Home and history…
Any place LondonFuse calls home is bound to make #ldnont history.
The new digs upstairs at 24 Bathurst Street will surely add to the story of an already remarkable street.
The lower Bathurst Street neighbourhood has deep roots in Forest City lore.
In the middle decades of the 19th-century, it was the spiritual home to many of London’s black citizens who lived in the area south of the (now CN) tracks and west of Ridout Street.
London historian Dan Brock points to the arrival of American abolitionist John Brown about April or May in 1858 as the community’s catalyst. Brown is believed to have spoken at the old frame African Methodist Episcopal Church, 275 Thames St., just west of LondonFuse HQ.
The Fugitive Slave Chapel, as the former church was known, became a residence. The building was recently moved adjacent to a Grey Street church.
History tells us that, shamefully, the neighbourhood overlooking the Thames River was known as “N….. Hollow.” That hateful title remained in use until “only a few years ago,” one historian, Fred Landon, noted in 1919.
By that time, “few, if any” of London’s black residents were living in the area, he also said.
Moving forward to the 20th century, records of the neighbourhood are sporadic.
In a part of London once thick with coal and wood yards, tanneries and planing mills, 24 Bathurst Street fades in and out of the directories.
But who kept the area inhabited?
Research by the LPL’s Ivey Family London Room finds a Mrs. Margaret Campbell listed in the city directory as living there in 1893. Next door, at 26 Bathurst Street, Abraham Pinkham had a home and stable.
In 1910-1911, the place on the street’s north side looks to have been a storehouse for Levi Plank, of 22 Bathurst Street. At the same time, the Canadian census has a Pike (yes, real name) Plank living at 29 Bathurst Street
About five years later, D.S. Perrin biscuit empire employee Benjamin Ball was living at 22 Bathurst Street with the future ‘Fuse hotspot as his storehouse.
By 1930, the storehouse was vacant, though things eventually looked up at the location… more on that to come.
Meanwhile, the old London Arena opened at the southeast corner of Bathurst and Ridout Streets in 1923.
Pro hockey, pro wrestling, and entertainment superstars were all making noise just a little east of the ‘Fuse Box. The building was demolished in the 1970s, however, the old arena made rock history before it met the wrecking ball.
On March 26, 1976, Phil Collins stepped up to the mic for the first time as the lead singer of Genesis. Collins had previously been the Brit prog rock band’s drummer. Pretty interesting, eh?
Back at 24 Bathurst…
The major long-time tenant has been Lowry Signs. Among the other tenants are London artist Brian Dirks who has a small studio just down the hall from Fuse alongside neighbours, Wood On Steel and Showtyme Fitness.
Building lore has previous businesses including a slaughterhouse which morphed into a poultry palace. Built-in coolers helped store the slaughtered birds after they had been disposed of somewhere on the sloping floor.
London realtor Richard Houston owns 24 Bathurst Street and confirmed he has seen a photo of a long-ago poultry industry ace on the premises “knee deep in turkeys” while holding the head of a turkey already headed for the plate.
“It’s a classic,” he said of the photo, and he would love to have a copy.
It’s a place that’s just full of wonders… and curiosities.
Among those helping with this post were London history aces Alice Gibb and Stephen Harding. Western Archives provided visual glory. Leading the way was the staff at the Ivey Family London Room, at the London Public Library’s 251 Dundas St. Central location.
To dig deeper into London’s history, e-mail Research.Request@lpl.london.on.ca or call 519-661-4600. History has never been so accessible!
James Stewart Reaney keeps James’s Brander Newer Blogger at LondonFuse.ca as part of his volunteerism and reverence for London A&E. He retired from The London Free Press in early 2017 after more than 30 years covering everything from A: The Alcohollys to B: baseball’s 1986 World Series. Follow his Twitter #ldnont thoughts via @JamesSReaney