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Centennial Gardens Exhibits

Centennial Gardens was unveiled in 1967 to commemorate Canada's centennial year. The original park included commemorative plaques representing the 12 provinces and territories of the time. These plaques were installed on a concrete wall that surrounds the Totem Pole created by Kwa' Waka' Wak artist Doug Cranmer. The original plaques disappeared years ago but distinct blank rectangles remain.

In 2011 the Public Art Advisory Committee (PAAC) was contacted by a resident suggesting that these spaces could provide an opportunity for a public art project. The Committee worked with the Niagara Artists' Centre to create the first poster exhibit in the summer of 2012. The result was vibrant contemporary art posters designed by local artists in an exhibit titled Emblemata.

Current Exhibit

Merritton: Unearthing A Community’s Roots

Merritton: Unearthing a Community's Roots celebrates the vibrant history of the former Town of Merritton, now a neighbourhood within St. Catharines. These historic photos of Merritton reveal its expansion from a small hamlet to a community-minded and ever-growing town. This community's progress throughout the years has been inspired by the warm-hearted spirit of its citizens: those who have called Merritton their home know that "no matter how far they may wander, no matter how high up the ladder of success they climb, there is still no place like home." Hugh J. Main, former owner of Main's Drug Store, from the book Merritton Centennial 1874-1974.

We hope you enjoy this exhibit's visit to the old home town.

Map to exhibit and locations featured in images.


View Merritton: Unearthing a Community's Roots exhibit in a larger map

 

Merritton: Unearthing a Community's Roots is presented by the City of St. Catharines Parks, Recreation and Culture Services department, Programs and Cultural Services division. Staff from the cultural services office and the St. Catharines Museum and Welland Canals Centre have developed the exhibit from photos found in the St. Catharines Museum Archives and the St. Catharines Museum Standard Collection.

Canal workers in front of Merritton Town Hall

First Horse Drawn Streetcar

Electric Streetcar

Merritton Fire Department

Merritton Cenotaph

Merritton Parade

Merritton Lions Memorial Swimming Pool

Merritton Teen Town

St. Catharines Museum Parade Float

Dominion Day Celebrations

Community Days Programme

Merritton Community Group

Canal workers in front of Merritton Town Hall moving a lock gate from the first canal, 1890-1909.

Canal workers in front of Merritton Town Hall.

St. Catharines Museum (N3957)

Pictured here are canal workers in front of the Merritton Town Hall moving a lock gate from the First Welland Canal. The power lines in this photo suggest the time period after 1890 when Merritton first received electricity. The City of Merritton was named after William Hamilton Merritt, the father of the Welland Canals System, whose industries depended on the new Canal for water power generation. The Town of Merritton was originally named Welland City, but exchanged names with Merrittsville (present day Welland) in 1858. It cost about $130M, equivalent to $2B today, to build the Fourth Welland Canal. For every million dollars spent approximately one man died: it had one of the largest losses of life on a public project in Canadian history.
Merritton's Town Hall was designed by William B. Allen, and constructed in 1879 by Walker Bros. for $3000. Over the years the Merritton Town Hall has been home to the town offices, fire department, public library, post office, school board, hydro commission, police department, community centre, the waterworks commission and the St. Catharines Museum.

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The first horse drawn streetcar of the St. Catharines Street Railway, 1879.

 Horse Drawn Streetcar

St. Catharines Museum (N1650)

From the 1860s to the 1880s there were significant developments in steam power and electricity. Stone factories were built, railway lines went in and an abundance of urban development evolved at the base of the escarpment beside the Second Welland Canal. Industry depended heavily on transportation as it brought workers from other townships into Merritton to work in its factories and mills. Pictured here is the first horse drawn street car of the St. Catharines Street Railway, manufactured by The Patterson and Corbin Company. On November 1, 1879 this street car travelled for the first time along Ontario, St. Paul, and Queenston Streets. The St. Catharines Street Railway was chartered to link St. Catharines to Port Dalhousie, Grantham, Merritton, and Thorold. By 1882, the railway extended its lines along Merritt Street and was renamed the St. Catharines Merritton and Thorold Street Railway. Although Merritton, Grantham, Port Dalhousie, Thorold, and St. Catharines were separate municipalities, their boundaries were connected by the St. Catharines Merritton and Thorold Street Railway.

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People waiting for an electric streetcar in front of the Bank of Nova Scotia on St. Paul Street, 1909.

Electric Street Car

St. Catharines Museum (R2963)

In 1887 the St. Catharines Merritton and Thorold Street Railway replaced its horse drawn street cars with electric street cars, making it one of the first railways in Canada to have an inter-urban street line system. Linking Merritton with St. Catharines and Thorold, the electric street car was an efficient mode of transportation as five electric cars did as much work as eight horse drawn cars. Pictured here are people waiting for an electric streetcar in front of the former Bank of Nova Scotia on St. Paul Street.

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Early motorized fire truck, Merritton Fire Department, 1918.

Merritton Fire Department

St. Catharines Museum (N1389)

Between 1874 and 1886, Merritton was without a fire department. The Merritton community depended on help from local industry in times of crisis, and it was usually the Riordon Mill who would provide assistance. After a number of serious fires, a group of interested citizens decided it was necessary for Merritton to have its own fire department. Founded in 1888, The Merritton Fire Department was soon recognized as a first class unit throughout the province. Once the water works system was installed throughout Merritton in 1888 the fire department acquired a fire hose, reels and a ladder wagon. The Merritton Fire Department owned Niagara's first motorized firefighting vehicle, a Studebaker ladder truck that was nicknamed Betsy (pictured here). In 1929, a fire broke out at the town hall and destroyed Betsy and all but one of the uniforms pictured here. The only remaining uniform is in the St. Catharines Museum collection.

The Merritton Fire Department influenced many projects of local interest in the community. In 1928, they worked with the Red Cross to offer a free municipal ambulance service. After World War One the Fire Department operated film screenings in the town hall to raise money for a cenotaph to honour Merritton's fallen soldiers. The Merritton Cenotaph, located outside of the Merritton Town Hall at 343 Merritt St., was unveiled on July 31, 1921. It was the first cenotaph to be erected in the Niagara Region after the 'Great War'.

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Members of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 138, Decoration Ceremony at the Merritton Cenotaph, 1949.

Merritton Cenotaph

St. Catharines Museum - Standard Collection (S1949.87.13.4)

The presence of the Merritton Cenotaph inspired the people of Merritton to establish their own legion. Up until the 1920s, men returning from World War One met at the Town Hall, library, or in church basements, so the establishment of a legion was essential. On November 22, 1928 the Merritton Royal Canadian Legion Branch 138 was established, an organization that not only served its members but whose members served the community. The branch helped returning veterans find jobs and assisted families who had lost their men during the transition from war to peace. The Branch's Ladies Auxiliary was formed on November 28, 1939 and is one of 450 Auxiliaries in the Province of Ontario. During the early years, the Auxiliary raised funds by holding bazaars and penny sales and setting up booths during Labour Day celebrations. Over the years the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 138 has been actively involved in the community with Boy Scouts, Girl Guides, and minor sports, and has donated to local hospitals and charities. With a current membership of nearly 500 members and 35 war veterans, The Royal Canadian Legion Merritton Branch 138 continues to be an important part of the Merritton Community.

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Merritton Parade, Merritt St., 1890-1918.

Merritton Parade

St. Catharines Museum (N3162)

This Merritt Street parade, circa 1890 to 1918, is one of the oldest community parades in Merritton. In the distance is the former Lybster Cotton Plant, now Johnny Rocco's restaurant, and in the far right corner is the Merritton Town Hall. Merritton has a long legacy of parades including the annual Community Days Parade, which the Merritton Lions have included in their Labour Day festivities since 1945.

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Merritton Lions Memorial Swimming Pool, 1960.

Merritton Lions Memorial Swimming Pool

St. Catharines Museum - Standard Collection (S1960.94.11.1)

In 1938 the Merritton Lions Club began to support the citizens of Merritton through community based projects. The Lions Club motto is 'we serve' and they have succeeded in serving the Merritton community for seventy-five years. Within the first year of operation, the Lions Club set a goal to install a public pool for the Merritton community. The Lions Club raised $30,000 over ten years and in July 1948 the dream of opening a pool became a reality. Duncan M. Schooley was the driving force behind the Merritton Swimming pool. He was a President of the Merritton Red Cross and helped to create a free 'learn to swim' program. In 2002, the Merritton Lions Memorial Swimming Pool was renamed the Lion Dunc Schooley Pool in honour of him and his contributions to the community.

On Friday March 25th, 1949, the Merritton Lionesses were formed, a group of women who work in conjunction with the Lions and the Merritton community. The Merritton Lions Club has partnered with many community organizations over the years including the Merritton Fire Department, the Merritton Athletics Association, and the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 138.

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Merritton Teen Town Inauguration Ceremony and Dance at the Merritton Community Centre, March 10, 1961.

Merritton Teen Town

St. Catharines Museum - Standard Collection (S1961.40.12.1)

The Merritton Lions Club played an important role in the formation of the Merritton Community Centre. The Lions raised over $50,000 from the Merritton community and with assistance from the Municipality of Merritton, the Merritton Community Centre officially opened in December of 1955. Originally the Community Centre was used by Boy Scouts, pre-kindergarten children, and Bowling for the Blind. Concerts, dances, bingo games and other community events have taken place at the Merritton Community Centre over the years. One tradition that cannot be forgotten is the Merritton Teen Town dances, where, for a $1 admission fee, residents enjoyed a night out while supporting local charities. The Teen Town dances ended in 1965 but in 1995 three Merritton women came together and brought the dances back to life. Over 400 tickets were sold to the Teen Town reunion at the Merritton Community Centre, and proceeds went towards the Help a Child Smile Fund.

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St. Catharines Museum parade float created by West Park Secondary School Students, Folk Arts Parade, 1975.

St. Catharines Museum parade float 

St. Catharines Museum - Standard Collection (N3890)

This Museum parade float, constructed by students at West Park Secondary School, travelled throughout downtown St. Catharines in the 1975 Folk Arts Festival Parade. The parade float was modelled after the first rail car of the St. Catharines Street Railway and featured a sign encouraging visitation to the St. Catharines Museum 'Follow us to the St. Catharines Heritage Museum'. The St. Catharines Museum opened on June 4, 1967 in the former Merritton Town Hall located at 343 Merritt St. The Museum officially opened at its new location at Lock 3 in 1991, and is now known as the St. Catharines Museum and Welland Canals Centre. The St. Catharines Museum and Welland Canals Centre has a significant collection of artifacts related to the history of St. Catharines and the Welland Canals. The Museum is open from 9 am to 5 pm daily and admission is by donation.

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Dominion Day Celebrations in Centennial Gardens, July 1, 1967.

Dominion Day Celebrations 

St. Catharines Museum - Standard Collection (S1967.22.22.3)

Centennial Gardens was dedicated on July 1, 1967 as part of Canada's Centennial celebrations. Pictured here is the 1967 Dominion Day Celebrations in Centennial Gardens, with a view from Gale Crescent across from the present day Garden City Arena. The Totem Pole is located beyond the left hand side of the picture frame. Centennial Gardens has been used for many other events over the years, including the Merritton Ward Community Festival of 1967 and the more recent Niagara Harvest Festival in October. In the summer of 2009 a community vegetable garden, sponsored by Climate Action Now, was planted in the south end of the park by Brock University's D.I.G, a student run group whose mandate is to develop relationships with the community through planting and growing food. The City of St. Catharines has approved a $820,000 revitalization plan for improvements to the park which are underway. First phase work included an expansion of the parking lot at the entrance to the park and better access to the community gardens.

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Merritton Athletics Association Community Days Programme, 1954.

Community Days Programme 

St. Catharines Museum â€" Bill Lefeuvre Collection (1974.35.1)

The Merritton Community Days and Merritton Lion's Club carnival has been an annual Labour Day tradition in Merritton for 69 years, and it is still going strong today. The annual Labour Day parade that is part of this weekend-long event is Canada's oldest continually run Labour Day Parade. The Merritton Athletics Association and the Merritton Lions Club sponsor the Community Days festival, but it is the Merritton community whose support throughout the years has made Community Days a continued success. Funds raised from the carnival and parade provide the Merritton Athletics Association and Merritton Lion's Club with the necessary funds to carry on their sponsorship of community programs. The 1954 Community Days celebrations took place from September 3 - 6, and events included the carnival, parade, tug of war competitions, and a Legion band concert.

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Merritton Community Group Sign Dedication Ceremony, July 1, 2012.

Merritton Community Group

Merritton Matters

On July 1, 2012, the Merritton Community Group held a sign dedication ceremony to celebrate the efforts of those who raised funds for the new Welcome to Merritton sign located on Glendale Avenue. Contributors and attendees from the Lions, Lionesses, St. Catharines Green Committee, Merritton Community Group and Mayor Brian McMullan all celebrated the unveiling.The $6,500 raised for the purchase came from community dances, donations by members of the community and local businesses. The Merritton Community Group is a non-profit group dedicated to the development and enhancement of the social and economic character of Merritton and the preservation of its distinct community heritage. Merritton Matters is a publication released by The Merritton Community Group that shares stories and local history while capturing the vibrant spirit of the Merritton community.

Learn more about the Merritton Community Group and access copies of Merritton Matters.  

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