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. 

A black and white aerial photo of calamity corners aka masonville
A parade of farmers’ tractors turns west from Richmond Street North onto Fanshawe Park Road in this 1967 aerial photograph of the main Masonville intersection. Photo courtesy of Western University Archives via historypin.org.

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

A b&w mage shows a wooden structure with a shadowed figure in front.
In 1911, the Masonville Post Office was located within one of the hotels near the corner of what is now Fanshawe Park Road and Richmond Street. Photo courtesy of Western University Archives via historypin.org.

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!  

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A b&w photo of a large horse pullying a carriage, a woman takes the hands of a man as she exits the carriage.
The gates on the Proof Line Road were an annoyance to those going in and out of north London. This 1907 photo is the final remaining gate located on the west side of the Proof Line Road at the V intersection of what is now Western Road and Richmond Street. The toll keeper is identified as Mr. Wyatt at the first of the three tollgates that were spaced five miles apart on the Proof Line Road between London and Elginfield to the north. Photo courtesy of the London Public Library.

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. 

A car is covered in parts of a large truck int he aftermath of a car crash. About twenty people mill around the site.
Another crash at “Calamity Corners” in 1967. This view looks to the northwest past the intersection. Photo courtesy of Western University Archives via historypin.org.

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. 

A wooden building with a sign that says "Knotty Pine Inn Dancing Fish, Steak, and Chicken Dinners"
The sign at the Knotty Pine Inn, located at the southeast corner of Fanshawe and Richmond advertises dinner and dancing “two miles north of London.” The ad image is c.1950s and courtesy of eBay via Vintage, London (Facebook).

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. 

An aerial view of a shopping mall surrounded by green fields.
An aerial view of Masonville Mall in 1986 when lush farmers’ fields still surrounded it. Photo courtesy of the London Free Press (Facebook).

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. 

A snapshot of Masonville Mall c. the late 1980s. Photo courtesy of Masonville Mall via Vintage, London (Facebook).

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!

It’s hard to imagine an 18-hole minigolf course in the middle of London’s largest mall, but it was there. Photo courtesy of Masonville Mall via Vintage, London (Facebook).

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.

The Links at Masonville Mall was a popular spot for 90s kids and teens. Photo courtesy of Masonville Mall via Vintage, London (Facebook).

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.

Further Reading

Heard, Susan & London Public Library. 1996. Masonville at the crossroads: from wilderness to thriving community. 

Lewis, Jennie Raycraft. 1958. Birr and Beyond. 

London and Middlesex Historical Society. 1908. Historical Sketches of London Ontario. 

London Public Library. 1994. Toll Gates on the Proof Line Road.  

London Township History Book Committee. 2001. London Township: A Rich Heritage 1796-1997.

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.

London Heritage Council and City of London logos

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