A Little Bit of Manhattan in Aurora Canadaby P-Francone
The Town of Aurora, Ontario is a quiet, leafy bedroom community about 45 minutes north of Toronto, and as such it does not have much in common with the bustling metropolis of New York City, however there is a rather large, and widely unknown connection.
The 1,250 foot tall Empire State Building is an American icon sitting in the heart of Manhattan, built between 1929 – 1931 and stood as the world’s tallest building for 41 years. In the 18th century, this property was originally the John Thompson Farm, with a landscape then probably quite similar to the outskirts of Aurora today.
Years later the farm became the famous and glamorous Waldorf Astoria Hotel, a central location for the elite of New York to congregate away from regular society in their own swanky, European style luxury. So what exactly does all this have to do with the Town of Aurora?
In 1892, a man named John W. Bowser was born in Whitchurch Township (present day Aurora). He left home at the age of eleven and went on to become an engineer, working on several important projects in downtown Toronto, including an Eaton’s department store, the Royal Ontario Museum and the iconic Bank of Toronto building. After John was able to prove himself, he was hired by an American firm who sent him off to work in Tokyo where he was able to gain a broad worldview of architecture and engineering.
He returned to North America only to be sent to New York City, where he was responsible for demolishing the second Madison Square Gardens and the original Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, in order to make way for the brand new Empire State Building. John W. Bowser, the small town guy who dared to dream big was then hired as project construction superintendent to construct the tallest building in the world of the day.
The Empire State Building, modeled on the Reynolds Building in Winston-Salem, NC eventually towered over the Big Apple, which had a population of 240,000 in the 1930s. A much smaller Empire State Building was constructed in 1956, in the Town of Aurora, in fact it was only 10′ tall and made fully of solid granite. John W. Bowser’s gravestone is the only known gravestone modeled on the Empire State Building, and is set in a very beautiful and serene location in the back of the Aurora Cemetery, surrounded by tall oak trees and rolling hills, in a location that is quite different from the heart of midtown Manhattan where his creation still stands today.
Bowser also has a street named after him; John Bowser Crescent in nearby Newmarket, Ontario.
Location of memorial: Aurora Cemetery Company; 14253 Yonge Street, Aurora, ON L4G3G8
Location of Empire State Building: 350 5th Avenue, New York City, NY 10118