The Beginnings of Dundas Street and the Village of Waterdown
Dundas Street passes through the core of Waterdown and is a part of ‘The Governor’s Road’ which stretches from Mississauga to London. Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe proposed the design for the road in 1793 as a military link between Lake Ontario, Lake Erie, Lake St. Claire and Lake Huron, its purpose to encourage settlement and deter Americans from expanding into Upper Canada. Waterdown was settled shortly after Simcoe offered land grants to military personnel who had opened the road between the Humber and the Flamboro Town line.
The Village of Waterdown was developed upon land granted to Alexander McDonnell in 1796. In 1805 ownership transferred to Alexander Brown, who built a sawmill at the falls on Grindstone Creek. The enterprises of Brown, and later Ebenezer Griffin, accounted for substantial industrial growth in the Grindstone Creek Valley. This valley – Smokey Hollow – was fueled by dams and raceways, and was the sight of many mills, tanneries, and factories. At the time of the first assessment in 1841 the village population comprised of 165 people. Waterdown was incorporated as a Village in 1878 but a series of fires and a decrease in the creek’s waterpower heralded the slow decline of the settlement’s importance. Although few remnants of the old mills remain, many original buildings from the village’s pioneering days have been preserved.
Before the 1950s, Waterdown’s commercial district had been located entirely between the Main and Mill Street section of Dundas Street. A gradual growth in the village’s population and residential construction following the end of World War II and an influx of European immigrants into Flamborough resulted in a demand for additional and improved commercial opportunities. Beginning first along the east side of Hamilton Street North with the arrival of the village’s first grocery chain, the IGA, and then across to the northwest corner of Dundas and Hamilton Streets with the opening of a Sunoco Service Station in 1953.
Land north of this corner, that had until the late 1950s been part of the Metcalfe Family Market Gardening Farm, became the village’s first large-scale commercial development when the Rosart Brothers purchased it in the 1980s. Now known locally as the ‘Sobey’s plaza,’ grocery stores have been the major tenants of the development that now also includes restaurants and a pharmacy.
Until the 1980s, the northeast corner of Dundas and Hamilton Street included a white house that was once the Brown family Restaurant – a favourite hangout of Waterdown High students in the 1930s and 1940s. The building was also used as the campaign headquarters for Mrs. Betty Ward, who successfully ran for Mayor of the Township of Flamborough. The house was soon after demolished and a gas station/car wash built in its place. This closed in 2010.
One of the few private residences remaining on Dundas Street, this ornate and unusual Victorian house was built by Waterdown carpenter John Reid; it has been the home of two well-known village residents. During the first half of the twentieth century it was owned by Reeve Richard Smith who, after the 1922 fire had destroyed much of the village core, suggested that only fireproof buildings be erected in the centre of the village. Cecil Carson of Fred Carson & Sons bought the property in the 1950s and it remains in the ownership of the Carson family today.
Long known as ‘The White House,’ this one-and-a-half storey white painted stucco house was built in a style typical to the period of 1860-1875, with features such as a traditional centre gable and matching front facade. It has served as a residence and commercial establishment that has included a seamstress, a ceramics store, and a tearoom. Gillian Niblett, former owner of ‘Tea at the White House’, once famously had her scones purchased and served to The Rolling Stones on a flight to Vancouver.
The building has been restored , and has been named ‘The Teahouse’.
Now a commercial establishment, this Victorian mansion built in 1884 was originally the home of one of Waterdown’s most successful merchants, William H. Crooker. The beautiful red brick house retains much of its original landscaping. The coach house, originally located at the rear of the property, was relocated to the west side of the home. Both W.H. Crooker and his son Frederick operated a general store on the corner of Main and Dundas Streets from the last decade of the nineteenth century, to 1922 when it was destroyed by one of the fires that occurred in the village core during the first quarter of the twentieth century. F. Crooker later served as both village postmaster and reeve. Dr. Reginald Perkins used the building as both residence and office during the ‘40s and ‘50s.
Waterdown’s hotels at one time numbered nine, most of them located along Dundas Street. Originally known as the Kirk Hotel or Kirk House, this hotel was named after the family who operated it from 1888 when Patrick Kirk purchased the building, It was sold out of the Kirk family ownership in 1966.
In the hotel’s early days, a night’s lodging cost only $1.50 and whisky was 3 cents a glass. During its first years, the Kirk was one of the sites of local agricultural salesman John Prudhams annual banquet. A small stream once crossed through what has since become a parking lot and was used to save the building during the dramatic fire of 1922.
Built around a smaller house c. 1850 that faced onto Main Street, this elegant late Victorian house was the home of Waterdown’s first Reeve, Charles Sealey. Great care was taken by his builder to match the brick and wood work on the openings of the original house, so only an expert is now able to detect evidence of an earlier building. Chestnut Grove has since been designated as a property of architectural and historical interest. Charles Sealey reportedly gave the name to his 1880 house because of the many Horse Chestnut trees that used to grow on rear of the property that stretched as far north as Church Street. Miraculously, this building was not damaged in any of the 1906-1922 fires.
The site of what is now the Memorial Hall was originally occupied by a tall wooden building known as the Bell House and Tower; the tower housed an enormous cast iron bell that was rung during the workday to indicate curfew times and emergencies such as fires. Erected in 1874, it was the site of the village’s first election and council meetings. In 1920 the structure was declared unsafe. After its demolition the Waterdown Women’s Institute purchased the site and raised much of the funds to build a community hall to honour the Great War Veterans of 1914 to 1918. Construction began in 1922, and fortunately the building survived the fire of the same year. The bell from the original tower remains mounted in front of the Hall.
Originally the J.T. Stock Building, the northwest corner of Mill and Dundas Street has housed commercial businesses since 1855. Typical of the mid-1800s merchant store design that included living quarters above, this building was also home to the first telephone line in Waterdown, installed in 1882. Around 1900, it became a harness shop, but a few years later it was used by the Trader’s Bank and subsequently the Royal Bank, who purchased the building in 1912. It has also served as a bakery, confectionary, butcher, grocery shop, dress shop, and antiques store. Pickwick Books now uses the old bank safe to display world history books.
The name ‘Vinegar Hill’ has been used for this area of Waterdown since its beginnings, and may have been given because of the apple cider that was often produced on the numerous apple orchards and market gardens along the hill; without modern refrigeration, the cider fermented and developed a vinegary smell.
Although its structure has been changed many times over the years, Fred Carson & Sons built the first substantial bridge over the new rail tracks in 1911. The bridge was rebuilt in 1964/65 and again in 1993. In June 1966, hundreds of people stood on the new structure to watch the Waterdown South Railway Station go up in flames. Though Gaffney Construction Company had recently requested to dismantle the station by fire, Waterdown Reeve Orly Gunby denied permission as the summer months were unsuitable for controlled fires; however, vandals finished the job themselves.
Once leading down to the Vance House (later converted into the Waterdown South Railway Station) as well as Will Reid’s barn, Board Street was also the site of several small mills between 1835 and 1910. The coming of the railway through the Grindstone Creek valley forced these mills to close as the creek was rerouted to the west side of the valley and the railroad followed much of the original creek bed. Board Street led to the busy Waterdown South Rail station after the railroad opened in 1912.
Originally part of a Crown Grant to E.C. Griffin in 1837, this house is one of the oldest in the village. Ownership is unclear between 1839 and 1855, though it was owned by members of the Horning family between 1855 and 1863. The rear section of the house dates from the 1839-1855 period, while the front one-and-a-half-storey board and batten section dates from 1860 to 1870. One of its most impressive features was its wooden verandah which had ornate brackets, matching the trim on the gable.. During the first half of the twentieth century the backyard contained a large greenhouse, which was used for market gardening when William Balfour owned the house.