Tired of Halton Region? Yes? So am I! So finally, for the first time since the first week, we can spread our wings and head out to one of my favourite historic downtowns, that of Galt, Ontario! Galt is not a new place for me; I have been there many times before, but I only recently discovered the fantastic photographic opportunities that it offers. Never heard of Galt? Don’t worry, it’s known today as Cambridge, Ontario, but was known for Galt a lot longer when it was an independent city. My first photographic taste of Cambridge was on a warm summer night in 2007, checking out three abandoned buildings, and while those buildings are no longer around, the Galt downtown is always a welcome escape.
Like many centres of population in Ontario, it all comes down to a water source, in the case of Galt, the Grand River. Originally part of a reserve for the Mohawk’s of the Six Nations, arranged by Joseph Brant for their loyal service to the Crown during the French-Indian War, Pontiac’s Rebellion, and the American Revolution, the reserve once was a vast tract of land along the Grand River established in 1783. Sadly through treaty, purchase, and attrition, the large reserve was slowly broken down. The area where Galt would grow was a 90,000-acre purchase by wealthy Scottish land developer William Dickson. Dickson, along with his partner, Absolom Shade, arrived in 1816 and established Galt and Dumfries’ townships. Both men recognised the Grand River’s power and established their mills, and soon settlement followed. This early settlement became known as Shade’s Mills. This expansion was further aided by the arrival of land development giant John Galt and the Canada Company. Both Shade and Dickson signed contracts with Galt to provide supplies and build roads and bridges on behalf of the Canada Company. By 1825, the settlement proved large enough to have a post office established, Shade acting as postmaster out of his general store. Both Shade and Dickson agreed to give the settlement the name of Galt, in honour of John Galt, president of the Canada Company. The Canada Company, while not directly responsible for the area where Galt was for settlement, certainly provided a catalyst for further expansion. Galt only grew through the next couple of decades, the Grand River offering a major draw with plenty of fast-flowing water to power at first mills then the early manufacturing industry. By 1846 the settlement boasted a population of one hundred along with a growing foundry and textile industry. These two foundries would grow into major manufacturing plants in the later 19th Century. By 1850 Galt was incorporated as a village, and in 1852 the Galt Grammar School opened (it would become Galt Colligate Institute in 1872 and remains an active high school today). In 1857 Galt was incorporated as a town and a handsome Town and Market Hall completed in the Tuscan-Italianate Style. By 1870 the town had close to 4,000 residents and was recognised as a centre of industry and manufacturing in Ontario and the region’s largest population centre. In 1873, the Credit Valley Railroad began constructing a rail bridge over the Grand River, and the line would be completed by 1879. While CVR would fall under the Canadian Pacific Railway’s control in 1883, they continue to operate today. Galt would be electrified in 1889 when the original Dickson mill and dam were converted to generate hydroelectricity. The arrival of modern electrical generation allowed for further industrial development throughout the region. In 1890 the area’s first hospital opened. In 1894, an electric Interurban streetcar system opened, linking Galt and Hespeler. The line expanded twice. The first expansion added lines to Preston and Berlin (Kitchener), then south to Brantford and Port Dover and Waterloo. The line remained in operation until 1955. In 1915 Galt was incorporated as a City. The city also became home to a large regional armoury, completed following the Great War outbreak. Galt, along with Hespeler, Preston, and Blair, would amalgamate in 1973 into Cambridge.
I ended up bringing back many keepers; that’s always the problem when you’re in an area that you know. And with subjects that speak to you, but the choice had to be narrowed down to seven. Even before getting to the downtown, I knew that the feature image had to be the iconic Main street bridge, a concrete bowstring arch bridge, which there are getting fewer and fewer in Ontario. Then I was starting looking for things that had excellent stories attached to them. One building I have always wanted to photography was the Galt Colligate Institute, but I never managed to, so I made sure to stop by there first when I got closer to downtown. Then, by taking a different walking route, I found a church I had always wanted to get a photo of, Trinity Anglican, one of the region’s oldest stone buildings. Sadly I could not get a good angle on the former Southworks, once a major manufacturing spot for Galt due to it being under heavy renovation into condo lofts. Two items that have always drawn me in were the Galt Cenotaph, a unique design in Ontario and one I have not seen duplicated elsewhere. And, of course, the Russian Gun in Queen’s Square. One of my favourite buildings is the recently renovated Galt Post Office, which is a unique building among contemporary post offices. The final shot I took a bit to choose but ended up using a rather plain stone building that houses a CIBC bank branch. It’s a great looking building but also sits where the Shade Store once stood until around 1833.
I had initially planned to only take a single lens along with several other cameras in the bag. Only the 28mm lens, I told myself, the morning was bright, and I was shooting outside. But then a little voice told me to bring a second lens, I packed the bag and realised that I easily had room for one more lens, so I grabbed the trusty and iconic 105mm f/2.5 lens, and I’m glad I decided to bring it along. While most of the shots I got were using the 28mm, Galt’s historic city has narrow streets and is often difficult to get the proper angle, so a wide-angle lens is necessary. I probably could get away with a 35mm lens, but I’m starting to get along well with my 28mm. But there are some places that I did need that longer lens to catch some interesting detail or get a better shot of an item to get that background out of focus, which I could not do in many cases, such as the Cenotaph and the Russian Gun on Queen’s Square. I opted for no filter, as I would have to swap it between lenses, and that can be a pain if I’m looking to keep some consistent look. Again I shot the film at the full box speed of ASA-200 and went with a shorter developing time using Ilford Ilfotec HC using the 1+63 dilution, which gives excellent results for Fomapan 200.
We’re back in Milton next week, but not anywhere urban, and we’re going to visit the distant past of my part of Ontario.