I honestly cannot remember where I first saw St. Marys mentioned, but there’s a good chance it was on Pinterest. And it is well worth a trip with a historic downtown that I love with tonnes of historic buildings that stand a lot of railway history. While off my usual beaten track, it was well worth the detail out for a lovely stroll. Sadly I couldn’t stay for too long and missed many interesting sites in the town; I certainly hope to make it back out here for a future “On The Road” video for my YouTube channel.
The area where St Marys is today was first settled by the Anishnabek, who would flee or be killed as the Haudenosaunee pushed further north in the years following the Beaver Wars. When the Haudenosaunee left, the area was settled by the Ojibway and Chippewa peoples. The confluence of the North Thames River and Trout Creek was sold first to the Crown in 1827 under Treaty 29 and from there granted to the Canada Company to further European colonization. The Company would survey the area in 1839, laid out as the Blanshard Township in what became known as the Huron Tract. The earliest settler was Thomas Ingersoll, brother of Laura Secord (Yes, that Laura Secord) to build mills at an area known as Little Falls. Named for a series of limestone ridges that formed a small waterfall on the Thames River. The confluence of the two rivers made the location an ideal spot for a townsite in addition to water power, limestone, and other natural resources attached the earliest settlers and a townsite was laid out in 1844 and took the name St. Marys after the wife of a director of the Canada Company. Within two years, the town had a population of 120, with most of the economy driven by a limestone quarry that provided excellent building materials for the town-building, along with the quarry a grist mill, sawmill, stores, ashery, tavern, cooper, and other businesses. The small settlement got a huge boost when Grand Trunk pushed through in the 1850s, even building a major station and yard east in St. Marys Junction in 1858 that would become even more important when Grand Trunk pushed west as Grand Trunk Pacific. This boost allowed the village to become a major centre, and the limestone quarry helped provided the building material needed for a grand town centre. Incorporation as a village took place in 1854, and it stood as major milling, grain, and agriculture trade centre. The first library opened in 1857 but was run by the local Mechanic’s Institute and had no physical space. By 1863 St Marys was incorporated as a town but stood separate from Perth County. The mills and railroad continued to support the small town, but the 20th century brought more unique businesses. In 1908 the St. Marys Wood Speciality Co opened under Solen Doolittle; in addition to hammer handles, they also produced hockey sticks and baseball bats. While the company moved to Hespeler in 1933, that bat is known since 1988 as Cooper Bat stands as the number two bat in the world. This gave St. Marys the edge to become home to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982. While the mills in St Marys are long closed, and the railway is reduced to a single line, the community retains many historic buildings. The nickname of The Stonetown is well earned, with many late 19th and early 20th Century standing.
St Marys is one of those towns that I feel a single visit isn’t enough to see everything. Still, I was running on a bit of a deadline so that I couldn’t see everything, but even then, having only seven slots to choose from for this week’s images makes it hard to choose only seven images. I even thought about cheating and adding in a couple more shots. Given that the title of the week is “Stone Town” helped me pick images that contain some stone buildings, and ones that are cool and have historical significance and those that I could find some history on. That left me with the featured image to view the heritage district from atop the embankment over the train tracks. The town hall was an easy pick as it was the second building that certainly caught my eye (the first was the 1906 public library, but I wasn’t happy with the exposure on that frame), then a set of three businesses that show the progression from historic to late century to 20th-century buildings that occupy the main street. The two railroad-related images are favourites of mine, both for my work on rail history in Ontario and because the 1907 station looks awesome and the 1858 bridge remains in use. The final two are both amazing 1880 era structures that are eye-catching, the Andrews Jewellery building, which remains fairly intact inside and the Opera House with its castle-like Scottish Gothic Revival design.
I didn’t want to spend too much time fiddling with lenses and wanted to get out for shooting. I went with a single lens. Having done some scouting on Google Maps, I decided to go with the Nikkor 28mm f/3.5 lens and put a yellow filter to help cut down on the bright blue summer light. I probably could have gotten away with my 35mm f/2.8 lens as well, but the 28mm was the better choice. The one thing I did do is give Fomapan 100 some over-exposure by almost two stops. Yes, I shot the film at ASA-32, then pulled by a stop and a half(ish) in development. If you know me, one of my favourite old film stocks is Kodak Panatomic-X which has a box speed of ASA-32. So I decided to see if I could get some interesting results from Fomapan 100. The developer I went with, Ilford Ilfotec HC, at my standard 1+63 dilution. I probably could have calculated for a full two-stop pull as the negatives were a little dense, but I managed to get some good results with a bit of work in Photoshop from the scans.
Well, it finally happened, took over half the year to make it out, but we’re heading into downtown Toronto.