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Monthly Archives: May 2008

Court House Avenue, Brockville – ca.1898

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Court House Ave., Brockville - ca.1898

The wide open vista of Court House Avenue looking south towards the river was a view familiar to Brockvillians for over 100 years. But when this photograph was taken, four of the six buildings in view here were relatively new. Starting on the left is the Comstock Building (1887), the Flint Block (1830s), the Jones-Harding Building (1832), the Dunham Block (1893), the Fulford Block (1889), and the Dominion Post Office & Customs House (1885). This photographs appears to have been taken about 1898.


Brockville’s Early Development

The layout of Brockville’s major downtown intersection, King St. W. and Court House Ave. was determined quite early in our history.

The King’s Highway which ran parallel to the river was planned at the time that government surveyors came to this area in the spring of 1784. Their initial job was to stake out the front corners of the 200 acre lots which were to be given to the U.E. Loyalist settlers.

William Buell, a 33 year old former Ensign, was a native of Connecticut and a resident of New York State at the beginning of the Revolutionary War. He arrived here in the summer of 1785 with his young wife, Martha (Naughton), and their newly born daughter, Anna.

He secured a grant of land which included the west half of present day Brockville. Over the years as new settlers came to this area he began to develop his land near the natural bay on the river into a town site which may have been known as “Buell’s Bay” for a short while.

In 1809 the residents of the central section of the District of Johnstown began to pressure and petition the provincial government to move the district court house from the village of Johnstown to a more accessible location such as in the Township of Elizabethtown.

Their wishes were granted, and when Buell’s offer of a site was chosen, the plans for a new court house were finalized. For a nominal fee of 20 pounds, William Buell signed over a deed to the Crown for sufficient land to include a large square and a wide road running down to the River St. Lawrence. The new District of Johnstown Court House was finished in 1810 and the broad thoroughfare was opened to the river.

Less than ten years after the above photograph was taken, in 1916, the street was paved and a landscaped boulevard featuring the white glazed terra cotta fountain dedicated to the memory of former mayor, John H, Fulford would further transform the vista. Transportation in those days was strictly horse-drawn and traffic lights, a thing of the future.

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Court House Ave. 1928

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Map of the St. Lawrence River Canals – 1907

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[This map can be viewed full size in a separate window by double clicking on the picture on this page until you reach the enlarged version further in the system]

This is a portion of an excellent map of the St. Lawrence River drawn by A.U. Almon, a delineator for the Department of Railways and Canals. Showing here is the eastern Ontario stretch of the river from Brockville to Lake St. Louis at the convergence of the Ottawa River. It shows the location of all the early canals . This map was published in 1907.

St. Lawrence Canal Construction

Efforts were made as early as 1701 to overcome the difficulties of moving boats upstream on the St. Lawrence River in the face of rapids which existed between Lachine and Montreal. This early construction was resumed in 1717 but abandoned in 1718 without completion because of the huge expense of excavation through rock conditions.

More than a hundred years passed before the government of Lower Canada succeeded in completing the Lachine Canal (8.5 mi.) in 1821-1825.

In Upper Canada a series of rapids from Cardinal to Cornwall made travel by any boat of size a difficult task. Further downstream the route between Lake St. Francis and Lake St. Louis was also treacherous.

Early canal construction, being very expensive, only called for a minimum depth and size. Four foot depth was considered adequate for bateau passage but by the time the larger “Durham” boats were common, engineers were recommending nine feet depth as the standard. In addition, widths were increased, and when locks were built, the length of each lock was now increased to over 100 feet. This allowed for fleets of boats or barges moving together.

The three small canals collectively known as the Williamsburg Canals shown on the map as the “Galops” (7.375 miles), the “Rapide Plat” (4 miles) and the “Farran’s Point” (.75 miles) were completed in 1847. These were mostly needed to move the new side-wheeler steamers upstream.

The Cornwall Canal (11.5 mi.) was commissioned in 1833, but was not completed until 1843. It was designed to furnish a passage around the “Long Sault” rapids.

The Beauharnois Canal (11.25 mi.) was constructed to overcome the “Cascades”, “Cedar” and “Coteau” rapids, and is the only one attempted on the south side of the river. It was undertaken between 1842 and 1845. This canal proved unsatisfactory because of low water levels and a crooked channel.

Some years later this part of the river was supplemented by the new Soulanges Canal (14 mi.) opened on the north side in 1899. It was far more modern in design, contained five locks and was built at an expenditure of over 6 million dollars by 1905.

Present day conditions are the result of a joint Canadian-U.S. development, the St. Lawrence Seaway which was negotiated in 1954. Opened in 1959, the international waterway now permits the passage of ships up to 222.5 metres long by 23.2 m. and a maximum draft of 7.9 m. to travel from Montreal to Duluth, Minn.

The sad disruption of river villages, and the building of the large power dams is another story that can’t be told here.

Sources: This is part of a larger map entitled “St. Lawrence, Ottawa, Rideau and Richelieu Canals” included in a set of maps in the Annual Report of the Canadian Department of Railways and Canals for 1907. The original envelope that enclosed them was addressed to James McDougall, a Brockville grocer and the father of the late Dr. Jack McDougall.
The primary source of information on these canals was found on an Internet site entitled: “Historical Sites – The Canals of Canada” developed by Bill Carr.

The Old Brockville Collegiate [1889-1929]

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90 Pearl St. E., Brockville

Brockville Collegiate older view from front

Brockville Collegiate Institute, built in 1889

Miss Edith Giles who joined the staff of the High School in 1889, and taught there until her retirement in June 1927, wrote the following history in 1930:

The Brockville Collegiate Institute was built in 1889, and was formally opened for the Fall term in September of that year. The grey stone building of simple and dignified architecture stood near the centre of the block between Orchard St. and Ormond St. facing Pearl St. on the south. A beautiful lawn in front extended the length of the block and was terraced to the playgrounds of the boys and girls at the rear.

The school comprised the basement with cloakrooms for pupils and a furnace room, the main floor with office and library in a shallow extension at the front and three classrooms on the north. The second floor held a laboratory above the office, and an assembly room and one classroom; the third floor with two gyms for boys and girls.

Mr. John McMullen, author of “A History of Canada” and editor of “The Brockville Monitor” was head of the building committee. The citizens felt that at last they had a splendid school – one that would serve the town for ages. The new school evidently attracted more pupils, and in a short time, a small classroom was partitioned off the assembly room. Soon the later was required for classes.

In 1908, a north wing was added, containing the gymnasium on the ground floor, above that a laboratory and classroom, and on the second floor, a large assembly hall. But this too proved quite inadequate for the growing numbers, and the assembly hall was divided by means of temporary partitions into three classrooms. The two gymnasiums of the original building had long been used for very unsatisfactory classrooms.

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Brockville Collegiate older view from west

Brockville Collegiate Institute, destroyed by fire on March 8, 1929

The following was written in 1938, by a former teacher, John E. Elliott, who taught Mathematics in 1886-1889 during the time that Brockville High School became Brockville Collegiate Institute:

A look over the present roll of nineteen members of the staff of Brockville Collegiate Institute has put me in reminiscent mood and I have thought back to the time when there were only three teachers and I was one of the three.

My term in the old school began in September 1886, and the manner of my appointment was somewhat unusual. Being out of a position through attendance at the university, I wrote to the High School Inspector, John Sneath, an inquiry about a possible high school suitable for me.

His reply was concise: “Write to A.W. Burt, principal Brockville High School, stating qualifications and religious denomination.” That religious condition nettled me. I would not apply, but I was out and wanted a place, and finally I framed a letter, stating that I was a member of a Christian church, and I hoped no further question would be asked.

A prompt exclamation, with the appointment, was the reply. The high school board had instructed the chairman and the principal to secure a teacher through the high school inspector. Rev. E.P. Crawford, the chairman, Principal A.W. Burt and H.R. Fairclough, the first assistant, were all members of the Anglican church, and the inspector had been informed that they would prefer a man who did not belong to that church. Hence the reference to church affiliation.

It so happened that I qualified as a non-Anglican, and educationally, I put in three and a half very pleasant years under Mr. Burt, one of the best all-round men in the profession at that time. He had come to Brockville in 1885, as successor to Rev. Clare L. Worrell, afterwards Archbishop Worrell, who had been appointed headmaster at Brockville in September 1882, after a very successful term as the headmaster at Gananoque. Mr. Worrell’s predecessor was P.C. McGregor, who after serving a short term at Brockville, had been invited back to his old school at Almonte.

Mr. Burt became principal of Brantford Collegiate Institute in 1893, and there he closed his teaching career. He is not now living.

Mr. H.R. Fairclough, a brilliant classical scholar, taught under Mr. Burt until he received a university appointment in September 1886. He afterwards had a successful career in the department of classics in Leland Stanford University, California.

One of Mr. Fairclough’s fellow honour graduates of Toronto University, Mr. John T. Fotheringham, was his successor at Brockville. He, after a year or two, was appointed to the staff of Upper Canada College, and having graduated later in medicine, he became well known in medical and also military circles as Doctor and General Fotheringham.

Another of my colleagues was Peter Perry, classical specialist, afterwards for many years principal of the Fergus High School.

The lineup of teachers in 1887-88-89 was Burt, Fotheringham, Norrish, Elliott; Burt, Perry, Allan, Elliott; Burt, Perry, McArdle, Elliott.

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Teaching Staff - Brockville Collegiate 1892

1892 Teaching Staff

(STANDING, from left) J.D. Dickson (Mathematics) and James S. Copland (Science)
(SEATED, from left) Miss A. Edith Giles (Moderns), A.W. Burt, principal (Moderns + English), Miss Hattie M. Burns (later Mrs. Geo. T. Lewis), Ralph E. Ross (Classics)

Sources: The above photograph was last published in the 1980 BCI 50th Re-union Souvenir Edition. John Elliott’s story was published in the Recorder & Times on December 22, 1938. Edith Giles wrote on the occasion of the opening of new BCI building in 1930.


Laing Produce & Storage Co. Ltd.

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39-41 Water Street East, Brockville

south side, between Bethune & Park Sts.

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Lang Produce Factory - Watter St. E.

Taken sometime in the 1930s

In this aerial view, taken about seventy-five years ago, you can see the sprawling collection of buildings which made up the Laing Produce & Storage Ltd at that time. The oldest buildings in the centre dated back to the 1870s & ‘80s when it was a brewery. The block on the north side of Water Street East between Bethune and Park Streets looks much like it does today. The modern day Executive Condominium has been located here since 1977.

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The History of this Site

The core of the building complex on Water St. E., as seen in the aerial photograph above, was started in 1873 as the brewery of H. Taylor and Co. This early brewery was sold to Robert Bowie and Charles Bate (before 1882) who changed the name to the Brockville Brewery and Malt House. Robert Bowie became the sole proprietor eventually and later took his son Allison G. Bowie into partnership. A.G. Bowie became the manager of the brewery, then named Bowie & Co. In 1890 they were producing 10,000 barrels of beer and ale per year.

Joseph R.A. Laing was first in business (ca.1904) in Brockville operating a cold storage company, the St. Lawrence Produce Co. Ltd. at the top of Georgina St. in buildings which were later taken over by the Brockville Co-operative Association. By 1913 Joe Laing was the manager of the Whyte Packing Co. at the same site. He also was the local representative for Hodgson Bros. & Rowson of Montreal and London.

In 1914 it appears he opened a new company in partnership with J. Gill Gardner of the Smart Manufacturing Co. This company, the Laing Produce & Storage Co. Ltd. with Gardner as president, and Laing as vice-president and manager, purchased the waterfront property and buildings formerly used by the Bowie & Co. Brewery. The sec.-treas. of the company was George M. Rogers.

The main product of this factory was condensed milk, made by the process of boiling raw milk, drawing off the evaporated water and adding sugar. The condensed milk was then canned and shipped. During WWI there was a big European market for Laing’s products.

The company was eventually sold to the Dutch firm of Hollandia. The Brockville plant was managed by George Rogers and Fred Van Dijk at the time of this picture. The company was known to sell the following products: Betty Brand Condensed Milk, Dorothy Brand Evaporated Milk, and Golden Glow Creamery Butter.
The Nestle Company purchased the Water Street plant in later years, and after a period of inactivity, it was taken over by Kraft Foods Ltd. who processed milk products here in Brockville under the names, Ault Milk Products Ltd, and Pet Milk Co. Canada Ltd. in the 1950s & 60s.

The new Executive condominium apartments were built on the site of the milk plant in 1977-78.

Sources: Information about the companies that were located on this property have been collected from many scattered sources. The exact dates for each ownership can only be estimated in some cases. The source of the photograph is unknown.

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