By Patrick Callan
The Hamilton Road area has seen lots of changes since the early 1950s, when Lewis Coray, London’s first black police officer, began his career.
These are the same streets which Coray’s son Stacey remembers with fondness. In the mid-1950s, Stacey and his older sister Pam used to go to Saturday matinee movies with the neighbourhood kids.
“Imagine being able to go to a show for a dime,” said Stacey Coray with a laugh. “All you needed was another nickel for a box of popcorn.”
He remembers the local corner store, Dr. Ballard’s, used to run contests for dogs. The Coray family entered the family dog, Major, a 138-pound purebred German shepherd.
“We always won the prize for biggest dog,” he said.
Bread, milk and ice were delivered by horse and wagon to the Coray home at 89 Sackville St.
“We would jump on the wagon and go for a ride. In the wintertime it was even better because it was nice and icy so we would grab on the back and slide down the road. It was a lot of fun,” he said.
One group in London is doing its best to have the area remembered for its vibrant past. The Hidden History of Hamilton Road is looking to keep the past alive, by remembering prominent members from the community. The community revitalization project is led by Stephen Harding.
Video by Patrick Callan
Lewis Coray receives his award from police Chief Brad Duncan.
“We highlight individuals or stories of local history in the Hamilton Road area,” Harding said.
Harding is working with the historic sites board of the London library to get more metal plaques put up to recognize heritage landmarks in the area, such as the Coray family home where they lived in for 60 years.
“There is so much of the Hamilton Road history that people aren’t aware of and need to be reminded of,” Harding said.
He said that All Saints Church—at 249 Hamilton Rd.—is built on the site of a former oil refinery, which became part of Imperial Oil of Canada. And several other related businesses that supported the industry existed in the Hamilton Road area, such as building railway cars, chemical plants and a barrel factory.
“The pioneer beginnings of Canada’s oil refining industry were on Hamilton Road,” Harding said. “That place is getting a plaque.”
Harding is also working to have a local racetrack remembered.
“It was a half-mile oval between Trafalgar Street and the railroad tracks, east of Egerton Street. The track started in the 1850s and lasted until 1882. The Queen’s Plate raced there on three occasions,” Harding said.
Harding said the organization chose to honour Lewis Coray as part of Black History Month following his award from the London police, recognizing 31 years of service to the force.
Brad Duncan, London’s chief of police, said he was still a rookie when Lewis “Bud” Coray was retiring, but credits Coray as one of the most influential individuals on his young career.
“He stepped forward and applied gracefulness to everything that he did. No one is asked to give more than those who work in police environment. We can all take a page from the Lewis Coray handbook,” Duncan said.
Lewis Coray was thrilled to be honoured by both the London police and the hidden history group, but wished one person especially could have been with him to share the moment.
“I spent 31 years on the force … That put a burden on my wife. She sacrificed for me,” said Coray, whose wife of 59 years, Lorene, died in 2006.
“I wish my good wife were with me today.”