This is the next in a series of columns from Stratford writer Marianne Brandis that explore the future of Market Square.
A few months ago I wrote the biography of the “Revel” building at 35-37 Market Place, and, by sketching its past life, increased our awareness of the history of the Market Square and of Stratford as a whole. Another building with an interesting and varied past is 88 Wellington Street, now the Remax office.
The land on which it stands was part of Canada Company Survey Lot 299. In 1857 it was owned by Thomas Mayne Daly, the son of John Corry Wilson Daly who was one of the first settlers; the Dalys were the largest property owners in what was to become Stratford. In 1867 the south part was bought by Henry Baker, who established a blacksmith and wagon-building shop.
In 1878 the rest was bought by John Idington, another important figure – barrister, crown attorney for Perth County, and later member of the Supreme Court of Canada. He built the Idington Block, now part of Festival Marketplace. As for his part of Lot 299, he divided it into two sections.
Keeping the one adjoining the blacksmith shop, he sold the northern portion to W. C. Currall, a local grocer. After Currall died a year later, that piece of land changed hands several times until, in 1889, it was bought by the O’Brien brothers. They erected a building and established a confectionery business which they operated until, in 1898, it was taken over (on a rental basis) by W. G. Brown.
Meanwhile, John Idington still owned the vacant lot next door. In 1897 he had a Victorian Gothic building (#88) erected, and he rented it to John Fisher, a grocer, and John Caslake, a tinsmith and plumber. In 1902 W. G. Brown – who had been running his confectionery next door – moved into #88, replacing both Fisher and Caslake.
Brown’s establishment was highly respected. He made candy for the wholesale as well as retail market, and also sold groceries: fruit, nuts, cereals, canned and bottled goods, and tobacco-related merchandise. The store was also an ice-cream parlour and restaurant.
In 1908 he bought the building from Idington. A 1911 article about “Brown’s Candy Kitchen,” as it was popularly known, gives a telephone number (#330), which suggests an upmarket clientele among the minority of Stratford residents who themselves had telephones.
From 1924 to 1950 it was a restaurant, still run by the Brown family, until Olin, W. G.’s son converted it back to a candy store in 1951. It was from Olin that Rheo Thompson – who worked there from 1959 to 1969 – learned the art and craft of confectionery.
The Brown family lived on the second floor, and W.G. remained there until he died in 1938; between that date and Olin’s selling the business in 1973 the six rooms on the upper floor were rented out as lodgings.
From 1975 to 1985 the building housed Mac’s Health Food Store, and after that there was Modern Amusements, a tattoo parlour and pool hall that also offered video games.
In 1989 the city bought it and did some renovation, including installing the big windows that are now a notable feature. It housed the Chamber of Commerce, the City Centre Committee, the office of Economic Development, and the Stratford Tourism Alliance until 2000. The building stood empty until John Wolfe bought it in 2002.
Again renovations were done; Wolfe told me that when he went in on one occasion during that time the workmen had just taken up a section of flooring and that the wonderful odour of cocoa wafted up from beneath. Clearly the building remembered its many years of being a candy store. Last year Wolfe replaced the upper windows with custom wooden ones like those that had been there before.
So this is the story behind another of the handsome buildings that surround the Market Square. The various uses evoke the lives and needs of the evolving community. Henry Baker was supplying essential services; almost every early village had a blacksmith, and many had wagon-making shops. The fact that the Brown family lived over the store reminds us that for centuries that was common practice for small businesses, and in many places still is.
The building’s use as a grocery, a confectionery, and a restaurant – especially the fact that candy was made on the premises – link with Stratford’s current prominence as a “foodie” place, and the upstairs lodgings are the ancestors of the city’s numerous B&Bs.
All along, renovations have been made to adapt the building to changing uses, and to maintain it so that it continues to feature as one of Stratford’s many well-preserved historic structures. This adaptive and high-quality reuse is a perfect model for the Market Square as a whole and points a direction for the future.
My thanks to Carole Huband for doing the research.
Marianne Brandis has lived in Stratford since 1996 and is a full-time writer.