St. Catharines Heritage

Our Built Heritage

Lieutenant Governor’s Lifetime Achievement Award – Brian Narhi

by Marty Mako and Gail Benjafield

Feburary 3rd, 2014 – St. Catharines, Ontario is proud to have one of our own receive this,  the prestigious Ontario Lieutenant Governor’s Award,  to be presented later this month in Toronto.

The Lieutenant Governor’s Ontario Heritage Awards are presented for outstanding contributions to the identification, preservation, protection and promotion of Ontario’s heritage. Continue reading “Lieutenant Governor’s Lifetime Achievement Award – Brian Narhi”

176 St. Paul St. – Building Histories


The building municipally known as 170-176 St. Paul Street forms a conspicuous part of the streetscape. It contributes through its built form to the continuity or dominant character of the street, neighbourhood or area. The land upon which this building stands was granted in 1799 to the son of the prominent Queenston merchant, Robert Hamilton. It is believed that St. Catharines was named in honour of his wife, Catharine Askin Hamilton. Other prominent early land owners associated with this site included George Adams (1821), Jonathan H. Clendennan (1822), and Elias S. Adams (businessman, former mayor) who acquired the land in 1834. The property remained vacant land, owned by the heirs of E.S.Adams, until 1874 when the lot was purchased by architect William Allan. Allan appears to have designed and constructed the first building on this site in 1874-75. It was known as the “Allan Block.” That building housed a variety of businesses throughout the years, including: Allan Bros. (furniture), McDermott’s stove shop (1905-06), and the well-known Hippodrome Theatre (1907-1921) which exhibited some of the first motion pictures ever seen in St. Catharines. The building was partially damaged in a blaze in 1908, but soon reopened for business. The property was bought by clothier Ralph J. Hoffman in 1922, and he extensively renovated the building at that time. He was responsible for the addition of the distinctive second story windows presently seen on the structure, as well as the decorative cut-stone inscribed with the name “Hoffman” on upper part of the facade. Hoffman’s store, which specialized in women’s and children’s clothing, remained a landmark business fixture at this location between 1922 and 1957. Adjacent space in the same building was leased by Hoffman to a number of small candy stores between 1922 and 1935. In more recent times, the building was occupied by a book and magazine shop, by Susan Miles women’s wear and the Susan Miles Bridal Shop (1976-1991), by Fletcher’s Piano and Organ Studio (1993-96), by the Oasis (Middle East Cuisine) restaurant (2002-2012) and currently by Dani’s Bistro (2013-present).



Salem Chapel, BME Church – 92 Geneva Street

Salem Chapel, BME Church – 92 Geneva Street, St. Catharines

Salem Chapel British Methodist Episcopal Church National Historic Site of Canada is a gable-fronted church set on a high foundation. Located at 92 Geneva Street, in St. Catharines, Ontario, this stucco-clad building is distinguished by its regularly arranged pointed-arch windows, modest scale and overall simplicity. Official recognition refers to the church on its footprint at the time of designation.

Salem Chapel British Methodist Episcopal Church was designated a national historic site of Canada in 1999 because:

  • it is typical of the auditory-hall design of underground railroad (UGRR)-related churches;
  • through its association with famed UGRR conductor Harriet Tubman, it was an important locus of abolitionist activity in Canada.

Salem Chapel British Methodist Episcopal Church was an important centre of 19th-century abolitionist and civil rights activity in Canada. Built circa 1855, it replaced a smaller log church in order to accommodate St. Catherines’ growing community of refugees arriving via the underground railroad. Among them was Harriet Tubman, the famous UGRR conductor, who lived near Salem from 1852-1857 and personally led many refugees from the southern United States to safety in Canada. The heritage value of this church resides in its exceptional associations with the anti-slavery movement and the early UGRR black community to which it bears witness as illustrated by the church with its auditory-hall form, typical of early African Canadian churches.

St. Joseph’s Convent

Convent-corner Church and James-DG postcard
St. Joseph’s Convent
63 Church St.
Built: 1874
Destroyed by fire in 1972, demolished 1973.

The Lincoln County Jail

Niagara St.Jail-frontal

The Lincoln County Jail
116 Niagara Street
Built: 1866
Demolished: 1976
Architect: W.G. Storm

The Lincoln County Jail was in use from 1866 until the opening of the Niagara Regional Detention Centre in 1973. The jail’s first occupant, Jack Bryant, was on of the 164 other prisoners in the first year of operation. Six escapes occurred during the jail’s 107-year existence. Only one hanging took place, Sidney Gordon Chambers was hung on December 16, 1946 for the murder of a 9-year-old St.Catharines girl.

Harriet Tubman and St. Catharines

1350145_origThis post was written by committee member ~ Gail Benjafield

The British Methodist Episcopal church (or B.M.E.) at 92 Geneva Street, St. Catharines, has a storied past.  And what a story, too! This modest church, also known as the Salem Chapel, was built in 1855 with the land being given to the congregation by major philanthropists such as William Hamilton Merritt and Oliver Phelps.  Members from the St. Paul St. Methodist church helped in the construction of the B.M.E. church.

The B.M.E church was one of two places of worship members of the black community  in St. Catharines, including the famous ‘Moses of her People’, Harriet Tubman.  Tubman, born into slavery in around 1820 or 1822, helped to free well over 70 refugees from her home state of Maryland, and brought them to live in St. Catharines. Tubman and her family, as well as some of the refugees she brought here, would have worshiped in this church.

Tubman fled Maryland in 1849 with relatives and close friends; however, returned several times to rescue others from slavery, always leaving Saturday night in the dark so they wouldn’t be missed by their ‘owners’ on Sunday, their one day off.  Tubman was a very tough woman, but she was diminutive and therefore no one suspected that she  could pull off such a remarkable flights to freedom.

This year, 2013, marks the centenary of Tubman’s death, and many celebrations have been held in her honour. A banner showing her recognizable, well-worn face is on many downtown  light standards.  She was one of St. Catharines most eminent female  residents  during the years leading up to the American Civil War.

900044594Because of Tubman’s fame in bringing her compatriots to the ‘Promised Land’, aka (Canada), the B.M.E church has become, without question, the most famous structure in downtown St. Catharines in connection to Black history.  The church is the only heritage building that has three heritage plaques (as Provincial, Municipal, and Federal) which commemorate the building. The Horticultural Society and other community groups have donated time and money to beautifully landscape an area around adjacent to the church, which contains a bust of Tubman and an attractive bench for resting and contemplation. The B.M.E church is also host to many tour groups who are interested in this historical landmark especially from the United States.

Many myths surround Tubman’s history and her influence.  More information concerning her life story can be found in Kate Larson’s revised book Bound for the Promised Land.

For more information, or to make a donation to the B.M.E church, call (905) 984-6769 or link to or

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