Alma Block, 133 Wyndham Street North
Built by local businessman James Massie to replace an earlier structure that was destroyed by fire, the Alma block is an exceptional example of mid-19th Century commercial architecture.
The original building on the site of the Alma block was a three-storey limestone structure built in 1854 for W.J. Brown. It provided space at street level for three shops beneath a series of segmental arches. A fire caused by a match falling on to an oil-soaked floor destroyed the building in December of 1867 and the following year the building’s owner, wholesale grocer James Massie, commissioned a replacement.
The new Alma block was designed by Toronto architect James Smith, with masonry work by local contractors Kennedy & Pike. James Barkley was the carpenter, and Messrs. Hamilton & Sons of Toronto were hired for the iron work. The first three sections (127-133 Wyndham Street North) were erected in 1868 with three storeys and a large cellar. In keeping with the design of the previous building, the new structure had space for three street-level shops and a series of columns supporting segmental arches. It was divided into three sections of three bays each but was expanded to include a fourth, almost identical section within a few years, probably 1874. Once completed the two northernmost sections were occupied by James Massie’s grocery business, one as a retail location, the other for wholesale.
With its prominent downtown location the Alma block has served as the home of many businesses. From the late 1880s until 1933 the northern unit (number 135) housed George Williams’ grocery store, a local landmark famous for its “confectionary, cakes, pastry, soda water, ice cream, Dr. Sweet’s Root Beer, fruit and groceries.” The grocery was replaced by John Armstrong’s dry goods business which moved from 95 Wyndham where it had been established in 1911. Armstrong remained in the Alma block for over forty years. Other notable inhabitants of the block include The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company (later to become A&P Foods) which could be found at 133 through the 1930’s, and the Victoria Billiard Parlour, found at the same address during the 1950s and 60s. More recent tenants have included the Simply Wonderful toy shop and Thomas Entertainment. In 2001 Wellington County Social Services took the space at 127-131 Wyndham and renovated the street-level exterior, reintroducing the segmented arch design which had been lost, though at a modified scale with much greater arch spans.
The Alma block is an excellent example of mid-nineteenth century commercial architecture in late Italianate style. Constructed of dressed limestone, it has a number of fine details, including:
- a dentilated cornice and stone parapet
- rusticated raised architraves leading to round-headed window openings with bracketed entablatures on the second floor and labels on the third
- tooled sill courses
- rusticated corner pilasters.
Also notable are the original sashes of the upper floors at 133 Wyndham. The second floor sashes are completely original; the vertical muntins of the lower sash have been removed in the third floor windows.
The rear additions to the building that face Wyndham street were built in at least two different periods after the construction of the Wyndham-facing block. The most westerly is the back of 135 Wyndham, and has the address of 128 Woolwich. It is a two and a half storey structure of stone and brick, faced with pick-dressed limestone, constructed of coursed rough limestone on the west side and brick on the east. The door and windows have been modernized but retain their original locations. 128 Woolwich was built by 1874 as it appears in historical photographs from that date.
The most easterly extension is a one and a half storey rough coursed limestone building with the address of 122 Woolwich, which is connected to 127-133 Wyndham Street North. Though probably built around the same 1870’s period, it has been heavily modernized with new doors and window openings.
Source: City of Guelph By-law (2006)-17980.