The homeowner living on the northeast corner of Simcoe and Henry Streets has started what we hope will become a trend in Soho. Hanging on the home’s front porch is an intriguing sign reading:
The idea of hanging signs on homes or businesses to denote the date of the building’s construction, the name of the original owner, and his occupation, was first implemented in Fergus, Ontario. The idea was then picked up by the OId East Village Community Association here in London. The signs are printed and laminated for between $20 and $25 at a print shop on the corner of Dundas and Dorinda Streets (just east of Western Fair Raceway). These signs can then be hung over the door of any private residence or business – and not just on older structures. Passers-by (and slow drivers) can quickly see who lived in the neighborhood, when housing stock in a certain block was constructed and the trade or profession of the original owner. This gives the viewer a better appreciation of a neighborhood’s past.
Anyone wanting to research the history of their home and business can visit The London Room, on the third floor of the Central Library in Galleria Mall. Start by asking the staff to look at city directories on microfilm – they’ll show you how to load the microfilm reader. If you have an idea of the date of your home’s construction, start looking a few years earlier. For example, if you live at 2008 Simcoe Street, and someone told you the house was built in 1898, start with the 1896 directory. If nothing is shown for 2008 Simcoe, search year by year until a building appears at that address. The listing under 2008 Simcoe Street will read something like this:
2008 Simcoe, Isaac Lerner, Peddler.
For signage purposes, you have the information you want – the year the house was built, the name of the original owner and that owner’s trade. But you might also ask staff if you can view the fire insurance plans available for the year closest to 1898. These plans show diagrams of every building, including outbuildings, built on city lots. You may discover that your home looked quite different when it was originally built.
Then, before leaving the London Room, look for your address – and for the name of the home’s original owner – in the file card index in the brown wooden filing cabinets. Once again, don’t hesitate to ask the staff for assistance. This may lead you to further information on your home or its early occupants, contained either in scrapbooks of newspaper clippings or in other local history publications.
So, now the challenge has been issued! Let’s see more signs over front doors, giving both neighborhood residents and visitors a fascinating glimpse into Soho’s past. And congratulations to the homeowner who introduced what we hope will become a popular trend in Soho!