A feast for the eyes…
Recently, local author and “bookish history buff” Jennifer Grainger released her latest book on London’s history, London Free Press: From the Vault. The book takes you on a photographic tour of London and surrounding area as seen through the lenses of Free Press photographers from the mid-19th century to 1950.
Covering such areas as architecture, business, industry, culture, and military, the book provides a comprehensive and fascinating snapshot of London’s past. Along with each image, the author includes a brief but in-depth description of what the reader’s viewing which affirms From the Vault as a certifiable page-turner.
During the book’s creation process, Grainger sifted through thousands of photographs and negatives at Western Archives, a local resource she described as a “treasure trove for anyone looking for images of London and Southwestern Ontario’s past.” She continued selecting based on photos that very clearly illustrated well-known elements of London’s history, but ones people likely haven’t seen before.
Some criteria included things like “a well-known building under construction, a street intersection from a different angle, interior views of businesses… [or] photos with Londoners taking part in various activities, like skating on the Coves in winter, newsboys delivering papers, students roller skating to classes at Western, and labourers at work” she said.
Upon reading, it becomes very clear that Grainger put heart, soul, and passion into the formulation of From the Vault and history buffs and hobbyists alike will be quite glad she did. At one point you may learn about thriving businesses like the East End Dairy Bar or Club Shangri-la, while at another, how a section of Clarence Street was actually once named “Chinatown.”
Grainger added that through From the Vault, “the photos highlight the difference in the vital downtown core of the 1930s and ‘40s, as opposed to the near-emptiness of today.” That said, we believe that this book exemplifies the importance of local news and print outlets over the years, a point that’s important to remember considering their wobbly and uncertain fate today. We must learn from and appreciate our history today so as to progress positively in the future, and From the Vault confirms it.
So, we could say just go grab a copy of From the Vault and bask in the diverse, eclectic, and at times frightening history that comes with good old London, Ontario. But, we’re more long-winded than that. Therefore, we traipsed around downtown collecting some nice “then & now” photos of prominent downtown intersections and buildings that are featured in Grainger’s research. We had a lot of fun and hope you will too because whether examining the vault itself or our streets today, there’s a whole awful lot to see!
Then: The Grigg House Hotel
This photo, taken of the northeastern corner of Richmond and York Streets in 1890 shows The Grigg House Hotel (originally called “America House”). This structure was built for John McKinnon in 1879 and later purchased by Samuel Grigg hence the name change.
Fun fact: This was the first hotel in London to have running water.
Now: The Cornerstone by YOU
In 2017, the former Grigg houses local organization Youth Opportunities Unlimited (YOU). Much of the original brickwork and detail can still be seen today and much of that credit goes to YOU for expertly preserving the historical dignity of this building.
As it stands, the Cornerstone includes the YOU Made It Cafe, affordable housing units, a youth action centre, meeting rooms, and a rooftop terrace for events.
Then: Talbot Street at Covent Garden
This photo illustrates what experiencing Talbot Street, looking north across from the Covent Garden Market, would look like in the early 1900s. This was one of London’s busiest locations considering the road’s reputation as a main thoroughfare as well as its proximity to the vital downtown market.
A fun fact from Grainger: Look closely at the Wegner Clothing sign and you’ll see a heart that says “the heart of London.” And that it was.
Now: Budweiser Gardens
Although worlds away from what it used to look like, we think this stretch of Talbot Street exudes beauty in its own right. There are no ornate awnings or romantic horse-drawn carriages but today, Budweiser Gardens exists as a beacon of downtown London and is essential to much of the entertainment and economic development of the core.
What makes Bud even better? The facade you see here at the far corner of Talbot and Dundas Streets, is a direct replica of The Talbot Inn. This 19th century structure stood on this site for 125 years and can be seen in the previous Free Press photo.
Then: London’s Central Fire Hall
In the 1850s, one could admire London’s second ever fire hall, the Central Fire Hall on the north side of King Street between Richmond and Clarence. The streetscape was mighty and its significance massive.
As surrounding suburbs were annexed into London, it became necessary by 1853 to have fire halls within each area of the city. The Central Fire Hall was the second one built and in this trend, it was preceded by the North Street (today, Carling) Fire Hall in 1847 and followed by the third in the London East Town Hall at Dundas and Rectory (presently, Aeolian Hall).
Now: Residential Towers and Parking
A fire hall no longer but certainly a hub of activity, this portion of King Street boasts the King’s Inn Diner, Massey’s Indian restaurant, residential spaces, and, London’s favourite… a parking lot. Times changed and although this block’s still very busy, it’s in a wholly different way than years past.
What’s that at the end of the block? Yep, it’s the Richmond Tavern, a local mainstay that has been in operation since the late 19th century, read on for more!
Then: The Richmond Hotel
When it first opened in 1860, the Richmond was known mainly as a hotel under the name The Revere House. Here pictured in 1942 as The Richmond Hotel, this establishment has thrived continuously given its downtown London central location close to businesses and the Covent Garden Market.
Fun fact: The Richmond is still open for business and continues to be a staple in the London music scene.
Now: The Richmond Tavern
Longevity defined, the Richmond Tavern is a place for touring bands and locals alike. To anyone who has experienced a good time at the Richmond, keep going back, this local gem is amongst the oldest in London and should be celebrated.
No one can deny the significance of The Richmond and, personally speaking, we see it continuing for many years to come.
Then: Dundas and Richmond
Well, this looks a little different! This photo is a postcard from 1905 which shows us the elaborate and striking design of what we now know as the very centre of downtown London. Note the ornate detailing on the building to the left, what was then the Federal Bank, built by George Durand in 1878.
Fun fact: Take a look at the building on the right. It has been many things over the years including a cigar store, a vintage store, and a dentist office, but from 2008-2015, the second floor was LondonFuse HQ!
Here we have a modern view of Dundas and Richmond, affectionately referred to now as DNR. Admittedly, much of that 19th century romantic beauty has vanished but there are still elements present including the original apartments above Starbucks on the northwest corner along with the former Fuse office (now Uprlft) on the southeast.
This is the centre of our city and even though the previously mentioned Talbot and King Streets could be considered “the heart of London,” our vote goes to DNR.
Check out more of Grainger’s books online through Biblioasis as well as at Dundurn Press. And don’t miss her talk at Attic Books this Saturday, Dec. 2 from 2-4pm along with Herman Goodden and Ryan Craven!
Feature photo courtesy of Western Archives via “From the Vault