Historical Plaque Properties


Leonard Nagel - Upholster
136 Ballantyne Avenue
Stratford, ON

In September 1912 Leonard and Vera Nagel moved from Ontario Street in Stratford to become the first owner and residents of 136 Ballantyne Avenue. Leonard was born of German heritage in 1880 in Cayuga, Haldimand County. Ontario. Vera was born in the United States and came to Canada in 1904.

The section of Ballantyne Avenue on which the house at 136 is located runs east from Front Street and is part of the property included in W. F. McCulloch’s large estate which became Queen’s Park. The north and easterly exposures of 136 Ballantyne face directly onto the river and the park. This lovely location would have been quite different if Stratford’s first Board of Park Management had not successfully fended off the Canadian Pacific Railway  which was planning to build tracks along the river’s south shoreline.

When the Nagels re-located Leonard was employed at Imperial Rattan, one of Stratford’s several bustling furniture factories, some of which were the largest in Canada. In the late 19th, early 20th centuries, Stratford was an ideal location for the furniture industry surrounded, as it was, by large tracts of maple, oak, cherry pine, birch and other woods used in the trade, with direct access to a river for the sawmills and good rail  and road transportation to larger centres in Canada and the United States. An annual furniture show attracted potential customers from a wide area.

Imperial Rattan where Leonard developed his skills as an upholsterer began production on Albert Street near King Street in 1910. It was founded by Harry William Strudley, an American born in Detroit who had a smaller furniture business in Windsor before coming to Stratford where larger and better facilities were available. He chose the name Imperial Rattan as recognition of his British heritage. By 1911 his factory, with 50,000 square feet of floor space and 65 employees, was producing a wide selection of rattan living room and verandah furniture, the latter much in demand for all the large porches so popular in those early days before air conditioning.

The historic “Stratford Strike” and the Depression brought difficult years for Stratford’s furniture businesses and several did not survive. The demand for rattan furniture slackened in favour of sleek modern wooden furniture frequently made from yellow birch and Imperial Rattan and Koehler’s sought out world famous architects/designers such as Saarinen and Jan Kuypers to create their product lines.  In 1949 Imperial bought the former McLagan plant.

When World War 2 began Imperial Rattan and Koehler’s Furniture began producing the large wooden wing spars for fighter airplanes such as the Mosquito as well as other items needed for the war effort. This war time contribution by Imperial meant a large staff increase and use of a vacant, nearby plant.

Leonard stayed at Imperial Rattan until the early 1920s when he opened his own upholstery business, “Nagel Upholstery Works” on Erie Street near the corner of St Patrick Street and remained in business there for the next 20 years.

When the house was purchased in 1962 by Ross and Barbara Penton the Nagels had lived there for fifty years. Leonard died in 1963,Vera in 1967. Both are  buried in Riverside Cemetery in Cayuga, Ontario. There were no children.

As the 20th century moved along Harry William Strudley became one of Stratford’s most prominent businessmen, serving as chairman of the   hospital board for 13 years; as a governor of the University of Western Ontario and a strong supporter of the Kiwanis Music Festival from its early days. He was an avid horticulturist who was renowned for the beautiful rose gardens at his home, 186 Mornington Street.

A final note about Ballantyne Avenue. The Honourable Thomas Ballantyne, an early Stratford businessman and politician is acknowledged as one of the founders of the dairy and cheese industries. His Black Creek Cheese Factory built in Downie Township in 1867, produced medal winning products which became known as the best cheese in North America. During his political career which began in 1875 he served as Speaker of the Legislature of Ontario from 1890 to 1894.

In 1905 his son Robert established the The R.M. Ballantyne Knitting Company and built a large factory on the north side of the block along the river between Front and North Streets. The street in front of the factory was named Ballantyne Avenue. It continues two blocks east to Queen Street ending at the main entrance to the Festival Theatre.