W.B. Allan – a St. Catharines’ Architect

William Allan - St. Catharines architectOn Thursday, May 22, Pat Menon reintroduced the Historical Society of St. Catharines to the life and work of former local architect William Bryson Allan.  Allan (1838 – 1911) was born in Scotland and immigrated to Canada in the 1850s.  After bouncing around Quebec and Ontario for a few years, he settled in St. Catharines in 1861 and started a furniture business with his family while also dabbling in undertaking, sewing machine sales and photography.  But it was apparent that Allan had a talent for architectural design.

St. Catharines Collegiate designed by W.B. AllanAllan’s first known design was the Riordan Mill in 1867.  In 1870, Allan married Isabella Dougan who was the daughter of a successful local builder.  Now with contractors, furniture makers and an architect in the family, the Allan’s and Dougan’s formed a formitable business team.  From there he did not look back.  Chronologically, some of Allan’s designs include: St. Paul’s Ward School (1871), Central School on Court Street (1872), First Presbyterian Church (1872), the expansion of the family furniture factory (1875), St. James Ward School (1876),  and St. Andrew’s Ward School (1883).  Other designs included the Protestant Orphans’ Home, Grantham Academy / St. Catharines Collegiate, St. Thomas Ward School, Merritton Cotton Mill, the R.H. Smith Company (saw works), the Oddfellows Hall, and the Merritton Town Hall.  From the late 1860s to 1900, Allan was quite prolific in St. Catharines. 

Allan’s last design was Memorial Hall in Niagara-on-the-Lake which opened in 1907.  Memorial Hall was the first building in Ontario designed specifically to be a historical museum.  The museum celebrated its 100th anniversary just last summer. 

While other local architects such as Tully, Latshaw, Dorr, Wiley and Badgley often receive more praise for establishing the architectural character of St. Catharines, it is important to remember the other architects like William Allan who added significant and memorable works of brick and mortar within our city.

John Burtniak sheds light on some “Vanished Villages”

On April 24, Historical Society President John Burtniak delivered an entertaining and enlightening presentation on some of the vanished villages in the Niagara area.  With a combination of facts, anecdotes and images, the Society learned about the humble beginnings of these villages, an idea of their econonic and social peaks, a good reasoning for their decline and disappearance and view of the area today and what evidence may remain.  Here is a recap of some of the villages covered in John’s talk:

Rittenhouse School, Jordan HarbourJordan Harbour – Located along Lake Shore Road and on the Twenty Mile Creek, this village was primarily a cottage community but at its height boasted a post office, railroad station, school, town hall, stores, warehouses and more.  The construction of the Queen Elizabeth’s Way (QEW) appropriated enough land to effectively end Jordan Harbour’s time as an independent community.

Silverdale Station – Situated along the Toronto, Hamilton & Buffalo Railway, this village grew from being merely a grain loading stop on the rail line to include a general store (complete with a post office and agricultural cooperative), a church and a school. 

Shipyards / Miller’s Bay – A planned community along the Niagara River established by the Canadian Shipbuilding Company in 1903.  The Company built an impressive shipbuilding yard in Miller’s Bay and provided lodging houses for its employees.  Along with a number of these boarding homes, Shipyards also had a hotel, railroad station and a post office.  In 1913, the post office changed its name to Miller’s Bay and so did the community.  When the Company left the area, the village diminished soon afterwards.

Basics of St. Johns from Page\'s 1876 mapSt. Johns on the Short Hills – Probably the village with the greatest potential to be something bigger, it was established early by Benjamin Camby and John Darling around 1790.  Camby immediately established a saw mill.  Soon afterwards, St. Johns became a prominent industrial village complete with grist mills, fulling mill, woolen mills, iron foundry, potashery, tannery, brickyard, schools, churches and a post office.  The fate of the village took a sour turn with the opening of the Welland Canal which drew away people and commerce.  The final blow was when the railroads were constructed and no lines were built through St. Johns. 

Basics of Caistor Centre from Page\'s 1876 mapSome other vanished or severely diminished villages noted included: Decewtown, Reynoldsville, Power Glen, Thorold South, Window Village, Homer, Stromness, Blackhorse Corners, Netherby, Candisville, Brookfield Station, White Pigeon and Caistor Center.

With so much potential and promise, it makes one wonder what our current villages, towns and cities will be like 100 years from now.

This was also the Society’s annual general meeting.  It was a very good year for the Society.  There are about 180 active members in the Society.  All reports were positive and we are moving forward with good programmes and direction.  2008 / 2009 promises to be another excellent year.  The Society’s Executive remains the same from last year.  See who the Executive are under the Executive tab at the top of this page.

There is a special gathering for the Historical Society of St. Catharines on May 10 at 11:00 a.m. for the annual Oille Fountain Potting Ceremony.  As well, the Society will be part of the official historical designation ceremony for the old Grantham Town Hall in downtown St. Catharines – not far from where the potting will take place.  All are welcome to attend.  See more details under the Special Events tab.

The next regular meeting of the Society is on May 22 at the St. Catharines Museum at 7:30 p.m.  Pat Menon will be presenting on W.B. Allan – a St. Catharines’ Architect. 

April 24 Meeting – Some Vanished Villages of Niagara –

Generations ago, there were villages throughout Niagara that held much promise for the future.  They had general stores, schools, churches, mills and more.  Fast forward 100 years and some of these villages are not even on a modern day map.  Perhaps merely a footnote in a history book.  What happened to these villages?  Why did they disappear?  And what evidence is left of their existence?

Join the St. Catharines Historical Society on April 24 at 7:30 in the St. Catharines Museum to hear Society President John Burtniak reveal the fate of these villages of yesteryear.

Historical Documentary Preview – “Echo of the Future: A Tale of Sunnyvale”

On Thursday, June 5 at 7:30 p.m. in the Mills Room at the St. Catharines Central Public Library, the Historical Society and the Library will be sponsoring the preview of the DVD “Echo of the Future: A Tale of Sunnyvale” .  This 47 minute film tells the story of Sunnyvale (Silicon Valley), California’s early radio manufacturing industry and the Bessey family.  The Besseys lived in St. Catharines before moving out to California and making it big and our city is part of the film.  Please join us.

For more information on the film, visit the film’s blog at http://www.echoofthefuture.com/.

The Naming of the Niagara Townships

On Thursday night (March 27), the Society was treated to another information packed presentation by Professor Alun Hughes. 

Portrait of Colonel John Graves Simcoe, ca. 1881Entitled “‘Lord’ Simcoe, Lady Godiva and the Naming of the Niagara Townships”, the talk looked at how many of the townships, towns and other landmarks in the Niagara Peninsula and throughout Ontario were named during the tenure of Lieutenant Governor John Simcoe in the 1790s.  Beginning with a wide view of all Upper Canada, Alun demonstrated that many of the counties in Upper Canada were named directly after the counties along the eastern coast of England – starting with Kent all the way through Northumberland.  The Niagara Peninsula was given the name Lincoln County after Lincolnshire County in England.  As such, many of the place names within Lincoln County can find their roots in Lincolnshire – examples: Gainsborough, Grantham, Grimsby, Louth, Newark (now Niagara-on-the-Lake), Saltfleet, Stamford and the Welland River.  Other place names stem from influential individuals and families from the time like Sir John Thorold, the Pelham family and Clinton Family.  Still more names were to come much later or were derived from contemporary First Nation place names.

One of the most interesting findings to come from Alun’s presentation was the discovery that Simcoe’s reputation of not being in favour of First Nation place names is false according to surviving evidence.  For generations, Simcoe has carried a legacy for changing established First Nation names to English names such as Toronto being changed to York and Niagara being changed to Newark.  Alun proved that the shift to these new place names had occurred prior to Simcoe’s appointment as Lieutentant Governor.  Plus, Simcoe was more apt to change place names of French and German origins rather than First Nation.  More importantly to this area, Simcoe openly advocated that Newark be renamed Niagara later in his term.  The English government agreed and adopted this change. 

Alun proved once again that there are a lot of errors in our history that are taken as fact after years of retelling and misinterpretation.  With sound research and use of good evidence, these local myths can be corrected.

Next month’s presentation will feature John Burtniak speaking on “Vanished Villages in Niagara” – April 24.