The Curse of One Market Street
Fiery lore of our downtown core, part two.
Scott Egan, September 21, 2022 // Brantford, OntarioA historical photo of the square. Stock photo.
DISCLAIMER: The writer would like to express his gratitude to Lori Greene for her time and insight, and to honour the memory of Alma Greene.
Over the next 70 years, over 30 buildings in and around the square burn up, with lots more damaged. The first fire attributed to the curse happened very quickly with the Stratford Theatre charred down to cinders. There are so many that I'm just going pick a few, kind of a retrospective of flames. During a period of little more than a day in 1915, two different businesses burned down, a theatre and a department store. This caused over a quarter of a million 1915 dollars in damages and injured many firefighters. Over the next few decades, big fires sprung up here and there. A bunch in the ’40s and ’50s, in the ’60s a few hotels caught, but in the ’70s things really heated up. Pun intended.
In 1970, a giant fire took out six businesses, but didn’t take the building down on Dalhousie and George streets. This one was so big that every fire truck in Brantford was involved in putting it out. In 1975, the Squire Hotel caught fire and in the following month an explosion and fire took out five businesses. The next year, a half million-dollar fire destroyed another 5 businesses. Also, in 1976, the Brantford landmark Kerby Hotel – more than a hundred years old – is so damaged by a fire that the decision to rip the whole thing down was made. As well during this era the first attempt to build a multimillion-dollar shopping mall came and went.
An old fire map showing the Square in 1950. Stock photo.
My favourite incident attributed to the curse came from this time frame as well. Some chump (I'm not going write his name down because he might have family or something) starts beaking off about the curse and how he's not afraid. He runs a fry stand on the Market land and one night it just explodes. No apparent reason, just BANG! No more fry stand. I personally like that one. In the ’80s is when we start to see development happen in this area and we also see business mainstays start to diminish. More fires, more businesses start to leave the area. The centre of business starts to slowly move outside of the downtown area in general.
A historical photo of the square. Stock photo.
At the end of the decade, we get the soon to be enormous failure of The Eaton Market Square, the first large building to be built on the actual market square since the city hall was demolished in 1965 (no fire this time). Did Brantford need a third mall in a city of around 80,000 people? Gosh no. Did Brantford want a mall downtown? No on that one too. There were many efforts by citizens, local business, as well as the Haudenosaunee people, to stop this venture, to no avail. This now forced the market to be completely removed from the site where it had always been, from where it always was and was supposed to be, by right and by law. Now the market was permanently moved to the Ring Road (soon to be renamed Icomm Drive which is a ridiculous story for another time).
The theatre in rubble and ash. Stock photo.
This leads right into the great rot of the ’90s. The mall kept going for a bit. Just long enough to severely hurt all downtown business. Like remember when we had all those fake people painted on the empty store fronts? That was the improvement on the ‘90s, like if you drove past real fast you might be confused into thinking it was a bustling downtown shopping centre. By the mid ’90s, downtown became something you'd threaten on an enemy and it has not got any better, not by a long shot. Do all the things I've listed have other causes? Maybe. All those fires, bad business deals and basic collapse of the downtown could just be a hundred plus years of bad luck. Like a curse?
This is part two of a three part series. The continuation of this article will be available within a couple weeks.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Scott Egan, best described as an extroverted hermit. Scott is an afficionado of all things old, odd and esoteric. An avid reader and collector, he’s accumulated a backlog of legends and lore that he loves to share with most anyone who will listen. A father of two, Scott lives along with his feline soulmate amongst thousands of books and hundreds of objects of the strange and unusual.