The man who built Brantford

BRANTFORD — It is hard to travel anywhere in and around Brantford and not see the iconic work of architects John Turner and William Mellish. Both were prolific builders, architects and contractors whose work has lasted the test of time and are still iconic skyline makers of the City of Brantford and other smaller communities close by.

Mellish was born in London, England in 1807, was a builder, contractor at first but later gained provenance as an architect in Brantford. He emigrated to Canada in 1841 and worked in Toronto for two years before moving to Brantford to begin a contracting business.

In May of 1852 he and partner John J. Russell were chosen from all tenders for the Waterloo County Court House at BERLIN, ONT. (now Kitchener).

In late 1853 they invited Joseph J. Morrell to join the partnership and the firm of Mellish, Morrell & Russell was formed. Turner and Mellish were both competitive in the new market of town building. Mellish opened his own office as ‘Public Architect’ in Brantford, and lured C.R. Porter, a former partner with John Turner, to join his team.

Among many other assignments, Mellish won the construction for the TH&B Railway Stations at Market and Erie Ave. He was the architect for the Congregational Church, (Central Presbyterian Church) at George Street at Wellington Street, 1865, It was demolished in 1959 after a serious wind storm blew the massive spite over, crashing through the sanctuary roof and out the back window. Nearly every pre-1900’s church building constructed in and around Brantford was built by either Mellish or Turner.

They were both very busy building churches and Town Halls throughout the region during the mid to late 1800’s. Mellish built the Cainsville Methodist Church in 1875, which still stands. The Cayuga Court house with additions and alterations to the Haldimand County Gaol (jail), a Gaoler’s residence, and a stone wall around the Gaol yard, was completed by Mellish in 1876.

Mellish died in Kansas City while on a family visit on May 10th, 1895 and was buried at Greenwood Cemetery in Brantford.

Turner was certainly the most prolific of the two, at least in the Brantford of the 1800’s, but it’s Turner who has been called the builder of Brantford, and rightfully so.

He was born in Holborn, London in 1806. In his early years he worked as a surveyor and architect between 1830 and 1868 when the moved to Canada and eventually settled in Brantford. A devout Christian man be soon began a business and designed and built Brantford and area’s most iconic churches and government buildings many of which still stand today. He was also commissioned to design and build permanent structures on the newly created Six Nations Reserve #40, before confederation, including the Old Council House, which served the community as both a meeting place for the traditional Chiefs and government then, after 1924, became the seat of the imposed elective government following an armed take over of the traditional government by Canada, against the wishes of most of the Six Nations community.

Turner built the Six Nations library building, formerly a doctors residence, and the old post office building, before Canada’s confederation, all of which are still standing. In fact most of the old yellow brick structures at Six Nations were designed and built by Turner, as was the old Onondaga School on highway 54, which has just been demolished despite outcry’s from historical preservationists.

His list of government buildings, schools and churches is very impressive. They include, but certainly do not represent all of Turner’s work, many of Brantford and area’s stately homes of the mid-1800’s. Turner also designed and built the Norfolk County House of Industry and Refuge near Paris, Canada’s first “Poorhouse” where destitute homeless people could work in the fields in exchange for lodging food and maybe a little bit left to spend, but not much. He built what was the John Stratford estate house which he gave to the city for a hospital. After several renovations over the years wasn’t until the 1990’s that a renovation removed the last vestiges of the old mansion, now Brant General Hospital.

One of his most endearing pieces of Turners creativity is “Wynarden”, better known locally as Yates Castle. Once abandoned, the beautiful Victorian structure was commissioned fo Turner to build and later renovate by railway tycoon Henry Yates. In recent years it was bought by the Talas family who have spent two generations restoring it to its former glory.

Victoria Square was designed by the British born architect and is laid out in the plan of the Union Jack Flag with four diagonal paths intersecting at the centre where the Joseph Brant Memorial was unveiled in 1886 at a cost of $16,000.

Other examples of Turners work include:
BRANTFORD — Brant County Court House,
BRANTFORD Wesleyan Methodist Church,
BRANTFORD Zion United Church
BRANTFORD Park Baptist Church.
BRANTFORD OLD TOWN HALL, Market Square, 1849-50; demol. 1965
BRANT COUNTY COURT HOUSE AND JAIL, Wellington Street at Market Street, 1852-53; addition 1861; addition 1886-87
HEYD’S BLOCK, George Street at Dalhousie Street, for Alderman Heyd, 1881-82
GRACE ANGLICAN CHURCH, Albion Street at West Street, 1856-59
PRIMITIVE METHODIST CHURCH, Market Street near Marlborough Street, 1857
FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH, West Street near Pearl Street, 1857-62
YATES CASTLE, extensive additions and alterations to the residence of Henry Yates, Terrace Hill, 1864-65
ST. BASIL’S ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH, Palace Street at Crown Street, 1866-70
ST. PAUL’S INDIAN MISSION CHURCH, near Brantford, for the Mohawk Indians, 1866
COLBORNE STREET, extensive alterations
NORTH WARD WESLEYAN METHODIST CHURCH, Brant Avenue at Richmond Street, 1870-71;
COLBORNE STREET, commercial block
MASONIC HALL & LAWYER’S HALL, Colborne Street, 1870
CENTRAL SCHOOL, Sheridan Street at George Street
TOWN HALL, Market Square, addition, 1871
PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, Wellington Street at George Street, 1877; demol. 1961
PARK BAPTIST CHURCH, George Street at Darling Street, 1881-83
ONONDAGA, ONT., School for the Six Nations Indian Reserve, 1876
CALEDONIA, ONT., Town Hall, 1857.
WATFORD, ONT., Baptist Church, 1877-78 (Canadian Baptist [Toronto], 24 Jan. 1878, 5, descrip.)
MOUNT PLEASANT, ONT., Presbyterian Church, 1878
PARIS, ONT., Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church, extensive additions and alterations, 1881
PARIS, ONT., Baptist Church, William Street, 1884-85
PARIS, ONT., Young Men’s Christian Association, 1884
PARIS, ONT., St. Joseph’s Anglican Church, Paris, 1863,
SIMCOE, ONT —Norfolk County Court House, 1863-64,
CHATHAM — Chatham Public School, 1851, Elgin County Courthouse, 1852,
ST. GEORGE, ONT., Presbyterian Church, 1869-70
WOODSTOCK, ONT., Methodist Church, extensive alterations and refurbishing, 1869 SEAFORTH, ONT., Roman Catholic Church, 1870-71.
The OAKLAND, ONT., Methodist Church, in 1886.
Turner died that same year.

One of Turner’s last known works was the former Calvary Baptist Church on Delhouse Street between Park Avenue and Peal Street. Because of his advancing age, during its construction, Turner moved into a nearby residence on Colborne Street to oversee the project from home, which at the time he could see from his window. That is where the College Sports Store now occupies.

Wycliff Hall, which became the old YMCA building at Queen and Darling Street. Remnants of that old building were preserved and incorporated in the recent conversion to an apartment block.

Despite his prolific architectural career, the “Builder of Brantford” strangely died a relatively poor man.

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