The Village of Waterdown was developed upon land that was originally granted to Alexander McDonnell in 1796. In 1805 ownership was transferred to Alexander Brown who built a sawmill at the falls on Grindstone Creek. This creek provided power for the endeavours of the early pioneers and thus the Village of Waterdown was born.
The enterprises of Brown, and later of Ebenezer Griffin accounted for substantial industrial growth in the Grindstone Creek Valley. This valley, popularly known as Smokey Hollow, was fuelled by dams and raceways, and was the site of saw, grist, and flour mills, a woollen mill, brass foundry, tanneries, rake, snaith, cradle, and basket factories. At the time of the first Assessment in 1841 the village population was comprised of 165 people. Waterdown was incorporated as a Village in 1878 but a series of fires and a decrease in the water power of Grindstone Creek heralded the slow decline of the settlement’s importance.
Although few remnants of the old mills remain, many other original structures from the village’s pioneering days have been magnificently preserved. Today Waterdown flourishes as a service centre, and as one of the beauty spots of the Niagara Escarpment.
Dundas Street passes through the core of Waterdown, and is a part of “The Governor’s Road” which stretches from Mississauga to London.
The design for the road was proposed by Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe in 1793 as a military link between Lake Ontario, Lake Erie, Lake St. Claire, and Lake Huron, to encourage settlement, and to deter Americans from expanding into Upper Canada. Waterdown, along with many other villages on the Governor’s Road, was settled shortly after Simcoe offered land grants to the military personnel who had opened the road.
1. 315 Dundas Street East
This fine red brick, one-and-a-half storey Victorian house with gables and barge board was built in 1880 by prosperous local merchant Charles Sealey, first Reeve of Waterdown. Mr. Sealey gave the name Chestnut Grove to his property, possibly from the large number of Horse Chestnut trees that were growing on the land around the house.
2. North East Corner: Main and Dundas Streets
A large brick building built during the 1890’s by Frederick William Crooker to house his general store once stood on this corner of Main and Dundas Streets. When the building was badly damaged in the fire of 1915 it was rebuilt and sold to the Dale Family who established a grocery business. The Dales constructed the present building after the Great Fire of 1922, but only stayed another year before selling the building to W.C. “Wilf” Langford who operated a pharmacy at this location for the next 64 years.
3. The Royal Coachman
The earliest record of a hotel upon this corner is in 1868 when William Heisse was listed as a Hotel Keeper. Patrick Kirk purchased the small frame hotel in 1888 and it remained in this family until 1966. Soon after the Kirk Family took possession they enlarged the building, likely to accommodate passengers of the three different stage coach routes that passed through Waterdown. Until the 1950’s a stream crossed the open area of the present parking lot and was reputedly used to help douse the Great Fire of 1922.
4. 299 Dundas Street East
This Victorian mansion was built in 1884 for successful Waterdown merchant William H. Crooker. At the turn of the century ownership of the property passed to his son F.W. Crooker who served as Waterdown’s Postmaster 1906-1927 and as Reeve of the village from 1924 until his death in 1927.
5. 289 Dundas Street East
This Victorian house has been the home of two well known Waterdown residents. During the first half of the century it was owned by Richard “Dick” Smith who served as Reeve of Waterdown, 1920-1924 and 1932-1943. The property was purchased c.1950 by Cecil Carson of Fred Carson & Sons, the company responsible for building the village water-works and for paving the Mount Hope airstrip.
6. The Waterdown District High School
On February 27, 1928 the largest gathering in the history of Waterdown, nearly 800 people, assembled to watch the opening ceremonies of the new high school. The school was built of red brick in the Art Deco Style at a cost of $70,000. The original building housed 250 pupils in eight classrooms, a gymnasium, and an assembly hall. Enlarged several times to accommodate larger numbers of pupils, by 1993 the building had ceased to be efficient and a new Waterdown District High School located on Parkside Drive was opened.
7. 292 Dundas Street East
Constructed c. 1880 this home has several fine features including a wide front verandah and decorative bargeboard. Mr. Harold Greene, the first publisher of the Waterdown Review lived in the house for a brief period c.1918-1919, and a few of the early papers are believed to have been produced in the carriage house.
8. Methodist New Connexion Church
This building was constructed c.1859 as the Canadian Wesleyan Methodist New Connexion Church. After only 25 years the congregation joined with the Wesleyan Methodists on Mill St. and the building became the Sunday School for the two churches. Converted into a private residence, changes in the exterior of the building include the position of the front door and bricked windows. Note the unusual perennial garden along Flamboro St.
9. St. Thomas Parish Church, Flamboro Street
The first Catholic Church in the village was erected in 1846. This structure was replaced in 1864 by a more permanent stone church, in use until this building was erected. The corner stone for the building was laid in 1914 by His Excellency, Bishop Dowling. St. Thomas Church was dedicated in 1915 and houses The High Altar originally used in the old church.
10. 68 Flamboro Street
This two storey, red brick home with white brick decoration above the windows and door was built c. 1860. The building was possibly constructed for Chas. Sealey, First Reeve of Waterdown, who owned this property which extended south to Snake Road and west to Hamilton Street.
11. 134 Main Street South
One of the finer stone houses in Waterdown, this attractive home with its “gingerbread” trim was built c.1859. Set in a beautifully landscaped garden that has been largely planted in the last decade, the house was originally erected to serve as the Wesleyan Methodist Manse. Although the house appears to be built of stone, the clever builder actually used rubble stone and mortar and then “dressed” it to give the impression of cut stone.
12. Sealey Park
The tiny stone building situated on this property is all that remains of the large two storey, eight room Waterdown Public and High School that operated from 1873 until 1918. The first Entrance Exams taken in Ontario were written in this building. When it became over-crowded a new school was built and this property was purchased by W. O. Sealey, Reeve of East Flamborough, who deeded it to the village as a park. Today it serves as the Waterdown Scout Hall.
13. 31 Main Street South
Constructed c.1857, this two storey clapboard structure was the site of Waterdown’s first telegraph office and for many years served as the village’s post office. J. B. Thompson served as post master from the 1860’s until the first decade of this century. The large frame building has undergone few major alterations and is a fine example of the buildings constructed in the 1800’s as a combined place of business and residence.
14. 24 Griffin Street
The Regency Stone Cottage is known locally as the Griffin Stone Cottage. It is believed to have been built c.1840-1849 for Ebenezer C. Griffin’s son James K. Griffin. E.C. Griffin, the “Father of Waterdown”, established an industrial empire along the Grindstone Creek consisting of a flour mill, ashery, carding mill, sawmill, and general store.
15. The Weeks Block, Mill Street South
This fine stone building constructed soon after Ebenezer Griffin’s purchase in 1821 was operated for 75 years as a general store by the Griffin Family. Ownership of the building has changed hands only four times in the past 170 years – Eager Family (1880-1924), Weeks Family (1924-1972), and Smith Family (1972-1990) have operated a variety of general and hardware stores on this site.
16. The American Hotel, Dundas Street East
The American Hotel, built c.1824, is one of the oldest hotels in Ontario. The building has remained in operation as a hotel since 1824, closed only during prohibition. The two storey building once boasted an upstairs ballroom and an archway on the Mill Street entrance which permitted carriages to drive through allowing ladies to go directly inside. This hotel contained the last old time stand-up bar in Ontario, and maintained segregated male and female front rooms until 1966.
17. 325 Dundas Street East
Popularly known as the J.T. Stock Building, businesses have thrived here since 1855. Among the businesses that have operated at this location, Featherstone’s Bakery, Stock’s Store, Reid’s Harness Shop, The Royal Bank, and Huxley’s Store. The first telephone line in Waterdown was installed in Stock’s Store, May 1882, and for the next twenty three years was the only telephone in town.
18. Corner of Franklin and Dundas Streets
The Harper Building was built on the south east corner of Franklin and Dundas Street between 1977 and 1980. Prior to that time a house belonging to George Potts stood on the corner. For 54 years Mr. Potts worked as a blacksmith in the village. When he died on March 9, 1967 he was one of the last blacksmiths in Ontario.
19. 317 Dundas Street East
Built in 1922, largely through the efforts of the Waterdown Women’s Institute, the Memorial Hall serves as a war memorial to the soldiers of Waterdown who died in World War I. The clock tower that was once mounted on top of the hall had to be dismantled in 1948 when it was deemed unsafe. The bell displayed in front of the hall rang in the old Bell Tower which stood on the same lot in the late 1800’s.
Map of the walking tour:
The Waterdown-East Flamborough Heritage Society
Research and design by Lori Dodman
Photographs by Maurice Green
Layout by Robert Wray