During the early years of the 20th century, a group of buildings that included The Bell House and Tower, together with several other businesses, were to be found in the central section on the north side of Dundas Street. Two of the largest buildings, both of frame construction, were destroyed or demolished, which allowed for the construction of Memorial Hall, erected to honour the veterans of the First World War.
The first of the buildings to be lost was W. Cummins’ Drugstore. On September 30, 1918, villagers awakened to a fire on Dundas Street, the third since the beginning of the century. The rear section of the building, the site of the blaze, was destroyed. Many residents assisted in removing the druggist’s stock.
The second building was the Bell House and Tower, erected in 1874. The first village elections in 1878 and the first Waterdown Council meeting are recorded as being held in this building. The Third Divisional Court for the County of Wentworth and the village lockup were housed there, as was the Fire Department’s sole hand pumper. Even early editions of the first village newspaper, Waterdown Review, were reputedly composed and printed on the ground floor of the building before it was demolished in 1920.
The enormous building dominated the village streetscape. Capping the tall wooden tower was the village bell, tolled at the start and finish of each work day and to alert residents of community emergencies. After the building was demolished, the bell was retained and eventually mounted at the front of the Memorial Hall.
In 1920, the Waterdown Women’s Institute, together with various church groups in the village, purchased the vacant site and raised funds to build a community hall. Construction began in the spring of 1922; miraculously, the partly-built structure was not damaged by the Great Waterdown Fire that broke out later in the year.
Construction of the hall was completed in the late fall and the Waterdown Review described the hall as “an example of what a small community can achieve when united in a common goal.”
Sylvia Wray is the former archivist with the Flamborough Archives. She can be reached through the Archives at email@example.com.
This article was originally published in the Flamborough Review, 10 April 2009.