The St. Marys streetscape in this week’s photograph, taken ca. 1920, shows the portion of the downtown that has probably seen more change than any other in the past century. Few residents today remember this modest row of mostly frame stores, set right to the sidewalk, offering a variety of goods and services. More people will remember Pete Newton’s garage and Downtown Pontiac. Today all these buildings have vanished. But since 1997, this location has been one of the busiest in town: the popular Tim Hortons.
A fire insurance map from 1922 – almost exactly the same date as the photograph – identifies the buildings in this row and their uses. (Identifying building material helped insurance underwriters assess fire risk.) From the west, closest to the Town Hall, the two-storey frame building with the gable roof held a fuel dealer’s office with a coal shed at the rear. Next door, the brick façade fronted a two-storey wood-frame implement dealership with a drive shed at the back. The doorway in the eastern part of this same building led into a small laundry business with a dwelling on the second floor. The photograph shows the balcony overlooking Queen Street that belonged to this apartment.
Next in line was a single-storey building with a frontier-style elevation to the façade to create the impression of a second floor. Identified as a store, it appears to be vacant in the early 1920s. Right at the corner was a two-storey, concrete block building that sold storage batteries (a potential fire hazard) and other related supplies on the ground floor. There was an apartment overhead.
The next available fire insurance map in the St. Marys Museum’s archives is dated 1939. By this time, the peaked roof building at the west end of the row had been removed. Farm implements were still for sale next door to the east and the laundry was still operating. The previously vacant building now held Treanor Plumbing and T. E. Drummond had a grocery store at the corner. Many of these buildings continued to change in ownership and use in subsequent years.
June Gevaert remembers that her father, Lorne Seaton, had a paint and wallpaper business somewhere in this row after World War II. A check of the municipal assessment rolls for the mid- 1940s shows L. Seaton, Merchant, renting part of Lot 16, at the northwest corner of Queen and Peel. He and his family lived on Thomas Street.