Late last year, I wrote about the closure of the Hamilton City Centre mall, the last of Ontario’s downtown Eaton Centres to open. But Hamilton’s failed shopping centre wasn’t the only old downtown mall to close in recent years: Sarnia’s Bayside Centre, opened in 1982 as the Sarnia Eaton Centre, was recently demolished, with a seniors’ residence and long-term care home set to take its place.
I previously visited Sarnia’s Bayside Mall in 2013, when the mall was already mostly dead. Community uses, such as a local museum, a Canadian Blood Services clinic, a seniors’ drop-in centre, and a March of Dimes office predominated, with only Hong Kong Express and Subway left in the food court, and a few other shops — a rug store, an optician, a beauty salon, and a pharmacy — scattered amongst the vacant storefronts. The old Eaton’s department store was already converted into offices for Lambton County’s social services department.
As I discussed previously on this website, there was a downtown redevelopment boom across Ontario in the 1970s and 1980s, with municipalities and the province eager to support the construction of new shopping centres to help them compete with suburban malls.
The Sarnia Eaton Centre was the first of several malls funded by the Ontario Downtown Redevelopment Program, though previous downtown shopping centres, such as Hamilton’s Jackson Square and the Sudbury City Centre, were built with municipal support.
The case for Sarnia Eaton Centre was always weak, but it was the result of inter-municipal rivalry as much as it was an attempt to revitalize Downtown Sarnia. In the 1970s, Lambton Mall opened in the city’s outskirts, near the intersection of Highways 40 and 402. But Lambton Mall was built outside the city limits, in suburban Sarnia Township. Lambton Mall’s anchors included Sears, Canadian Tire, and Toys R Us.
While Sarnia Township’s population was growing due to residential, industrial, and intuitional growth (Lambton College’s main campus was also established in the township, near Lambton Mall), the City of Sarnia’s population declined. Along with the new Eaton Centre, the city also encouraged new highrise residential development in the downtown core, and two new office buildings were also constructed. The city – with support from Imperial Oil, a major employer – renovated the old movie theatre, converting it to a playhouse for local productions and touring shows.
When it opened in 1982, Sarnia Eaton Centre was the centrepiece of Sarnia’s downtown comeback. It filled in nearly four blocks of Downtown Sarnia, with Lochiel Street closed between Christina and Vidal Streets, and Victoria Street closed north of Cromwell.
The mall was anchored, of course, by Eaton’s, a smaller, two-storey store with 91,470 sq. ft. of floor space (just under 8500 square metres), and an A&P supermarket on the southern end. Sarnia Eaton Centre’s 1993 Canadian Directory of Shopping Centres, showed that the mall still had a healthy assortment of national retailers, along with some local businesses. But many retailers refused to renew their store leases, and when Eaton’s entered bankruptcy for the first time in 1997, the Sarnia store was among the first to close.
The City of Sarnia merged with Sarnia Township in 1991, while the area surrounding Lambton Mall continued to grow as the region’s commercial centre. Big-box stores such as Walmart and Home Depot clustered around the older mall, and even with Sears Canada’s closure, Lambton Mall continued to do well, with Marshalls/Home Sense taking over the old Sears store.
The Bayside Mall property was purchased by Seasons Retirement Communities in 2017, and most of the mall was demolished in 2021-2022. Lambton County, which operated its social services offices in the former Eaton store, expanded its footprint, with a new municipal courthouse located next to the old Eaton’s store, which was renovated.
Lochiel Street has been partially restored as a pedestrian walkway across the site, while the southern half of the old mall will be redeveloped for mid-rise seniors’ homes, with a central plaza.
Bayside Centre is certainly not the only mall property in Ontario to be redeveloped for new housing — Hamilton City Centre will soon come down for similar reasons, and other older malls will soon follow — but it’s among the first.
Meanwhile, Downtown Sarnia will continue to hold its own. It has a few nice restaurants, cafes and pubs, and the highrise development of the 1970s and 1980s ensures that there’s a local population that will frequent the businesses there. The addition of seniors housing won’t hurt either.
Below is the list of tenants at Sarnia Eaton Centre in 1992, obtained from the 1993 Canadian Directory of Shopping Centres, published by Maclean-Hunter. In 1992, the collection of retailers was still quite strong, largely driven by Cadillac Fairview’s leasing team.
A&P (26,512 sq ft), Eaton’s (91,470 sq. ft)
Fashions and footwear
Children’s wear: Just Kids
Unisex/family wear: Le Chateau, D’Gala, Pantorama, Stitches, Thrifty’s
Ladies’ wear: Fairweather, Irene Hill, Just Petites Lady Foot Locker, Lindor, Reitmans, Smart Set, Suzy Shier
Menswear: Tip Top
Footwear/Leather Goods: Agnew, Baronessa, Bata, Belinda & Brother, Joggers, Kinney, Mr. Minit Shore Repair
Jewellery/accessories: Ardene, People’s
Books/stationery: Carlton Cards, Garfield, WH Smith
Health and beauty: Caryl Baker Visage, Shoppers Drug Mart
Department store/mass merchandiser: Marks & Spencer, A Buck Or Two
Electronics: Radio Shack
Entertainment: Fun & Games
Furniture & furnishings: Brass Collections
Gifts: Things Engraved
Hardware/paint & paper: St. Clair Paint and Wallpaper
Housewares: The Royal Douton Store, Stokes
Music/ records & tapes: Discus, Music World
Pets: Tropicarium Pet Centre
Photo/camera: Black’s, Japan Camera
Restaurants & fast food: Elephant & Castle, Global Donuts, Hamby’s, Hong Kong Express, Kernels, Mykie’s, Viva Pasta
Specialty food & drink: Laura Secord, mmmarvellous mmmuffins, Second Cup
Banks/financial: Canada Trust, TD Bank
Hairstyling/esthetics: Regis Hairstylists
Medical/dental: Tridont Dental
Travel: Marlin Travel