The above photo of Morrisburg's Main Street, circa 1956, was captured on black and white film, taken by George Smith. It is one of a collection we were provided by Mr. Smith some years ago following an afternoon of camera discussion and photo gizmos that were just beginning to flood the market. We recently added color to this one, most of it from memory, although the cars are correct according to original color swatches made available on various web sites. This is a realistic view of the pre-St. Lawrence Seaway, Morrisburg Main Street in the mid-1950's.
The above photograph was taken by George Smith, a black and white capture, that we did add color to. A close look at the photo allows viewing the central bandstand and covered pavilion just above the center of the 1955-57 ChrisCraft cruiser parked at the dock. Visible too on the forefront of the island are the picnic tables and the stone built barbecues.
The building above, suffering the final stages of demolition, circa 1957, in preparation for the development of the St. Lawrence Seaway, was originally a store and Post Office constructed on Lock Street by the Bradfield family. It was converted to a hotel in 1862. Harvey Ouderkirk purchased the building in 1917 and turned the property over to his son Percy who operated a 'beverage room' until its closing and demolition. The tiny sign a the top-right of the 'Windsor House' sign indicates the 'Men's Entrance' at the front of the building. The driveway going over the sidewalk was between the Windsor House and Art Flynn's brick building that housed The Leader office. Many hours of our youth were spent around these buildings in heated Cowboys and Indians challenges, rock throwing, making sling-shots, and running nickel errands from which chocolate bars and pops were earned.
- Above information gleaned from James Jordan's exceptional "Morrisburg - A History - c. 1784-1958 "
- by CF 'Mike' McInnis
It has been several years since the Morrisburg Collegiate Institute turned South Dundas Municipal Centre was opened. We thought it might be interesting to some people to learn how the old Morrisburg High School property came to be owned by the Village of Morrisburg.
This happened at the end of 1968 and there are not a lot of people around now who know the full story. I am not attempting to claim any special credit or blame in what happened at that time. As you will see a number of people on two councils and a school board acted unanimously to acquire title to the property. Was that a good move; you can be the judge. This short article is just an attempt to report what actually transpired, and preserve a bit of local history.
The story starts prior to the St. Lawrence Seaway construction. The High School in Iroquois, which I attended from 1942 to 1947 was a very old building on a "back street". lt was a small school; there were seldom more than one hundred and ten students in those years. When the Village of Iroquois was completely demolished in the 1950s and relocated to its present site, Ontario Hydro constructed a new high school building which is now part of Seaway District High School.
Morrisburg's secondary school prior to the 1950s was a Collegiate Institute. I can recall that some of its students suggested to their counterparts in Iroquois that a collegiate was just a bit better than a high school. The collegiate building was bigger, newer and better equipped than the Iroquois High School and attendance was slightly higher.
Not all of Morrisburg Village had to be relocated during the seaway project. The Collegiate, by that time a High School, was not affected hence no new building in Morrisburg. When the Seaway was completed Iroquois had the more modern high school.
At that time there were separate elementary and high school boards. The Villages of Iroquois and Morrisburg and the Townships, Matilda and Williamsburg each had their own elementary school boards. However these four municipalities had united, for high school purposes, in the late 1940's under one board, which had jurisdiction over Morrisburg and Iroquois High Schools. Membership on the elementary boards was by public election each November. Members of the high school board were appointed by the four municipal councils.
In the late 1950s and early 1960's the Government of Ontario under Premier Leslie Frost and Education Minister John Robarts developed a plan to organize education at the high school level into various streams, occupations, technical and shop, commercial and academic. The Iroquois High School had been built with this in mind. The Morrisburg High School could not as easily accommodate these streams of students. There was some thought at the time of combining the two high schools, but neither Village wanted to give up its local school. The High School Board proceeded, with the approval of the Ministry of Education, to construct an addition on the north side of the Morrisburg High School to accommodate the new streaming program .
Shortly after the addition was finished the Ministry of Education began pressing the local High School Board to combine the two schools. As a fairly new member of the Morrisburg Village Council I can recall numerous joint meetings of the councils of the four municipalities with the Board to discuss this issue. The Ministry finally summoned the members of all four councils and the members of the South Dundas High School Board to a meeting in Toronto and applied a great deal of pressure to merge the two high schools.The Ministry's message was clear; they wanted one high school and since the school in Iroquois was much newer they would only approve and finance a new school if it were by way of an addition to the existing Iroquois High School. This was a bitter pill for the people in Morrisburg who were not at all happy to lose their high school.
Finally the Province forced the issue and since it controlled the purse strings the Board was forced to proceed with expansion of the Iroquois School while the Morrisburg High School was closed. In the course of exerting pressure on the Board a senior official in the Ministry of Education wrote a letter to the School Board with copies to the local municipalities stating that the Morrisburg High School building had no value.
In the meantime other provincial changes were afoot. Mr. Robarts replaced Mr. Frost as Premier and Bill Davis, a rising star in the Progressive Conservative party was appointed Minister of Education. There was a feeling at Queen's Park that there were too many boards of education or school boards in the Province and it enacted legislation that combined public and separate school administration on a county basis. For our area this meant that all public schools in The United Counties of Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry and the City of Cornwall were to be administered by one public board effective January 1st,
I had been a member of the Morrisburg Council during the 1960s and served as Deputy Reeve in 1967 and 1968, Fred Hill was Reeve and I think the Councillors were Paul Barkley, Arnold "Red" Lawlor and Arnie Payment. In late 1968 Fred Hill announced his intention of retiring as did most of the other councillors. I ran for Reeve and was elected with four newcomers, Eddy Jones as deputy, Earl Baker, Bob Bright and Bruce Tuttle as councillors; all of whom turned out to be excellent council members. The new council was to be sworn in on the January 1st, 1969; the old High School Board for South Dundas would disappear on December 31st, 1968.
Fred Hill and I talked about the future of the Morrisburg High School building which had just been vacated. The new High School in Iroquois had been completed and officially opened. The Morrisburg High school sat idle. We both knew that if any action were to be taken about the vacant building it must occur before the end of the year.
We came to the conclusion that the Village should have control over the future of the former Morrisburg High School building. We felt that decisions by the new School Board disposing surplus property might conflict with the village's aims for development on Ottawa street, especially with the arena and elementary school nearby. With this in mind Fred called a meeting of the outgoing council, and I requested the newly elected council members attend. The decision was unanimous; we should ask the South Dundas Board to convey title of the property to the Village prior to the end of the year. Fred and I discussed the matter with Mr. Wm Gorrell, Q.C, solicitor for the Village of Morrisburg; then we contacted Mr. Dale Beckstead, Chair of the South Dundas School Board, and Mrs Jean Notman, the Morrisburg appointee to the Board. Dale called an urgent meeting of the South Dundas Board. The Village submitted that the building had no value, as determined by the Ministry of Education and that the cost of demolition and landscaping probably exceeded the value of the land. The Board unanimously agreed to convey title to the Village for $1.00 and Mr. Gorrell carried out these instructions prior to the year end.
Several weeks after the new Council took office in 1969 I received a telephone call from Mr. Bryson Comrie. I knew Bryson quite well, he was a good friend. He was in fact my accountant and accountant for my law firm. Bryson was a very capable businessman and had a very successful accounting practise with offices in Cornwaii, Ottawa and Morrisburg.
Bryson had been elected a member of the new County Board of Education from the City of Cornwall; he had been Chair of the Cornwall Board of Education before amalgamation and was elected as the first Chair of the new Board. He was an ideal choice to lead the new board in its formative years.
Bryson immediately asked me if the Village of Morrisburg had acquired title to the former High School property in Morrisburg and I confirmed this to be true. He quite firmly and forcefully demanded that the Village of Morrisburg surrender title to the property to the new County Board of Education, saying that our acquisition was illegal. Bryson could be very forceful at times and apparently felt that a strong stand was necessary. He was very confidant in his opinion that the Village of Morrisburg and the South Dundas Board had acted illegally.
I countered with a low key approach; saying that the property in question was presently unused and not needed by the new Board of Education for any purpose as far as I could see. I suggested that the Village was doing everyone a favour by taking this property off the Board's hands and the new Board would not have to waste time and money maintaining it. I sympathized with the problem they faced in disposing of many surplus school properties and assured him we were only trying to be helpful.
I pointed out the property was zoned for public use and the Village would probably oppose any request for a change in zoning. Bryson remained adamant and gave me an ultimatum; surrender title or the County Board of Education would instruct their solicitor Mr. Stanley Fennell, Q.C., to commence court action to force the Village of Morrisburg to do so.
I questioned why the Board would waste public money on a lawsuit over a useless piece of land and buildings. Bryson disagreed with my position and at this stage I referred him to the letter setting out the Ministry's opinion that the property was valueless. I could tell that Bryson was a bit surprised. I suggested that any lawsuit would attract the attention of the provincial press who might question the need for litigation over title to a building the Province had already deemed valueless. Bryson didn't back down; he assured me that I had not heard the last of this issue. He said he would get back to me.
In fact the Village never did hear anything further about the matter after that. The Council had no immediate plans for the property and subsequent councils found various uses and occupants for the building. The north wing of the building was put to good use when the Village of Morrisburg leased it and later sold it to the St. Lawrence Medical Clinic. Over the years the other parts of the building have been used by the Village for various purposes. It has rented space to the St. Lawrence Parks Commission, and for a short time to a dentist. For a period of time it housed the S.D. and G County Library; the Boy Scouts used rooms at times. One room was used as a fitness room; another as a senior drop in centre. Some rooms have been used by charitable and volunteer organizations from time to time. I believe the Province of Ontario was a tenant of part this valueless piece of property on occasion.
Best of all the Village rented a couple of rooms to the County Board of Education for several years.
Mike McInnis is a life-long resident of Iroquois/Morrisburg. He was born in 1929 (home located on Zeron Road), spent his childhood attending primary school in Matilda Township, secondary school in Iroquois and attended Queen's University before pursuing a law degree in Toronto at Osgoode Hall Law School. Mike returned to his home area, purchased the practise of lawyer Raymond H. Armstrong and practiced law from his office in Morrisburg. He spent many years involved in municipal government and on community boards prior to retiring and becoming an accomplished wood carver of birds. These days Mike McInnis enjoys a good read, loves scanning the digital information highways and even more, loves good humor and a great story. His memories of historically significant (and some not so significant) events and happenings in and around our community has been an exceptional source of information to many, including the the owners of this web site. Hopefully we'll be able to share more of them . . .
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