The Old South Neighbourhood
Old South advanced as a suburb of London during the second half of the nineteenth century, integrating with the city in 1870. As such, it is one of London’s oldest neighbourhoods, and remains a desired area in which to live and raise a family. It has a unique community feel to it, a place with its own festivals, gatherings and character.
Old South was surveyed as early as 1810, with the first settlers beginning to inhabit the region the following year. At first the land was used for the cultivation of corn, wheat, potatoes, oats and peas; bees were raised, grapevines were cultivated, and fruit orchards were planted in the rich soil close to the river. However, as the profile of the community rose, soon land was converted from agricultural use into a residential village.
Much of the early development of the area revolved around the establishment of estate homes along Wortley Road, Ridout Street, and later Grand and Elmwood Avenues. In the 1870’s, the suburban neighbourhood along Wortley Road had formed a sufficiently sizable and distinctive identity that it deserved its own post office. At the time, the postal district was labeled “Askin.” However documents also refer to the area as “New Brighton” or “South London Village.”
Wortley Village has always been the traditional focal point of the Old South community. The unique ambiance associated with Wortley Road is the result of a century of change and adaptation. Low building heights and the diversity in building styles have resulted in an attractive commercial setting, which has developed into a unique and specialized shopping area for antiques, collectibles and all other amenities. For those visiting the area for the first time, be sure to take some time to embark on a historical walk of this beautiful community.
Located in Wortley Village is the spacious Thames Park, a popular summertime hot spot which provides recreational activities including tennis, swimming, baseball, bird watching, playground equipment, picnic areas, and access to London’s riverside bike paths: perfect for biking, inline skating and hiking. As the conventional heart of the Old South community, Wortley Village is truly a village community within a city, offering shoppers, naturalists, historians or collectors plenty of fun and an interesting experience.
London Normal School
On February 1, 1900, the first class of prospective teachers began their studies in the new London Normal School. Coming from diverse backgrounds and communities in southwestern Ontario, they were attending what was considered to be the most modern teacher-training school in Canada. The faculty consisted of Principal Francis Walter Merchant, Vice-Principal John Dearness, and four teachers.
The decision to locate this new school in London was influenced by Premier G.W. Ross, local MPP Colonel F. B. Leys, and chair of the London Board of Education Dr. C.T. Campbell. They had promoted London as a desirable site owing to its location, size, and excellent educational facilities.
In 1898, ground was broken in South London for the third normal school in Ontario. The structure is trimmed with cut stone, and its now weathered brick was once red-orange in colour. A tower dominates its facade. Rising from the roof (originally of slate) are several miniature cupolas, typical of Victorian architecture. The grand staircase is the most striking feature of the building’s interior. Several rare varieties of trees were planted on the grounds, and oaks and maples were later added in memory of deceased members of the faculty, including John Dearness.
By 1958, the London Normal School was no longer adequate, and a new teachers’ college was built on Western Road. The old building functioned briefly as a junior high school. It became the administrative centre of the London Board of Education in 1963, and of the separate school board in 1986. In 2005, the London District Catholic School Board moved to new quarters, and the future of the former London Normal School is uncertain.
Source: London Public Library
Parks and Other Places of Interest
In addition to “The Green,” Old South is home to a number of parks including the Historical Riverforks Park, Thames Park, Richmond Park, Watson Street Park, Rowntree Park, Rosel Park, Dunkirk Park, and a number of smaller unnamed green spaces and parks as well as Farquharson Arena and Victoria Hospital.
Area schools include Victoria Public School, Tecumseh Public School, Wortley Road Public School, Mountsfield Public School, Holy Rosary Catholic Elementary, St. Martin Catholic Elementary and Ecole Frere Andre Catholic French First Language Elementary.
The neighbourhood is home to London South Collegiate Institute.
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