St. Catharines from Confederation to 2017

The Great Depression and the Second World War brought about many changes in Canada during the 1930 to 1960 time period. Our country was hit hard by the Depression. Part of the government’s response to these have-not years was the creation of make-work projects with the hope that they would help generate employment. It was not until the start of the Second World War that the country was finally pulled out of the depression. The end of the Second World War marked an economic upswing and a rise in demand for the automobile. Pre-war methods of transportation came to an end. Canada enjoyed a time of economic boom and expansion.

St. Catharines was not immune to the effects of the depression. Several make-work projects were started in the area to help increase employment. Some of these projects included the construction of a new city hall and the creation of a new highway later to be called the Queen Elizabeth Way. With the onset of the Second World War, factory work increased and the decline of the electric streetcar system was forestalled. The Lincoln and Welland Regiment and the 10th Field Battery both sent men to fight in the war. Their service is now reflected on the St. Catharines Cenotaph. The end of the war brought about its own changes. The ferry service that existed between Toronto and Port Dalhousie ended in 1950 with the sale of the S.S. Dalhousie City, and the streetcar service in the city was finally terminated. The age of the car had arrived. At this time, St. Catharines entered a period of economic boom. The Port Weller Dry Docks opened, new schools and hospitals were built and work on various civic projects had begun.

The “Lemoyne” passing through the Homer Bridge on the Welland Ship Canal,
St. Catharines, Ontario c1940

The S.S. Lemoyne was chosen to officially mark the opening of the Welland Ship Canal on August 6, 1932. At that time, it was the largest freighter on the Great Lakes at 633 Feet. The Welland Ship Canal was built to replace the Third Welland Canal after it became too small for the ships needing to pass through it. New bridges had to be built across the canal including Bridge 4, also known as the Homer Bridge. This bridge was named after the town of Homer, which was split in half by the construction of the Welland Ship Canal. The Homer Bridge caused traffic bottlenecks on the QEW whenever a ship passed through until the construction of the Garden City Skyway.

Queen Elizabeth Way – Bridge section over Henley near the Ontario Street intersection,
St. Catharines, Ontario, c1955

After the passage of Canada’s Highway Act, studies were done and it was decided to build a four lane highway from Toronto to Fort Erie. The construction of the highway and its bridges helped generate employment during the Depression. Many bridges needed to be built in order to cross various bodies of water along the route of the highway. The bridge over the 12 Mile Creek and the Henley was designed by the Bridge office of the Department of Highways of Ontario under Chief Bridge Engineer Arthur Sedgewick. The design of this bridge received special treatment due to the recreational nature of Martindale Pond and the Henley Course. In the middle of the bridge, the median was filled with a statue. The statue was built to resemble a Viking boat adorned with lion statues, and gunwales served as guardrails. The bridge was built between 1937 and 1939, and opened in 1939 at a ceremony attended by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. The bridge commemorates the first time a reigning monarch of Great Britain had visited Canada during their reign.

Municipal Building (City Hall),
50 Church Street, St.
Catharines, Ontario, c1940’s

A new city hall was constructed to replace the former city hall, originally the home of James Rae Benson, a senator. Benson’s home was sold to the city in 1878, and by the late 1920s, the building had been outgrown. There was an attempt to build a new city hall in 1929, however, the proposal was voted down partially due to the cost of construction. The city again proposed construction in 1934, and this time was successful. Part of the success was due to the economy of the new building – reusing limestone from the locks of the abandoned Welland Canal. Another plus for the new building was the employment that the construction would create – a boon during the Great Depression. The old city hall was demolished and construction began in 1936 with the new building opening in 1937.

War Memorial, St. Paul Street West,
St. Catharines, Ontario, c1960

In 1921, there was a proposal to erect a cenotaph as a memorial to World War I on property near the corner of St. Paul Street West and Yates Street. The project began with fundraising for construction in 1924. The cenotaph was designed and erected by the McIntosh Marble and Granite Company and was unveiled in August 1927. The Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII and then the Duke of Windsor) laid the first wreath when he was passing through St. Catharines on tour. Originally there was a reflecting pool in front of the cenotaph. However, as can be seen in the image, the pool was removed in March of 1942. Since the cenotaph was built, conflicts that originated after World War I have been added to the monument including World War II, the Korean War, The United Nations Peacekeepers, and the Canadian Merchant Navy.

Port Weller Dry Docks,
St. Catharines, Ontario, c1960

The Port Weller Dry Docks, built during the Welland Ship Canal’s construction, are located at Lock 1. In 1946, a group of Canadian businessmen, headed by Charles A. Answell, arranged to take control of the dry docks as Port Weller Dry Docks Ltd. In 1956, the docks were again sold to Upper Lakes Shipping Limited. In 1986, after many years of building and repairing ships, Upper Lake Shipping joined with the Canadian Steamship Lines, owner of Canadian Shipbuilding and Engineering Ltd. Port Weller Dry Docks were now operated by CSE, but by 2006, they filed for bankruptcy. In 2007, Seaway Marine & Industrial moved in and began to operate the dry docks, but they also filed for bankruptcy protection in 2013. The Port Weller Dry Docks have been mainly empty since then.

The steamer “S.S. Dalhousie City” arriving at Lakeside Park,
Port Dalhousie, Ontario, c1940’s

The S.S. Dalhousie City was a day passenger steamer that sailed between Port Dalhousie and Toronto. The ship, built in 1911, initially sailed with the “Garden City” and then later with the “Northumberland”. These ships were part of the transportation network of the Niagara, St. Catharines and Toronto Railway Co., which also included the electric train system that connected cities and towns in Niagara. The S.S. Dalhousie City would sail to Port Dalhousie, delivering passengers to Lakeside Park, and the train network would transport them to places including Niagara Falls and Welland. In 1949, when the “Northumberland” burned at the dock in Port Dalhousie, the S.S. Dalhousie became the only ship to transport passengers. In 1950, due to declining demand, the ship was removed from service and the ferry service eventually stopped.

NS&T Lightweight City Car #312 returning to St. Catharines from Port Dalhousie, October 5, 1948

The Niagara, St. Catharines & Toronto Railway began in 1899 when it acquired the St. Catharines & Niagara Central Railway. Controlling interest in the railway exchanged hands several times but in 1917, the NS&T was acquired by the Dominion Government and placed under the control of Canadian National Railway. The CNR began to improve the rail system, and tracks in St. Catharines were updated in 1925 with the latest technology. However, the electric rail service began to decline after the introduction of a more efficient bus service in 1929 and the growing popularity of the automobile. By 1939, all St. Catharines local lines – except Port Dalhousie – had been cancelled. There was a brief resurgence of rail service during Second World War to help conserve material, but after the war, rail service was permanently ended. The last street car run in St. Catharines was from the Port Dalhousie Line in 1950.

Aerial view of the Riding and Driving Club,
377 Queenston St.,
St. Catharines, Ontario, c1945

The St. Catharines Riding and Driving Club used to put on horse shows. Their first show took place in 1927, and in 1928, the club moved to the recently-purchased showgrounds located north of Queenston Street and east of Hartzel Road. Yearly horse shows were held on the grounds throughout the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. In 1957, when the Kiwanis Club came on board, the show became known as the Kiwanis Horse Show. In 1964, the club moved to the Garden City Raceway, near Glendale Avenue and the QEW. The former showgrounds were sold and the land was portioned into several different purposes including housing developments, Kernahan Park Secondary school (now Jeanne Sauve French Immersion Public School), and Kernahan Park.

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