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Historic Sites Committee

Isaac Crouse



At the west end of the King Street footbridge and the east end of Becher Street, South Branch, Thames River, London, Ontario London, ON
42° 58' 49.98" N, 81° 15' 23.274" W
5 October 2003

More than 95 years after his death, the memory of Isaac Crouse, London’s pioneer bridge builder, lives on through the daily use of the structures he constructed.

Isaac Brock Crouse was born in 1825 in a log farmhouse on the second concession of Westminster Township, in present-day London, Ontario. As a young boy, he attended school with twenty other students in a log cabin near Pond Mills. To reach the little schoolhouse, Crouse had to trudge through the Township’s thick brush. His two main textbooks were an English reader and the Bible.

As a teenager Isaac Crouse had many encounters with the abundant local wildlife. Often he would be called to protect the family farm from the many bears that were present in the area at the time. Local legend also told that he chased a bear out of a King Street tavern and through downtown London.  Crouse commonly hunted deer and wild turkeys and fished the plentiful Thames River.

As an adult, Isaac Crouse went on to be a farmer, millwright, contractor and, most importantly, bridge builder. He learned the trade of bridge building while working for the Central Pacific Railroad in Nevada in the late 1860s. Upon his return to Canada, he built London’s first iron bridge in 1875, the Blackfriars Bridge.

This reinforced wrought-iron bowstring bridge spans the North Branch of the Thames River at Blackfriars Street.  During this period, the bridge was the primary link between the City of London and its surroundings. Other wooden bridges had preceded the iron Blackfriars Bridge, but none could withstand the frequent spring flooding. The wrought-iron structure was designed and fabricated by the Wrought Iron Bridge Company of Ohio, shipped to London and assembled under the supervision of Isaac Crouse.

Soon after its construction, the bridge became a landmark in the city of London, inspiring local artists and photographers. Its low parabolic chord enables the 212 feet bridge to be unsupported, giving the illusion that it floats above the Thames River. It is one of the few remaining bowstring bridges in Canada and is the oldest wrought-iron bridge in North America still used for vehicular traffic.

In addition to the Blackfriars Bridge, Isaac Crouse constructed other bridges and mills throughout London. He built the first dam at Springbank, and the superstructures and abutments for the Dundas, King, Oxford and Wellington Street bridges. He also constructed the first Meadowlilly bridge, then known as Meadow Lily, in southeast London. A second bridge, built by his son, Levi Crouse, later replaced this bridge.

After a successful career and having watched London grow from a small town to a city of 60,000 people, Isaac Crouse passed away on March 16, 1915. His many contributions as a London-area pioneer, contractor and bridge builder have led the London Public Library Board to recognize him by erecting an historic plaque in his honour in 2003.

Other historic plaques related to Isaac Crouse have been erected in the city, one at the site of the Blackfriars Bridge to commemorate the historical significance of London’s first iron bridge, and another at his last home, located on 77 Price Street.

The Brener Brothers Cigar Factory



184 Horton Street, London, Ontario (present site of the Boys and Girls Club) London, ON
42° 58' 46.92" N, 81° 14' 46.32" W
19 September 2001

Cigar manufacturing has a long and rich history in the London area. In the years before the First World War, London was the second largest producer of cigars in all of Canada, only slightly behind Montreal.

Prior to the beginning of Canadian cigar manufacturing, most of the cigars sold in Canada were imported from Germany. In the late 1800s, Otto E. Brener, a German immigrant residing in London, Ontario, began making his own cigars. Though it is unclear exactly when he began his operation, Brenner listed his occupation as a cigar maker as early as 1881.

His first business was located on the west side of Wellington Street between Bathurst and Horton. Brener worked out of this location for several years before moving his operation to the west side of Richmond Street, just south of King.

By 1886, he had once again relocated, this time to 384 Ridout Street, a former hotel and military garrison building. At the time of this move, Brener Brothers employed some thirty workers.

Over the next few decades, Brener’s cigar manufacturing would grow and thrive in the London area.

By 1891, Otto’s two sons, Otto E. and Arthur H., had joined him in the family business. As the company grew in size, Brener Brothers decided to relocate their cigar factory one final time to 184-190 Horton Street. It was at this location that Brener Brothers found their greatest success.

It has been estimated that London’s highest cigar production came in the years between 1910 and 1912.  Some accounts report that on average the city of London produced up to eighty million cigars during this time, a number that would drop to around twenty million in the years after the end of the First World War.

As one of London’s larger cigar producers at the time, Brener Brothers had expanded their workforce from thirty to two hundred and produced roughly ten million cigars in 1912.  Their success, however, would be short-lived, for the post-war years would see the decline and eventual closure of Brener Brothers.

The First World War saw the prohibition of the sale of alcohol of any kind, putting many bars, the main place cigars were sold, out of business. As well, after the War, cheaper cigarettes replaced cigars as the smoke of choice.

These events led to a downturn in cigar production and by 1922 the Brener Brothers Company was no more. In the 1970s, the Brener Brother’s former factory on Horton Street became the home of the Memorial Boys’ and Girls’ Club of London.

Engine 86



925 Dundas Street, Western Fairgrounds, Queen's Park, London, Ontario London, ON
42° 59' 27.9744" N, 81° 13' 12.5544" W
18 October 2000

Engine 86 was manufactured by the Canadian Locomotive Company in 1910. After 48 years of service with the Grand Trunk Railway and the Canadian National Railway, it was donated to the city in 1958, commemorating London’s 100 year history as a railway centre.

At the peak of operations in the 1940s, nearly 4,000 Londoners worked for the CNR, the CPR, and the London and Port Stanley Railway. Most of these workers were employed in the massive repair shops near the Western Fair Grounds.

By the 1960s, however, consolidation of operations in cities such as Toronto and the advent of diesel engines ended London’s role as a railway centre. Although many railway jobs were lost, General Motors of Canada later came to employ thousands of Londoners manufacturing diesel engines. This Mogul 2-6-0 locomotive was originally numbered GTR 1006, became CNR 908 in 1923, and 86 in 1952. In its last years, Engine 86 was used on a mixed passenger-freight line from Owen Sound to Palmerston.

After its donation to the city in 1958, it was necessary to move Engine 86 one mile from the CNR shops to Queen’s Park. This was achieved by using 60-foot sections of rail, which were moved from the rear to the front as the locomotive was pulled along with a winch. It was estimated that the move would take twelve hours. But the locomotive, once capable of travelling at 60 m.p.h., took four days to reach its destination.

The engine became an attraction for children. The Public Utilities Commission disabled its bell after late-night ringing awakened the neighbourhood, and sealed its smoke stack after a youngster was found sitting in it.

Engine 86 was almost moved to St. Thomas in 1980, but public opposition to this plan has kept it here. G. M. Diesel of Canada and other local partners, restored Engine 86 during the years 1996-99.

Elson Homestead



1057 Oxford Street West, London, Ontario London, ON
43° 0' 19.9152" N, 81° 13' 7.6944" W
14 October 1972

Joseph Elson was born in 1804 in Markham Township, the son of a Hessian soldier who had come to Canada after the American Revolution. His parents died when he was a small boy and he was raised by various relatives.

After working at farming, milling, whiskey- making, and pottery, Elson was granted 200 acres of land in the 1820’s in London Township by Colonel Thomas Talbot. He also bought 100 acres from the Canada Company on the north-east corner of Oxford Street and Hyde Park Sideroad in 1834. Elson is thought to have cleared single-handedly 81 acres of this land and to have built a log house and a pottery.

In the early years there was no church in the settlement. Neighbours would congregate here to sing hymns, accompanied by Mrs. Elson on the piano, and to listen to itinerant preachers.

In 1855, Elson built the present brick house in which his descendants lived for generations.

Peter Elson (son of Joseph and his wife, Samantha Hart) inherited the farm in 1860 and added another 180 acres. He served as a school trustee, Reeve of London Township, Warden of the County of Middlesex, and Member of Parliament for East Middlesex from 1904 to 1913.

His son, Paul, assumed ownership of the farm in 1903, built a new barn, and enlarged the house. Paul’s brother, Reverend Albert J. Elson, B.A., B.D., was educated at the Western University of London, Ontario and the University of Toronto. He spent 17 years as a missionary in China, and 23 years as a Presbyterian minister in Middlesex County.

Howard B. Elson, son of Paul, acquired the farm in 1936 and added two more farms to the property. He also served as a township councillor, Reeve of London Township, Warden of Middlesex County, Chairman of the London Township Planning Board, member of the London Township Police Commission, and of the East Middlesex High School Board.

Robert Elson, son of Howard, represented the fifth generation to live on this property.

Western Hotel



463 Richmond Street, London, Ontario London, ON
42° 59' 7.8468" N, 81° 15' 1.9296" W
10 March 1970

The Western Hotel pictured above opened in 1854, replacing an earlier hotel of the same name on another site, which had been destroyed by fire in 1850. The new hotel’s first proprietor was 21 year-old Peter McCann, an Edinburgh native. By 1855, the Western Hotel was considered to be one of six first-class hotels in London, along with the American Hotel,  the City Hotel, the Golden Ball, the Prospect House and the Robinson Hall.

London was experiencing a land boom created by the coming of the Great Western Railway in 1853. McCann, like hundreds of others, invested heavily in land. In the ensuing financial collapse of 1857, McCann lost everything, including ownership of his hotel.

The hotel served as a southern terminus of the London-Lucan stage coach lines, one of which was owned by William Donnelly. Bitter rivalry between these companies contributed to a long-standing feud, culminating on February 4, 1880 in the savage murder of five members of the Donnelly family in Biddulph Township.

No longer a first class establishment, the Western Hotel remained in operation until 1917 when James Washington Westervelt acquired the building and established his business school in the upper stories. The building was demolished in 1989, and an office and retail complex was then built on the site.

Toddle Inn



640 Richmond Street, London, Ontario London, ON
42° 59' 30.5736" N, 81° 15' 3.6324" W
21 August 1984

In 1891, Michael Cullen and Walter Milburn operated a blacksmith shop in the building that later housed the Toddle Inn.

William Lashbrook took over the shop in 1893, just as Richmond Street was about to undergo a transformation as electric trolleys and street lights replaced horse-drawn streetcars and oil lamps. New houses and businesses were being built, including Lashbrook`s home (now 642 Richmond Street) next to his blacksmith’s shop.

In1924 he leased the smithy to Richard Weir. Lashbrook died in 1938, but his wife Sarah retained ownership of the building until 1947, when she sold it to Charles W. Egleston.

Ironically just south of the blacksmith shop, a Cities Services Oil Company gas station had been established at the northeast corner of Hyman and Richmond streets as early as 1931. With the increased number of cars on the roads by the late 1940s, the need for blacksmithing declined.

Egleston converted the shop into a restaurant to cater to the bustling neighbourhood which included a bank, barber shop, coffee shop and grocery.

Egleston’s new enterprise, the Toddle Inn, opened as a modest establishment with a simple menu and a large, horseshoe-shaped counter. His customers were mostly single people and students. In later years, tables were added and the Toddle Inn expanded its menu to appeal to a broader clientele.

The Toddle Inn was operated by the Egleston family from 1947 to 2015.




329 St. George Street (at College Street), London, Ontario London, ON
43° 0' 0.4248" N, 81° 15' 28.8324" W
16 October 1970

Henry Corry Rowley Becher, builder of Thornwood, was born in London, England on June 5, 1817, son of Alexander Becher, a Royal Navy officer, and Frances Scott, daughter of the Anglican rector of Kingston and Port Royal. His family had interesting naval and literary connections. Henry’s cousin was the novelist William Makepeace Thackeray, and his brother Alexander was an admiral.

In 1835, Henry came to London and articled as a lawyer. His studies were interrupted by the 1837 Rebellion, and he took part in the destruction of the rebel ship “Caroline”, which was cut loose and sank in the Niagara River above the Falls.

Becher was called to the Bar in 1841, was made a Queen’s Counsel, and later gained a reputation for court duels with Edward Blake and Oliver Mowat. He was well connected with the local elite and invested successfully in banks, oil, railroads, real estate and toll roads. In 1882, he became a barrister of the Inner Temple in London, England.

Becher married Sarah Evanson Leonard, daughter of the Sheriff of Niagara, in 1841. The couple had seven children; their son, Henry Junior, was London’s mayor in 1885. Their original wooden house, Thornwood, was built in 1844 and burned in 1852. Becher replaced it with a brick design of his own which included Gothic and Tudor styles. The house is situated on high land overlooking the Thames River and its floodplain (now Gibbons Park). A verandah, added in 1856, contributes to its architectural and domestic charm.

Becher and his descendants entertained many dignitaries at Thornwood, including Sir Robert Borden, the young Winston Churchill who planted a birch tree in the yard, the Duke of Connaught, Sir John A. Macdonald and the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII). 

The White Ox Inn



495 Hamilton Road, London, Ontario London, ON
42° 58' 49.7172" N, 81° 13' 2.5428" W
29 September 1976

In 1819, Colonel Thomas Talbot located Tilley Hubbard and his family on the future site of the White Ox Inn. Settlement duties required Hubbard to build a dwelling within a year of receiving his property.  When London suffered the first of three cholera epidemics in 1832, Hubbard`s house was appropriated as a hospital. Most of its patients were poor immigrants since persons of means were treated in private homes. As many as 25 deaths may have occurred out of a population of 300. The victims were buried in the cemetery on the northwest corner of Dundas and Ridout streets.

In 1838, Samuel Parke bought this property and sold a two-acre lot in 1851 to George Pegler who “built” the White Ox Inn three years later.  It is not known whether Pegler’s building was a completely new structure or an expansion of the Hubbard home. Apparently the Inn was named for an ox that had collapsed in front of it. The location of the hotel was ideal, since Hamilton Road was a main thoroughfare into London. Legend has it that British troops from the London garrison stopped here in 1854 on their way to serve in the Crimean War.

In 1868, the hotel was sold to John Wilson, who had previously kept a hotel in the old Orange Hall at 267 Wellington Street. John Pegler (brother of George) operated a pottery business at the rear of the inn, and his son Anthony ran a successful florist business from greenhouses he had built on the property.

A street in the neighbourhood is named after the Pegler family.

In 1896, Robert Butterworth and his wife Betsy, who were dentists from England, bought the property. Their son Chris sold it in 1945 to Charles Garnett who ran a restaurant in the old inn. In 1961, the interior was damaged by fire.

After standing for over a century and a half, the Inn was demolished in 1982.

The Union School



391 King Street, south side between Colborne and Waterloo streets, London, Ontario London, ON
42° 59' 2.1228" N, 81° 14' 21.4764" W
12 August 1971

Prior to 1849, each of the city’s four wards had its own small school. The incorporation of London as a town in 1848 enabled the municipality to replace these with a union school. To mark the laying of the foundation stone on June 25, 1849, students and teachers of the ward schools marched from the market square to the new site where a ceremony was held.

The school opened in 1850 with three teachers and some 300 pupils, the ward students occupying separate classrooms. This arrangement was short lived as rivalries between groups resulted in many playground fights, and trustees directed that girls be dismissed early to allow them to get home safely. Later that year three women teachers joined the staff in the hope that they would be more effective at student discipline.

The school’s first headmaster, Nicholas Wilson, was chosen after a two-day oral interview attended by the trustees and interested citizens. Wilson taught for almost sixty years until his retirement in 1909 at the age of 76.

Examinations were held in mid-summer, and were public occasions where citizens could watch the exercises and listen to the performance of the students. When the Common and Grammar School Boards were amalgamated in 1865, the Union School was renamed the Central School and placed under the direction of Principal Benjamin Bayly.

In 1890, the now obsolete building was demolished and part of the site was subdivided into building lots. The London Free Press later said of the Union School that “the bricks that made up its walls are now the under layer of the walls of more than one fine residence in the city.” Colborne Street (later Alexandra) Public School opened on the site in 1912 and was demolished in 1984.  Highrise apartments now occupy the site. 

The East London Town Hall



795 Dundas Street, London, Ontario (present site of the Aeolian Hall) London, ON
42° 59' 26.4876" N, 81° 13' 29.5608" W
12 October 1972

The beginnings of London East can be traced to 1856 when Murray Anderson built a foundry at the city limits of London, which stimulated the development of a new industrial community.

After the discovery of oil in Lambton County in 1858, oil refineries were constructed east of Adelaide Street.

London East was incorporated as a village in 1874, and as a town in 1883. $40,000 was spent on waterworks, and construction began on a town hall.

Designed by architect George F. Durand, the building’s distinctive features include its central tower, mansard roof, and Second Empire Italianate windows. Since the town hall cost twice the original $7,000 estimate to build, London East could not afford to complete its waterworks.

In 1884, the Great Western Railway carshops were destroyed by fire, and the railway refused to rebuild until fire protection was guaranteed. Fearing the loss of industry and facing fiscal disaster, London East citizens, led by Mayor Charles Lilley, voted to amalgamate with London, thus making the new town hall redundant.

Over the years the building has served as a cigar factory, fire hall, Odd Fellows lodge, and school. Its auditorium has seen many musical performances. Around 1900 outdoor evening concerts and plays were held on stages and in tents set up behind the building. Travelling herb doctors promoting panaceas sponsored these events.

The first branch library of the London Public Library was located in this building from 1915 to 1926.

In 1969 the building was refurbished as the new site of Aeolian Hall. Today it is home to the Canadian National Conservatory of Music, and is used for arts-related events.