Remembering the Ferguson Opera House

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The storied history of the Ferguson Opera House in Thamesville will be celebrated with a plaque unveiling April 28 at 1:30 p.m. The former structure was located at the current site of the Bank of Montreal and the post office.

By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

A grand opera house that played a significant role in Thamesville’s history is about to be immortalized for all time.

On April 28, the community is invited to attend the unveiling of a commemorative plaque in honour of the Ferguson Opera House, an impressive structure that once stood west of the intersection of Victoria Road and London Road (Longwoods Road).

The two-storey brick building, which housed offices and stores on its main floor, featured a 400-seat theatre on its upper level. According to historical records, the venue drew top-notch performers to the East Kent town during Thamesville’s heyday.

Built by the prosperous Ferguson family in 1887, the opera house was the focal point in an era when Thamesville was at the height of its prosperity with a bustling economy. The Fergusons, a family that emigrated from Scotland, purchased a partially built mill on present day Ann Street.

The family flourished and selflessly gave back to their adopted town.

“The Fergusons made a fortune,” said Thamesville Historical Society volunteer Chris Crawford. “But they were really community minded and they gave back.”

According to Crawford, the Fergusons founded a private bank and gave out generous loans. If the borrower paid the money back on time, the individual faced no penalty, and this helped draw people to the town, Crawford said.

The south portion of the Ferguson Opera House was damaged by a fire in 1955 and was eventually torn down in the 1960s. The Bank of Montreal and the post office are now located on the site.

The Fergusons have left other reminders in Thamesville, including Millsite, Robert Ferguson’s home on Ann Street, and Tecumseh House, the Victorian mansion owned by John Ferguson, which is now the home of the Westover Treatment Centre.

Robert, who never married, also left his mark in politics. He was Thamesville’s first reeve and went on to serve for many years as member of provincial parliament in the Ontario Legislature.

The plaque is the second to be installed by the Chatham-Kent Heritage Network, with the Chatham Coloured All Stars in Chatham as the first.

The network’s aim is to encourage communities to tell their histories through the colourful and informative plaques.

The ceremony to unveil the plaque begins at 1:30 p.m. with a reception to follow at the Thamesville Town Hall Museum.

The plaque is being funded by four sponsors, including The Thamesville Sertoma Club, the descendants of the John Coutts family (Coutts served as a secretary and lawyer for the Ferguson Bank) and East Kent councillors John Wright and Steve Pinsonneault.

Thamesville Historical Society and the museum have been dormant for some time; however, organizers are looking to revitalize things and hope fresh volunteers will step up to help.

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