Most Canadian schoolchildren are taught that Canada, as we know it today, was established in 1867 with the royal assent of the British North America Act. It is less known, however, that Sault Ste. Marie was a young, blossoming town not long after. And Gore Street was at the centre of it all.
SooToday sat down with William Hollingshead, the executive director and chief curator at the Sault Ste. Marie Museum.
The first thing Hollingshead noted was that the Sault, as we know it today, was split into two townships around the turn of the century.
“Gore Street at one point was considered to be the centre to downtown. It was the gateway between the Sault Ste. Marie centre and the Steelton.
“When it was first constructed, it was a basic road.”
He notes that “even though it was linking the two townships, it wasn’t a well-constructed road.”
Passers-by at the time would have noticed The Grand Central Hotel – erected in 1899 – at the heart of the neighbourhood.
Located on the corner of Gore and Queen, the title deed changed hands several times throughout the 20th century. The Keenan family was the longest-running owner (1911-1988) and was the one who renamed it The Royal Hotel.
“It was the first main building,” said Hollingshead.
“There were a couple of famous people who stayed at the hotel: The American editorial cartoonist William Henry Mauldin. We would have seen one-time leader of the NDP, Donald MacDonald.”
By 1914, the city of Sault Ste. Marie started investing money into the Gore Street area.
“That’s when things started to change. That’s when businesses opened.”
Included in these businesses was the Algoma Produce Co.
The company owned a warehouse that “could fit 50 carloads of produce.” It was “one of the largest dealers of its kind in this area of the country.”
The area also featured a row of buildings owned by a businessman known as Mr. Barnes.
“Mr. Barnes was a rich investor who wanted to start businesses and saw that as a good place.
“It is, there was a clothing store, [...] a bar and [...] a shoe store.”
Similarly, William and Walter Hussey “were two of the people who started Sault Ste. Marie. They’re kind of woven as being pioneers.
“The Husseys were big in that area. Walter Hussey was the first person to collect the mail. They had a big mailbox and they would bring it to the post office.”
This was an important development because it connected the vicinity with the rest of the country. A postal service opened the door to commerce, delivery and personal communication.
Once Steelton and Sault Ste. Marie united in the mid-20th century, Gore Street's prominence declined as other parts of town were on the come up.
Until recently, Gore Street started to feel run down and forgotten. Most Saultites who did not live close by only ever visited when travelling between downtown and the International Bridge.
The Service Canada building was the most prominent establishment.
But in recent years, City Council took on a project to adorn the neighbourhood and return its lost glory.
Hollingshead said that today, Gore Street “still has the atmosphere of the old buildings. But the city invested money into the beautification of Gore Street. That helped bring it back to its hay day, being the centre of downtown.”
“Right now, it’s a little quiet but there’s lots of potential there.”
The street got its name for its layout that is split up into gores, or triangular pieces of land.