By Stewart Grant
There is nowhere in the world quite like St. Marys, Ontario, and I know that so many of us in the community feel the same way. Life is a slower pace here than in the big city, and most things that we need are either right here in town, or not far away. We don’t spend much time in traffic here, allowing us more time to relax and enjoy life with family and friends within the picturesque scenery that St. Marys provides.
How did we get to present-day St. Marys? What were some of the key moments in time that led us here? In chronological order, here’s my list of “the top 10 historical events that shaped present-day St. Marys”:
#1 – Early 1840s – Settlement
The first settlers arrive at the convergence of the Thames River and Trout Creek, with the landscape inspiring the community’s early name, “Little Falls”.
#2 – mid-1840s – Utilization of the Quarries
Early on in the development of St. Marys as a town, settlers discovered the resource that we had here with our quarries of limestone. St. Marys very quickly became a strong economic centre as a result of the large commercial quarries. Relating to present day St. Marys, the decision roughly one hundred years ago not to allow Water Street itself to be dug up and quarried meant that today we are treated to summers enjoying the largest outdoor swimming pool in Canada at the St. Marys Quarry.
#3 – 1857-60 – Arrival of the Grand Trunk Railway
The railway fueled growth of St. Marys by developing industry and providing jobs, with many of the descendants of early workers still residing here today. Well over a hundred years later, the re-purposing of the Sarnia Bridge as part of the Grand Trunk Trail has made St. Marys home to one of the great trail systems in the country.
#4 – 1880-1904 – Construction of iconic limestone buildings in the downtown
The Opera House was built in 1880, the Town Hall in 1891 and the Public Library in 1904. These and other beautiful limestone buildings set the foundation for “The Stonetown”, making this one of the most picturesque towns in the entire country (for more, please read Ken Telfer’s Page 20 article entitled, “Stonemasons left a lasting impact on St. Marys Architecture”).
#5 – 1912 – Arrival of the St. Marys Cement Company
After seeing a drop in population in the twenty years that followed the 1891 census, the arrival of the St. Marys Cement Company was a massive economic boost that continues to this day and has helped fuel the growth of the town for over one hundred years.
#6 – 1950 – Opening of St. Marys Memorial Hospital
Since 1950, we’ve been fortunate enough to have a first-rate facility here in St. Marys and at certain points in time throughout these years the community has banded together to protect this hospital. As of this writing, the ambitious $5 million goal for the “Someone I Know” fundraising campaign is at the cusp of being realized, representing the most recent testament to the community’s appreciation of the St. Marys Memorial Hospital.
#7 – 1956 – Founding of the St. Marys Lincolns Hockey Club
Sports is something that can really pull a community together, with one notable example being the incredible nationalistic victory which was Canada’s 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. Well, Canada’s true national sport is hockey, and we’ve had a pretty good hockey team here in St. Marys, winning a couple of Sutherland Cups along the way, bringing people together for fellowship and also bringing talented people with leadership skills into this community. Many kids came into this town to play for the Lincolns and have gone on to start businesses here and start families. St. Marys is a better place because of the Lincolns and the team’s Alumni.
#8 – 1972 – Highway #7 bypass and installation of sewers
A hugely significant event to downtown St. Marys occurred when the dam was put in and Highway #7 no longer went right through downtown. Although the move certainly hurt many businesses including the gas stations (which we had a lot of back then), can you imagine the chaos downtown had this bypass not occurred? In my interview this week with former Dick MacPherson, his recollection was that during the time that Highway #7 went through St. Marys, the Province paid for maintenance of the road. With this in mind, the savvy town council at the time arranged the timing of the installation of town sewers such that the cost would be heavily subsidized by the Province, thus saving St. Marys taxpayers a significant cost for the much-needed sewer system.
#9 – 1994 – St. Marys to become new home of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame
As Mayor Jamie Hahn was quoted in his August 25th address, “one of the most historic days in town’s history” took place when St. Marys was named to succeed Toronto to become the new home of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. Over the years, the Hall of Fame has really put St. Marys on the map and has brought people into the town like nothing else. This year’s induction ceremony was the biggest yet at roughly 2,000 people attending. How many of these 2,000 people will remember what a special place we have here? Furthermore, on a daily basis for local residents, the Hall of Fame with its magnificent ball diamonds is a Field of Dreams for those of us who have experienced playing there.
#10 – 2007 – Completion of the Pyramid Recreation Centre
Yes, it cost a lot of money and it is still costing a lot of money. But our community is better for having it. It’s a true attraction for those considering a move to St. Marys and the second ice pad was an absolute must for a hockey-mad town like ours. Among the other amenities, the Friendship Centre seems to be a real asset and from what I understand the Youth Centre is really taking off under the leadership of Ciaran Brennan, with attendance skyrocketing with his fresh new ideas and energy. My hope for the PRC is that the Town of St. Marys takes steps to spark more innovative thinking in terms of the overall management of the facility so that the PRC can be everything that it is supposed to be and that taxpayers get the best possible return on their investment.