This connection between King Street and the Covert street parking lot was not always a throughway. Henley Arcade is named after the owner of the last business that occupied that spot, although that was not the first business to occupy the location. It opened as J.S. Bowen's Variety Store and Barber Shop before John Henley Shoe Repair opened its doors there. Here are two biographies of John Henley.
Henley Arcade: The Rest of the Story
by Judith Goulin - CDHS - Cobourg & District Historical Society
Originally published in the CDHS newsletter September and October 2010.
The King Street walkway that many people pass through on their way from the Covert Street parking lot has a long history. It was not always the handy shortcut that it is now. Early records indicate that this space was occupied by a shop called J. S. Bowen's Variety Store and Barber Shop. Later it was home to a different type of business---John Henley Shoe Repair.
John Henley, who grew up in Surrey, England, was orphaned when his parents both died of influenza. Along with his brothers, Henley was taken to the School of Hand Crafts, a place designed to provide practical training and general education for young men. Here John learned the trade of shoe repair.
John immigrated to Canada and in time opened his small shoe repair shop on the south side of King Street, but later moved his business to the north side, opposite Second Street. This shop was one of several businesses located at street level in the still existing three-storey Flemish bond brick building.
Mr. Henley is remembered as a good person: a quiet, kind, friendly white-haired man, soft-spoken, with a great sense of humour besides. A true craftsman, it was said that he could repair any shoes.
John Henley Shoe Repair was typical of a genre of shops that many will remember. It was long and narrow with large storefront windows and wood paneling at the bottom. It was heated by a Quebec heater that looks somewhat like a pot-bellied stove. In time, John had fewer and fewer shoes to fix, so he branched out into bicycle repair, changing the name of his business to John Henley Shoe Repairs and Bicycles.
A fire that started in the Quebec heater destroyed Henley's shop one night in 1972. It was John's 46th year in business.
A municipal parking lot north of King Street had been approved in 1968, but final plans were still pending. Something good came out of the Henley tragedy when the town of Cobourg acquired the burnt-out premises and the idea was born to create a convenient mid-block walkway from Covert to King utilizing the former business space.
In this much-beloved man's honour, John Henley's name is immortalized in the name of this thoroughfare: Henley Arcade.
This article is based on a personal interview with Fred Cory (a grandson of John Henley) and material gleaned from the Cobourg Star, Cobourg Sentinel Star, LACAC Inventory of Cobourg's Century Buildings, The Life and Times of a Community Publisher by Frank Meharry Russell and Cobourg Early Days and Modern Times by John R. Spilsbury.
One of our CDHS members and a native of Cobourg, Don Houston, added some forgotten details that occurred in the aftermath of the Henley fire. Don recalls that Herbie Lewis, a boarder who lived in an apartment above John Henley Shoe Repair, died in the fire.
Don also told us that after the property was destroyed, some local businessmen, Stewart Stanley and possibly Gary Sharpe and Harley Hoselton - acquired the premises and "leaned on the town politicians to add it to the parking plans."
Biography of John Henley 2
Source: Geocaching site - Written 2007
Born in the late 1800's, John Henley was orphaned at 5 years of age when both his parents died in the 'flu' epidemic caused by a bug that apparently arrived in England with the soldiers who were returning from the Boer War.
He and two of his brothers, William and George, as were many unfortunate boys of the time, taken in by two bachelor brothers who ran an orphanage and School of Handcrafts. He rarely spoke of it, so it must not have been a happy time. However, the orphans were trained in a variety of trades that would allow them to earn a living as well as to develop skills that would be of benefit to the orphanage itself. Thus in addition to learning the trade of shoe repair, he also learned the satisfaction and pleasure of gardening in helping to produce fruit and vegetables for the orphanage tables.
In 1912 he and his brother William emigrated to Canada and set up shop in the Belleville area. In 1913, his bride to be, Alice, followed and they were married the day she arrived.
After a few years in Madoc and Belleville, John and Alice, together with their young family moved to Cobourg in 1925. John set up shop on King Street, and after a couple of different locations in the block to the west of Victoria Hall, settled his business in the shop formerly owned by JS Bowens.
The family lived in several different houses in Cobourg where he was able to indulge his love of gardening, particularly roses, as well as vegetables. He was a fixture on King Street, and ran his shoe repair business, where he also repaired bicycles and sharpened skates until there was a fire in the building, and John lost all of his equipment and his building.
At 81, he decided that it was not feasible to restart the business and retired.
The community recognized him as the individual with the longest running business on King Street by reconstructing his shop as a passageway from parking areas to the main street. Two of his 4 children and one of his 10 grandchildren still live in Cobourg.
There are plans in 2014 to recondition the arcade and upgrade it from its current purely utilitarian status.