Local Spotlight: The History of Downtown St. Catharines

Owen Hughes

Downtown St. Catharines has not always looked the way it does now. However, there is one thing it has always been: a hub of activity and meeting places for the rest of the city.

Chances are, most St. Catharines residents who have lived here their entire life can tell you what stores or restaurants used to be in which buildings, or what the land used to look like even 20 years ago. Since these buildings have passed through so many hands, it’s no wonder this area has its own story to tell.

The Loyalist Origins of St. Catharines

The Niagara Region was largely involved in conflicts between the British and American armies due to our close proximity to the border.

After the American Revolutionary War ended, the United States became an independent nation, no longer under British rule. Many British Loyalists who were living in the United States began to move to Canada, motivated by the incentive of free land and retaining their British citizenship. The British Government wanted to keep its subjects, so it was offering free land to anyone who was willing to move to Canada. Since much of this land was located in Niagara, this is where many ended up.

The first known residents of St. Catharines were John Hainer and Jacob Dittrick, who purchased land here sometime around 1790. In 1876, the city officially became incorporated as the City of St. Catharines. It was named after Catharine Hamilton, the wife of a wealthy landowner named Robert Hamilton.

Montebello Park: Downtown’s Gem

Montebello Park has become a key part of central St. Catharines, and for good reason. Constructed in 1887, the park was designed by the same architect that designed Central Park in New York City. The park’s central focus, the band shell and pavilion, was constructed in 1888 and modeled after one made in Buffalo, New York.

One of the most little-known facts about Montebello Park is that it’s home to a rose garden with over 1,300 bushes. It’s also home to many festivals, events, and even weddings.

Transformation and Innovation

Naturally, many of the Loyalists who arrived flocked to the downtown core as they sought out industrial jobs in an urban landscape. By the 1970s, high-rise office buildings began to dot the downtown skyline.

In the last decade or so, St. Catharines has undergone some major changes and seen some brand new developments come about. Now, the area is prosperous with bars, restaurants, boutique shops, sporting events, the performing arts, and much more. For example, the Meridian Centre was completed in 2014 and now hosts the local OHL team, the Niagara Ice Dogs, as well as the local NBL team, the Niagara River Lions.

However, while we currently enjoy all of these modern spaces, many of the original heritage buildings still remain within the downtown core and the history of downtown St. Catharines always shines through. Take a look at some of my favourite buildings in downtown St. Catharines. As you walk around the area, you can take a look at some of the plaques on the heritage buildings to see this rich history for yourself.

Downtown St. Catharines is a Hotspot

The downtown core is a hotspot for local residents and visitors alike, with a variety of new and trendy restaurants to try out before taking in a show or a hockey game. If you are thinking of investing in a business or a piece of commercial real estate downtown St. Catharines, there are plenty of promising opportunities available.