The Downtown Heritage Corridor Walking Tour is designed to give an overview of St. Catharines' Downtown and its rich history with a series of interpretive plaques throughout the core. The tour highlights significant sites throughout Downtown and tells stories of the City and its accomplishments. Tour overview maps are installed at Market Square on King Street (Plaque #1) and at the Gateway on the corner of St. Paul Street and Ontario Street (near Plaque #7). Spend an afternoon taking in the sites while learning more about how St. Catharines grew!
Between Market Square and the Old Courthouse on King Street
The City of St. Catharines has a rich and significant past. It has evolved since its first settlers, leaving behind a historical trail of events. These memories and stories are told through our Downtown Walking Tour, designed to provide a picture of our City and the accomplishments that we celebrate. Take some time to explore while on the tour, learning our history while seeing some of our most valuable sites.
You may learn more about St. Catharines and its history at the St. Catharines Museum at the Welland Canals Centre, 1932 Welland Canals Parkway, the St. Catharines Central Library, 54 Church Street, or on a historical Ghost Walk in Downtown St. Catharines led by the St. Catharines Downtown Association.
“Downtown Market” Market Square building, 91 King Street
Since the 1800s, residents gathered from across the Niagara Peninsula to buy and sell at the Market. By the early 1850s, the Market was firmly established at this location making the St. Catharines’ Downtown Market one of the oldest in Ontario.
People willingly traveled long distances to buy and sell fruit, vegetables, livestock and meat, with the Market one of the most popular attractions of its day. The Market was held every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday (as it is today), often being the main source of income for its merchants.
The early markets looked very different from what they do today. Features such as horse tie ups and a covered weigh scale used for measuring hay bales made this an excellent location for conducting business. While these have been replaced with more modern features, the Market continues to thrive with the sale of specialty cheeses, baked goods, crafts and flowers as well as traditional farmers' fare.
“Did You Know?” Queen Street near Church Street
- - The first North American Girl Guide troop began in 1910 in St. Catharines at the Welland House Hotel.
- - The Royal Canadian Henley Regatta has welcomed many famous spectators, including Grace Kelly, former Prime Minister Right Honourable Pierre Elliot Trudeau and former Prime Minister Right Honourable Jean Cretien.
- - St. Catharines built the first car to travel coast to coast, an REO Special manufactured by the REO Motor Car Co. in 1912.
- - The historic Lakeside Park Carousel was carved by Charles Looff in 1905 and was brought to St. Catharines in 1921. It continues to provide amusement for young and old alike.
- - Montebello Park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the landscape architect who designed Central Park in New York City.
Plaque 3A (marker on map is missing)
“The Hannelore Headley Chess Park” Corner of Queen Street and Lake Street
This park is named in honour of Hannelore Headley (1936 – 2013), a long-time resident of St. Catharines and owner of Hannelore Headley Old and Fine Books. Hannelore was a published author who dedicated her life to sharing her love of literature with the Garden City. Hannelore was a board member with the St. Catharines Museum, Rodman Hall and the Niagara Symphony Orchestra.
“Welland House Hotel” 30 Ontario Street near King Street
In 1853, natural salt springs were found in the area. A trio of men bought three lots at this corner and construction began on the Welland House Hotel. The hotel was constructed by mostly Black workers and was the second spa hotel to be built in the area. Opening in 1856, the mineral waters were pumped from the main spring near Twelve Mile Creek to the hotel. It was believed the waters had healing powers and could cure many ailments. Welland House was established as part of the local spa market, and was mainly a summer resort that catered to wealthy citizens in Canada and the United States. The hotel often boasted famous guests including actors, politicians, musicians and performers. Encyclopedia Britannica even listed it as one of the world’s best spas.
The hotel had a number of owners, including the Malcolmson brothers who purchased it in 1893. The greatly improved it by drilling a new well, building a bath house and opening a private hospital named The Wellandra. The hospital was a key addition to the hotel, and continued to promote the healing powers found in mineral water treatments. Unfortunately, the spa business in St. Catharines went into decline and the Welland House closed its doors in 1993. It re-opened in 1994 as a restaurant and student residence.
Plaque 5 (plaque is missing)
“Springbank House” 68 Yates Street at College Street
Bishop Ridley College, originally established as an Anglican-affiliated all-boys school in 1889, was founded by a group of Anglican clergymen intending to provide boys in Ontario with an education that emphasized strong academic and religious values. Named after Nicholas Ridley, a 16th century churchman in England martyred during the Protestant Reformation, the school's first campus was known as the Springbank campus and was integrated into the then-recently closed hotel of the same name constructed in 1864 by Dr. Theophilus Mack on this site on Yates Street. The property next door at 62 to 66 Yates Street was also originally part of the Springbank Hotel, reputedly the laundry. Before being owned by Ridley College, it was briefly owned by Catherine Merritt, daughter of William Hamilton Merritt. In 1903, the Springbank campus was destroyed as a result of a fire.
Subsequently, the old school site at 68 Yates Street was purchased by Jessie and Albert Taylor in 1909, who built a residence there and called it Springbank. A.W. Taylor was, in fact, with the first group of students to graduate from Bishop Ridley College in 1890 which initiated his strong connection with the school. The home has changed owners a few times over the years and flourishes today as a bed & breakfast establishment. In its Queen Anne Revival style, it features both stucco and stone walls, a wide verandah and cut stone window sills. The Ridley College Cadet Corps does a traditional “eyes left” to the home on its annual Church Parade in honour of its Yates Street roots.
“Oak Hill aka Merritt House” 12 Yates Street
Oak Hill was the former home for Honourable William Hamilton Merritt and his wife Catherine Prendergast. The original building burnt down in 1858 and was replaced by this structure which was completed in 1860. This building reflects the importance and wealth of Hon. W.H. Merritt. The regal home boasts a carriage house, a beautiful curved staircase and original marble mantlepieces. Hon. W.H. Merritt passed away in 1862, two years after its completion.
The Merritt family later sold the house which has since been used for a number of purposes, including a World War I Convalescent Home for wounded soldiers and an inn. In 1938, the Silver Spire Broadcasting Station moved to Merritt House from the Welland House Hotel. Oak Hill has been home to local radio stations since then.
“Shipbuilding in St. Catharines” Intersection of St. Paul Street and Westchester Crescent
St. Catharines became an important part of the shipping industry due to the building of the Welland Canals and its location between two Great Lakes. In 1836, Louis Shickluna, a shipbuilder who immigrated to St. Catharines from Malta, leased a shipyard along the banks of the first Welland Canal from William Hamilton Merritt. Several years later, he purchased the shipyard where he established himself as a premier shipbuilder. Shickluna Shipyards had an international reputation for building some of the biggest and best boats of its time. Shickluna Shipyards built and serviced more than 200 boats in almost 40 years of service.
“Mansion House” 5 William Street
Originally built as a home and store, this building was thought to be constructed sometime in the early 1800s. The building was turned into a hotel in 1826, with a dining room and office built on the main floor. It was in this office that William Hamilton Merritt and his partners are thought to have conducted business.
In 1859, a fire caused extensive damage to the building. During the rebuilding, it became known as the Central Hotel, then Haughten’s Saloon. In 1868, it was renamed Mansion House and has kept that name since. The Mansion House is the oldest tavern in St. Catharines and is believed to be the oldest continually licensed bar in Canada.
(page under construction - more plaque descriptions to be added - May, 2015)