Niagara designer breathes life into Thorold's Old Firehall

THOROLD – Another heritage building in Thorold’s downtown is being put to good use.

The long-vacant Old Firehall, located at 12 Albert St. West and built in 1878, has been refurbished and will soon house an internationally recognized designer’s flagship store and design studio.

Last fall, St. Catharines resident and fashion designer Shannon Passero had been searching for a location to move her growing business and wanted something with character.

“I like old buildings and that kind of renaissance, so my husband mentioned the rebirth of Thorold and said I should go check out the old Quebec Bank,” she explained. “He knows me very well, obviously, because it was exactly the type of building I was looking for.”

The Quebec Bank building, located on Front St., recently underwent a complete makeover with the help of the city’s façade grant program, which offers grants to businesses in order to help them make improvements to their storefronts, while keeping with the downtown’s historical look. Its owner, George Cottage, won an award for the restoration effort.

After Passero explored the Quebec Bank, she stumbled upon the Old Firehall while walking back to her vehicle and immediately “fell in love” with the location.

“I say the building found me because it inspired two completely new ideas – to open a retail space along with the studio and to be part of this community where so many exciting things are happening,” said Passero, who originally hails from Welland. “I love everything about this building and it is not just the building itself that has proven inspiring – I soon realized how crucial the building has been to the history of the city.”

The Old Firehall, a landmark in downtown Thorold, was designed by the architect John Latshaw in 1878 and built for $2,483.

It has a combination bell tower and hose tower, yellow and red brickwork, semi-circular wood windows, and a circular wood window in the gable end at the tower. Decorative yellow brick arches frame each window.

The bell, which hung in its tower, remained in use until 1964, when the fire department moved into its new hall nearby on Towpath St. In 1967, the old bell was installed outside the new firehall.

Local architect Grant Sauder, the previous owner of the building, also took advantage of the city’s façade grant to make some renovations prior to Passero taking ownership.

When she purchased the building this past fall, it was ready for another round of work, including complete interior finishings, new windows and doors.

“Working with local firm Silvergate Homes on the restoration project, every effort has been made to retain the legacy of the building and to create a vintage feel for customers,” said Passero. “It’s a very functional, environmentally-friendly building, but at the same time, it has all the old characteristics and keeping with what the heritage council is looking for and what the city is looking for from a landmark point of view.”

The retail store, located on the first floor of the building, is full of antique furnishings, as well as repurposed vintage treasures, Passero said.

The old Thorold post office counter top was customized and installed in the store, while the cash counter came from an old General Store. The original outside lights were reinstalled, and the original doors were repurposed as interior sliding doors for modern use. Customers can also look at a photo archive of the building, which will be part of the new store’s décor.

The studio on the second floor is the new home to the design and development team for Passero’s clothing lines – Neon Buddha and Pure Handknit.

The invite-only grand opening for the Shannon Passero boutique and design studio is taking place on Monday, July 15 from 3-6:30 p.m. The ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held at 4 p.m.