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Downtown Walking Tour

Origins of the Commercial District

2nd Avenue and 8th Sreet East mark the first intersection of the village of Sydenham.  8th Street East was the first street to be cut through the bush, away from the settlement by the Sydenham River.  Look up as you walk, the upper storeys are more representative of the original architecture than today’s modern store fronts.  Originally, on 2nd Avenue East’s 800 block, you walked down three steps to enter stores on the west side, and up two steps on the east side.

Downtown Walking Tour Map

1    Legate Building
790 2nd Ave East, Owen Sound

This structure was built for William Legate in 1906, with shops below and apartments above.  Legate established the Owen Sound Furniture House in 1914.

2    City Hall
808 2nd Ave East, Owen Sound

The original Town Hall was built here in 1868 and it included an eight-sided wooden cupola with a dummy clock face which read 9:03—correct twice a day!  This ‘clock’ was replaced in 1920 with a square tower and four-sided clock and chimes to commemorate the City’s incorporation.  Gutted by fire in 1961, the present City Hall was built in 1965. The space around City Hall is known as Hero’s Square, featuring plaques honouring other prominent citizens, including the story of  John ‘Daddy’ Hall, veteran of the War of 1812, escaped slave and town crier.

3    Coulson British Hotel
801 2nd Ave East

Three years after his arrival in 1854, J.P. Coulson opened Coulson’s British Hotel, the village’s first major hotel.  It had 80 rooms, stables, dining rooms, a bar, and a women’s parlour.  It became the hub of his expanding empire, which included stage coach lines, mail and freight services.

4    Parker’s Drugstore
854-856 2nd Ave East

Originally the home of Parker’s Drugstore, part of Upper Canada’s (Ontario) first drugstore chain (Rexall), this building later became Owen Sound’s first telegraph and telephone exchange, which was later taken over by Bell.  The words “Parker’s” and “Toiletries” are still visible above the entrance doorway.

5    Fulford Hardware
874 2nd Ave East

Edgar Allan Fulford was born in Sydenham Township.  He opened his first hardware store across from City Hall, and moved to this location in 1941.  Original floors and fixtures help maintain this store’s old-fashioned atmosphere.

6    Coates & Best Building
883 2nd Ave East

Built in 1902 for Edgar Creighton, this building sold stationery and books until 2010. J.P. Coates opened his stationery store here before WWII, then went into partnership with Morley Best to create Coates & Best.

7    Roxy Theatre
251 9th St East

Built in 1912 as The Grand Opera House, it was purchased in the 1920s by John Griffin and renamed “Griffin’s Theatre”. With further renovations in 1948, it became an Odeon Theatre.  The Owen Sound Little Theatre, formed in 1961, bought the building in 1986 and renovated it for their use.

8   Old Post Office
291 9th St East

Built in the Beaux-Arts style as a Post Office in 1910, the building was sold in 1958 and now contains commercial uses and apartments.  The main floor is constructed of rock-faced limestone, the second of ashlar (smooth faced stone), and the third is lit by alternating pediment and curved-roof dormers.

9    Vernacular Commercial Building
881 3rd Ave East

Built circa 1910, this building was first occupied by Laing & Gilchrist, druggists, with Imperial Optical and several doctors as tenants by mid-century.

10   Damnation Corners
Intersection of 10th St & 3rd Ave East

Known as “Damnation Corners,” four hotels once stood here, one on each corner.  A block west, you will find “Salvation Corners”, where four churches still stand.

11   Chicago Building
279 10th St East

Typical of late 19th century commercial buildings, this structure is a mix of late Victorian revival styles.  This building is now home of the Owen Sound Artists’ Co-op, a gallery showcasing local artists.

12  Sloan Building
229 10th St East

Irish-born John Sloan constructed this building around 1867, as a melodeon factory and sales outlet.  He lived upstairs with his family until his death in about 1892.

13  Seldon House
1005 2nd Ave East

Built in 1887 as a hotel with 44 rooms, three parlours, a bar, dining room and commercial sample rooms, from 1904 to 1937 it was operated by daughters of Mrs. R.J. Doyle - a founder of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, and did not serve alcohol.  The exterior of the building was restored in the 1980s.

14  Superior Block
1002 2nd Ave East

Built around 1880, this three-storey, six-sided building was originally named the “Superior Block.”  It was later named the “Griffith Block” for John Charles Griffith, who came to Owen Sound in 1875 and established a tannery and a harness shop.

15  Commercial Heritage Buildings
958/966 & 992 2nd Ave East

These heritage buildings are typical of 19th century small town Ontario main streets.  992 2nd Ave East, built circa 1868,  has a strong association with the tradition of independent druggists. Arthur Woods Manley, a chemist, opened his business here in 1885. In the 1940s it was Cecil McLeod Drugs.

16  McKay Bros. Ltd. Store
942 2nd Ave East

Built in 1905, this three-storey Beaux-Arts building originally housed Ryan Bros., a dry goods store.  That same year the four McKay brothers arrived in Owen Sound and set up shop across the street.  Due to stiff competition, the Ryan’s sold out to the McKay brothers in 1924 for $60,000.  McKay Bros. operated until 1989. Today, you can still see the faint ‘Ryan Bros’ and more obvious ‘McKay’s Dry Goods‘ painted on the south side of the building.

17  Whole Foods Store
941 2nd Ave East

Once home to Douglas & Taylor Jewellers, the ground level storefront of this Victorian era building was remodelled in the 1920s.

18  F.N. D’Orr LePan Store
132 9th St East

Irish immigrant Frederick Nicholas D’Orr LePan (see East Side Tour, #15) purchased a lot on the northwest corner of 9th Street and 2nd Avenue East in 1848 for $150. He built a two-storey structure and opened a general store, which also sold wine and liquor. The store moved to this location in 1905 and was demolished in 2006. The new building here sports a replica boomtown front much like the one on the original LePan store.

19  Owen Sound Garage
80 9th St East

Built in 1911 for Kilbourne Real Estate, this was soon the home of the Owen Sound Garage owned by H.H. Bowman (see Mill Dam Tour, #8), dealer in Ford and Oakland automobiles. Automotive-related services continued to be offered from this site into the late 1970s.  It is being redeveloped in 2013 as The Sydenham, a condominium residence.

20   Women’s Christian Temperance Union
898 1st Ave West

This structure was built from limestone cut on site in 1865 for a Congregational Church, which had many members who were escaped slaves.  In 1882 it was purchased as a meeting hall for the WCTU, which got its start in Owen Sound.  A Lutheran Church in 1943, then a Christian Science Society in 1963, it passed into private hands in 2006.

21   Tom Thomson Art Gallery
824 1st Ave West

Established in 1967 as a memorial to iconic Canadian landscape artist Tom Thomson, the gallery houses a nationally significant collection of Thomson’s works and artifacts.  Completely renovated in 1988, the gallery features exhibition halls, collection storage, an educational studio and atrium.

22  Owen Sound & North Grey Union Public Library
824 1st Ave West

A Mechanics’ Institute lending library had existed since 1855, but free public library service was not available until the present building was opened in 1914 with an Andrew Carnegie grant.  The addition dates from 1972.  The original building was restored in 2003.

23  Kennedy Terrace
791-795 2nd Ave West

This site originally housed Heap’s Furniture Factory, a board & batten building on a stone foundation, then a fanning mill factory.  In 1900, after the factory burned down, local contractor J.C. Kennedy built this terrace on the original foundation.

24  Waterworks/Market Building
110-114 8th St East

The Market Building was constructed in 1868 as a private waterworks and taken over by the town in 1890.  It is believed that some of the earliest church services for Blacks, namely “Little Zion Church” were held at this location. The building became a farmers’ market in 1935.  The surrounding site has been in continual use as a market for over 160 years, open year-round every Saturday morning. 

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