Thursday, July 30, 2009

Niagara Falls Then and Now: the Loretto Academy

Beside Niagara’s sounding deeps,

Dark wooded isles and vine-clad steeps

Like incense rise the clouds of spray;

Where rainbows shone at close of day,

Thy children all with hearts aflame,

Sing to thy gracious, holy name,

Ave Maria Loretto

Loretto Sisters Academy school song, written 1894

Below: looking at the east face of the historic Loretto Academy, overlooking the Horseshoe Falls, photo probably taken Jan.11, 1938 or soon after. The massive fire began at about 9pm on Jan.10, 1938; note ice hanging off the burned roof. The cause of the blaze was said by the Fire Marshall (but disputed by the sisters) to have been a cigarette thrown down a paper chute in the south wing, as was reported in the Niagara Falls Review on Jan.20, 1938. The North Wing (at the far right) was relatively untouched after the blaze; this was was the oldest part, built in 1879-80.
click on photos to enlarge! above: Jun.16, 2009 - same view, the building now sits vacant on its serene lot. The roar of the Horseshoe Falls (which are literally below the front of the building, to the bottom right out of frame) mixes with the songbirds in amongst the mature trees here.

What a storied history this site has had: (see here; see here)

The first Loretto Academy was opened on this site, inside a former inn, the Canada House, in Sept. 1861, when the American Civil War was just starting.
below: photo of the Canada House, which was taken over by the sisters to become Niagara's Loretto Academy. The convent sold some of their land on the east side (facing the Falls) to the Canada Southern (later Michigan Central) railroad in 1861, using the money received to fund the construction of a new building. By 1880 this portion (which became the North Wing) was built. The North Wing (seen earlier above) survived the fire of Jan. 1938. (Date of below photo not known, from Francis J. Petrie collection.) I'm still unable to ascertain where exactly on the Loretto lands the Canada House stood, and, when it was demolished. Note that there are tracks seen running along at the bottom, in front of the fence, which could either be railroad or streetcar tracks. If these are railroad tracks, this would indicate that the front door of the Canada House (as seen below, at the right) could have faced east, overlooking the Falls, with the old Erie and Ontario / Canada Southern railway tracks running in front of it; and, that the road seen by the tracks could be the original Portage Rd. as it had been before the railroad widening eliminated the road (...which Harry Oakes had later rebuilt in the 1930's as a Depression-era make-work project).
Another possibility is that these were not railroad tracks, but streetcar tracks: this then could mean that the front door of the Canada House had faced north, looking onto Livingstone St. The streetcar line had once looped here at the Loretto, travelling from Stanley Ave., going east down Livingstone, turning left (north) onto today's Fallsview Blvd., where it ran for just about half a block, before it turned to the left again onto its own right-of-way, heading in a north-westerly direction back towards Stanley Ave. again. In the 1970-80's, this area was where the Niagara Falls bus station had once been located.
above: Jun.3, 2009 - a notice, announcing a June 8, 2009 rezoning meeting, sits by the Stanley Ave. stone gate on the west side of the Loretto Academy.
Three new high rise towers (a 57 storey hotel; a 42-storey tower; and a 32-storey tower) have since been approved for this historic site by the Niagara Falls, Ont. city council. The original building is to be preserved, but to what extent - complete building including its interior, or just its east exterior facade - is unclear.
Back on Jan. 20, 2006, the Niagara Falls Review reported that the Sheraton Fallsview Hotel, which sits directly next door, north of the Loretto Academy, had purchased the “rare Fallsview jewel” from the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, an order of Roman Catholic nuns, for future development.
above: a photo from the Niagara Falls Review showing the proposed three buildings, set behind and beside the existing Loretto Academy building, seen at the centre bottom.
below:  the Dominion Awning Co. stood at 630 Clifton Ave. (which has been since renamed and is today known as Zimmerman Ave.) in the Bowen building; (not sure why it was called the Bowen building)
In the 1950's 'Ontario Aluminum Products' office and plant were located here, as seen in this Apr.17, 1956 Review ad:

The Dominion Awning building, seen in Oct.1946 below, was one of three buildings which had once stood on the east-side of the former Clifton Ave., between the Michigan Central Railroad bridge and Queen St.; today this area is the parking lot for the Happiness Inn. In 1938, prior to housing the Dominion Awning company, this building housed a firm named Benjamin Tents and Awnings, proprietor was Benjamin G. Schulze. The bit of the building barely visible at the far left (address in 1945 was given as 618 Clifton Ave.) was the Niagara Paper Box Co.

above: photo date unknown; this is the same (future) 'Dominion Awning' building, seen at the right. In the centre of the above photo is the Niagara Paper Box building (which in 1938 had its address as 622 Clifton Ave., not 618) At the far left was the Mack-Miller candle factory, at 610 Clifton Ave. Originally, these three buildings were factories of the Doran Brothers Dominion Suspender Company. I have not been able to find out when each of these three buildings were built, but the company was already at this location in 1885, until 1927. The date of the above photo could be from the 1920's or earlier, possibly still in the late 1800's, as there are no trees yet in front of the buildings, as would be seen later...
above: photo date unknown; this is a closer view of the Niagara Paper Box building (which was demolished Feb.24, 1965). It appears that the Dominion Awning building, which should have been visible immediately to the right, has already been demolished. Also, the building at the far left (the Mack Miller site) has had its second floor removed. Note the train cars on the tracks at the extreme left; and note the trees.
above: Nov. 2010 - this is the same view of where the above three buildings had once stood, now the site of the motel and its parking lot. The same bridge of the former Michigan Central railway is seen at the far left, crossing over Zimmerman Ave. It's a good bet that those two mature oak trees seen today at the left, are the same ones seen in the previous photo. Note the same limestone-block-lined road-curb, which ran along the street in all the above shots.
below: Photo of the first railway suspension bridge in Niagara Falls, located at the exact same spot where today's Whirlpool Rapids railroad bridge still is, at Bridge St. and River Rd. The lower deck of the bridge was opened for pedestrians and carriages in 1854; the first train crossed over the upper deck on Mar.8, 1855.
Prior to the Suspension Bridge being built, there was an earlier bridge at this very same location, designed by engineer Charles Ellet Jr. It was a temporary, pedestrian-only bridge, which opened in 1848. By 1851, engineer John Augustus Roebling began work on the 'new' Suspension Bridge, using Ellet's existing bridge as a scaffold from which to construct the new structure. By 1880, the wooden trusses, beams and decking were replaced by steel; by 1886 the original limestone cable towers were replaced with steel towers, but towards the end of the 19th century, the development of heavier locomotives and train cars necessitated the construction of a still stronger steel structure (in the form of an steel arch structure) which became the Whirlpool Bridge we still see today.
The date of this postcard below is not known.

above: The Suspension Bridge was once located where the bridge at the left is seen today: seen now on the exact same spot is the Whirlpool Rapids Bridge; it is still open and in daily use by both cars and trains, CN tracks are on the upper deck, below them is a road for cars. This view looks east from Niagara Falls, Ont., to Niagara Falls, N.Y. The Whirlpool Rapids bridge was originally called the "Lower Arch Bridge"; its name was officially changed on Aug.4, 1937.
The old Michigan Central bridge sits at the right; it is now closed, walled off, and razor wired to prevent border jumpers. ( sounds so ancient to say that I had seen hundreds of trains over the years crossing that bridge, and heading along Palmer Ave. past Clifton Hill, and then towards the Montrose Junction. It was such a common sight that I never took a photo of these trains, though I saw them all the time...)  At the bottom right on the U.S. side can be seen a set of three footings of  Vanderbilt's original Michigan Central Cantilever bridge, which stood at this same location. Also running along the bottom (just above the Niagara River) can still be seen the track right-of-way outline of the old Great Gorge streetcar route.above: Same view, Sept.9, 2009; after having a coffee at Simon's Resstaurant on Bridge St. I walked across the street to take a photo of the Whirlpool Bridgeas it was undergoing some major maintenance work, with the steel beams below deck fully tarped over..above: same view as above (date given with photo was 'ca 1899', however, the bridge was built between Apr.1896 and was opened on Apr.27, 1897!)
This is the same view of the Whirlpool Bridge as it was under construction, designed by engineer Leffert L. Buck, replacing John Roebling's earlier Suspension Bridge.
This view looks from Canada towards the U.S.
Note the engineering feat, as Roebling's old Suspension Bridge (the steel towers can be seen [at far right], as well as the cables) was still in place and still in use as Buck's new steel bridge was being built from underneath up into it. The track landing alignment on both ends of the bridge did not change! The new Lower Arch/Whirlpool Bridge opened on Apr.27, 1897.
The above photo was most likely taken looking north from the track-level of the neighbouring Michigan Central Cantilever bridge. Note the MC bridge pipe-railing seen in the bottom right of the photo; and also a bit of the shadow of the MC bridge on the Niagara River, at the extreme bottom right! Note also that the streetcar tracks of the Great Gorge route are clearly seen on the U.S. side down along the Niagara River!
above: ca.1924 - this interesting view is of the second Michigan Central Railroad bridge being built; this view looks west from the U.S. towards the Canadian side; in this instance, the Whirlpool Bridge would be just out of frame, to the right (north).
In the above photo, note that two bridges are seen: the older one (the original Michigan Central Cantilever Bridge) is seen in the left background, behind the new MCR bridge, which is being built in the foreground.
As can be seen in this photo, the abutments of the old and the new bridges, on the Canadian side, were almost under each other. (But on the other side of the river, on the American side, the abutments of the old and new bridges were a bit further apart. This is because the new bridge did not exactly parallel the old bridge: on the Canadian side, the new bridge was designed to meet and align with the existing tracks exactly where the old one did; from there, as the new bridge went towards the States, it diverged slightly to the left (north) of the original Cantilever bridge.
Note in the far right distance, above, can clearly be seen the distinctive roof of the Customs and Post Office building on Park St. (click on photos to enlarge!)
below: Sept.10, 1924 - looking from Canada towards the States at the second Michigan Central bridge under construction. Note the steel girder being craned into position. Note a tiny corner of the original MCR Cantilever Bridge is seen at the far right (south), showing how much further to the left (north) the new bridge was being built from the original bridge, as it landed on the U.S. side. On the Canadian side, though, the new MCR bridge converged to where the old one was, aligned to meet the existing tracks.
above: Feb.15, 2009 - same view as previously above; looking east towards the States, standing just on the south side of the second MCR bridge, which is seen at the left - this is the same bridge which was being built in the previous above photo. Now it sits rusting and abandoned at the left. On top of the bridge, in the upper left distance, can be seen a large razor-wired border wall.
The original Michigan Central Cantilever Bridge was torn down shortly after the newer MCR bridge opened, but the Cantilever Bridge's stone upper landing is still clearly visible, seen in the center-right distance on the U.S. side. The earthen track-embankment behind the original bridge landing (as was seen at the upper-right side of the previous 1924 photo) has long-since been removed. A highway bridge (for the Robert Moses parkway) now passes over the site in the distance. The Cantilever Bridge's stone footings are also still visible on both sides of the river, down near the water level, as seen next below:
above: Feb.23, 2009 - same view as the two previous photos, looking farther down towards the Niagara River. The second MCR bridge (the 1925-built one) is at the left. The MCR Cantilever Bridge's stone footings are still clearly visible, with a set of three bases on each side of the river, shown with the red arrows. At the top of the photo, the red arrow points to where the stone track landing structure still sits on the American side. Note on the American side the trail which is seen running along just above the river level; that is where the Great Gorge streetcar route once ran.

below: 1925 - in this great photo, workers gather at the center of the new Michigan Central Bridge, probably a celebratory photo after completion of the major steelwork. Note the rigger, waving while swinging from the crane! This photo looks southwards, most likely taken from the deck of the neighboring Whirlpool Bridge; the Canadian side is to the right (west). Of particular interest is to not that there is a train in service still running on the older MCR Cantilever Bridge in the background! For a short time, there were THREE steel bridges in existence at this location: the Whirlpool, the original MCR Cantilever, and the 'new' 1925 MCR!!
By 2001, after some 76 years in use, the 'new' MCR bridge was closed and walled off, as the MCR tracks were abandoned. I can remember when the trains regularly crossed this bridge!
It was an everyday, common occurrence to be sitting at Simon's Restaurant for breakfast or lunch, looking out the restaurant's front windows, and seeing passenger trains right across the street, bells clanging and rumbling across the Whirlpool Bridge - - while at the same time, a long freight train using the MCR Bridge tracks could be heard rumbling and clicking from BEHIND the restaurant!! {Railfan stereo!}Simon's was right in-between the two bridges, and the two sets of tracks! The MCR tracks ran at the rear of the restaurant, so those trains couldn't be actually seen from the dining room windows, but they were always heard! Simon's front windows faced directly onto Bridge St., so you could clearly see the Whirlpool Bridge and any rail activity while having a coffee inside the restaurant. The same situation occurred at John's barber shop, which was directly next door (west) from Simon's. The trains from either track, or both tracks, were a common background sound when having a haircut!

 above: Apr.27, 2011 same view of the abandoned MCR bridge. At the very centre of the bridge, where the workers, proud of their achievement, had gathered for that iconic photo in 1925, there is now a chainlink fence running underneath the bridge deck, to prevent illegals from crossing the bridge along its girders. Another large black border wall was built across the bridge on top of the deck, as seen at the upper center-right.
below: looking at an A and P supermarket which had stood on the west side of Victoria Ave. between Willmot St. and Morrison St., as seen in June 1976. The store would close in July 1976. This A & P opened in Oct.1946 and its storefront was remodeled in June 1968.below: May 1977 - same view, previous A & P building after remodeling; now Canada Immigration was in the back, Ceasar's Shoes was at the left and King Optical was on the right. The building burned in Jan. 1994.
above: May 26, 2009, the lot is now vacant. Note the same building (a former CIBC bank) can be seen at the far left in all three above shots.
below: date not known - Thompson &  Norris Co; built in 1909 to produce corrugated cardboard boxes. Sold to American Can Co. in 1920 and connected to it by a skywalk for 59 years.

above: same view, Aug.31, 2009. This building is on the south side of  Lewis Ave., between Centre St. and Magdalen St.
below: 1919 - looking at a bucolic Dobbie Florists greenhouses, located on the west side of Victoria Ave., between Jepson St. and McRae St.

above: May 26, 2009 - same view, looking west from Victoria Ave.; the site is now a plaza; the church roof with the chimney (in the right rear) is visible in both above shots. Dobbie's former lot became a supermarket site (Carroll's); now seen the "old" mid-1970's building is being gutted and turned into a Shopper's Drug Mart.
above: Feb.17, 2009 - same view of plaza prior to renovation. Note same church in right rear distance.
below: date said to be Aug. 1976 - the original framing for the building, a Miracle Mart, later becoming a Hy and Zel's. This view is looking south-west from Victoria Ave.

(I question the date of this photo as Aug.76, because in the second below photo, dated Sept.77, we see the same building under construction from another view, yet the photos claim to be a year apart. Seeing as it would not have taken a year to finish the roof, one of these dates isn't correct.
Also, it is obvious that the supposed 'Sept.77' photo is definitely older than the supposed 'Aug.76' photo, because the '77' photo shows the steel roof trusses with no deck, while the '76' photo shows the roof deck already installed!! So, again: one (or both) of these dates is wrong)
above: May 26, 2009 - here the same steel framing is exposed again, thirty-three years later: the old facade has been fully removed, back to the original roof girders and columns.
below: date said to be Sept. 1977 - note the barn-roofed building, seen in the centre-left distance, facing onto Victoria Ave. This view is from the rear north-west corner of the lot, looking towards Victoria Ave. in the distance.

above: May 26, 2009 - from the same viewpoint, the yellow-roofed barn-style building is still seen in the left distance - this had once been an outlet of the "Red Barn" hamburger chain. The old facade of the building at the right was entirely stripped away in 2009 and the structure was almost fully rebuilt.
below: Aug. 2005 - Skywalker Jay Cochrane walks on a tightrope making his way towards the top of the Hilton Hotel; he walked the tightrope from the roof of the Fallsview Casino on a regular basis all summer. It was quite amazing to watch this spectacle.
It is astounding also to note, that these walks were NOT a gimmick - these were genuine, life-or-death, 'dare-devil' performances: he DID NOT wear any kind of safety harness. The consequences of a slip would be fatal.
There was music turned up in the street below for his performance, when he was over Fallsview Blvd. the police would close the street temporarily. People at the top of the tower were there watching and waiting to greet him. Photo by R. Bobak.

above: Jun.14, 2007 - looking at the Hilton from the north, standing on Murray St. A bit of the Fallsview Casino is seen at the left. At the bottom is seen the excavation for the new 53 storey Hilton Hotel tower; the concrete forms have just reached the sidewalk level. On this site a stand-alone Denny's had stood previously.
below: Apr.20, 2009 - this is the same view as above, but now the building has risen way above sidewalk level. Here the new Hilton's facade is under construction. The tarp was protecting the stucco work.

above: same view, Apr.28, 2009, showing the progress on the stucco work. Older photos from the Niagara Falls Library Digital Historical collection archives. Recent photos by R. Bobak.
I hope you enjoyed this look back at aspects of old Niagara Falls, Ontario.
Thanks for visiting Right In Niagara!

1 comment:

Popo said...

Excellent! Great to know some history of my locality. Helped greatly in my research. Thanks.