Historical Plaque Properties


Francis (Frank) Hassell - Plasterer
187 Hibernia Street
Stratford, ON

In 1871 William Wonzell, age 30, a labourer, and his wife Caroline, made their way from Germany to Stratford, Canada. There they settled on an acre of property facing onto Hibernia Street and extending through to Huron Street. It was shortly sub-divided into four lots, one of which was purchased in 1873 by Robert Hassell, also newly arrived in Canada from Kent, England, and living with his family further down Hibernia Street. Robert’s skills as a plasterer were in great demand as buildings were under construction all around the emerging town of Stratford.

Plastering as a trade flourished in Ontario and elsewhere from the late eighteenth century to the depression days of the 1930s. Decorative plastering was in great demand to augment popular architectural revival styles such as Gothic, Renaissance and Italianate. Fortunately, many examples of these highly skilled tradesmen’s art can still be seen in older residences and buildings because immigrants such as Robert Hassell passed on their skills to succeeding generations. In the 1500s plasterers in England organized a guild to maintain standards and ensure quality and many years later in 1887, here in Canada, an international union was established for the same reasons.

The Robert Hassell family included two sons, Louis and Francis (Frank), both of whom followed their father into the plastering trade. In 1894 Frank married Elizabeth (Lizzie) Hender, also living in Stratford but born and raised in Brantford, the daughter of Richard and Mary Hender. In 1898 Frank and Lizzie became the new owners of the west half of Lot 25 and in December 1901 they welcomed their daughter and only child, Alberta Hamilton O’Connor, into the family.

In 1904 the family moved into a newly built house on their Hibernia Street property, by then numbered 187 Hibernia Street. Frank continued his work as a plasterer, but eventually the family moved west to Vancouver where they were living at the time of the 1911 Canadian census.  At the time Frank was working as a plastering contractor and Alberta, after finishing her education, was employed as a stenographer. Eventually she moved across the border to live in Seattle, Washington. Frank died in 1940 and Lizzie then also relocated to the United States to live with her daughter and found work as a housekeeper. Mother and daughter eventually moved to Los Angeles, California where Lizzie died in 1948 and Alberta, who remained single, died in 1990.

In early days Stratford was surrounded by land being cleared by pioneer farmers anxious to start establishing their livestock herds and the crops needed to feed them. Further out Hibernia Street was a 75 acre farm, operated by Robert Sharman, a son of one of Stratford’s earliest settlers, John Sharman. Extending to Britannia Street it included the area where the old fair grounds were located. The farm was later run by Robert’s eldest son Joseph, who stocked it with a herd of purebred beef cattle imported from England. Joseph’s residence, which was located on the northwest corner of Hibernia and Avondale Streets, is now a bed and breakfast operation, Hugh-son Hall.