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Just a Memory

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We are very proud of the many significant buildings that still exist in Brockville. However, there are a number that are no longer with us. The five photographs below may remind some of our readers of buildings that have disappeared from view, or introduce to others, one or more they have not been aware of.

Horton Public School

9 James St. E., Brockville
photo taken around 1905

The Horton School was opened in 1899 to accommodate elementary students from the central and eastern part of town. It was a four-room brick school that took over the site of the old Grammar School (later the Brockville High School) and was named after Dr. R. Nelson Horton whose efforts on the School Board were appreciated. After closing in 1950, the former school served for a time as the home of the Royal Canadian Legion, Brockville Branch.

Anne & William Fitzsimmons House

24 Home St., Brockville
photo taken in 1973

The Fitzsimmons House was built in the 1840s for a growing family of 10 Fitzsimmons children. William Fitzsimmons (1819-1894) was a builder and politician who served his community from 1847 to 1882. This house was torn down in 1974 to make way for the Buell-Fitzsimmons Manor for Seniors.

The Comstock Building

11-17 Court House Ave., Brockville
photo taken around 1960

The Comstock Building was erected by William H, Comstock in 1886-87. It housed the head office and Canadian factory of the W.H. Comstock Co. Ltd.. Also in this building was D.A. Cummings Co., Beale & Summerby, lawyers, Edgar, Willows & Locke, insurance, and Prus & Martin, architects. The building was demolished in 1966.

1 Thomas St., Brockville, ON [now demolished] Electric Power Plant - taken about 1905

Electrical Power House

1 Thomas St.
photo taken about 1905

Thomas Street is a short dead-end street in the west end, south of Hartley St., and was named after Thomas Wilkinson (1832-1912), who for a long time was manager of the Brockville Gas Co. and the Central Canada Coal Co. When electricity was introduced to Brockville in 1887, Wilkinson and the Gas Co. built this generating plant to produce power. The electricity created from coal-powered steam engines was used to power some early arc lamps in the downtown area. In 1893 their new company was known as the Brockville Light & Power Co.

“Waterniche,” The Woodcock – Delahaye House

101 Hartley St., Brockville

Brockville landscape and portrait artist Percy F. Woodcock (1855-1936) and his wife Aloysia (Pratt) were the earliest known residents of Waterniche. It was, however, after 1909 for many years connected with the family of Thomas Delahaye, who was the managing director of the National Manufacturing Co. Ltd. (earlier the Cossitt Co. Ltd.) for many years. A disastrous early-morning fire on June 2, 1951 destroyed this house, while owned by Dr. Thomas J. Goodison.

Sources: Two of these photos were published in the 1906 Brockville Old Boy’s Re-union special magazine. The photo of the Comstock Building was shot by an unknown staff member of the Recorder &Times. I took the one of the Fitzsimmons House during the time of the 1973 Summer Museum held there by the Brockville & District Historical Society. The various details about each building were extracted from many different sources, as usual.

The General Isaac Brock Monument

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unveiled, August 19, 1912

The monument to the memory of Maj.-General Sir Isaac Brock which stands on the edge of Court House Green in Brockville was erected in 1912 as a centenary project by the local Gen. Brock Chapter, Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire.


This group of Brockville women had worked for over seven years to bring about the erection of a suitable bronze bust surmounted on a granite monument. Their efforts at fund raising collected a significant amount of money and enthusiasm to get the job done. The sculpture of the head of Brock was the work of Ottawa sculptor, Hamilton MacCarthy, whose fame was wide-spread in Canada.

Guests of honour attending the ceremonies in Brockville the day of the unveiling included, Colonel Sir Sam Hughes, Minister of Militia and Defence; Mrs. Albert E, Gooderham, of Toronto, National President of the I.O.D.E.; Sen. Daniel Derbyshire; John Webster, MP; A.E. Donovan, MPP; Mayor Charles W. MacLean and the members of Council; Counties Warden Nelson Webster of Landsdowne, and other members of Counties Council.

Events for the afternoon centred around a specially-erected platform to the left of the draped monument. Hundreds of people arrived in the early afternoon to find the best vantage points. Col. Hughes accompanied by a guard of honour arrived from the Armouries about 3:00 pm and joined the party on the platform. The event was chaired by Mayor MacLean and he was accompanied by Mrs. G. Crawford McClean, Regent of the Brock Chapter, along with her executive, Col. Biggar, A.D.C. to the Minister, Judge H.S. McDonald, Lieut. Col. William S. Buell of the 41st Regiment,, Police Magistrate Joseph Deacon and others.


[These photographs 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]

Brock Monument Unveiling

Mrs. Ida McClean, the Regent of the General Brock Chapter of the Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire (I.O.D.E.) and Brockville mayor Charles W. MacLean are seen on the platform in this photograph taken during the events related to the unveiling of the new monument erected to the memory and celebration of the life of General Sir Isaac Brock.

Sources: This interesting photo was sent to the editor of the Brockville Recorder & Times in 1975 by Doris L. Rankin of Syracuse, N.Y.. It was first published in “Out of the Past” on December 20, 1975.

Following a short introductory speech by the mayor, Col. Hughes approached the flag covering the new monument and from a position on the platform pulled the rope to reveal the work of art to the public who cheered and applauded for several minutes. He then addressed the audience and in his speech touched on various patriotic themes, and complimented the ladies whose efforts resulted in the handsome stature now in their midst.

Then, while the regimental band played “Rule Britannia,” young Nora Wilgress presented Mrs. Gooderham with a large bouquet of white roses. Next, Mrs. McClean officially presented the monument to the Town of Brockville with the reading of a written proclamation. Rising in acceptance, Alderman C.W. MacLaren recounted the hard work and success of the local chapter of the Daughters of the Empire in this endeavor and in other charity work. He also spoke amidst the cheers of the crowd about the military accomplishments of General Isaac Brock and other historical references from the past.

The sculptor, Hamilton MacCarthy was also asked to speak, which he did, mentioning that his maternal grandfather was wounded while serving in the War of 1812 under Brock, along with his father’s uncle who lost his life in one of the battles.

Hamilton MacCarthy, sculptor

The sculptor of the bust was Hamilton MacCarthy of Ottawa

The last speaker was local historian, Judge Herbert Stone McDonald who entertained the audience with a recounting of the cross-border events of the War of 1812 which took place in this area of Upper Canada.

A late afternoon tea at the Brockville Armouries for all the platform guests was held to end the day’s events.

This new plaque was placed near the monument to General Brock in November 2007. It points out how Brockville came to be named after Brock the leading British officer in Canada and the hero of the War of 1812-14. The re-naming of Brockville from Elizabethtown came about shortly after the general was slain in the Battle of Queenston Heights on October 13, 1812.

Copyright, June 2008, Doug Grant, Brockville, ON

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 Brockville Volunteer Firemen

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Hook & Ladder Co. - Brockville Volunteer Firemen ca1890

Brockville Volunteer Hook & Ladder Company No. 1 – ca.1890

[Listed individually below, along with their daytime job, if known]

Back Row (from left): Patrick S. Roberts (railwayman), John York, William J. Reynolds, John L. Upham (bookseller), James Connors (moulder), W. Kelly, James H. Stewart (butcher), W. Ezra Amond (labourer)

Middle Row (from left): John Woods, Henry Mathen (boat livery), Michael Collins (machinist), William Mathen, D. Brady, John Flanigan, James H. Hall (carter), George K. Dewey (tax collector).

Front Row (from left): John R. Reid, Henry Jennings, J. Owens, Thomas Miller (moulder), William Dodd, James S. Dodds, Joshua E. Timlick (machinist), John Botham (packer), William McKay, Thomas Nicol, William H. Harrison (stoves).

Early Steam Pumper
Here’s a picture of one of the earliest steam fire pumpers remaining from the 1860s.
[Any of these photographs 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]

Black Line 2

Some Fire Company History

The creation of a formally organized volunteer fire company was one of the first important pieces of business undertaken by the first Board of Police created in Brockville in 1832.

The year before, this item was published in the pages of the Recorder on November 24, 1831: “Through the spirited exertions of Mr. Norton and other individuals, means were lately raised, a fire engine purchased, and a fire company formed in the village of Prescott. Brockville is thus outdone.”

With this impetus, the members of the Police Board representing the citizens of the newly incorporated village of Brockville passed a motion to set aside 125 Pounds for the purchase of one of the latest hand-pumped fire engines. They then ordered that Alexander Grant be appointed captain and engineer of a fire company of 48 persons. Each member was to provide themselves with a proper fireman’s uniform at their own expense.

Local blacksmith, Stephen Richards was sent off on a scouting trip to the U.S. to find a suitable engine. On March 4, 1833 Mr. Richards appeared before the board and recommended that one of the latest and largest models made by the John J. Rogers & Co. of New York be purchased for 125 Pounds. The order was placed and this was the beginning of the Brockville Fire Company.

For over fifty years, the Fire Companies were operated by volunteers, but in 1886 the first group of paid firemen were hired by the Town of Brockville, who then established a fire department. The first fire brigade was made up of John Hall,(later to be Fire Chief), William Seaton, Joshua Bedlow, and Thomas Devereaux.

At the same time, a new Hook & Ladder Company was organized with 33 members of the volunteer group. This group, it appears, operated out of one of the older fire halls in the east end on King Street just east of Garden St. Twenty-seven of this group are shown in the photograph above.

Brockville Fire Co ladder wagon & volunteers
Some of the civilian members of the Brockville Hook & Ladder Co. posing on their wagon in 1899.

Sources: The first group photograph of the Hook & Ladder Co. appears to have been taken away from Brockville, perhaps before or after a firemen’s parade, because the stone building behind them is not recognizable. A short history of the Brockville Fire Company, accompanied by this picture and others, was printed in the 1906 Souvenir supplement published by the Brockville Recorder on the occasion of the Old Boys’ Re-union held in Brockville from July 28th to August 3, 1906. Many of the volunteer firemen’s first names and their regular jobs were gleaned from other sources.

The other two photos are from an extensive collection put together by the late Merv McKay. Merv was a career fireman, as were some of his forebears.

copyright March 2008 - Doug Grant, ON

What Blockhouse? What Island?

The Small Island off Brockville and Its History

It was not much more than a rocky outcropping covered with grass and shrubs when the village of Buell’s Bay was first developing on the present site of Brockville.

The earliest name attached to what we now know as “Blockhouse Island”, was “Refuge Island.” For what reason, we don’t seem to know. Ownership of all the islands in the river were originally vested in the Crown, and this one was no exception.

During Brockville’s involvement in the British-American War of 1812-15, it was not considered significant enough to be fortified. In area, it then took up only about a third of the present land space.

Refuge Island on Flint map

This is taken from part of a map drawn originally for Billa Flint of Brockville who was applying to lease part of Refuge Island from the Crown in 1827.

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

Later, at the time of the frightful appearance of the epidemic cholera morbus in 1832, local authorities acted quickly in June of that year to establish a quarantine station on the island for all emigrants from foreign shores wanting to land at Brockville. The first elected Police Board was able to mobilize the resources of the newly-incorporated village, along with the appointment on June 12, 1832 of a Board of Health to recommend measures to combat the disease in Brockville. In addition, the village council passed measures to prohibit all immigrants from landing, to erect a building on the island for the reception of immigrants, and a special police force to enforce the regulations.

The first case of cholera at the port of Quebec was reported on June 8, 1832. At Brockville the first case of cholera developed among the immigrants on June 19th. At that time, work was progressing on the hospital building on Refuge Island. Alexander Grant had been appointed to act as the Health Officer, and to supervise the team of special constables. Eight days later it was reported that Dr. Robert Gilmour, a young Scottish-born physician and the local coroner, was dead, after being stricken with inflammatory fever, caused by exhaustion and overwork, while administering to the sick on “Hospital Island.” On June 29 Alexander Grant was directed to build sleeping accommodations for the doctors attending the sick. Shortly after, Dr. Upton and his wife took charge of the new hospital.

Brockville may have simply been lucky, but by reacting in such an efficient way, the disease barely entered the mainland, and the local population was mostly spared the tragedy that was felt at most of the ports along the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario. For example, at Prescott, where travellers transferred to the larger lake steamers, 88 deaths were reported out of 188 cases of the disease. By comparison, at Brockville there was a total of 22 cases and only 12 deaths. By the 20th of July, the Police Board decided that it was no longer necessary to restrict boats and baggage at the harbour, as the threat of contagion was over.

A few years later the island was called upon in the aftermath of the Canada rebellions of 1837. The citizens of Upper Canada were well aware that a new threat was developing in the northern American states during the year 1838. Hordes of young Americans known as “Patriot Hunters” had become convinced by disloyal agitators that Canada was ripe for further uprisings against their British masters. These members of the Patriot Lodges were misguided, it turned out, and when the threatened invasion took place on November 12, 1838, east of Prescott at the hamlet of Newport on Windmill Point, the citizens and authorities of Upper Canada rose against them. Brockville and the surrounding area organized their militia forces in defense of their homes and country. Many rushed to fight at the Battle of the Windmill. The young men of Brockville were quickly organized into the Brockville Independent Company, a group of 69 volunteers led by Captain Robert Edmondson MD, and Lieut. James L. Schofield.

In the summer of 1838 before the invasion which led to the Battle of the Windmill, the Royal Engineers Dept. had sent out instructions to establish armed posts at some of the towns on the St. Lawrence, one of which was Brockville. The island in front of the town, at that time known as “Grant’s Island,” was selected as the most defensive position, and the local militia commander, Colonel Adiel Sherwood moved to strengthen this position in the summer of 1838.

Built in Brockville

Blockhouse drawing - Doug Grant 1983

This is a drawing made by the author in 1983 as a member of the Brockville Ontario Bicentennial Committee. The committee at that time proposed to Brockville City Council that the re-creation of the Blockhouse on Blockhouse Island would be a good Bicentennial Project but this project was turned down, after local citizens spoke out against the idea.

During the winter of 1838-39 about 300 men of the First Regiment, Leeds Militia were on active duty in Brockville. The thirty-one members of Captain John Bland’s Independent Company of Artillery was responsible for operating a six-pound gun which was placed on the island in August 1838. In January 1839 a wooden blockhouse was constructed on Grant’s Island. The work was carried out and supervised by 2nd Lieut. Benjamin Chaffey of the Artillery Co. Chaffey, a few years later, was responsible for building the new Court House in Brockville. The Blockhouse was to serve as one of the barracks for militiamen on duty here and to provide a defensible position in case of attack.

The Brockville Blockhouse was never actually involved in any battle, as the threat of American invasion faded during the later months of 1839. The so-called “Patriot War” remained just a strong memory as peace was restored.

Denny’s sketch of Blockhouse Island

This sketch of Blockhouse Island in 1845 was made by Col. William Denny (1804-1886) while traveling between Montreal and Kingston. Denny was a British officer-artist with the 71st Regiment and served a total of fifteen years in Canada, as well as retiring here in 1854.

The Blockhouse remained a landmark on the island, which now became known as “Blockhouse Island,” as it is today. Numerous artists were able to “capture” its likeness over the next twenty-one years. It was included in many scenic drawings of the Brockville shoreline. From these drawings we are able to see its features as it stood before the growing town.
In the late 1850s, the island was selected as the location of the terminus of the new Brockville and Ottawa Railway. The stretch of water between the mouth of the new Railway Tunnel and the island was filled in by numerous loads of rock and earth, much of it probably excavated material from inside the tunnel itself. In 1860 the plans were to build a roundhouse and auxiliary buildings on the site of the blockhouse, and the Blockhouse’s removal was imminent.

Grant’s Island on military map

A Royal Engineers’ drawing of Grant’s Island (Blockhouse Island) dated 1850 shows the position of the blockhouse and privy ten years before the island was expanded and joined to the mainland by the Brockville & Ottawa Railway, and was used to house a large roundhouse and other buildings. This map is drawn with north to the left.

On May 4, 1860, the Blockhouse was used for target practice by the Brockville Artillery Company who managed to send seven cannon balls through it , but failed to destroy it. Four days later it was the scene of a mysterious fire which engulfed it, and destroyed what remained.

The B&O Railway roundhouse and warehouses were partially destroyed by fire early in the 1870s, but were soon rebuilt. The peninsula continued to be a very important part of transportation in Brockville as goods were transferred from rail to ship for many years.

Blockhouse Island is now known as a pleasure spot for locals and visitors alike, and will probably continue to do so for many years to come, but how many people will still remain confused by the name Blockhouse Island applied where no island nor blockhouse exist?

Blockhouse Island from Bird’s Eye View Map 1874

This view is extracted from the full town Bird’s Eye View Map of Brockville created by artist Herman Brosius and the lithographers employed by the Charles Shober & Co of Chicago.

Sources: It would not have been possible to tell the story of Brockville’s experience with cholera were it not for the minutes of the Brockville Board of Police meetings kept by the first village clerk, Robert H. Fotheringham. This Minute Book is now in the Archives of Ontario in Toronto. The credit for prompt action goes to board President (Mayor), Daniel Jones, Jr, and elected members (councillors), Jonas Jones, Henry Sherwood, Samuel Pennock, and John Murphy.

Additional information was printed in the local newspapers of the time. A good reference dealing with the epidemic in Canada is Dr. Charles M. Godfrey’s book, “The Cholera Epidemics in Upper Canada 1832-1866.

The graphics used here were taken from copies of the originals.

William Denny’s drawing is held by the Library and Archives Canada in the Denny Papers, MG 24, F33. Information about his career is covered in the LAC publication, Images of Canada (1972).

The military history related here is from the author’s personal collection. Information has also been drawn from material collected by Herb Sheridan for the 1983 Brockville Provincial Bicentennial Committee.

Bob Stesky of the Brockville & District Historical Society has created a page about the American artist Herman Brosius and his Bird’s Eye Maps or Panoramic Views of towns and cities all over North America. Brosius came to Brockville in 1873 or 1874 to sketch the town as it was at the time. This lithographic was published in Chicago in 1874 and has proven to be one of the most detailed records of Brockville. I have found it most accurate and complete, showing streets and buildings in 3-dimensions from the air. This article is found on the Internet at:

copyright, February 2008, Doug Grant, ON

Frederick C. Gordon, Brockville Artist

Notable Brockvillians

Frederick C. Gordon was a young artist whose discovered works seem to be limited to black and white lithographs used to illustrate scenes in the Brockville area. These drawings were published in a couple of business booklets published in the 1890s.

Gordon did not seem to live in Brockville for very long, but he did advertised his services as an artist here in 1886, and was involved in education as the superintendent of the Art Dept. at the Brockville Business College. The college was first located on King St. W. in the Halladay Block, east of John St.

I would be interested if anyone has any more information about him, or has discovered any of his paintings.

Fred Gordon liked to show himself in his artwork. Here he is sitting on a rock, sketchbook in hand, out at Fernbank Point.
Fred Gordon liked to show himself in his artwork. Here he is sitting on a rock, sketchbook in hand, out at Fernbank Point.
Smuggler’s Cove on the St. Lawrence River, west of Brockville as drawn by Fred Gordon.
Smuggler’s Cove” on the St. Lawrence River, west of Brockville as drawn by Fred Gordon.

A Sketch by Fred Gordon of the “Highbury Brewery”, at the Willows, west of Brockville.

Sketch by Fred Gordon of “Highbury Brewery“, at the Willows, west of Brockville.

William Buell House, drawn by Fred Gordon in 1887.

William Buell House, drawn by Fred Gordon in 1887. This was actually William Buell’s third house. The drawing was made by Gordon for James G. Findlay, a dentist who was married to Eliza Wilkinson. Dr. Findlay (1864-1951) was the son of Martha Ann (Buell) Findlay (1828-1887), William Buell’s youngest child. The claim to be Brockville’s oldest stone building was a mistake on their part. It is known that the Nehemiah Seaman House at King and Perth St. was built in 1816.

“Idlewilde” the home of William R. Gardner and family as drawn by Fred Gordon in 1888.
Fred Gordon’s drawing shows “Idlewilde“, which overlooks the river at 77 Hartley St. in Brockville. This house was designed by architect, James P. Johnston (1841-1893) of Ogdensburg and built in 1880-81 for Henry A. Field. Field was the owner, in partnership with his brother, of a successful hardware business on the main street. At the time of the drawing the house was owned by industrialist, William R. Gardner.
Brockville Business College drawn by Fred Gordon.

This drawing shows the location of the Brockville Business College at 4 Court House Ave. in Brockville.The college rented the top 2 floors of the north end of the Fulford Block. Fred Gordon worked in this well-known business school as the Art Teacher during his period in Brockville.

copyright, February 2008, Doug Grant, ON

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