1 King Street, Brockville
Brockville City Hall
Along with the Court House, I would place this building at the top of interesting and treasured building designs in Brockville.
The most distinctive feature of Brockville’s Victoria Hall is the 8-sided Clock and Bell Tower.
The First Market Building on this site
Although it has functioned for more than a hundred years as the Brockville Town Hall, prior to the mid-1880s, it served as the place to house indoor butchers’ stalls at the rear, and the concert hall and ballroom known as Victoria Hall on the second floor at the front. The town government offices were still located in the west end in the building at the corner of King St. W. and St. Paul St. which we now call the Brockville Arts Centre.
Victoria Hall is located in the middle of the East Ward Market Square which dates from the years 1832-33 when it was established by a special Act of the Legislative Assembly of Upper Canada. This establishment was controversial and took months of political debate in the Parliament at York. The land from the Main Street down to the river’s edge was donated by the Hon. Charles Jones who held title to most of the land in the east central area of Brockville, and was prominent as a local and provincial conservative politician.
A small stone building was erected in the middle of the square in 1835 to provide space for local butchers to sell their meat products indoors. Masonry work was carried out by Alexander Spalding, and John Thompson and James Elliott were the carpenters.
They rented the first four butcher stalls in January 1836 to John Cowan, Joseph Cowan, John Harrison and Patrick Murray. The Board of Police charged them 3 pounds, 10 shillings for the first year. Later Charles Dickinson and Richard Baker joined them. All the other market products were offered outdoors.
A Fancy Concert Hall and a new Market House is considered in 1859
This was the situation which existed until 1859 when the town was anticipating the completion of the B&O Railway Tunnel which had to some degree changed the landscape of the middle of the market area. It was during the spring of 1859 that the Town Council led by Mayor William Fitzsimmons felt a need for larger indoor facilities for the East Ward Market. This scheme was overwhelmingly approved by the electors in a plebiscite held on May 30, 1859.
It was then decided to hire someone to draw up plans and specifications for this building. A building committee, headed by Alonzo B. Dana, councillor for the West Ward, set about to determine their requirements, and chose to give the job to a Mr. A.S. Brown, about whom we know nothing.
It was not until almost a year later that Brown’s drawings were submitted to Council for approval. Tenders for construction were called for May 22, 1860. It appears from records of Council deliberations at this time that some dissatisfaction and squabbling in Council meetings started to hamper further progress on the scheme.
Brockville Town Council in 1860 was split into two rival factions whose members zealously stuck together on most issues. Few decisions were arrived at in Council meetings, and as a result it became impossible to proceed with building the new Market Hall.
Two tenders had been received; one from William Holmes and Thomas Price for $9,797 in currency, and one from Messrs. Pidgeon and Gallena for $12,000 in Town debentures. The issue seemed to be centred on how they would pay for the building, and whether the first design allowed for enough space.
Neither tender was acceptable to the opponents of the faction led by A.B. Dana. Councillors McCullough, Poulton, Easton, R. Fitzsimmons and Mayor Wm. Fitzsimmons were determined to have their opinions decide the course of events. Time after time, Dana and his supporters, Donaldson, Manley, Brooks and Beecher found their motions defeated for lack of a majority. The debating in those council meetings of 1860 must have been heated, but we only have the dry council minutes which recorded the words and outcome of each resolution.
A New Council Elected in 1861
The question of the new East Ward Market building remained unresolved into the new year of 1861. A new mayor, Dr. Robert Edmondson, was in the chair along with four new councillors.
The previous factionalism was still present but with a significant difference. The group who had successfully killed the previous proposal had gained the upper hand, and the new mayor seemed determined to remain neutral if he could. This group, now composed of McCullough, Carron, Taylor, Poulton and Price believed that Council should go to the people to ask for permission to raise additional funds to enlarge the size of the proposed new market hall. This was done on July 1, 1861, and the electors of Brockville again voted yes to go ahead.
By August of 1861, it appears that Council agreed to proceed again with plans. The composition of the building committee was altered to allow the dominant faction to control its deliberations without opposition. It was Alonzo B. Dana himself who cleared the way for this to happen when he proposed that he and two of his colleagues be replaced on the building committee.
So, they started the lengthy procedure of obtaining new drawings. The first firm to be approached was Messrs. Fuller and Jones, Architects, the designers of the first Parliament Buildings in Ottawa. The committee received their proposed plans on September 25, 1861.
What took place then is unrecorded. Possibly the building committee was not satisfied with what they saw. Fuller & Jones eventually received $475.00 for their efforts, but their design was not used. They, in fact, had to sue the town in the courts to receive a settlement.
This early photograph taken about 1866 shows the new Victoria Hall on King Street. The nearby streetscape includes the earlier Willson House hotel in the centre and other stores on the right.
A New Architect is Engaged
Kingston architect, Henry H. Horsey was also invited to submit a design scheme for the market hall. It was at this time that the essence of the building which now stands on King St. was decided on. Not only was this project to include space for butcher’s stalls, but a large concert hall was proposed, along with office space which could be rented out.
Horsey estimated the cost of the entire building to be $26,000. It was July 25, 1862 when Town Council finally approved H.H. Horsey’s plans and moved to call tenders for its erection. The 1862 mayor, William Fitzsimmons, an experienced builder himself, was appointed to represent the town as Superintendent of Construction. By September 15th the tender of John Steacy, Jr. of Brockville, and David Booth, his partner had been accepted, and work was started without delay on the new foundations.
By October 18, 1862, the contractors had expended $3,125 in labour and materials. By November, the foundations were completed and backfilled, and the stone walls were beginning to rise. On December 24, 1862, they paid H.H. Horsey $553.70 in full for his architectural services. Construction of the new market hall continued through most of 1863. The records of the town treasurer show that insurance for $15,000 was first taken out in October of that year, but there still must have been many details to be completed even then.
To be continued……
The Canadian Illustrated News, published out of Montreal, devoted two pictorial feature pages to Brockville in April and May of 1879. This was one of the drawings included and shows Victoria Hall in its early days.