Author: Connie Carson
Connie is a well-known local story-teller and professional who has a passion for the history of the City of Belleville, in particular, the downtown streets.
An unpretentious concrete walkway leads to a pedestrian bridge discretely tucked between two imposing three-storey buildings in downtown Belleville. This little bridge was once a beehive of activity for a community of downtown folks who crossed it daily.
Join me on a walk along Footbridge Alley and paint a picture in your mind of days gone by as we visit the hodgepodge of little shops one more time.
In the 1860s, a narrow, rutted, muddy laneway meandered along a pathway from 276 Front Street to the Moira River. An old town sketch shows a one-storey covered wooden walkway building, 65 ft long, standing at the east end of the footbridge on the path to Front Street. Over the years, devastating floods and freshets plagued our downtown area and washed its residual remains down the river.
In 1873, the City voted to build a footbridge across the Moira River and signed an agreement to purchase the land of property owners William Holton on Front Street and Elisha Sills on Coleman Street to build a ‘highway to the river.’ By 1874, the dream became a reality with the picturesque suspension footbridge linking the developing West Hill to the downtown area.
An offshoot of the pedestrian lane leading to Front Street was a string of small retail outlets known as the Footbridge Alley Arcade. Located on the northern side of the laneway, several stores in 1910 evolved into a small strip mall of six businesses by the late 1940s. Most of the stores, if not all, were owned by Herbert T. Adams in 1930. He was the hardworking cobbler at Footbridge Shoe Repair, located on the north side of the gangway. By 1949 the alley was home to a full complement of bustling little stores. The old West Hill and Front Street were the scenes of this writer’s childhood and the centre of my tiny universe.
My memories of Footbridge Alley (as we called it in the 1950s and ’60s) transport me back to Burkholder’s Bakery and the mouth-watering taste of their fresh-from-the-oven honey-dipped donuts. Several years later, The Family Bakery ran a bakery business from there, and I loved their ‘baby’ loaves of bread and fancy birthday cakes.
My mom, Hazel, got her hair cut at the Roma Salon, by Ernesto and we often picked up her cleaning at the Thirty Minute Economy Laundry. Granny and I would stop by Herb’s at the Footbridge Shoe Repair to pick up a newly soled pair of shoes and drop by Choy’s Fish and Chips for lunch. They efficiently wrapped the cardboard box with newspaper and it was still hot and delicious when we arrived home.
Pam’s Hobbies was a cool place to check out the model cars with my little brother, Jim. My friend’s dad worked at Wilson Real Estate, and I recall visiting their office to scoop up a couple of black jellybeans from the giant glass fishbowl on the counter.
The alley was right across the lane from Eatons, and we could cut thru the side door right into the store, ride up the elevator with the smartly uniformed operator, Mr. Red, and enter the magical world of an 8-year-old’s dreams.
The shop names changed over the years as small businesses came and went, including Bell’s Electric Repair Shop, Doug’s Hobbies, City Cleaners, Joe’s Fish and Chips, Mike’s Fish and Chips and Quinte Fish and Chips. At various times Mary’s Hair Salon, John’s Barber Shop, Graham’s Barber Shop, Belnap’s Barber Shop and Warren’s Barber Shop all called Footbridge Alley home.
Small quirky mom-and-pop shops named Hole In The Wall, Bartonian Metaphysical Society, Very Bottom Cafe, and others followed. By 1953 the gangway unofficially named Footbridge Lane.
The Quinte Mall opened in 1971, and the eclectic cluster of businesses began losing tenants to the new style of climatized indoor shopping experience under one roof. Our little group of shops soon fell into disrepair, and despite heated discussions, the decision was made to design an attractive parkette in its place.
The pint-sized stores of our memories were demolished in 1978, and the Footbridge Alley Arcade on Footbridge Lane was no more. Over the years, there were many name changes, but the little downtown ‘hood’ wove a thread of community spirit and goodwill from Front Street to the footbridge for over four decades.
The rich and storied history of Belleville’s Footbridge Alley was chronicled by well-known researcher Lois Foster. Thank you, Lois!