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Historic Sites Committee

Thames River



331 Thames Street, Ivey Park, just above the dock at the Forks of the Thames River, London, Ontario London, ON
42° 58' 53.0508" N, 81° 15' 24.048" W
1 June 1997

The history of the Thames River can be traced back more than 15,000 years to its origins as a spillway for water melting from retreating glaciers.

Around 7,500 B.C., aboriginal peoples migrated to this area, attracted by abundant fish and game. Centuries later, Neutral tribes lived along this river they called Askunessippi, (antlered river).

French fur traders called it La Tranche (the ditch), and Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe renamed it the Thames. In 1793, he designated the Forks of the Thames as the future site of the capital of Upper Canada.

It was not until the 1820s that substantial settlement began along the river. The Thames became a transportation route, source of power for mills, and provided water for domestic and industrial use. The picturesque shoreline attracted prominent Londoners to build large estates along the Thames, such as Eldon House and Thornwood.

The river was popular for boating, from competitive rowing to steamboat excursions. The most tragic incident on the Thames was the sinking of the steamer “Victoria” on May 24, 1881, which claimed 182 lives.

The Thames has long been a subject for artists, from early British topographers such as James Hamilton, to later painters like Jack Chambers and William Lees Judson.

By the mid-twentieth century, industrial development along the river had rendered the area polluted and unsightly. In the 1960s, a civic renewal programme was begun to convert the river lands to recreational areas with parks, gardens, walking trails, and bicycle paths.

Today, most of London’s 2,800 acres of parkland is along the Thames River.

Talbot Street School



600 Talbot Street, London, Ontario London, ON
42° 59' 21.1236" N, 81° 15' 15.9372" W
18 May 1973

In June 1858, Common School trustees purchased a lot on Talbot Street for a new school from pioneer London resident, William Kent. Later the same year, a two-room frame school was built to accommodate the overflow of children from the old Union School on King Street. In 1865, 114 boys and 95 girls were in attendance.

By 1882, the old school was seen as grossly inadequate and was replaced by a two-storey brick building with four large classrooms. On a wintry school day in 1892, the building caught fire. According to the firehall diary, problems arose when the fire hydrant was found frozen. A second fire wagon arrived, but by this time the roof had fallen in and two firemen were injured. The evening London Free Press reported that although the school had been gutted, all 500 children had escaped, thanks to fire drill training.

Even before the fire was extinguished, the school board had met and arranged for students to attend class in the First Methodist Church, the London Collegiate Institute and the Park Avenue Presbyterian Church. The rebuilding of the school was finished in time for September classes.

Talbot Street School housed London’s first kindergarten, and also its first Mothers’ Club in 1905. This club aided the establishment of nursing services and welfare projects in the schools.

For many years this school served the finest residential area of London. Among its pupils were children of well-known London families such as Calder, Carling, Gillespie, Gunn, Harris, Ivey, Kingsmill, Labatt, Meredith, Reid, and Westervelt. One pupil, Frank Gahan was later Magistrate for the Channel Island of Guernsey; Floy Lawson married Duncan MacArthur, Minister of Education in the Hepburn government; and Benny Wilson became a Rhodes scholar.  Twenty Talbot students gave their lives in the First World War and eleven in the Second World War.

Talbot Street School was demolished in 1981. Condominiums now occupy the site.

Sulphur Spring Bathing House



Forks of the Thames River, London, Ontario, near 1 Dundas Street London, ON
42° 58' 54.6204" N, 81° 15' 21.2004" W
29 May 1999

When prospectors were drilling for oil near Dundas Street and the Thames River in the late 1850s, a huge gush of sulphur water shot to a height of 400 feet. Commercial interests quickly became involved, and in 1868 Charles Dunnett opened a Victorian health spa, the Ontario White Sulphur Springs.

Londoners patronized the spring and its healing waters to aid in the treatment of various ailments, and enjoyed drinking water bottled from it. Taking advantage of the city’s excellent railway connections, clients came from as far as the southern United States to visit the spa, often staying at the nearby Tecumseh Hotel. American tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt visited in 1869 and, apparently rejuvenated, married his divorced first cousin twice removed, Frank Armstrong Crawford (for such was her unusual name), on August 20th in the Tecumseh Hotel.

The sulphur water originated from a 1000 foot deep aquifer that could supply one million gallons a day. The baths could be taken in a variety of forms, including shower, sitting, and spray. The water issued from the spring at 45 degrees Fahrenheit and was then heated by a furnace, which allowed bathing at any desired temperature.

The 1892 Guide to the City of London describes how “the bathing house and lovely park surrounding it . . . have been fitted up in a way to commend ‘The Springs’ to both sexes. The women’s baths are entirely secluded and a matron is constantly in attendance. The men are also cared for by a competent superintendent. The large swimming tank is admirably adapted not only to the needs of the expert swimmer, but also to the beginner, the depth of the water being regulated by means of a graded floor, from a few inches to several feet. Gymnastic appliances are at hand, and these with convenient dressing rooms and courteous attendants make up all that is required.”

The bathing house operated for 38 years, closing in 1906. 

St. Peter's Rectory



196 Dufferin Avenue, London, Ontario London, ON
42° 59' 12.876" N, 81° 14' 56.2164" W
28 June 1972

St. Peter’s Rectory was built in 1870-72 to serve as the Bishop’s Palace of the Roman Catholic Diocese of London.

Designed by London City Engineer, William Robinson, it was a handsome, white brick building with a Mansard roof and the classical proportions of the Second French Empire style combined with Gothic window and door details.  Its construction was supervised by John Walsh, Bishop of London from 1869 to 1889 and Archbishop of Toronto from 1889 to 1898. Walsh also directed the building of the present St. Peter’s Cathedral from 1880 to 1885.

From 1873 until 1913, St. Peter’s Rectory was the residence of four bishops: John Walsh, Dennis O’Connor, Fergus McEvay, and Michael Francis Fallon.

St. Peter’s Seminary was established in the rectory in 1912, and the Bishop and his staff moved to a new residence, Blackfriar’s, a Neo-Georgian mansion overlooking the Thames River and Blackfriar’s Bridge. The rectory then housed the cathedral priests, the seminary’s seven professors, and 31 students.

In 1917, the cathedral priests moved to a house on Talbot Street, and then to one on Kent Street. They returned to the rectory in 1921 when the philosophy (pre-theological) students moved to the old Labatt home on Queens Avenue. The professors and theological students remained at the rectory until 1926 when the present St. Peter’s Seminary was built on Waterloo Street.

Over the years many have contributed to the maintenance and restoration of the rectory. In 1948-49 Monsignor J. Feeney restored and elegantly redecorated the interior. Feeney and Bishop John C. Cody also completed St. Peter’s Cathedral in 1958-59 by adding tops to the towers. The rectory was demolished in 2004.

Site of Woodfield 1846 - 1968



580 Dundas Street, London, Ontario (present site of Cronyn Gardens) London, ON
42° 59' 19.7268" N, 81° 13' 54.9552" W
23 July 1970

The Pines, later known as Woodfield, was one of only two stone houses in the London area in the mid-nineteenth century. Its builder, Rev. Benjamin Cronyn, and his wife, Margaret Anne Bickerstaff, arrived in the area in 1832.

A native of Ireland, Rev. Cronyn received his M.A. from Trinity College, Dublin. From 1836 to 1842, he was rector of St. John’s, Arva and St. Paul’s, London. After 1842, he moved his family to York Street in London. In 1845, he purchased land between William and Adelaide Streets, an area wooded with large white pines.

Cronyn built his house after 1845, using stone from the Thames River and black walnut and pine for the woodwork. The wall stone was cut into smooth blocks and the windows were fitted with heavy walnut shutters. The house had two large chimneys and twelve fireplaces. Its finished cellar served as sleeping quarters for male servants, and as an area for candle-making and meat-curing.

Verschoyle, one of the seven Cronyn children, later wrote about life at The Pines in his reminiscences of early London, Other Days. He recalled his father’s fireside tales, as well as walking home alone at night while being wary of possible encounters with bears, as the area was still quite wild at the time. Other occasions he described included the funeral of his eldest brother, Tom (a student at King’s College), and the wedding of his sister, Jane, whose nuptial breakfast was served on the verandah.

The Pines was sold in 1853 to J. B. Strathy, the Customs Collector, and in 1884 to Charles Murray, manager of the Federal Bank of London.  In 1887, the property was bought by John Labatt, who gave it to his daughter Amelia in 1892, on her marriage to Hume Cronyn. She renamed the house Woodfield. The house later passed to her daughter, Katherine Harley, who lived there until 1967.

It was demolished the following year. 

Siddall House, 1184 Hamilton Road



1184 Hamilton Road, London, Ontario London, ON
42° 58' 30.18" N, 81° 10' 28.5564" W
10 June 1995

John Siddall (1782-1870) and his wife, Diana Rowden, natives of London England, moved to the Gore of London Township in 1818, taking up 160 acres of Crown land, lots 7 in Concessions A & B. By 1820, Siddall had built this house which still stands, one of the oldest in the area.

In 1824, Siddall was commissioned in the 4th Division of the Middlesex Militia as a lieutenant.

Westminster Township settlers who had been active Masons before coming to the district petitioned the Kingston Convention on November 4, 1820 to form a new Masonic lodge. Mount Moriah, No. 773, began operating in 1820 under a dispensation granted by the Convention. It was continued in 1822 by warrant of the second Provincial Grand Master, Simon McGillvray, Chief Factor of the North West [fur trading] Company of Montreal.

From 1820 to 1829, Siddall House was the meeting place of Mount Moriah, the first Masonic lodge established in the London District. The first extant minutes from a meeting on May 12, 1829 recorded John Siddall as Worshipful Master.

In 1831, Welsh settlers in northwest London Township persuaded Siddall to relocate to the Lobo/London Township line and operate a mill on Nairn Creek. This mill became a great asset to settlers in the area as the nearest grist mill was in Kilworth, twelve miles to the south.  In addition to the mill, a blacksmith’s shop, distillery, hotels, stores, and a wagon shop were built, forming the hamlet of Siddallsville.

After Siddall moved to Lobo, the Mount Moriah Lodge met in various taverns: Joseph Flanagan’s and Swartz’ on Commissioners Road, Hartwell’s on York Street, and the Mansion House Hotel on Dundas Street.

The lodge was placed under great stress by the Rebellion of 1837, as many members were involved on both sides of the conflict.

Mount Moriah formally disbanded in 1847 after several members, including John Siddall, joined St. John’s Lodge 209 in London.

The Norton Attawandaron Village



150 Chelsea Avenue, Kensal Park, London, Ontario (north side off Springbank Park) London, ON
42° 57' 45.7488" N, 81° 17' 5.5572" W
23 April 1994

Since 1939, archaeologists postulated that a native settlement existed here centuries ago. The Norton Attawandaron Village was discovered in 1988 during an environmental assessment for a PUC pipeline. The site is believed to have been occupied in the late Woodland period, from about 1400 to the early 1500s, although Attawandarons are thought to have come to this area more than 1000 years ago.

By 1400, there had been three major settlements in the London area. It is likely that the inhabitants of the Norton site were Attawandarons as were the occupants of the Lawson Prehistoric Village site in northwest London.  Attawandarons were also known as Neutrals because they tried to avoid involvement in the wars prevalent between the Hurons and the Iroquois. Remaining neutral would prove difficult, since the warring factions lay both to the north and south of the Thames River.

This village consisted of nine longhouses sheltering between 500 and 1000 occupants. Artifacts found here have included carbonized corn kernels, clay pipes, deer antlers and potsherds. These natives were largely agrarian. They surrounded their village with palisades of poles to protect the settlement from periodic attacks, most likely by bands of Iroquois. Competition created by the early fur trade was one factor behind Iroquois attacks on the Attawandarons and Hurons during this period.

After centuries of farming and hunting in the Thames River district, the Neutrals left the area in the sixteenth century, moving east toward present-day Hamilton. There, for a time, they formed part of a powerful Neutral confederacy. This confederacy was dispersed in the mid-seventeenth century, after repeated attacks by the Five Nations Iroquois (Cayugas, Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas and Senecas), who had moved north from the present New York State area.

No. 4 Fire Station



807 Colborne Street, London, Ontario London, ON
42° 59' 57.8436" N, 81° 14' 47.9148" W
13 October 1979

In 1842, two years after London’s incorporation as a village, its citizens organized a volunteer fire department. A by-law required householders to keep fire buckets in their homes. Fires were fought by lines of people who passed buckets from a nearby water source to the fire.

The Great Fire of London in 1845 destroyed more than 300 buildings and prompted such measures as the placement of water tanks at intersections and the acquisition of a hand-operated pump engine. A large fire bell replaced the trumpets used to alert people to fires.

The first fire hall was erected on Carling Street in 1847 and was replaced by one on King Street in 1853. This hall served the entire city until new fire stations were added: No. 2 on Rectory Street in 1885 and No. 3 on Bruce Street in 1891.

A permanent, paid firefighting force had been established on April 1, 1873.

At the turn of the twentieth century, Fire Chief John A. Roe requested a new station to serve the north end of the city. In 1909, No. 4 Fire Station was built on the corner of Colborne and St. James streets, and No. 5 was built on the east side of Adelaide Street between Grey and Hill streets.

Architect Arthur E. Nutter designed both stations in an abstract Italianate style, featuring broad eaves, pilasters above the fire hall door and a simplified Tuscan tower. These stations complement the residential streetscape.

On September 9, 1912, London received its first motorized fire truck. By 1925, the fire department was completely motorized with three pump engines, three chemical and hose trucks, two ladder trucks, one aerial ladder truck, and two chiefs’ cars.

In 1999, there were eleven fire stations in London equipped with ten engines, nine special units, six tankers, three aerial ladders, and two chiefs’ cars.

Mechanics Institute



231 Dundas Street, London, Ontario London, ON
42° 59' 4.2612" N, 81° 14' 49.038" W
6 July 1972

Mechanics’ Institutes, the forerunners of present-day public libraries, originated in Scotland. Their founder, Dr. George Birbeck, a lecturer at Anderson’s University in Glasgow, was lacking a piece of laboratory equipment and worked with local glass and metal craftsmen to construct the apparatus. He came to realize that, apart from their mechanical skills, these artisans had little exposure to education. He, therefore, began to hold evening lectures for them.

After a period of trial and error, the Glasgow Mechanics’ Institute was founded in 1823, followed by the London (England) Mechanics’ Institute. They proved to be so popular that by 1853 there were more than 700 such institutes with a membership of over 120,000.

Mechanics’ Institutes offered courses of instruction to workers in the scientific principles of their trades, but quickly expanded into many other fields. In addition to lectures, the institutes sponsored art shows and concerts and circulated a wide range of books.

The movement spread to Canada in 1831, first to Toronto and Kingston and, in 1835, to London. The local institute’s premises were originally built on the Court House Square and then were moved to Talbot Street in 1855. When this building became inadequate, the directors purchased a lot on Dundas Street for $4,500 as a site for a new building. The cornerstone ceremony was such an occasion that the railways ran special excursions for those attending. The new Mechanics’ Institute was formally opened on September 26, 1877, at a final cost of $24,000.

On November 26, 1895, London opened its first public library under the Free Libraries Act of 1882. Under this act, the Mechanics’ Institute was dissolved and its book collection transferred to the public library.

McCormick Mfg. Co.



1156 Dundas Street, London, Ontario London, ON
42° 59' 43.2492" N, 81° 12' 32.5692" W
9 October 1991

In 1854, Thomas McCormick established a biscuit and confectionery manufacturing business on Clarence Street. Success attended his enterprise, which soon outgrew the original plant, forcing a move to larger quarters at the southeast corner of Dundas and Wellington streets. The business gained a reputation for the quality and taste of its biscuits and candies, and increased demand for these products necessitated another move.

To encourage industries to locate in the newly-serviced plots in the east end, City Council offered fixed-rate taxes and temporary tax exemptions. McCormick’s benefited from these incentives and moved to 1156 Dundas Street in 1914.

Years of study had gone into the new factory’s design, and many features were suggested by Thomas McCormick Junior, based on knowledge he had gained from visiting facilities in the United States and other countries. His new plant was one of the largest, most modern and sanitary factories of its kind in North America. The building was constructed of fireproof, reinforced concrete, and covered more than eight acres. The interior was finished with white enamel terra cotta.

Prior to the First World War public concern about the purity of processed food prompted the government to increase its scrutiny of food manufacturing. McCormick’s shiny clean appearance inside and out reflected the company’s hygienic manufacturing process.

This responsible attitude was also extended to labour relations, unusual in an era when sweatshops were common. Employee amenities included large dining rooms, gymnasium, library, locker rooms, medical facilities and rest rooms. Outside were tennis courts and a baseball diamond.

In 1926, McCormick’s purchased its competitor, D.S. Perrin and Company Ltd., and in the 1940’s was itself sold to George Weston Ltd. In 1990, the business was acquired by Culinar Foods of Montreal, and in 1997 by Beta Brands Inc. who closed the factory ten years later in January 2007.