On a crisp Fall morning, the sun’s raking light shows up strange markings around this quiet intersection.
Careful inspection of the roadway reveals a pattern of what looks like square bricks set in two rows parallel to each other on all four sides of where the streets cross. The bricks appear to be slightly below the surface of the tarred road and are a slightly different texture. Were they the remains of a building that spanned the intersection before the existing paving existed?
Unable to find any further information, I asked Shawn Selway for his opinion. Shawn, a long time resident of the North End, is also an authority on industrial archaeology and past urban infrastructure. For example, he identified one of the earliest manhole covers in the city, at Robert and Cathcart. Shawn doubted there was a building spanning the intersection, but suggested that the pattern indicated an elaborate crosswalk. More recent ones can be seen in the downtown core, marked out with similar decorative brick and masonry patterns. However, such crosswalks are generally only constructed in high traffic areas, to orchestrate the movements of large numbers of pedestrians and vehicles. There does not seem to be any obvious reason for it to exist here. Both the Public and Catholic schools are over a block away.
However, this was not always the case. Before the mid nineteen sixties, St. Lawrence School was located on the corner of Ferrie and John, just one block away. At this period, there were still bridges across Wellington and the CN railway line, making Ferrie and Catherine busy with through traffic.
The appearance of these lines of bricks contrasts with the asphalt around them, recalling earlier methods of road construction. In the early to mid 19th century logs laid side by side, and, later, wood blocks were popular, but stone and gravel construction was most common. Bricks, manufactured in Hamilton, like those originally used to pave Ferguson Avenue, were cheap and easy to install, but noisy and slippery when wet. Wood blocks were quiet, cheap and durable, when treated. However, dirt and horse manure collected between the blocks. Even if asphalt was quiet, clean and attractive, and worked well with carts and bicycles, it was expensive and created issues with inset rail tracks. However, it was seen as “modern.” Its success was assured as automobiles overtook most other forms of transportation and made life more dangerous for pedestrians. This brings us back to apparent traces of a four-way crosswalk at Ferrie and Catherine Streets, made to keep children walking east on Ferrie from old St. Lawrence School safe.
Even a few bricks set in a pattern on a roadway may tell a story. It pays to apply what you know about your surroundings and use your imagination. If anyone knows more about these markings, please contact us.
The writer would like to thank Shawn Selway for examining the intersection of Ferrie and Catherine and explaining the development of road building. See also: P. G. Mackintosh, “Asphalt Modernism on the Streets of Toronto, 1890–1900,” Material History Review 62 (Fall 2005) / Revue d’histoire de la culture matérielle 62 (automne 2005): 20-34.