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Thom Block built by our very own Major Thom

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John Rochon

The ornate Victorian red brick building that now houses our beautiful Judith and Norman Alix Art Gallery has a 121-year history as the cornerstone of the downtown core.

Home for many years to the Dominion bank and later the much lamented Saks of Sarnia, it began life as the studio of local photographer J. S. Thom.

Many have fond memories of this building through the years but few of us know anything about the man who erected it in 1893.  Here is a brief look at the man whose building has played such an important role in the history of our downtown.

John Strathearn Thom was successful at whatever he set his mind to. A skilled photographer and artist in watercolour and crayon, he was born near Stratford in 1853.

Being a keen marksman as a boy he joined the militia at 17, where he would remain until retiring with the rank of Major in the late 1880’s.

In 1876 he opened a photography studio in Lucan and married a local girl named Elizabeth Eedy.  When they moved to Sarnia in 1881-82 Thom opened his first studio in the Clark building opposite the Belchamber Hotel on Front Street.  He later purchased property on the corner of Lochiel and Christina Streets and remained at that location until his studio was destroyed by fire.

Erecting his brick block in 1893, Thom had his studio on the second floor while renting out the first to various businesses.  A portion of the north wall adjacent to the tower was made of glass to let in the sun.

He continued in photography until retiring in the early 1920’s. He died in his home at 276 Wellington St. after a brief illness on April 17, 1933, and was buried in Avondale Cemetery, Stratford.

 John Rochon is a Sarnian with a lifelong passion for local history




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