History of Downtown Dundas

A Brief History and Exploration of Downtown ‘Paradise’
By Stan Nowak

Most of buildings east of the Collins Hotel are built after 1881, due to a fire that destroyed all wooden structures east of the Collins to Cross Street. While most of the ground floors have been altered throughout the decades, the downtown’s building’s facade from the 2nd floor up and skyline remains very well-preserved from Victorian times.

King Street West runs from Cross / Main to Head Street. Originally owned by Ann Morden, the site of today’s King Street was purchased by William Hare in 1808, and he cut a fifty-foot swath that was eventually named Hare Street and ran to Market Square. In 1820, it was renamed King Street, after the death of King George III of Great Britain. Extended to John Street in 1832, it was widened to sixty-six feet in 1837, and remains the same today. It was paved for the first time in 1921. In 1958, Dundas was one of the first communities in Ontario to install flourescent street lighting, but these were replaced in the mid-1980s for the current heritage-style standards.

10 King Street West - Carnegie Gallery
Built in 1910 on lands donated by Colonel J. J. Grafton and funded by the Andrew Carnegie Foundation, this was the Town’s Public Library from 1910 to 1970, and mainly a Childrens’ Library to 1980, when it became the Carnegie Art Gallery.

2 King Street West - Grafton Square

Grafton Square was the location of Grafton’s flagship store and manufacturing operations from 1853 to 1977. Grafton’s also occupied the building across the street at King and Cross (the source of the 1881 fire).

13 - 19 King Street West - Laing Apartments

Built in 1882, 13 King Street West was a grocery store operated by Peter and Robert Laing. #19 was the home of a hardware business from 1872 - as Hugh Walker’s Hardware from 1936 - to 1987. The interior is reminiscent of Victorian times. The transom over the main entrance still reads “15 Laing Apts”.

33 King Street West - Collins Hotel

The Collins Hotel was built in 1841 by Bernard Collins, and until the last decade or so, was the oldest continuously-run hotel in Ontario. It has been modified several times, but the exterior has remained relatively unchanged since the 1880s.

49 King Street West - Booth’s Furniture

Built in 1856, it served as a hardware store and was owned for while by Hugh Walker in the 1920s. It has also served as a combination furniture store and funeral parlour, which was common, since both businesses involved fine woodworking practices. Booth’s Furniture has been in this location for over 50 years. The building was restored to its original 1856 design in 1987.

Note the graffiti - ‘1872 - R. Gould’ - on the brick facade of Booth’s Furniture.

51-57 King Street West - Red Lion Hotel / Deluxe Diner

Built in 1871, this address has been the site of many taverns since 1841. Its exterior appearance has remained virtually unchanged for the last 137 years. The archway was known as “The Recess”.

The DeLuxe Diner was opened in 1940 and Susan and Du Wong. It has been closed since Mr. Wong’s death in 1973, but has remained frozen in time, and is a popular location in town for movie filming.

59 - 65 King Street West - the Red Block - Cruickshank’s / Lee & Lee

Built in 1875, after a fire destroyed the original building, this rowhouse is more extravagantly Victorian than many of the others built around the same date. It has been a jewellery shop, a harness shop, a pool hall, and former Dundas Mayor John Lawrason’s law office. Since 1906, except for 1880 - 1911, there has always been a law office here. The facade shows a superb example of restored Victorian commercial architecture, built in 1875.

Melbourne Hotel

Built in 1899, it was one of the finest hotels in the area, with 28 bedrooms and 26 rooms for parties, private dinners, etc. Today, the lower floors are offices, while the upper floors are apartments.

Central Hotel

Built in 1890 by former Dundas Mayor Alexander Wardell, it has been known by many names (Black Bull, Buck’s Head, Mansion, Aberdeen House, Commercial Hotel, Haley’s Hotel, and more recently as The Owl’s Roost and The Prickly Thistle), but the original name is still visible in the tower. The site was originally the home of The Farmer’s Inn - and many other taverns - from 1830 to 2003.

104 King Street West - Old Post Office

Built in 1913, the building has a Romanesque facade, which is dominated by the 100-foot Venetian clock tower, with each clock face being six feet in diameter. The entire clock was manufactured and shipped over from England. The building was almost demolished in 1973, but public pressure saved it.

90 - 96 King Street West - Elgin Hotel

The Elgin hotel was built in 1837 by William McDonnell (note the keystone in the curved archway)and ran as a hotel until 1885. It also accommodated the Post Office (until 1913), Customs, and the Library (until 1910).

98 - 100 King Street West - Music Hall

The Music Hall was officially opened in 1911 as a hall for charity balls, plays and movies with a seating capacity for 700. Used as classroom space from 1915 - 1918, it remained vacant from 1966 - 1977, when it was renovated for mixed commercial / residential use.

Memorial Square

Once known as ‘Market Square’, this was the site of the first municipal Christmas tree in Canada (1914). Memorial Square was the also the site of the war cenotaph from 1921 to the 1960s. The present location of the Royal Bank was once the location of Cowper’s Furniture and Hardware (1849 - 1977), and they had the first telephone in Dundas (1877).

The fire station at Memorial Square and Hatt Street has been in the same location since 1898.

The Surgery, built in 1848, originally stood near the current CIBC location, til it was moved in 1974 to the Dundas Museum & Archives. The intersection of King Street and Memorial Square / Sydenham Street is known locally as Bankers’ Corners and is the financial, as well as the geographic, centre of town.

Horn of Plenty

Originally built as a movie theatre in 1929, this was the home of the Majestic / Roxy Theatre until 1961, when it became a dance hall (the Club Safari). The Horn of Plenty has been in this location since 1984. The ticket office and interior gives away its heritage as an entertainment facility.

Many thanks to Stan Nowak for providing the above text. For further information on the history of Dundas, please visit:

The Dundas Museum and Archives

The Dundas Valley Historical Society

Historical Postcards of Dundas

Vintage Postcards of Hamilton

Business
Directory
Newsletter
Updates