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Historic Sites Committee

Green Gables



1148 Richmond Street, London, Ontario London, ON
43° 0' 31.662" N, 81° 15' 39.7008" W
17 May 1983

The Green Gables neighbourhood was once Clergy Reserve land.  Following government policy of freeing these lands for settlement, in 1869 the Diocese of Huron divided and sold lots in what is Broughdale today.

The first settlers on this property were Charles Dickerson and his wife Lydia, who had purchased a lot north of what is now University Drive. In the 1870s, Dickerson, head carpenter at Hellmuth Ladies College, built several houses on both sides of the Proof Line Road (now Richmond Street) between Brough’s Bridge and the present University of Western Ontario gates. Two of these houses are still standing - 1160, and Green Gables at 1148.

Dickerson is also credited with developing what is now Brough Street in the 1880s. His objective was to gain access to the rear of his property without paying the toll at Huron Street levied for use of the Proof Line Road.

In the three decades following the sale of the Clergy Reserve, lands in Broughdale were subdivided and slowly settled. By 1899, around 25 families were living there, but the hamlet had no school, church, or shops. The closest school was in Masonville, and the closest church was St. John’s in Arva. London, sparsely settled north of Oxford Street, seemed distant.

Broughdale’s isolation came to an end in the summer of 1901 when the London Street Railway extended an electric streetcar line into the hamlet, a development that was met with great excitement. Lydia Dickerson, having heard that electricity was good for rheumatism, “intended to ride the cars everyday as a treatment . . . and she did!”

Grand Opera House



471 Richmond Street, London, Ontario (present site of the Grand Theatre) London, ON
42° 59' 9.0744" N, 81° 15' 2.2392" W
11 April 1975

The first Grand Opera House was built in 1880 at King and Richmond streets. Destroyed by fire on February 23, 1900, a new opera house was built at 471 Richmond Street and opened on September 9, 1901 under the partnership of Ambrose J. Small of Toronto and Col. Clark J. Whitney of Detroit, Michigan.

This theatre hosted great actors such as Sarah Bernhardt, Hume Cronyn, Sir John Gielgud  and Jessica Tandy. It was built on part of the cemetery of St. Lawrence Church, the first Roman Catholic church in London, dating from 1833 . During the theatre’s construction workers found bones, including a skull that the newspapers appropriately named "Yorick".

Ambrose Small began his career as a bartender and usher, and through hard work and business acumen acquired more than 90 theatres in Canada and the U.S.

The Grand incorporated advanced design ideas and had one of the largest stages in North America, capable of mounting a full-scale production of Ben Hur, complete with horses. The theatre had superb acoustics, three balconies, and seated 1,800.

In December 1919, sensing the future impact of motion pictures, Small sold his chain of theatres for $2,000,000. That same day, he left his Toronto office and was never seen again. Many searches were conducted in Toronto’s Rosedale Ravine and London’s Grand Theatre. Several theories for his disappearance were advanced, for example that he had been murdered and his body burnt in the theatre’s furnace. Over the years many strange occurrences such as falling props and collapsing sets have been reported. During a Noel Coward play a huge arc light inexplicably fell from high above the stage, narrowly missing the cast.

The ghost of Ambrose Small is said to haunt the Grand Theatre to this day.

George "Mooney" Gibson, 1880-1967



25 Wilson Avenue, London, Ontario (present site of Labatt Memorial Park) London, ON
42° 58' 59.1492" N, 81° 15' 34.1604" W
19 August 1989

George “Mooney” Gibson, a native Londoner, played fourteen seasons as a catcher in the major leagues and was considered Canada’s best baseball player of the first half of the twentieth century. He spent twelve seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates and two with the New York Giants, playing 1,213 games. Later, he managed the Pittsburgh team twice, and the Chicago Cubs once.

It is notable that in 1877 Gibson’s uncle managed the London Tecumsehs in the first game ever played in this park. As a youth, “Mooney” Gibson (the nickname was derived from his round face) played on local church and city teams in Tecumseh (now Labatt) Park. In 1903, he tried out with Buffalo of the Eastern League, played the 1904 season with Montreal in the same league, and signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1905.

Gibson was known for his ability to catch foul balls and to throw out base stealers (of which there were many more than in today’s game). In 1909, he set an endurance record by catching 150 games in a row. That same year, Gibson played in all seven games of the World Series in which the Pittsburgh Pirates, including players such as Honus Wagner, defeated the Detroit Tigers led by Ty Cobb and Sam Crawford. Returning to London, Gibson was celebrated with speeches and a parade. Among those in attendance was Gibson’s friend, Hughie Jennings, the Detroit Tigers manager.

In 1921, manager George “Mooney” Gibson brought his Pirates here to play an exhibition match against the London Tecumsehs of the Michigan-Ontario League. Gibson, aged 41, agreed to catch one inning of the game while a teammate from the 1909 World Series pitched.

Toll Gates on the Proof Line Road



1110 Richmond Street, London, Ontario London, ON
43° 0' 26.5824" N, 81° 15' 33.4944" W
5 November 1994

The first settlers to move into this area made their way north along the blazes and stakes of Mahlon Burwell’s proof line through the middle of London Township. Laid out as a road allowance, it followed Wharncliffe Road northward, bypassing the riverlands of the Medway Creek and North Thames River, and following the present Western Road and Richmond Street route before continuing northward.

Early settlers were quick to demand road improvements. Many roads were mere dirt trails through bogs and forests. In swampy areas it was necessary to lay down layers of logs to keep horses and carriages from sinking. Ruts from wagon wheels and tree stumps were further obstacles, and in wet weather roads became rivers of mud. To deal with this situation, the Legislature of Upper Canada in 1810 delegated local justices of the peace to appoint surveyors to lay out and regulate proper roads. Roads were to be constructed and maintained with the costs assessed to local landowners.

In 1849, the Provincial Legislature passed legislation permitting private companies to build toll roads. That same year, a local group formed the "Proof Line Road Joint Stock Company" to grade, macadamize, and bridge the Proof Line Road. The completed road had three toll gates and followed the Richmond Street route north through Arva, Birr, and Elginfield. Several hotels and taverns opened along the road, an indication of its heavy use.

By 1882, however, all publicly owned county roads had been declared free of tolls. The Proof Line Road came to be seen as an anachronism, and citizens often detoured to avoid the toll gates. In 1907, local councils and the province bought the Proof Line Road for $11,000. The occasion was marked by a huge celebration in Arva, during which the collected toll gates were burned in a large bonfire.

The First London Public Library



447 Wellington Street, London, Ontario (southwest corner of Queens Avenue and Wellington Street) London, ON
42° 59' 9.8592" N, 81° 14' 45.978" W
3 December 1971

The Ontario Legislature passed the Free Libraries Act in 1882, providing for the establishment of libraries financed through public taxes.  In 1884, London attempted to establish its first public library.  On municipal election day a free library by-law was passed, and a Board of Management established. The Board negotiated with the trustees of the Mechanics’ Institute for the transferral of assets according to the Act. The deal fell apart when the City refused to accept the Institute’s liabilities.

In 1888, the London Trades and Labour Council petitioned the City Council to implement the 1884 by-law. A new Library Board was appointed, but when Council realized the cost of converting the Mechanics’ Institute into a public library it referred the question to a public vote. On June 11, 1888, the citizens of London repealed the 1884 by-law.

Concerned that London lagged behind other Ontario communities which had already established public library service, City Council granted funds to the Mechanics’ Institute on condition that they provide free public access to their library and reading room until Christmas 1892. In November a petition signed by 100 ratepayers as required by the Act was presented to City Council.  On January 2, 1893, the people of London voted for the third time on a library by-law. The vote was favourable, and a Library Board was re-established. In April 1894, City Council issued debentures for $20,000 to erect a library.

On November 26, 1895, a fine new red brick library building at Queens and Wellington was opened, with Robert J. Blackwell as the first librarian.

This site presently houses One London Place.

First Baptist Church



586 Richmond Street, London, Ontario London, ON
42° 59' 24.4788" N, 81° 15' 2.7504" W
10 December 1995

The earliest Baptist congregations in Upper Canada date from the early 1800s and developed through connections to congregations in the United States, particularly in New York State.

The first concerted effort to establish a Baptist congregation in London was at a meeting led by the American Rev. Eleazar Savage and William Wilkinson of St. Thomas in 1845 at the house of Duncan Bell of London.

In its early years the new congregation held its services in the school room of the Mechanics’ Institute building on Court House Square. The congregation first partook of the Lord’s Supper in December 1845. There was some controversy as to whether the presiding minister was an adherent of the same doctrine as the members of the new church.

Two years after its establishment the congregation appointed its first pastor, Rev. James Inglis of Detroit. He moved the congregation to a former Methodist chapel on the corner of King and Talbot Streets, which rented for 30£ a year. Rev. Inglis is also credited with publishing the first Baptist newspaper in Canada West, The Evangelical Pioneer.

In 1850, the congregation erected its own church on the corner of York and Talbot streets. For several years church expenses posed a major problem. Several measures were used to address this dilemma, including pew rentals.

In 1881, a larger church designed by London architect George F. Durand was built at 507 Talbot Street, at a cost of roughly $17,500. Its design was consistent with period evangelical churches in the width of the nave, which allowed a good view of the preacher.

By the 1950s, the congregation had again outgrown its quarters. The present First Baptist Church was built in 1953 at the gore formed by Clarence, Kent and Richmond streets.

507 Talbot Street is now occupied by the First Christian Reformed Church.

Duffield Block



215 Dundas Street, London, Ontario London, ON
42° 59' 3.1344" N, 81° 14' 51.5004" W
3 May 1984

oseph Spettigue, a native of Cornwall, England, came to the Canadas in the 1840s and opened a store on the corner of Dundas and Clarence Streets in 1855.

In 1871, he built Spettigue Hall (later the Duffield Block) which contained an elegant 663-seat concert hall on the second floor. Designed in the Second Empire Style, the structure was 197 feet long, 63 feet high, and cost $12,000 to construct.

On September 19, 1871, the London Philharmonic Society gave the first concert in the hall, a cantata entitled “The May Queen” , featuring several vocalists and a lead singer from Detroit. For the performance the stage was decorated with a May tree, flags, Corinthian pillars, evergreens, and flowers. According to the London Free Press, the occasion “was a source of great gratification”, and the hall was “crammed” for the concert.

By 1878, the building had several occupants, one of whom was art teacher William Lees Judson. It is believed that artist Paul Peel received his first art lesson in a room on the building’s first floor.

James Duffield bought the building in 1891. He closed the theatre, dividing its space into a third storey, thereby altering the facade. Among the many tenants were J. Gammage and Sons, florists; Arthur Wismer, jeweller; Charles Wismer, druggist; and the Knights of Pythias.

The building also housed the Women’s Morning Music Club. Its president was Mrs. John Labatt (née Sophia Amelia Browne) and its secretary, Mrs. T. H. Carling (née Nina M. Innes).

Doidge Park



On a pillar at the southeast corner of Cheapside and Wellington streets, London, Ontario London, ON
43° 0' 5.8392" N, 81° 15' 10.8" W
27 May 2000

Thousands of years ago retreating glaciers deposited gravel in the area now bounded by Cheapside, Waterloo, Grosvenor and Wellington streets, including the present Doidge Park. Two early settlers, Richard Jones Evans and John Anthistle, established lime kilns nearby, burning deposits of limestone into lime, which was used in mortar and cement.  Evans, with David Margrave Thompson, a local lawyer, subdivided this block of land into building lots in 1856.

John’s son, William J. Anthistle, expanded his father’s business and mined the pit for gravel, sand, and cobblestones for home building c. 1874-1875. He manufactured cement blocks and sewer pipes, and laid some of north London’s first sidewalks. Many of the cobblestone-clad houses he built still stand, including his own home on Cromwell Street. For many years he operated a skating rink nearby.

Following Anthistle’s death in 1929, his widow, Annie, carried on the business of making cement burial vaults.

During the Great Depression the gravel pit property was taken over by the city. It became overgrown with weeds and was used as a parking area for city machinery. Local children enjoyed tobogganing on the steep hillsides.

In 1949, local citizens formed the North London Community Association and lobbied to have Anthistle’s old gravel pits converted into a playground. Among the major supporters of this plan was Dr. Edward Pleva, a planner and member of the Department of Geography at the University of Western Ontario.

Doidge Park, named after John C. Doidge, chair of the playground committee of the Public Utilities Commission, was opened in 1958 with financial help from the Kiwanis Club.

Richard Edwin Crouch, B.A., LL.D., 1894-1962



550 Hamilton Road, London, Ontario (present site of Crouch Branch Library, London Public Library) London, ON
42° 58' 49.296" N, 81° 12' 53.1864" W
13 November 1981

Richard Edwin Crouch was born in 1894 and studied political economy at the Western University of London, Ontario, interrupting his studies to serve in the First World War with No.10 Stationary Hospital in France.

He returned to Western, and then attended the universities of London and Paris on an Ontario government scholarship.

In 1923, Crouch succeeded Dr. Fred Landon as Chief Librarian at the London Public Library.

His career was marked by vision and innovation. He developed the library as a multimedia institution, lending books, films, film equipment, recordings, and art. By the 1930s the late Victorian library was carrying several times the weight of books it was built to house, and cracks had appeared in the foundations. Once Crouch was in the library basement when the building shifted and the ceiling above him dropped two inches.

Despite the fiscal constraints of the Great Depression, Crouch successfully appealed to the city for funds for a new library. The London Public Library - Elsie Perrin Williams Memorial Art Gallery and Museum opened in 1940 at 305 Queens Avenue.

Crouch was an early advocate of life-long learning, and worked closely with the Canadian Association for Adult Education. Its pioneering work with the radio programs Citizens’ Forum and Farm Forum were copied by governments in Asia and the Middle East.

He believed deeply that learning gave meaning to the freedom of the individual, that libraries informed citizens, and that informed citizens could build a better society.

The Church of St. John the Evangelist



280 St. James Street, London, Ontario London, ON
42° 59' 53.5668" N, 81° 15' 7.2396" W
3 January 1988

The history of the Church of St. John the Evangelist goes back to 1864 when a chapel by the same name was consecrated at the old Huron College on St. George Street. The chapel was a gift of Huron’s first principal, Archdeacon Isaac Hellmuth, and his wife, Catherine, in memory of her father General Thomas Evans, C.B.

This chapel was used until 1884, when the congregation moved to the chapter house of the proposed Cathedral of the Holy Trinity.

In 1887, property on St. James Street was purchased for a new Gothic-style church, to be designed by Charles F. Cox, a member of the congregation. The foundation stone was laid on March 8, 1888, by the Reverend Richard G. Fowell, Principal of Huron College. The church cost around $13,000, and opened on November 11, 1888.

Many additions have been made over the years, including a school building in 1895, a spire in 1897, and a chancel screen in 1905.  In 1955, a new baptistry, a north aisle, a narthex and cloister on the north side of the church were added.

Several memorial windows have been dedicated over the years. Many of the earlier windows are the work of the distinguished firm of McCausland & Co. of Toronto, including three in the chancel: “The Good Shepherd,” “St. John the Baptist,” and “Virgin Mary.” In the cloister is the “Priscilla Window”, the only London example of the work of notable Canadian artist Yvonne Williams. The church also has several works by Londoner, Christopher Wallis, including “The Lamb of Resurrection” and “The Creation” windows, as well as a large stained-glass window commemorating those who served in both world wars.

Other distinctive features are the unique rood screen, stone font, soaring arches, and “inverted ship” ceiling. Also of note are terra cotta panels depicting the apostles around the 1953 cross, designed by Londoner Ray Robinson.