When you think of the Argyle neighbourhood, you probably first picture the shopping centre at Dundas Street and Clarke Road on the eastern edge of London.
But Argyle is much more than that. An amalgamation of several neighbourhoods, including Pottersburg, Nelson Park, Trafalgar Heights and the Hale Street District, Argyle is home to the majority of east London’s residential streets, a bustling commercial corridor along Dundas Street, parks, community centres, libraries, and a whole lot of history to boot.
In 1846, an Irish settler named Robert Dreaney moved to the southwest corner of Crumlin and Dundas just east of Clarke Road, to build the wooden Dreaney House Hotel. He rebuilt the hotel with brick in 1853. Soon, this intersection became known as Dreaney’s Corners. His hotel hosted the post office in 1869, and a few shops popped up around him. The first, on the southeast corner, was owned by Charles Priddis, a London dry goods merchant. The store on the northeast corner was bought in 1892 by Turner Bailey, who added a blacksmith shop.
The post office closed in 1914, and over the years, the corner changed. There was a service station there in the 1920s, to offer gas to travellers along Highway 2/Dundas Street. The Crumlin Variety Store opened there in 1941. A dance hall was built to offer entertainment to the many servicemen at the airport during World War II, which was later turned into a grocery store. A used car dealership, mechanics, and brand new gas station adorn the corners now, and the name Dreaney is little remembered.
Airplanes and Entrepreneurs
The main hub of aviation in London, ON is Crumlin Road. The current airport is on Crumlin Road and has been since 1939, but the city’s first airfield was farther south on Crumlin just east of what is now Argyle Mall. The first flight took place from there at the Carling Farm —that’s right, the same Carlings that owned the brewery. The farm had first been a natural gas field in the 1880s until planes arrived in 1912.
In 1927, Charles Lindbergh’s Trans-Atlantic flight inspired an imitation here in the Forest City. Carling Brewery decided to run a contest with a prize of $25,000 for the first flight from London, Ontario to London, England. Two pilots stepped up to the plate: Tully and Medcalf. They would make two attempts at the journey from the Crumlin airfield. Their plan was to get to Newfoundland to refuel and then soar across the Atlantic. It was their point of no return.
They made it to Newfoundland once, but once there, storms prevented them from flying over the ocean. Discouraged, but determined, they came back to London, Ontario and took off again on September 7, 1927. They made it Newfoundland again, and this time, took off over the Atlantic. They were never seen or heard from again.
Here’s an interesting tidbit for you: Carling Brewery printed up commemorative stamps for Londoners to put on letters for the plane to carry over to England. These weren’t certified stamps, but they would become Canada’s rarest. The only surviving ones were found on a few letters delivered in Newfoundland. There was, however, a rumour that an old newspaperman in London kept the original plates in a locked safe in his home, which would be incredibly valuable today if they hadn’t since been lost.
There was also development on the western end of Argyle, known as Pottersburg. In 1877, a factory was built by C. S. Hyman to be a pork packaging plant and was later used by the London Crockery Manufacturing Company, which failed in 1887 due to a fire. This was when the business and property was liquidated by Samuel and William Glass, who rebranded and restarted the business as the Glass Brothers’ Pottery Company, giving the neighbourhood its name.
Today, some of the original lands from the factory are where the Trinity United Church stands on Hale, and you can find collectible pottery from both London Crockery and the Glass Brothers’ factories on eBay.
Pottersburg was annexed by the City of London in 1912, as city hall looked to bolster its population numbers to qualify for a streetcar system. Along with Pottersburg came Ealing and Knollwood Park. East-end residents got to benefit from improved city services like policing, fire fighting, sewers, and telephones. London got to benefit from new public transportation.
The city did not annex the area east of Pottersburg until much later, and most of the houses in Argyle were built after World War II. There are a few older homes left here and there, but you’ll generally find single-story cottages and ranch-style brick houses that match the era of London’s later 1961 annexation. Even then, there were still farms in Pottersburg, including one belonging to an immigrant Japanese family, the Ebisuzakis, who sold eggs and produce to the community and are fondly remembered.
Boomers from Pottersburg and Trafalgar Heights remember swimming in the Pottersburg Creek, which runs east-west between Dundas and Oxford, and then north-south along Hale. The memory is idyllic, but in the mid-twentieth-century, the creek was notoriously polluted due to the many industrial ventures surrounding it.
Since then, it has been massively improved by the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority. Nevertheless, warnings were issued as recently as 2012, so I wouldn’t dive in any time soon. One old-time resident told me she’s pretty sure some of her health problems came from splashing around in there during the 1950s.
Most of the houses in Argyle were built after World War II, but there are a few older homes still standing there. Among those is one at the corner of Clarke and Avalon known as “Clarke House.” The landmark white 19th century home made headlines this year when new owner Sam Cox reached out to the community for photographs and projected them on the side of his house. His project was a great reminder of how many families have their roots in the Argyle neighbourhood.
Cox says he plans to use the home for community projects and events like this in the future. It was, in previous years, home to a reverend who hosted weddings there. The first record of a house on this land being a sale in 1829 to John Clarke, for whom the road is named, and was on the west end of the property, indicated by a row of surviving century-old trees. The current, historically designated house was built around 1897.
Even into the twentieth century, it was a picturesque area, with a racehorse breeding farm across the road belonging to Alex Parsons. The Parsons even had a graveyard with stones for their most successful Standardbreds. One was named Paper Doll. Alex Parsons also owned the Belvedere Hotel in Downtown London, which featured a plethora of horse-themed decor.
Motels, Diners & Drive-In’s
The period after WWII saw a burst of development in homes and businesses in Argyle, but it also saw a massive economic change with the opening of Highway 401. Historically, the main east-west route across southwestern Ontario was actually Dundas Street, also known as the meandering Highway 2. Did you know, prior to 1998, Highway 2 stretched all the way to Windsor heading west, and to Quebec heading east? Before the 401, it was Ontario’s major highway, so you’ll find some pretty neat old motels and diners along Dundas Street, even in the more dense urban parts of town.
In Argyle, these are more visible than in other parts of London, and many are still in business. This includes the landmark Motor Court Hotel just west of Argyle Mall, which sports a landmark white rearing horse statue out front. This getaway gem is known for its heart-shaped bathtubs and mirrored walls, straight out of the 1970s.
Along Dundas are also diners of yore. Among these is the Del-Mar Restaurant, in operation since 1953. First located one block east from the current location, the original restaurant was built by joining two old railroad boxcars. Kiddy-corner to the Del-Mar’s current location is the Malibu, my personal favourite, where you can get a hot beef sandwich or choose one of the mind-blowing desserts from the glass case by the entrance. Both of these sport old fashioned neon signs, but only the Del-Mar has retained its kitschy interior.
Another piece of mid-century car culture that existed in Argyle was the Skyway Drive-In, where Argyle Mall currently stands. It was Ontario’s second drive-in, opening June 18, 1947. It closed in July 1955. Between the post-war homes and commercial buildings, there is no area of London that has more blatant mid-century flair than Argyle.
Where does the name come from, anyway?
The earliest reference I have found was provided by historian Cindy Hartman, who runs the Vintage London, Ontario page on Facebook with Colin Duck.
It looks like the name Argyle came from a developer selling plots in a subdivision called “Argyle Park” near Pottersburg as early as 1914, which utilized that fancy new London Streetcar system after the 1912 annexation. It’s a name that reflects the Scottish ancestry of many Londoners, and even potentially connects to a golf course that existed on Crumlin Road.
Those Londoners who live in Argyle and identify as being EOA (“East of Adelaide”) are a fierce bunch. They love their neighbourhood and have built a strong community association, complete with their own Santa Claus Parade. The east end of London has its own flavour, and with it, a temperament all its own.
Feature Photo of a postcard of Pottersburg, later named London Junction, c. 1910. Sourced from eBay via Pottersburg via The Gore and The Grove (Facebook).
The London Neighbourhood Histories series aims to highlight and chronicle some of the rich, layered heritage of many of London’s neighbourhoods, the diverse individuals who have lived within them, and the events that have impacted their development. The series is made possible by the Community Heritage Investment Program (CHIP) through the London Heritage Council and the City of London.