Since settlers began receiving land grants in the early 1800s, the crossroad at Masonville has thrived as a stop for passing travellers.
The Proof Line Road, now known as Richmond Street or Highway 4, has been a major thoroughfare for the last two hundred years.
The first hotel along the Proof Line was Howard’s Inn, known to have existed around 1820. The first school at the crossroads appears in records around 1850. In 1857, the McMartin Hotel at Fanshawe and Richmond gave the crossroads the name of Martin’s Corners.
The Name is Coined
Robert Mason bought the hotel and renamed it Mason House in 1858. This gave us the name Masonville, which has stuck ever since. Robert Mason was the son of Irish immigrants, and in 1861 was still listed as unmarried in the census. Eligible bachelor, ladies! His brother John was also unmarried and worked with his brother at the hotel. The Masons were honoured with the opening of a post office in the hotel in 1874, and Robert remained postmaster there until 1881. He then tried his hand at land speculation, but unfortunately purchased land that wouldn’t be developed until a century later. His brother, John, suffered an unknown illness and died of some form of paralysis in Lucan in 1882. Both of the Mason boys, for whom our fabulous shopping mall is named, are buried side-by-side in Woodland Cemetery.
In the late 19th century, several factories sprang up at the Masonville intersection, including the Bryan Brush and Broom Company. Another well known local commercial operation was run by John Hewings, who made boots and shoes. After he retired, he became a door-to-door fish salesman along the Proof Line Road (Richmond Street). How convenient!
Other shops came along and populated Masonville into a nice little village. It was plagued by the common occurrence of fires in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, but the residents rebuilt and thrived. It helped that they offered real necessities to the community. For farmers moving livestock or produce to sell in London, a stop at Masonville was a must. Herds and wagons were seen all the time, as exhausted workers had a meal and a drink at Mason House and stayed the night before continuing the arduous journey to or from the Forest City.
Masonville’s Notorious Characters
During this era, the famous Black Donnellys ran a stagecoach company that frequented Proof Line Road, tearing up and down the road at breakneck speed while they battled with other stages. The only thing that could slow them down was a toll booth. Toll booths were used by the village to keep up repairs, as the roadway was vital to economic survival, and its constant use meant it needed regular expensive upkeep. The Proof Line Road Joint Stock Committee was founded to take on these responsibilities and established three booths.
One toll booth keeper was John Wyatt, an ex-slave trader who had come up to Canada from the American South after the Civil War. He sported two artificial limbs (I couldn’t dig up which two) and was known on sight by anyone in the area. This author played a Proof Line Road tollkeeper in a production of one of James Reaney’s Donnelly plays in high school, and no one told me that my character might have been as notorious as the other subjects of the play!
The tolls ended up being something to avoid, as fewer and fewer roads had them. This meant a drop in travellers along the vital transportation route. Finally, in 1907, the Proof Line Road was bought by local governments and the province. Residents who relied on Proof Line were overjoyed to finally be liberated from toll booths. They celebrated in Arva by collecting the three wooden structures, making a giant bonfire, and burning it all to the ground.
Passing Through Calamity Corners
The Proof Line Road, later Richmond Street, had been traversed by horse and wagon for a century by the 1920s when motor vehicles took over. Collisions became so common that the crossroad at Richmond and Fanshawe became known as “Calamity Corners.” By 1935, the London Free Press called the intersection of Richmond and Fanshawe the most deadly corner in the region.
Annexation in 1961 absorbed the village of Masonville into London, Ontario. Now part of the city, infrastructure eventually helped to smooth out traffic and curb accidents. This crossing was exceptional, considering that Windermere Road, the next concession to the south, was still gravel until the 1960s.
While Mason House was long gone, the intersection sported a Supertest gas station, and the much-beloved Knotty Pine Inn, a favourite spot for wedding receptions and fine dining.
The Glitz and Glam of Masonville Place
As London grew, developers couldn’t help but notice a location that had prospered commercially so reliably for so long. Land was purchased, buildings demolished, and Masonville Mall opened to fanfare on January 2, 1985. When it first opened, the mall was still surrounded by farm fields, so the parking lot smelled like the barns and manure. Those who were kids in the 1980s can still remember seeing cows pasturing across the way.
Masonville rang in the last half of the eighties with all the neon, consumerism, and fast food glamour a kid could want. It was all glitz and glamour with a fancy chiming clock, a dramatic water fountain, a classic car museum on the second floor, and long-gone shops with names like Lewiscraft, the It Store, Sears, Zellers, Sam the Record Man, Radio Shack, Battery Plus, Moyers, Cotton Ginny, Eatons, Ruby’s Shoe Store, Beaver Canoe, Backstage Pass, Second Cup, Braemar, and Grand and Toy.
The ultimate in eighties cuisine, Reuben and Wong’s was a posh attraction restaurant that featured a combination of Chinese and Italian Deli food. Big perms met with big cocktails, big piles of shaved meat, and their most famous dish: the world’s biggest egg roll. Bigger is better!
The mall had a buzzing food court and the ultimate hangout, a videogame arcade. But one attraction at Masonville has remained its most memorable: the indoor mini-golf course.
The Links — Every Kid’s Dream
The Links at Masonville Mall was built in 1991 on the east side of the structure, between where Cinnabon and Shoppers Drug Mart stand today. It was open rain or shine. On top of the golfing, the mall course gave bored kids like me and my friends the bonus fun of shooting golf balls into nearby stores and getting staff to come out and yell at us. It was awesome. I remember having zero adult supervision, which made it even better. We weren’t the only pranksters! Some kids once put goldfish in the artificial river and sliding along the faux golf green hills would charge you up to give any of your friends a fantastic shock.
While we acted like immature brats, actual golfers will tell you that the course was very well designed, attracting experienced players who wanted to work on their short game in winter. It cost over $1 million to design. Did you know, the course is still underneath the floor of the mall? According to someone who did the renovations, it’s true!
From Calamity Corners to its growing potential as a transit hub, Masonville has grown a lot over the last two centuries and will continue to be a thriving economic centre for years to come.
Feature photo of Calamity Corners (Fanshawe Park Road and Richmond Street) in 1959 courtesy of Western University Archives via historypin.org.
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.