Sunny Side Up

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Chew On This!

Chew On This! at Sunny Side Up: Streets

Streets are more than just transit-ways, or routes for us to drive, bike, or walk from one place to another. Rather, an argument can be made that streets in themselves are places. Take a moment to consider how we use the streets of downtown St. Catharines. We convene on them for celebrations like the In the Soil Arts Festival and the Niagara Wine Festival. We meet friends on the sidewalks of streets before heading into a restaurant (like one of the fantastic downtown restaurants we partnered with for the Chew on This program!), or before enjoying an evening of entertainment at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre or the Meridian Centre. We hear musicians playing on streets, and find food trucks set-up alongside them. Streets are even places of advocacy and activism allowing for marches and moments of protest. Can you think of more ways we use the streets of downtown?

How we use our streets can say a lot about our community and the collective identity of our city. The streets of downtown St. Catharines have been integral to defining this sense of community, and as our downtown evolves and changes, so does our community. How might the streets of downtown be used in the future?

St. Paul Street, c. 1860
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As St. Catharines continues to grow and evolve, so to will its streetscapes. Many photographs in the St. Catharines Museum collection render our historic downtown almost unrecognizable to today. This photo captures the scene of St. Paul Street looking towards Ontario Street from Queen Street.

Many of the buildings in this photo have long since been demolished. Prominent among these lost buildings, is the Odd Fellows Hall. Also unrecognizable to us is how the streets were used. At the time of this photograph, in the mid-nineteenth century, the streets were made of dirt and filled with horses pulling wagons or buggies. The dirt roads would have been very muddy in the spring and fall, especially after a rainfall, and particularly dry in the summer months. At all times of the year, horse droppings would have been a regular feature on the streets of St. Catharines. The smells and sights on the streets were less than desirable.

Downtown St. Catharines, c. 1920
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This aerial view of downtown St. Catharines, photographed in 1920, is particularly telling of how our downtown has changed drastically and has also remained the same. We see the familiar curve of St. Paul Street and the stark structure of the Canada Hair Cloth building, yet other features may surprise us. Most prominently, is the waterway of the old Second Welland Canal, winding below St. Paul Street and the mill races flowing parallel to the canal that once powered the industries along its route. This waterway has since been filled in by the construction of Highway 406. Glenridge Bridge has also undergone significant transformations since 1920. What other changes do you see in this photograph? 

City Street Cleaner, 1939
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City employee James Monk sits in the driver’s seat of his street-sweeping machine in 1939. Using a series of spinning brushes and conveyer belts, motorized street-sweepers helped to keep the city’s streets clean of litter and debris. Before the advent of this motorized machine, streets were cleaned by horse drawn machines and on-foot street sweepers. This machine was purchased in 1920 and travelled over 130,000 miles in its lifetime cleaning the streets of St. Catharines. The machine was replaced with a more modern sweeper in 1943. In all that time, Monk remained the head street-sweeping operator.

City “Garbage Truck” (Public Works Garbage Collection), 1939
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Garbage collection in St. Catharines has an interesting history tied to advancements in health advocacy. To address the health concerns of rotting garbage and unsanitary trash filling the streets, the city council introduced the first garbage collection and disposal system in 1909. For $12.00 a day, contractor H.A. Cozzens operated three carts with three men to collect the garbage produced by the city’s businesses and residents. However, the incinerator was built too close to the downtown and caused significant smell and smoke problems. The garbage site was later moved close to Lock 4 of the Second Canal, only for the residents of the Glenridge neighbourhood to also complain.

Grape and Wine Parade, 1967
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Historically, the streets of downtown St. Catharines have been places for gathering and celebration. Here, onlookers pack St. Paul Street to watch the Grape and Wine Parade in 1967.  In the foreground, the Majorettes lead a performance. What celebrations do you recall taking place in the streets of downtown St. Catharines?

St. Paul Street, c. 1930
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The streets of downtown are a vibrant backdrop to the everyday life of the city. This shot of St. Paul Street, at Carlisle Street looking east towards Academy Street, in the 1930s, showcases the bustling commotion of a typical day downtown. The sidewalks are packed with pedestrians. Automobiles drive in a laneless street with seeming disregard for the standard of driving etiquette we have today. A streetcar, with very visible tracks, moves alongside the automobiles in synchrony. Though fashion, street signs, and the presence of streetcars downtown may have changed over time, there is a sense of familiarity in the bustling city we see here. How does downtown fit into your everyday life today?