When a Prince Stayed in SoHo

Photo courtesy of the London Free Press Collection
Edward Glackmeyer’s palatial Italianate mansion was located at 55 Bathurst Street,
playing host to Prince Arthur on his visit in 1869.

With the wedding of Prince William and his delightful Kate approaching, perhaps it’s time to recall the two members of the British royal family who briefly called SoHo home. (second article to follow)

In September 1869, London’s city fathers faced a dilemma. There were two important events planned for the Forest City – the Provincial Exhibition (forerunner of Western Fair) and the official opening of Hellmuth Ladies College in North London. Imagine the excitement when the city’s 14,000 citizens learned, with only a few days’ notice, that 19-year old Prince Arthur, the sixth child of Queen Victoria, would grace both events with his royal presence.
Arthur, named after the Duke of Wellington, was temporarily stationed with his battalion in Montreal. Queen Victoria, never particularly maternal despite bearing nine children, once said of Arthur, “He is so beloved in the house and by everyone – for he is so good and unassuming, always cheerful and never makes mischief.” The prince’s visit, bankrolled by the provincial government, included other notables such as Governor-General Sir John Young and Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald. The latter were to stay at London’s elegant Tecumseh House hotel – but Alderman Edward Glackmeyer, owner of a handsome mansion at 55 Bathurst Street in SoHo, offered to host the prince for three nights. To the dismay of his political opponents (and the London Advertiser), Glackmeyer’s offer was accepted, despite some foul odors emanating from a nearby gas plant and a pork packing factory.

Who was this Bathurst Street businessman? Edward Glackmeyer was a Montreal native of Bavarian origins (remember, Prince Arthur’s father was also German). After opening gas works in Hamilton, Dundas and St. Catharine’s, Glackmeyer and his family moved to London. He successfully managed the London Gas Company at Horton and Ridout Streets in the 1850s. As well as providing gas for streetlights, the firm also sold “coke by the load or bushel.” In those days, coke meant fuel – definitely not cocaine! As was the custom of the day, factory officials like Glackmeyer lived close to their places of employment. And his home was not the only mansion at the western end of Bathurst Street.

The prince’s party arrived by train on Tuesday, September 21, greeted by 10,000 well-wishers. At the Glackmeyer residence, the prince was met by an arch of evergreen, surmounted by a crown with “Arthur” superimposed in red. The mansion grounds were brilliantly illuminated by gas jets and Chinese lanterns and patrolled by scarlet-clad members of the Seventh Light Infantry. The over-protective sentries even refused Glackmeyer entry to his own home at one point.

The next day, Prince Arthur’s appearance at the Provincial Exhibition drew 40,000 spectators. That evening, the fire brigade, accompanied by local bands, conducted a torchlight parade from King Street to the Glackmeyer mansion. There was an impressive fireworks display and the musicians performed a number of rousing tunes. The young prince graciously came outside to inspect the fire brigade’s new steamer. The crowd burst into three rousing cheers for Queen Victoria, followed by three more for Arthur himself. When the prince returned to the house, continuing applause drew him back outside to the sidewalk where he chatted and shook hands with excited Londoners.

On Thursday, Prince Arthur visited the oil fields in Petrolia; dined at the home of the Hon. John Carling and attended the official opening of Hellmuth Ladies College (on North Richmond). The college grounds had been lavishly decorated in the prince’s honor. Imagine the excitement among the young female students – it was the equivalent of having Prince Harry drop by your school today!That night, 150 couples attended a ball in Prince Arthur’s honor at the luxurious Tecumseh Hotel at Richmond and York Streets – Prince Arthur danced with 21 partners.

The next morning, the prince and his party left London by train. Life in the Forest City returned to normal. Not long after the prince’s visit, Edward Glackmeyer sold his mansion to John Elliott, owner of the nearby Phoenix Foundry, a farm equipment enterprise. Later the home housed the Birdland Society enterprise and ended its life as part of Silverwoods Dairies complex. When Edward Glackmeyer died in 1896, his distinguished pallbearers include brewer John Labatt and noted lawyer, Edmund Meredith, Q.C.

On May 29, 1912, Prince Arthur, now known as the Duke of Connaught, returned to the Forest City, in his role as Governor-General of Canada. He was the first member of the Royal Family to hold that post. One of the main purposes of his visit was to unveil the new Boer War monument located in Victoria Park. In a photo spread in honor of his visit, the London Advertiser newspaper published a photo of the SoHo mansion where Prince Arthur had stayed for three nights 43 years earlier.

Caption: Edward Glackmeyer’s palatial Italianate mansion was located at 55 Bathurst Street, playing host to Prince Arthur on his visit in 1869.

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