St. Catharines from Confederation to 2017

There were so many newsworthy events that helped to shape Canada during 1990 – 2017. In 1990, it was announced that Canada was in recession and in 1996, most Provinces made known that there would be huge spending cuts in order to balance budgets. On September 16, 2004, hockey players went on strike and that year became known as the year without hockey. Cultural groups from across the country came together in April of 2010 to announce the creation of Cultural Days. This entailed weekends set aside in September that allowed visual artists, writers, and musicians to showcase their work. In 2007 and 2008, the world also experienced, probably, the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression. This crisis originated in the United States but its effects were felt globally. North American car manufacturers became one of its victims.

Locally, in the 1990’s, we saw the destruction of the Opera House in St. Catharines, as well as the old Port Mansion in Port Dalhousie. There was also the Ontario Ministry of Transportation move from Toronto to St. Catharines, which provided far fewer jobs than first announced. In the 2000’s, General Motors on Ontario Street closed its doors. However, despite these disappointments, there were many positive things happening in St. Catharines. A new arena was built, Brock University collaborated with the city to build both a new Performing Arts Centre and School of Fine and Performing Arts, and a new Burgoyne Bridge was constructed. Sometimes the old was even combined with the new as is evidenced in the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts.

The Meridian Centre,
St. Catharines, Ontario, 2017

During the 2010 municipal election, the aging Jack Gatecliff Arena was one of the topics of discussion. The arena was more than 70 years old, out of date, and the Niagara Ice Dogs, who played in the arena, were threatening to leave the city. In 2011, after many heated debates, St. Catharines city council voted to build a new arena on the lower level parking lot off of McGuire Street. The Meridian Credit Union was awarded the naming rights after a $5.23 million dollar donation in 2013. Ground was broken in 2012 with construction finishing in 2014. The grand opening of the new arena complex was held on October 22, 2014.

FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre,
St. Catharines, Ontario, 2017

In the late 1990s, various community groups proposed building a performing arts centre in St. Catharines. Different locations were suggested as possible construction sites, including the old court house and the former First United Church. However, in 2006, the city began talks with Brock University about the feasibility of a partnership for a Performing Arts Centre and a new location for Brock’s School of Performing Arts in the downtown area. Various user groups, including dancers, singers, musicians, artists and actors, were asked to provide input. A design by Diamond and Schmitt Architects was approved in 2011, and construction began in 2013. The grand opening for the Performing Arts Centre was November 14-15, 2015.

Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts,
St. Catharines, Ontario, 2017

In 2007, after operating for many years in St. Catharines, the Canada Hair Cloth Factory shut its doors. Soon after its closure, the site was proposed as a possible location for a new School of Performing Arts for Brock University. Brock had been collaborating with the city to develop a School of Performing Arts and a Performing Arts Centre. The city expropriated the former factory and the land that it sat on for the project. Marilyn I. Walker, a fibre artist and philanthropist, donated $15 Million Dollars in support of the Performing Arts School. The design of the new school connected the old with the new, the former factory with the new Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts building. The design made use of the factory’s brick, wooden and steel beams, and large windows. Construction began in 2013 and the school was opened in 2015.

The Grand Opera House/Dorado Lanes and Peninsula Press,
St. Catharines, Ontario, March 1992

In the latter half of the 1800s, it was determined that St. Catharines needed a new and larger place to hold concerts and plays. J.P. Merritt sold property to the Academy of Music who constructed a 1200 seat auditorium. The theatre, originally known as the Academy of Music, opened in 1877 and became known as the Grand Opera House or “The Grand”. The building was a combination of theatre, business and residential space. It was almost gutted by fire in 1896 but was rebuilt a year later. Another fire in 1926 destroyed the theatre portion of the building and this time it was not rebuilt. The building was eventually reconstructed into three levels of bowling alleys called Dorado Lanes. Dorado Lanes closed their doors to business in 1991. In 1992, a third fire destroyed the front of the complex. The destroyed portion was torn down right away (the picture shows the building just before it was torn down) with the rest following in 1998.

The dismantling of the Ontario Street General Motors plant, 2017

General Motors had its beginnings as the McKinnon and Mitchell Hardware Company carriage and wagon builders. McKinnon dissolved his partnership with Mitchell in 1888 and took over the company. He then decided to expand production to include metal pieces for carriages. In 1901, McKinnon moved operations to a 43-acre site on Ontario Street and the company became known as McKinnon Dash and Metal Works Limited. After the First World War, McKinnon decided to manufacture automobiles. McKinnon Dash and Metal Works was purchased by General Motors in 1929 and became a subsidiary of the larger company. Production continued to grow throughout the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. However, rolling layoffs began in the 1970s, and signaled a slow decline in General Motors presence in the city. General Motors wound down production in 2010 at the Ontario Street Plant and the site was sold in 2015 to the Bayshore Group. Demolition on the property began in 2016.

Ontario Ministry of Transportation
building under construction, c1996

In July of 1990, Ontario’s Liberal Government announced its plan to build a new Ministry of Transportation building in St. Catharines rather than in Toronto. Demolition at the St. Paul Street location chosen for the MTO began in 1993, followed by the ground breaking ceremony in 1994. The first wave of employees began working in the building in October of 1995, with a second group arriving in 1996. When the building was proposed, the government claimed that 1400 jobs would be coming to St. Catharines. Unfortunately, with provincial government cutbacks, there were not as many jobs available as initially promised. The building now houses the MTO, other government ministries, and private sector businesses.

St. George’s Anglican Church,
St. Catharines, Ontario, 2017

St. George’s Anglican Church is considered to have been established in 1792 when Reverend Robert Addison arrived in Niagara. As soon as he started to visit the Twelve Mile Creek for services, the religious gatherings in homes became more organized. Their first official church building was established in 1769. The church, not known as St. George’s at the time, served as a church for several denominations. The Canadian Wesleyans bought it in 1935 and the former congregation began building a new church on Academy Street – present day Church Street. It was at this time that the church began to be referred to as St. George’s. Services were still held at the old church before it was destroyed by fire and at the Grantham Academy (present day Niagara Folk Arts Multicultural Centre) until the new building was ready in 1840. St. George’s has grown and expanded over the years and now celebrates its 225th Anniversary.

Port Mansion, Port Dalhousie, Ontario, c1991

The Port Mansion, formerly located at 12 Lakeshore Road in Port Dalhousie, began as two separate buildings. The first, a hotel, was built by Nathan Pawling. The second, both a home and a rooming house, was constructed by Bernard McGrath. In 1903, Sam Houston purchased the hotel and later, in 1936, was able to combine both buildings and rename it the Union Hotel. Port Hotel Ltd. bought that building in 1953 and they, in turn, sold it to Donatelli Productions Ltd. In 1979, Donatelli closed the Port Hotel, gutted it and opened up the Port Mansion Restaurant. The Port Mansion underwent various renovations throughout its years in operation, but around 1997, it was announced that it was re-opening as a theatre/restaurant. In 2012, the building was demolished to make way for a new condominium development, which actually never got off the ground. The image shows the Port Mansion as it was around the early 1990’s

The new Burgoyne Bridge,
St. Catharines, Ontario, 2017

St. Catharines had, for a number of years, wanted a high level bridge that would connect the downtown with West St. Catharines. In January of 1915, work finally began on a bridge that would extend from the end of St. Paul Street, over the Twelve Mile Creek valley, and join with the west side of the city. That first high level bridge (later called the Burgoyne Bridge) officially opened to traffic on December 18, 1915. In 2009, the Burgoyne Bridge underwent an inspection and it was determined that the bridge was beyond the point of rehabilitation. After consideration of the heritage value of the bridge, environmental assessments, and emergency repairs, construction of a replacement bridge began on March 3, 2014. The design chosen for the bridge was an above-deck arch bridge as seen in the photo.

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