Historic St. Marys by Mary Smith
Spring flooding has always brought St. Marys photographers to the edge of the Thames River to try to capture the excitement of breaking ice and high water. (Of course, it’s not exciting for those with property on floodplain who are more concerned with shovels, sandbags and moving belongings to safety.)
The St. Marys Museum’s collection includes many photographs of floods through the years from 1900 to more recent events. The value of these photographs is not so much in their record of water raging under the bridges or creeping across Water Street and up Queen. Of greater interest is what these pictures show of buildings and other landmarks in the background. These features change while high water in any year looks pretty much the same.
The Dale family from their home on Ontario Street had a great view of the Thames River and of course their albums include flood pictures. The photograph in this week’s column, taken in March 1926, shows Kingsley Langford on Thomas Street beside the flooded river. On the distant horizon, the buildings on Church Street can be seen in silhouette — most clearly, the lovely spire on the United Church’s tower. This spire was damaged in a storm and removed in the early 1940s.
In 1926, the CPR freight cars sitting on their tracks beside the far bank of the river would have been a normal sight. Today the tracks have been replaced by the Riverview Walkway. On the extreme right of this photograph, part of the steel superstructure of the Park Street Bridge is visible. A couple decades later, this bridge was unable to withstand a much more severe spring flood and was washed away.
The smiling young man with his bicycle, King Langford, had just turned 20 when this photograph was taken. He was a contemporary of the Dale children and would have gone to school with them. With his brother and sisters, King grew up in St. Marys and spent most of his life in this town. A mechanic by trade, he was a man of many interests and talents, particularly well-known for his passion for skating. He was a member of the Stratford Skating Club until the year before he died. He was also a skilled cabinet maker and a house builder. He married Bessie Aitcheson, another former schoolmate, and they had one daughter, Karen. Kingsley Langford died in April 1977.