Coming out of the south-side shadows
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Jul 25, 2014  |  Vote 0    0

Coming out of the south-side shadows

St. Marys Journal Argus

The photograph in last week’s column showed a 1960s view of the north side of Queen Street between Church and Wellington Streets. This week, a postcard from the early 1940s shows the south side of the same block. Main street views in St. Marys tend to concentrate on the north side where, on a bright day, building details are clearer. Buildings on the south side are often obscured by their own shadows and harder to distinguish.

Although the signs are difficult to read, this streetscape starts with the west portion of the building on the Church Street corner, O’Brien’s — later Murphy’s — men’s clothing store. Next was a butcher shop owned by the Stratford company, Whyte Packing. To the west was Frank Robinson’s photography studio, later taken over by Maurice Oliver. Today these two storefronts are William Galloway’s law office.

The two-storey limestone building next door was headquarters for Timothy Eaton’s enterprises in the late 1850s to the mid-1860s before he moved to Toronto. Later it became the town’s first movie theatre, the Pleasant Hour. By the late 1930s, it was Frank Smith’s drugstore, later owned by Lloyd Somerville. The west section was Teskey’s barbershop.

The three-storey building with the ornate roofline was Ross Marriott’s furniture and undertaking business. Next door, the two-storey building with equally impressive roofline ornamentation was originally the downtown showroom for Maxwell’s, the farm implement manufacturer on James Street South. It later became a hardware store. At the time of this photograph, it was owned by Walter Clarke.

In the 1940s, the Grand Central Hotel to the west had not been a hotel for many years. Its several storefronts had a series of tenants, including a dress shop, a grocery store and a coal and fuel dealership. The Imperial Oil sign projecting over the sidewalk probably belonged to this business. The dignified, three-storey, red brick and concrete edifice next in line was built in 1905 and occupied by Molson’s Bank. It later became the office and storage space for a wholesale business. The large limestone block on the corner of Queen and Wellington had three storefronts: the St. Marys Journal Argus, the Bluebird Restaurant — later the Grill — and the Bank of Montreal.

Information about Queen Street businesses can be found in records, including assessment rolls and insurance maps, available at the St. Marys Museum. Another wonderful resource is a series of taped and transcribed reminiscences of long-time St. Marys resident, Curly (Leonard) Wilson. These were prepared in 1973 by far-sighted historian Gordon McEwan, who encouraged Curly to name, building by building, all the businesses in the downtown core. Curly’s memory was phenomenal and, with Gord’s prompting, he provided not only the names of the various businesses but also insights into the personalities of many storeowners. Future columns will highlight the history of other downtown blocks with the help of these resources.

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