near Lock 15 on the old Welland Canal, formerly housed Merritton Cotton Mills. In 1881, a fire destroyed the factory, but Merritton Cotton Mills rebuilt, opened for operation again in 1885, and stayed in production until 1906. By 1912, the Independent Rubber Company, as seen in the photo, had taken over the factory and was manufacturing rubber footwear. Independent rubber operated until 1919. The factory stayed vacant until 1935, when it was bought by Interlake Tissue Mills for storage purposes. The building burned again in 1961, and what remained standing after the fire was turned into the Keg Restaurant.

St. Catharines Collegiate and Vocational Institute (date unknown)

From 1872 until 1923 an old brick building on Church Street was home to the St. Catharines Collegiate Institute (now home to the Niagara Folk Arts Multicultural Centre). An “institute” was a Secondary or Grammar School that offered academic, technical, and commercial programs. Growth in the number of students attending the Collegiate led to serious classroom overflow problems so it was determined that a new school should be built. The new school was built on the old Lacrosse Grounds on Catherine Street. After much debate about whether to construct an academic, technical or combined school, the St. Catharines Collegiate Institute and Vocational School opened its doors to new students on November 5th, 1923.

The Canadian National Electric Railways Terminal, c1915 -1930

It was decided at some point that St. Catharines needed a new interurban railway terminal to replace the old building on St. Paul Street. A new terminal opened in November of 1924 on Geneva Street at Welland Avenue. The ticket offices and waiting room were on the first floor and offices for the N.S. & T. Railway were on the upper floor. There were also 6 platforms available for those boarding or departing rail cars. Unfortunately for this new terminal and for rail transport in general, the first motorbuses began to appear on the streets of St. Catharines in 1925.

Power Plant at DeCew,
St. Catharines, c1904

In 1896, five businessmen from Hamilton, all named “John”, formed the Cataract Power Company. Their hope was to generate hydro-electricity at DeCew Falls and to transmit it 35 miles away to Hamilton. It was decided, however, to relocate the project to a spot that had a much greater vertical drop just east of the falls, and to obtain a water supply from the Third Welland Canal at Allanburg. The water would be carried by means of an artificial feeder channel to three storage reservoirs. From there the water would be led down the escarpment by one penstock (steel pipe) and discharged through two turbines in a power house where current would be generated and transmitted to the transformer station in Hamilton. The first electricity was generated in August 1898. By 1905, 4 new generators had been added and by 1911, two more. Very soon, a total of seven penstocks were constructed, an extension was built onto the power house, and two new large reservoirs were created.

Glenridge Arch Bridge,
St. Catharines, Ontario, c1915

Residents of St. Catharines wanted to connect the downtown with a newly developing area called Glenridge situated across the old canal to the south. At a cost of $143,000, a new bridge (seen in the picture) situated at St. Paul and Ontario Streets carried its first cars on November 28, 1914. The bridge was designed to resemble a Roman viaduct with 13 reinforced concrete arches. Unfortunately, cracks began to appear in the bridge, and in 1953 and it was replaced with “The Fill”, an earthen berm. “The Fill” was replaced in 1980 with the bridge currently in use.

Military Convalescent Home at the corner of Yates and St. Paul Streets, St. Catharines, Ontario, c1918

William Hamilton Merritt moved to Upper Canada with his parents, Thomas and Mary, who settled at the Twelve Mile Creek in what was to become the village of St. Catharines. After attending various schools, some of them out of town, he returned to Upper Canada and began farming his father’s land. He also opened a general store, fought in the War of 1812, was captured and imprisoned, built a grist mill and a distillery, and promoted the idea of a canal linking lakes Ontario and Erie. Merritt married Catherine Prendergast in 1815. Their first home was destroyed by fire in 1858 so they built another at the same location on the corner of St. Paul Street West and Yates Street. This home, the one shown in the picture, was completed two years later. After Merritt’s death in 1862, Jedediah Merritt inherited the property and then in 1900, his granddaughter, Catherine Welland Merrit, took possession. During the First World War, Catherine let the government use the house as a military convalescent home for wounded soldiers.

A view from Glenridge Bridge showing the Canada Haircloth Company, c1918

James and Hugh McSloy incorporated The Canada Haircloth Company in 1884, and began the manufacture of Hair Cloths used for such purposes as lining in men’s suits. Over the first few years, their business grew quickly so they decided to purchase the site of the former Dolphin Manufacturing Company. They rebuilt their mill on this site, just below the centre of town and on the west end of the millrace, and moved into larger quarters in 1888. Their mill was originally run on water power drawn from the Welland Canal. Later, the brothers produced their own electricity from a water power generator. By 1910 a decision was made to expand again and the McSloys purchased what formerly was John Gibson’s Mill, plus two adjacent pieces of land. The new mill, as seen in the photograph, was ready just in time to produce the goods needed for uniform production during WWI.

St. Paul Street Business District looking east, c1908

The 12 Mile Creek and later the First and Second Welland Canals contributed to the development and growth of St. Paul Street in its early years. Their presence encouraged both shipbuilding and industry in the area. Many businesses, including banks, tailors, drug stores, butchers and grocers also started to spring up along both sides of the street. Many of the buildings were now made of brick. The electric streetcar was a popular means of travel at this time, and in the photograph you can see tracks running down the middle of St. Paul Street. The horse and buggy was also beginning to give way to early automobiles.

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