This photograph, taken almost a century ago, shows downtown St. Marys looking west from the corner of Peel and Queen Streets. The view is immediately recognizable today with the familiar Town Hall anchoring the streetscape. Some buildings are different, of course, as is the big utility pole in the foreground with its old-fashioned light fixture and the series of climbing grips for linesmen — no hydraulic cherry-pickers in those days.
At the very end of 1913, the local newspapers reveal other similarities and differences between our town a century ago and the way it is today. For example, in evaluating the record of town council, a Journal editorial stated: “The municipal pot has scarcely begun to boil yet which possibly indicates that people are fairly well satisfied with the present council, practically all of whom are expected to stand for re-election.”
The editorial writer thought that incumbent mayor W. R. Butcher would likely be returned: “The mayor’s duty has been to keep expenditure within close bounds and he has stayed ‘on the job’ from first to last.” In 1913, mayor and councillors were elected annually and it was the custom, “if he has shown any aptitude whatsoever for the position” to give the mayor a second term. (This reasoning may or may not hold if applied to the current mandated four-year term for elected municipal officials.)
William R. Butcher was a good and conscientious mayor. He was born in 1871 in St. Marys, the youngest in a family of nine children. His father, John, was a cooper as was his oldest brother, F. E. Butcher, who served as mayor in 1902-3. From age 14, William also worked in this trade but later turned to retail. By the time he was mayor, he owned a grocery business in the brick building at the southeast corner of Queen and Church Streets — directly across from the Town Hall. In 1894 he married Mabel Graham, daughter of W.H. Graham and so, in 1913, was part of the family still mourning the 1912 death by drowning of Mabel’s brother, George, a victim of the Titanic disaster.
W.R. Butcher was acclaimed for a second term as mayor in 1914. That year, he supported the building of an urgently needed new elementary school, persuading council to raise the required funds in spite of strong opposition to this expenditure. (Local decision-making power regarding community schools has also changed in the intervening century.) Mayor Butcher was right to back the project. Central School, a beautiful, efficient building, opened in 1915 and served St. Marys for almost a century.