Wellington North: Then and Now

By Gordon Lambie

Sherbrooke’s Wellington Street is surely home to more personal stories than there is room to talk about in this small space over the course of its long history at the centre of the city. The Record’s archives alone contain well over 25,000 individual references to the downtown street, although many of them are addresses in advertisements or in the paper’s masthead from the days when its offices were located on the street.
The three images selected for this “then and now” are taken from very close to the same vantage point, facing south from the intersection with Frontenac Street. The Magog River is located behind the photographer, with Strathcona Square (the park in front of what is now the city hall) on the right.
According to Jody Robinson, Archivist of the Eastern Townships Resource Centre, the oldest image of the three likely dates back to the 1900s or 1910s. Although harder to view in close detail, some of the more distinctive buildings in the foreground can still be seen in the present day image. The image also shows some of Sherbrooke’s old streetcar tracks, which remained in operation under the Sherbrooke Railways & Power company until 1931, when public transit switched to bus.
As usual, the image from The Record’s archives is undated, leaving only context clues to place it somewhere in the 1970s or 80s. Arguably the most distinctive part of the photo is the canopies or marquees that were installed in an effort to make downtown shopping competitive with the indoor shopping malls that had begun to pop-up in the city. As mentioned in a previous “then and now” text, the last of these were removed close to 20 years ago and the initiative is now largely looked back on as an unsightly and embarrassing choice, although when placed next to the fabric canopies of the ETRC photo, one can get some sense of what city planners might have been trying to modernize at the time.
Wellington Street North in the present day is seen by many to be lacking in the life and energy that it once held as a downtown gathering place, although efforts continue to revitalize the area. This summer’s “Wellington sur mer” project has converted some of the street into a pedestrian mall where people can gather to picnic or pass the time surrounded by mockups of the seaside. In the background of the photo one can see the crane at the centre of the Well Sud project, the most recent initiative to bring business back into the downtown through the creation of a new set of office towers on Wellington Street South over the coming years.

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