A Nod to the Past
Downtown has always played an important role in the development of the city of St. Catharines. Originally a storehouse for goods at the crossing of an Iroquois trail over Twelve Mile Creek, the area developed quickly after construction of the first and second Welland Canals behind St. Paul Street, which transformed it into a prosperous hub for commerce and industry in the Niagara Region.
Over time, St. Catharines played a role as the former seat of Lincoln County, a popular health spa destination, and the premiere retail centre of the region, changing the face of the downtown. Businesses in Downtown St. Catharines that are now gone but not forgotten include Diana Sweets, Coy Bros., Levitt’s Fine China, Duthler’s Textiles, the National Bakery, Town Cinemas, Lincoln Theatre, Russell House Hotel, the Grand Opera House, the YMCA building, Wallace’s Department Store, and Woolworth’s Department Store.
There also many constants here, and today, many older buildings remain. The Old Court House, Merritt House, the Mansion House and several churches all have historical significance, and many buildings dating from the 1800’s line the streets. Montebello Park, designed in 1887 by internationally renowned landscape architect F.L. Olmsted (one of the designers of New York City’s Central Park), covers 6.5 acres in the heart of downtown and remains a popular spot for its rose garden, children’s playground, and concerts and events in the historic pavilion and band shell.
A Booming Present and Bright Future
Today, downtown is experiencing a renewal and a property development boom. Momentum continues to build from recent developments like the $62-million First Ontario Performing Arts Centre, 5,300 seat Meridian Centre arena, and Brock University’s $42-million Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts. Together, these additions have solidified downtown as the destination for culture and entertainment and given people new reasons to patronize its businesses on the way to sports, academic and entertainment venues.
The Province has designated most of downtown as the sole Urban Growth Centre in the Niagara region, and the annual value of construction permits here have nearly tripled over the past four years. Large-scale new multi-storey office buildings and commercial developments, luxury condos and rental apartments, multi-million dollar overhauls and renovations of existing buildings, and a number of new mixed-use “live-work” properties are planned or underway. With so many new, refurbished, or in progress projects, the downtown is poised to remain the vibrant core of our city.