#1                       Avon Crest – Stratford General Hospital – threatened


                                                            The first Stratford General Hospital 1891


Avon Crest: Stratford’s First Hospital at a Crossroads
By Dan Schneider

A century and a quarter ago, in the spring of 1889, a committee of local worthies chose London architect George F. Durand to draw up plans for Stratford’s first hospital. The prolific Durand had already designed the iconic Perth County Court House and the city’s pump house, later repurposed as Gallery Stratford. The new hospital on the banks of the Avon River was one of his last designs — he died the same year

In the High Victorian Queen Anne Style and costing a little more than $13,000, the building opened to enthusiastic crowds in May 1891. Picturesquely set back from John Street on a curving drive, it was an imposing structure — symmetrical in plan with a central tower and wings boasting generous bay windows and turrets. High chimneys rose from the roof and, crowning the tower, an iron weather vane. The building’s siting and stylistic characteristics are even reminiscent of the much larger Legislative Building at Queen’s Park in Toronto (completed in 1893).

Over time the hospital was enlarged with major rear additions, although these were more functional-looking than complimentary to the style of the original. Open-air porches, later closed in, were also added on the southeast corner. Responding to post-war demands, by the late 1940s a new Stratford General Hospital arose across the street (with a tunnel, still in use today, linking the two); the old hospital, after almost 60 years of service, was closed in 1950. In 1955 the building reopened as Avon Crest, a convalescent facility. This chapter in its history continued into the late 1980s when the last patients moved out.

Fast-forward to today, when the building, rundown and about 65 per cent occupied, is home to a hodgepodge of hospital-related offices, including the Stratford General Hospital Foundation, educational services and the wonderfully cluttered two-room hospital and nursing school archives run by the dedicated Joan Macdermid. Outside, the structure has lost many original details — gone are the turrets and the chimneys, and the tower has been truncated. The building is practically surrounded by a huge parking lot and almost no one enters by the old front doors. Overall the effect is rather shabby and forlorn.

The first Stratford General Hospital 1891 

But big changes are afoot for the old building. No decisions have been made at this point; according to its President and CEO Andrew Williams, the hospital is only just beginning to map out the process to be followed that would lead to a major redevelopment of the site. He anticipates this initial stage should be completed internally over the next six months or so, after which planning for the future use of the property will go public. Mr. Williams is clear that the hospital, since 2003 part of the Huron Perth Healthcare Alliance (HPHA), will not be selling the property; this means its future lies in some health care-related purpose, such as a Stratford doctors’ clinic like the Wellness Centre in St. Marys. As for the existing Avon Crest occupants, the 2010 addition to SGH has freed up space and they will be moving across the street.

The final decision on the scope and form the redevelopment of Avon Crest takes will be made by the HPHA board, following consultation with the Stratford local advisory committee. This committee, established by the HPHA to provide advice on a range of local community issues, including buildings and property owned by SGH, will no doubt play an important role in consultation with the wider community on options for the future of the Avon Crest property.

On his office wall Mr. Williams has two of George F. Durand’s drawings for the old SGH and he expresses his personal view that the coming transformation of the site should be respectful of its history. He also talks of the need for commemoration.

Will the almost 125 year-old Avon Crest building be preserved? The answer will depend on many things — including the use to be made of the site, finances and the demonstration by the community that it cares about its first hospital. Certainly there are many examples in Stratford and elsewhere of the rejuvenation and repurposing of old, faded but still solid and handsome institutional structures that contributed to the growth of the community and have an important story to tell.

Perhaps the future of Avon Crest could be this: the rehabilitated and partially restored original 1891 building as a splendid historical frontispiece to a strikingly contemporary new building or complex behind. Maybe with a garden or greenspace overlooking the Avon. And an official opening to enthusiastic crowds!






The Grand Trunk Railway & CNR Shops


Council hires NA Engineering to conduct structural analysis of Grand Trunk building


Tuesday, June 12, 2018


In preparation for development to begin on Stratford’s proposed Grand Trunk Community Hub, city council voted Monday night to hire NA Engineering to conduct a structural analysis on the former Cooper Site’s locomotive repair shop.

While council’s discussion about the structural analysis conducted in closed session, councillors voted in open session at the beginning of Monday’s meeting to retain NA Engineering Associates Inc. to conduct the analysis for no more than $79,200, plus tax.


“In the last couple of years, council has really galvanized around building a Grand Trunk Community Hub, and one of the concepts is to actually use part of the former rail shops,” Stratford CAO Rob Horne said. “There hasn’t been an updated look at the structure in some time, and NA Engineering has done a considerable body of work on the building in the past. So it was logical for them to do an update and overview.”

If council decides to proceed with developing a community hub that incorporates the old rail shop, Horne said the information collected during this summer’s two-month structural analysis will help inform the city’s tender process, as well as provide useful information to companies that submit bids for the proposed project.

According to Horne, engineers will focus largely on the building’s superstructure during their analysis, evaluating its structural integrity and determining whether any additional reinforcement is needed. The engineers are also going to look at the roof to give council a better idea of whether a roof replacement is needed and, if so, how that could be completed.

While on the roof, engineers will evaluate the potential for installing some kind of solar or green power generator to help reduce the community hub’s environmental impact.

Though he can’t say for sure, Horne said the engineers’ report will likely come back to council in open session at some point at the end of the summer or early fall. If that is the case, the document will be available for public review.

With regards to the in-camera discussion, Horne said councillors wanted the opportunity to discuss the merits of conducting the analysis in the context of potential federal funding that may become available for the community hub project in the near future but has not yet been confirmed.

“The recommendation was passed in open session, so it was public in that respect, but basically because we are negotiating with senior government – we’ve been successful with the provincial government, but we’re still working with the federal government – council needed to make a decision relative to some of those discussions. It was just to have a discussion about some of the early negotiations that we’re having and, of course, it’s important council look at that in the context of expenditures like this.

“… We’re in discussions with a variety of different parties, and because it does have to do with a pending property transaction, there was (justification for an in-camera discussion) that way.”




Update (February, 2018):

The City of Stratford has retained Urban Strategies to help carry out a community engagement process to create a flexible Master Plan to help guide the evolution and future growth of the Cooper Block.


The Cooper Block Master Plan, now called the Grand Trunk Master Plan, provides a framework for how the site could develop over time and it addresses a range of urban planning and urban design matters such as parking, built form, open space provision, the public realm, and the street network



Update (March, 2015): In March, the city’s Planning and Heritage Committee recommended that the Cooper Site should not receive a heritage designation until a site plan and heritage assessment are complete. A followup recommendation was also approved requiring that once the site plan and heritage assessment are complete, a request will be made to Heritage Stratford to evaluate the site and recommend which elements should be designated.

Update (April, 2015): On April 20, an unexpected motion to demolish all but three bays of the structure was narrowly deferred for a week. On April 27, council voted 9-2 to reject the Riversedge Development proposal for the site, and entertained new public presentations that urged preservation of the shops. After a lengthy debate, the matter was again deferred, this time to a special meeting of council set for May 4.

Update (May 2015):  On May 4, 2015 a compromise motion in which the fire damaged portion of the building and roof (approximately 40%) will be removed was passed by a vote of 10 to 1. The previous motion to demolish 93% of the shops and keep only 3 bays was withdrawn by Councillor Brown who then moved the new motion. The west wall will remain to show the impressive length of the original building. The City of Stratford will be asking for proposals for the adaptive re-use of the remaining 75 000 square feet.

Update (June 2015): On June 8, a motion was passed to send out a Request for Proposal for the adaptive re-use of the GTR shops building before any demolition takes place thus providing a developer with options. 75 000 sq. ft. of the building must, however, be retained in any development proposal.
The deadline for proposals will be 4 months after the RFP is sent out. It was stated by the Chief Administrative Officer that it may take up to two months for the RFP to be complete and it will follow a template sent by Heritage Canada.


#3                                                 24 St. Andrew Street, Stratford


In the view of ACO Stratford/Perth County, there is no question that the former archives/registry office meets the local criteria to be considered of heritage significance because of its unique construction method, its visual and historical link to its surroundings and its significant association to the community.

In 1910 when the need for a new registry office, combining the former ones in North and South Perth, occurred, Perth County Council decided to build on the land located between the county jail and the court house. T.J. Hepburn, a local architect and son of Alexander Hepburn, also a well-known Stratford architect, was hired.

Hepburn was directed to design the new building to harmonize with the jail and court house both which had been designed by George F. Durand in the 1880s. When completed the addition of the building created a unified street scape from Huron Street to the jail thus creating a significant landscape along St. Andrew Street.

Because of the significance of the records to be contained within the building, it was constructed under extremely high standards and to be as fireproof as possible. The walls including the interior ones were solid masonry. In order to support the weight of the paper records the main floor “consists of “I” beams every 6 feet with corrugated metal arches between supporting concrete from 12 inches to 6 inches thick variously across the floor.”  The new building was wired for electricity which had arrived in Stratford shortly before.

After serving the citizens of Stratford and Perth County for 35 years, it was replaced by another building to keep up with the rapid growth in the area after World War II and later became the Perth District Health Unit Office.

In 1972, the Perth County Archives based on the R. Thomas Orr collection and archival materials from the Perth County Historical collection was opened. In 1981, having long outgrown its space in the basement of the Perth County Court House, the archives moved into the former registry office and the name changed to Stratford-Perth Archives. The local community and out-of-town researchers looking up family records, local history and documentary heritage were well served by the building first created to hold tons of paper land records.

In 2015, the Stratford-Perth Archives moved to a new location leaving the building empty and waiting to be repurposed to continue the significant contribution to the community that it had made for over a century.