While the stores and methods of transportation are different, today’s Courthouse Square serves pretty much the same purpose it did almost 200 years ago. Shops and services stand in a ring around the County of Huron Courthouse and the entire area is an important administrative, shopping and tourist hub for the town of Goderich and the larger Huron region.
Designed by Canada Company commissioner and Goderich founding father John Galt (along with deputy provincial surveyor John MacDonald), Courthouse Square is “a rare example of an Ontario town plan that was designed and surveyed well in advance of any construction,” writes Canada’s Historic Places on its website.
Since Galt and MacDonald’s first concept of the area, Courthouse Square has become an immense source of pride for Goderich residents and a tourist “must see”. Read on to learn some interesting facts about the Square:
The Square and Disneyland – what’s the connection?
The Disney family spent a few generations in the Goderich area prior to Walt finding fame and fortune in the United States.
Walt’s father, Elias Disney, was born and raised in the Goderich area. Elias left for the United States with his father Kepple when Elias was a young man. The Disney name still lives on in Huron County, however.
There is still a Disney road in the Holmesville area.
The Disney connection was strong enough to merit a Disney Hometown Parade in the Square in 1999. According to contemporary news reports, over 100,000 people came to see the parade.
Photo credits: Laurel Leah Peterson via Rediscover Goderich Facebook page
But the very spot where the parade took place may have an even deeper Disney connection.
Walt and his wife visited Goderich in the 1950s. According to Walt Disney biographer Michael Barrier, Walt’s daughter Diane believed that Walt may have been inspired by the Square.
“Goderich's downtown is laid out in a hub-and-spoke pattern, and Diane wonders if that might have influenced the layout of Disneyland,” he wrote in a 2008 blog post.
What do you think? (Courthouse Square in the 1940s is above, Disneyland today is below. Disneyland photo credit Google Maps)
Love Me, Love the Square
Goderich residents are extremely proud of Courthouse Square. For proof, look no further than the 2013 Great Places in Canada contest. Held by the Canadian Institute of Planners, this contest awarded winners based on number of online votes and expert opinion.
Nominated by CERC volunteer Monique Sykes, Courthouse Square faced off in the “Great Street” category against large urban streets such as Montreal’s Saint Catherine Street and the famous corner of Portage and Main in Winnipeg.
A Facebook and Twitter campaign encouraging Goderich residents, visitors and friends to vote went viral, with Courthouse Square easily entering the final four and winning the People’s Choice award!
In a way, the People’s Choice title was an even bigger triumph than the actual Great Street award. While the Great Street was awarded based partly on votes and partly on expert opinion, People’s Choice was a pure popularity contest. One that Courthouse Square took handily!
Why is the Square a circle?
After several ringers around the Square, you may ask yourself why this circular area is called a Square.
Some point to the fact that eight primary streets radiate out from the Square. Four streets intersect at right angles to meet those eight streets. Together, it makes up a square.
Map credit: Google Maps
On the other hand, the town of Goderich heritage site refers to this larger square as “the downtown core”. The name “The Square” refers to the octagonal space in the middle. Canada’s Historic Places writes that the name “Square” comes from “Market Square” and “Courthouse Square”, given that a market was on site since the 1840s and the County Courthouse was on site since 1857.
The Square is still a Market Square on summer weekends, when it hosts a Farmers’ Market on Saturday and Flea Market on Sunday. The County Courthouse is also still there, although the Art Deco-style Courthouse you see today, with its entrances facing north and south, opened in 1956. The original Italianate-style Courthouse was destroyed by fire. Its entrances faced east and west.
The Square is a heritage conservation district.But walk through the Square, especially during the summer, and it will be obvious that the Square is also very much a part of modern-day life in Goderich.
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