Home to many social services, artistic ventures, and educational hubs, Midtown has always been more than just a stop on the way downtown.
Stretching from Queens Avenue in the north to the CN railroad tracks in the south, London, ON’s Midtown is centred along Dundas Street, with borders to the east and west around Adelaide and Colborne Streets, respectively. Wedged between the downtown core and Old East Village, it is a largely commercial area with many shops, services and restaurants located on the Dundas Street business corridor.
The small but mighty neighbourhood dates back to 1855 and has a strong residential presence mostly made up of three-storey walk-ups and high-rise apartment buildings as well as a number of large homes built in the late 19th and early 20th century, most of which have been converted into businesses or apartments.
The Dundas Street Centre United Church is over a hundred years old and stands in the heart of the neighbourhood. Its origins date back to 1846 when a group of British and American Methodists met for worship in a small cottage on Adelaide Street near Bathurst. The group looked for a more permanent solution in 1856 when they rented a house on Adelaide Street. Their plans to build a church, however, were stalled until Methodists from the North Street Church, known today as the Metropolitan United Church, stepped in to provide both moral and financial support.
A frame was finally built on the northeast corner of Adelaide and King Streets in 1860, with the capacity to accommodate a congregation of 300 people. The newly dubbed Adelaide Methodist Church was later sold to the Anglicans, and then to the Baptists. It moved to the south side of King Street and expanded into the Adelaide Street Baptist Church of today. The United Congregation purchased a wooded property on the corner of Dundas and Maitland Streets in 1869, and soon after laid the cornerstone for a new yellow-brick church. On April 3, 1870, they dedicated the Gothic-style Dundas Street Wesleyan Methodist Church. In 1876, it was re-named the Dundas Street Centre Methodist Church.
Dundas Street Centre Methodist Church burned to the ground almost 20 years later, on February 13, 1895. It was quickly replaced with the red-brick, Romanesque-style building that stands today. The present building was recognized in 1995 as a historic site for its unique sanctuary featuring a semicircular, free-standing balcony as well as its beautiful Victorian stained glass windows and dome. Most unique is the pipe organ — a three-manual Casavant featuring rosewood keys, instead of the usual metal keys. It was installed in 1930 after the previous one was destroyed by fire, and it remains the only organ in the region with a Wood Harp or Marimba.
Fostering the Arts
Midtown is home to some of the City’s cultural staples. In 1919, Albert D. Jordan bought Buchan House, a property to the west of Adelaide Street, and turned it into the London Institute of Musical Art. Formerly named Oakhurst House, the building was erected in 1871 in a distinctive Italianate and Romanesque style. Upon taking possession of the property, Jordan transformed the attic into a performance hall with a platform for instrumental concerts, which took place weekly.
Jordan was the organist and choirmaster at First Methodist Church and a major figure in the London Musical Art Society. Jordan also organized concerts, such as a 1916 performance of Handel’s “Messiah” by a chorus of 400 and a symphony orchestra which included Guy Lombardo, and performances by the New York Symphony and the Russian Symphony Orchestra.
Today, the Aeolian Hall’s Cronyn Education Campus is located in Bishop Cronyn Memorial Anglican Church, the second oldest church in the city. The 147-year-old building stands as a fine example of pure Gothic church architecture, with features such as a large performance space split between two levels, outstanding hardwood floors and a large vaulted wood ceiling.
The original plans for the building were drawn on linen and executed by Henry Langley, a Toronto church architect and the first chair of the Department of Architecture at the University of Toronto. Named for the first bishop of the Huron Diocese, Bishop Cronyn drew in crowds of 700 people to its Sunday services in Victorian times. Since then its congregation dwindled until the church had to be shut down; however, the property has been revived thanks to the partnership with the Aeolian Hall.
Education and Vocations
The neighbourhood is also home to H. B. Beal Secondary School, a noteworthy institution for arts education. The high school is named after Herbert Benson Beal, the school’s founder and first principal. In 1911, Beal identified the need for a program that offered technical education to reflect the emerging needs of society.
With this vision in mind, the London Industrial School opened its doors in 1912. It began by offering both day and night programs; however, demand grew rapidly and, after moving buildings and making other additions over almost a century, it was decided that the best course of action would be to completely renovate Beal so that it could continue to be a leader in the field of education.
After a 52 million dollar renovation — one of the most expensive school renovations in Canadian history — “The New Beal” officially opened in June 1999. Today, Bealart is a hub for training in visual and performing arts. Notable alumni of the school include artist and filmmaker Jack Chambers, Major League Baseball outfielder Frank Colman, artist Greg Curnoe, and musician and entertainer Tommy Hunter.
A Sacred Heart
Another historic school located in Midtown is Catholic Central High School. Located on the north side of Dundas Street between Colborne and Burwell Streets, the school building is in the spot where London’s first postmaster lived. The building was originally constructed in 1854 as the home of Lawrence Lawrason, London’s first Police Magistrate. In the years following its tenure as Lawrason’s home, it became home to the Sacred Heart Convent.
The Sisters who lived at the convent began teaching music. The convent had a Casavant organ installed in 1931 — a stunning instrument made in Quebec by a company heralded for its craftsmanship around the world-known. The Sisters established the Sacred Heart School of Music, which later became the St. Joseph School of Music. They even started an orchestra called the Sacred Heart Concert Orchestra. They received help in their musical pursuits from Mr. César Borré, a renowned Belgian musician.
Furthermore, a Departmental inspection of Sacred Heart Commercial High School revealed that the education provided at the institution was above average, to the point that graduates with a general business or diploma had an education equivalent to a secondary school diploma. In 1946, it was determined that the Sacred Heart Convent site would be used to build a new Catholic high school, including both junior and senior schools. The Senior school became Catholic Central High School, opening in September 1950 in the former Sacred Heart Convent. The property was transferred to the Catholic School Board in 1955, and by 1959, most of Sacred Heart Convent had been demolished, save the chapel wing which was torn down in 1986. The new Catholic Central building opened in September 1959.
A Giving Spirit, Before Her Time
A passionate advocate for education and the community, Harriet Anne Mills born in England in 1835. In 1878, Mills married Reverend Michael Boomer, Dean of the Anglican Diocese of Huron, Principal of Huron College, and a signer of the charter of the Western University of London, Ontario. She is remembered for her devotion to her community and as a woman before her time. She played a major role in establishing a number of women’s societies in London, including the London Local Council of Women in 1893, where she served twenty years as president.
She also helped establish the local Red Cross branch, which was initially organized to assist Canadian soldiers serving in the Boer War. It was a member of the Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire (IODE), which later named a chapter in Mills’ honour. Mills was particularly passionate about education. She became the first woman trustee on the London Board of Education in 1898 and remained a tireless advocate of training in business and domestic science for girls and technical training for boys.
Before her death in 1921, Mills worked closely with the National Council of Women, the local Victorian Order of Nurses, the St. John Ambulance Association, and the Women’s Christian Association, among others. Upon her death, the Free Press regarded her as “perhaps London’s most philanthropic and patriotic worker.” Fittingly enough given her life-long interest in education, Mills’ home was demolished to allow for H.B. Beal Technical and Commercial High School in 1916.
Making a Fresh Start
Midtown’s reputation for community service goes far beyond the London Police Service, whose headquarters is located in the neighbourhood at the corner of Dundas and Adelaide Streets. For over 50 years, St. Leonard’s Community Services, London and Region has been working tirelessly to foster a community where everyone feels safe, valued and supported. St. Leonard’s was founded in 1969 thanks to the efforts and leadership of the Bishop Cronyn Memorial Church congregation, as well as founding members Allan Henderson, Jeffery Flinn, and Hume Cronyn.
At the time of its founding, Canada had a growing but fledgling halfway house movement. It was such a groundbreaking idea, that London was the second city to have a halfway house. The organization seeks to help those who have been incarcerated gain the skills and opportunities needed to transition back to living in the community in a safe way. Up until the 1990s, Ontario was recognized as a leader both nationally and internationally in the development of various tools that provided appropriate assessment, treatment and intervention strategies for people exiting the corrections system and reintegrating into society.
Around 1995, the provincial government made a monumental shift and removed more than half of St. Leonard’s budget. From there, the SLCS reached new levels of innovation in its mission to serve individuals in conflict with the law — for instance, it was the first social justice not-for-profit to secure health funding in the province. The organization, still located in Midtown, continues to promote positive change in all persons who encounter conflict with the law, establishing a safer and healthier community.
Serving the Vulnerable
Additional community efforts include the Mission Services of London, an organization founded in 1951 to help the homeless and others in need through programs such as their men’s shelter, and Clinic 528. There are other social justice initiatives based in the area, such as the John Howard Society of Ontario’s London branch, which is a not-for-profit that has worked to support people and communities affected by the criminal justice system since 1947.
The John Howard Society of London and District was the second branch of the Society to open in Ontario, and in 1953, the branch became a financially participating member of the “Community Chest of London,” which is known today as the United Way of London and Middlesex. Since opening in the community, the Society has expanded its programs to attend to all phases of the correctional process — from arrest to institutional discharge —and plays an increasingly important role in prevention, family support and public education.
In addition, My Sisters’ Place women’s shelter is located near the heart of the neighbourhood, in Midtown’s historic Buchan House. Before housing My Sisters’ Place, Buchan House was the home of the Tweedsmuir Branch of the Canadian Legion, which aided veterans and contributed to other community organizations such as the Red Cross and United Appeal. Today, the building offers a safe, welcoming and inclusive space to support women through drop-in and wrap-around services, whether they’re facing gender-based violence, chronic health challenges, extreme poverty, or other challenging circumstances.
Midtown is also the home of the oldest child care centre in Ontario, London Day Nursery. Located at 387 King Street, the child care centre was established in 1920, arising out of a need for women to work in support of the war effort while men were joining the military. Although it is London Bridge’s smallest centre, it continues to offer enriching services for young children in the community.
From its past to its present, Midtown residents have always had a passion for community service.
Feature photo of the now-demolished BealArt Annex in 1998, courtesy of Amie Ronald-Morgan 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.