St. Marys, Ontario

January 31, 2024
St. Marys, Ontario

St. Marys, Ontario

St. Marys: Merging Tradition and Transformation

 

Where historic charm meets innovative spirit, revealing a community rich in heritage, resilience, and a vision for a sustainable and vibrant future.

In the heart of Southwestern Ontario, St. Marys gracefully intertwines the charm of a bygone era with the dynamism of modern living. This picturesque town, often referred to as “The Stonetown” due to its abundant historic limestone architecture, has become a focal point for those seeking a blend of cultural richness and serene small-town ambiance.

As one meanders through the quaint streets of St. Marys, the architectural grandeur of the 19th century comes alive. The town’s commitment to preserving its historic buildings is not just about maintaining facades; it’s a dedication to honoring a legacy. These structures, crafted from locally quarried limestone, narrate stories of a time when craftsmanship and attention to detail were the norms, not the exception. This dedication to preservation has ensured that St. Marys retains an authentic, almost tangible connection to its past.

Yet, St. Marys is not merely a relic of history. It thrives with a vibrant community spirit, one that embraces innovation and growth while respecting its roots. Local businesses, from quaint cafes to unique boutiques, add a contemporary flair to the town’s historic core. Community events, such as the renowned Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s Induction Weekend, bring together residents and visitors, creating a collection of shared experiences and memories.

For nature enthusiasts, the town offers an array of outdoor experiences. The scenic Thames River flows through St. Marys, providing a backdrop for numerous recreational activities. The surrounding landscapes, characterized by lush parks and trails, invite exploration and offer a peaceful retreat from the bustle of city life.

In exploring St. Marys, one uncovers a community that harmoniously balances its historical roots with the aspirations of today. It’s a place where the past is remembered as a living part of daily life and where the future is approached with a sense of community and optimism. St. Marys represents a geographical location and a journey through time, culture, and community spirit.

 

St. Marys, Ontario

 

A Mosaic of History and Modernity

The journey into the heart of St. Marys reveals a town that is a tapestry of historical richness and contemporary vibrancy. As we delve deeper into the narrative of St. Marys, the words of Al Strathdee, a local authority, shed light on the town’s origins and evolution through the centuries.

Strathdee begins by tracing the town’s roots back to the mid-19th century. “Our town was incorporated in 1864,” he notes, highlighting St. Marys as a historical hub initially serving the agricultural sector. The town later became a pivotal point for the limestone mining and cement industry. This industrial heritage is etched into the town’s architecture, with numerous buildings and structures crafted from local limestone to serve the surrounding agricultural and industrial areas.

Strathdee also emphasizes St. Marys’ strategic location. “We’re only a couple of hours from Toronto and three hours from Detroit,” he points out, illustrating how the town is ideally situated to leverage the economic opportunities of these major centers. During the pandemic, this proximity led to an influx of residents who sought the tranquility of St. Marys while maintaining their professional ties to larger urban areas.

The community spirit and personality of St. Marys are central to its charm. Strathdee describes it as “very diverse and welcoming.” The town’s calendar brims with events celebrating its heritage, like the Heritage Festival, and honors its veterans, particularly during the Remembrance Day services. “We’re known as the Stone Town,” Strathdee proudly states, underlining the community’s deep connection to its historical identity.

Moreover, St. Marys benefits from the cultural overflow of the nearby Stratford Shakespeare Festival, attracting tourists and fostering a vibrant scene for local businesses and events. This connection enriches the town’s cultural landscape, contributing to a diverse and dynamic community fabric. Strathdee underscores the town’s commitment to inclusivity and diversity, highlighting initiatives around equality and the LGBTQ movement.

Infrastructure and Sustainability

As St. Marys continues to evolve, maintaining and upgrading its infrastructure, alongside embracing sustainability, are central to its growth. Mayor Strathdee provides insights into the town’s commitment to these crucial areas, reflecting a balance between preserving the past and preparing for the future.

“Every year there’s a lot,” Mayor Strathdee explains regarding infrastructure developments. With an annual capital budget ranging from $10 to $12 million, St. Marys is actively investing in its future. Current projects include significant upgrades to the sewage treatment plant, originally installed in the early 1970s, marking a pivotal step in modernizing the town’s essential services. “There are always roads that need repaving, and we do annual maintenance on our bridge,” he adds, highlighting the ongoing efforts to maintain and improve existing structures.

Like many others, the town faces an infrastructure deficit, but St. Marys is steadfast in its resolve to address this challenge. “We set aside a tremendous amount of money every year just to try and keep on top of our infrastructure,” Mayor Strathdee states, underlining the importance of infrastructure in ensuring the town’s growth and sustainability.

Turning to environmental initiatives, Mayor Strathdee’s enthusiasm is evident. “We have a green committee,” he says, illustrating the town’s commitment to ecological stewardship. Recent endeavors include planting 200 trees in the local cemetery and naturalizing various areas. This effort is part of a broader climate change strategy, ensuring that all decisions are viewed through a green lens.

Collaboration with neighboring municipalities enhances these initiatives, demonstrating a regional approach to environmental challenges. “Everything we do falls into the lens of green,” Mayor Strathdee asserts, confirming the town’s dedication to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and addressing climate change.

An exciting development in sustainability is the introduction of electric vehicle (EV) charging stations. “We currently have one at our train station, with six more coming,” Mayor Strathdee reveals, aligning with the growing trend towards green transportation. These stations serve the local community and attract eco-conscious tourists, further weaving sustainability into the fabric of St. Marys.

Economic Development and Key Partnerships

The synergy between local businesses, infrastructure, and environmental consciousness in St. Marys drives economic growth. Mayor Strathdee elaborates on the vital contributions of various industries and the support networks available for new and expanding businesses.

St. Marys Cement stands out as a cornerstone of the local economy. “They’ve undertaken a number of green initiatives recently,” Mayor Strathdee remarks, highlighting their efforts to reduce their carbon footprint. This industry leader, renowned nationwide for contributing to significant structures like the CN Tower, is a prime example of St. Marys’ industrial heritage adapting to modern environmental standards.

The town also boasts a thriving veterinary sector. “Veterinary Purchasing… they are a co-op for vets throughout Ontario and Quebec,” Mayor Strathdee explains, pointing to their recent expansion as a sign of the sector’s robust growth. Cascades, another key player, specializes in manufacturing corrugated containers for various industries. “They’re a publicly traded company… they have a huge facility here,” he adds, indicating their significant investment in cutting-edge technology.

The automotive and food industries are also pivotal. Inoac, an auto parts manufacturer, “will be doing doors for electric vehicles for Ford,” showcasing St. Marys’ role in the evolving automotive industry. ShurGain and Saputo represent the food processing sector, with Saputo focusing on dairy products like yogurts.

The local golf course, St. Marys Golf, and Country Club, has recently expanded its wedding venue, attracting people from Greater Toronto. “They do roughly 100 weddings a year,” Mayor Strathdee notes, underlining the club’s contribution to local tourism and hospitality.

Perth County Ingredients, specializing in egg drying, is another significant business. “They’re one of two places in Canada that dry eggs for processing for food,” he mentions, indicating their unique position in the national market.

Mayor Strathdee then shifts to discuss critical vendors and suppliers pivotal to the town’s operations. B.M. Ross Engineering in Goderich is essential for bridge inspection and engineering work. Cimco specializes in ice processing and HVAC for recreation facilities. Lavis, Dufferin Construction, and Coco Paving are noted for their extensive work in paving and construction. “McLean Taylor… they’ve been very supportive of our community,” he adds, acknowledging a local company with a broader regional impact. Finally, H2 Ontario manages the wastewater plant, which is critical to the town’s infrastructure.

 

St. Marys, Ontario

 

Vision for the Future

The concluding thoughts of Mayor Strathdee and Brett O’Reilly, another local figure, paint a vivid picture of St. Marys’ present and future, highlighting the community’s strength, resilience, and potential for growth.

Mayor Strathdee passionately asserts, “Saint Mary’s is the prettiest town in the country,” emphasizing the town’s beauty and the warmth of its people. The blend of appreciation for heritage and a progressive mindset defines St. Marys, setting it apart as a unique and inviting community.

O’Reilly echoes this sentiment, describing St. Marys as “strong as stone.” This resilience, particularly evident in the post-Covid era, is a testament to the community’s supportive nature. The ‘Strongest Stone Award,’ which recognizes kindness and generosity, exemplifies the town’s spirit of camaraderie and mutual support. O’Reilly regards St. Marys as “a progressive, innovative, and small but mighty town,” highlighting its ability to make significant strides despite its size.

Mayor Strathdee underscores the town’s caring nature. “Saint Mary’s always comes up with solutions to move the community forward, even in adversity,” he says, reflecting on innovative approaches like drive-by Santa Claus parades and fireworks visible from homes during Covid lockdowns. This adaptability and community spirit, he believes, creates a lasting bond, making St. Marys a place people constantly return to and consider home.

As for the future, Mayor Strathdee envisions steady, manageable growth. “We’re not just a retirement community; we have a young, working population as well,” he notes, forecasting a diverse, dynamic future. This growth is balanced with a commitment to preserving the town’s picturesque nature and historical structures. Significant investments in healthcare, such as the modernization of St. Marys Memorial Hospital, are indicative of a community poised for a bright future.

AT A GLANCE

St. Marys, Ontario

What: A picturesque town known for its historic limestone architecture, vibrant community spirit, and innovative growth

Where: Southwestern Ontario, Canada

Website: https://www.townofstmarys.com/en/index.aspx

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January 2024 cover of Business View Civil and Municipal

January 2024

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