YESTERDAY AND TODAY: St. Paul Street
Left: The old photo this week shows the stretch of St. Paul Street looking westward from a point about half way between Queen and William streets, toward the intersection with Ontario Street in the distance. — St. Catharines Museum 6417-N, donated by Lt.-Col. Roy Phelps. Right: St. Paul Street looking west towards Ontario Street taken Thursday. Bob Tymczyszyn/Standard photo
Our old photo this week is the kind of photo that you can just sort of get lost in as you savour its details. It shows the stretch of St. Paul Street looking westward from a point about half way between Queen and William streets, toward the intersection with Ontario Street in the distance.
The photo did not come to us with a date on it, but from its contents it seems to have been taken sometime around 1870. That we know because the Odd Fellows Hall, the right-most of the line of buildings facing us in the distance, was built in 1862 and was extensively remodeled in 1873, when a fourth floor and a tower were added to the three storey building we see here.
Here we see St. Paul Street with just a very basic mud surface — no paving. Alongside it run wooden plank sidewalks. All the vehicles on the street are horse-drawn — two carriages down at the distant Ontario Street corner, with the rest all being work vehicles, including one huge wagon on the left, so broad and so high that it must have been a hay wagon.
Some of the commercial shop signs hanging above the sidewalks are colourful: in the distance on the right a sign in the shape of a huge boot for the M. Cairns & Co. boot and shoe store — at the far right edge a giant mortar and pestle marking the shop of druggist W. B. Beeton — on the left, a couple of striped poles, marking the barber shop of Aaron Young, a successful black businessman.
The appearance of this stretch of St. Paul Street remained little changed for the next forty-plus years. By 1910, the street would actually have been paved, motor vehicles would have become predominant with very few horse-drawn vehicles remaining, and a small parkette would have appeared in the St. Paul-Ontario intersection, complete with a small garden and a tall metal flag pole.
But five years after that the scene changed radically. In 1915 the whole row of Ontario Street buildings that we see stretching across St. Paul in the distance disappeared, taken down one by one to allow St. Paul Street to connect up with the soon-to-be-finished Burgoyne Bridge.
That’s what explains why the horizon is so clear in our “today” photo, taken from the same spot a day or so ago. Now a well-paved street, plenty of motor vehicles, not a horse in sight, and no longer a wall of buildings standing between us and our new Burgoyne Bridge.
Dennis Gannon is a member of the Historical Society of St. Catharines. He can be reached at email@example.com