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Category Archives: Biography

Benjamin Chaffey – John McMullen Houses

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30, 32 Apple Street

built about 1834



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1911

This picture comes from the collection of the Lorimer family. Shown is a pair of attached stone homes which date from about 1834. The photograph was taken in 1911 during the period of ownership from 1908-1920 of James Lorimer, the father of Hal Lorimer.

This empty lot was acquired in 1833 by Benjamin Chaffey (1806-1867) for 75 pounds from Sabina Buell (1786-1859), the unmarried daughter of William Buell Sr. The home in which she lived for over thirty years is located to the north at 36 Apple St.

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Benjamin Chaffey

(1806-1867)

Builder, Contractor and Engineer

taken in the 1860s


It is very likely that Chaffey, a young building contractor, erected these houses on Apple St., and that he lived here in the 1830s and 40s while engaged in building many of the stone buildings in Brockville.

The property changed hands in the 1840s and was later acquired in 1856 by the tempestuous Irish newspaper publisher and writer, John M. McMullen (1820-1907). McMullen’s book, The History of Canada from it’s First Discovery to the Present Time, was first published in 1855 and filled a need for a Canadian history book. Subsequent editions came out in 1867 and 1892.

He also edited and published the local newspaper, The Brockville Monitor starting in 1857, but to less favourable response. McMullen and his wife Sarah Nesbitt lived here along with their 6 children. He died in 1907. In the next year it became the property of Jim Lorimer, and when he married Mae in 1910, No. 32 became their first home together.

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John M. McMullen

(1820-1907)

Historian, Newspaper Publisher, and Town Councillor


Source: The Building picture is from a photograph loaned by Hal Lorimer, Anchorage Bay, west of Brockville. The two portraits are from my collection.


copyright-mar-20092

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Edwin P. Comstock (1865-1892)

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The tragic early death of a young man, whose talents and potential were widely recognized by the people of Brockville and area, is a story that has been lost in our history.

Edwin Perkins Comstock was the only son of William H. Comstock (1830-1919) and his first wife, Josephine Flint (1840-1890). He was only twenty-six years old, but had gained a reputation in business and public matters that was beyond his years. His father, one of Brockville’s successful patent medicine manufacturers, had taken him into the family business when he was only 19 years old.

Young Comstock had become involved in many of the activities of his home town, and was well-known, bright, and popular, with all those he came into contact. He was described by the Rideau Record as “of a particularly cheerful and loveable disposition, kind and generous, good and true, strikingly free from many of the failings which oft times ruin the lives of young men in his position.”

Another outside newspaper, the Ottawa Free Press wrote that “the universal opinion of his fellow townsmen is that Brockville never had a citizen of his age before, who did so much for the advancement of his native place, and contributed as largely to the interests of charity.”

His health had been a concern for about a year before his final days. He had been struck in 1891 with what was described as a “hemorrhage,” leaving him in a critical condition. He rallied, however, and went south to spend the winter there. On his return to Brockville he felt very much improved. In the spring of 1892, however, he contracted a severe cold from which he never fully recovered, and which led to his death. He was attended by two physicians, Dr. McMonagle and Dr. Cornell who were unable to combat his illness which was pronounced in the press as “inflammation of the heart and stomach.”

His Funeral

On the day of his funeral, Wed. May 25, many people gathered at the family home called “Rockcliffe,” located on King St. East where his body had been laid out for two days. A short service was held at the house in the early afternoon, after which a procession led off for the public service at the First Presbyterian Church on Court House Square.

Funeral Procession on King Street for Edwin P. Comstock, May 25, 1892

This photograph records the afternoon possession of funeral carriages traveling along the main street on May 25, 1892 from the family home of Edwin P. Comstock at 185 King St. E. to the mournful celebration of his life in the First Presbyterian Church. This young man had died two days earlier in the prime of his life and career. The shock and loss felt by the people of Brockville resulted in one of the large funerals ever known to be held in the town. The picture also shows the south side of King St. just west of West Market St. including the businesses from the Revere House hotel to Ritchie’s store. Notice, as well, the dirt road, wooden sidewalks and crossing, and the new wooden electrical power poles.

His funeral was the largest and most impressive seen in Brockville up to that time. The service was conducted by the Rev. William A. MacKenzie, assisted by Rev. Dr. Saunders, Rev. Mr. Cairns, and Rev. Mr. Cheetham. The church choir who supplied the music was led by Miss French.

After the formal service was completed, a long period of time was allowed for citizens to view the body while it was in the church.
It was not until about 4:30 pm that the procession to the old Brockville Cemetery led off. In the lead was the 42nd Battalion Band, followed by the 42 members of the volunteer Hook and Ladder Fire Co. with their wagons, Members of the Board of Trade, Town Council, and other citizens were next, all on foot. Then carriages provided by the Comstock Company and the Leeds Reform Association came along filled with floral tributes. Next came the undertaker’s carriage with Rev. MacKenzie, the hearse with his coffin, and numerous citizen’s carriages.

Besides the many people walking in the procession there were about 125 carriages in line. The cortege, owing to its great length, was fully a half hour in passing down Court House Ave. Every place of business was closed, the large factories were closed down and mourning emblems were displayed at frequent intervals along the route. Both sides of King Street, as far as the Kingston Bridge, were lined with people, many of whom could not hold back their tears.

The chosen pall bearers for the funeral were all warm personal fiends of the deceased, Messrs. George A. Dana, Oliver K. Fraser, Frank E. Clayes, Thomas Southworth, Alson A. Fisher, and Charles S. Cossitt. The casket of Edwin Comstock was buried next to that of his beloved mother, Josephine who had died just two years before, in the family plot in the old Brockville Cemetery on the south side of the highway.

As a final note, to quote the Brockville Evening Recorder: “Party feeling, which for many years had been carried to its highest point in Brockville, seemed to have been buried in the general grief, and as a result, young and old, rich and poor, Liberal and Conservative, united in giving expression to the general sorrow which all felt.”

Sources: This little-known story of the life and death of Edwin P. Comstock was found on the microfilmed pages of the Evening Recorder during the period of May 23-27, 1892. These filmed copies are invaluable for research, and can be viewed at the Brockville Public Library. These and other historical resources can also be discovered in the research library of the Leeds & Grenville Genealogical Society in the basement of the Brockville Museum. The photograph, a copy which is now in the photo collection of the Brockville Museum, is believed to have been owned by the family of Mrs. Griswoldine (Comstock) Lewis. Edwin was her half-brother. The photograph was also first published in Brockville, A Pictorial History (1972), edited by Adrian Ten Cate.

Copyright, June 2008, Doug Grant, Brockville, ON

Ebenezer “Aben” Nicholson

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a.k.a. “Little Mac”

Born in Brockville, July 11, 1844


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“Little Mac” was the stage name under which Ebenezer Nicholson performed with shows such as Dan Bryant’s Minstrels during the 1860s.

Notable Brockvillians

Small in stature but big in talent, this local boy gained fame all over North America. Ebenezer Nicholson, born in Brockville, and known as“Aben” by his family and friends, made his theatrical debut in the United States with”Dan Bryant’s Minstrels” who travelled around the continent, when minstrel shows were all the rage. At some point he adapted the stage name of “Little Mac.” This was also the derogatory nickname given to Union General, George B. McClellan at the time of the Civil War.

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This well-dressed young man from Brockville was a well-known performer the day he posed for a New York photographer. Ebenezer Nicholson grew up in Brockville, and later became a Minstrel Show performer.

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This is Aben Nicholson in his stage costume and make-up for his role as “Little Mac“.

Nicholson, Ebenezer & Reid, Michael  1860s

While home in Brockville visiting his parents, Aben went to the photographer’s studio to have his picture taken with his friend, Mike Reid.

[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]

Sources: This set of photographs was originally owned by Michael J. Reid, one of Ebenezer Nicholson’s friends in Brockville. They were handed down in the Reid family. The shot of Aben in his dark suit was taken in the Clarke’s Union Photographic Gallery, 643 Broadway Ave, New York. The two photos of “Little Mac” were taken in the studio of D. Frederick’s & Co., 587 Broadway Ave., New York. You might notice he’s wearing two different costumes, so they were probably taken on two separate occasions. The fourth picture is taken here in Brockville at the International Gallery owned by A.C. McIntyre. Michael J. Reid and Aben Nicholson are posed against the classical backdrop which started to show in photographs taken in 1866 by the McIntyre Studio.

Copyright April 2008 - Doug Grant, Brockville, ON

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]

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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

The Halladay Block

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175-210 King St. W., Brockville

Built in Brockville

The two photographs below show views of one of Brockville’s more interesting west-end commercial blocks at two points in its history. This property on the south side of King St. W. east of Mill St. was originally owned by the Daniel Jones family and contained the large Jones home and grounds. In the 1880s the property was purchased by Ezra H. Halladay (ca.1839 – 1886) who was also elected Mayor of Brockville in 1883. Halladay had this large block of stores, offices and apartments built on King St. In addition he also opened a new street between Kincaid & Mill (now lower John St.) which has become misspelled as “Halliday “St. The Jones house was retained and the remaining land was subdivided into house lots.

Ezra Halladay - ca1866

Ezra H. Halladay as he was photographed in the 1860s. He was elected Mayor in 1883, but passed away in 1886 at the age of 47.

175-201 King St W - Halladay Block, Brockville, ON
ca.1920

In this earlier picture, the Halladay Block was home to these merchants (from Mill St. now John St. eastward): [201] James L Greenwood, grocery; [197] D. Derbyshire Co. Ltd., butter & cheese, etc.; [193] Robert H. Smart, hardware; [183] Robert Sheridan, furniture & undertaker; [175] Alfred H. Swarts, furniture& undertaker; [171] N. Stuart Cuthbertson, real estate & insurance; [169] Lovell & Christmas Ltd., butter & cheese. Equally interesting is the garage and gasoline station on the near corner (the big letters say: “VULCANIZING”). The old wood framed building being used at that time was the early grocery store of William Gilmour.

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Smart’s Hardware - Halladay Block fire Nov 28 -1949
November 28, 1949

The disaster of fire has struck this block at least four times. The first fire was in 1924 from which businesses were able to rebuild. But this picture shows the widespread damage following the fire of November 27, 1949 which started in the Smart’s Hardware business and spread in each direction. The Halladay Block was mostly destroyed and could not be re-used. The present buildings were subsequently built but in recent times were also involved in unexpected fires. The service station on the right was then operated by Theo R. Gates and John F. Sheppard.

[For any architectural buffs, it is my guess that the architect for the Halladay Block was Owen E. Liston. This is solely based on the fact that he was advertising his office here on the second floor in 1886.]

Sources: A copy of the earlier 1920 photo is in the collection of the Brockville Museum. The second post-fire 1949 photo was taken by Walter C. Barkley, a professional photographer in Brockville and was kindly loaned to me by the late Ronald C. Barkley of Mallorytown. The portrait of Erza H. Halladay was in the Reid family collection and was taken by A.C. McIntyre about 1866. The details on store owners was taken from a Vernon’s Brockville Business Directory published in 1919.

[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]

copyright March 2008 - Doug Grant, ON

Hon. Christopher F. Fraser, Brockville Provincial Cabinet Minister [b.1839 – d.1894]

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Notable Brockvillians

C.F. Fraser 1873

This was the official government photograph of the Hon. C.F. Fraser, taken in 1873. He was the Commissioner of Public Works for Ontario from 1874-1894.

Sources: This portrait of C.F. Fraser is in the photographic collection of the Library Archives Canada, #PA 28663


The Story of His Life and Career in Politics

Christopher Finlay Fraser was a young Brockville lawyer who rose to the post of Commissioner of Public Works in the Ontario government.

He was born on October 24, 1839 at Brockville to John S. Fraser, a shoemaker, and his wife, Sarah Burke. He was born and raised a Roman Catholic, and promoted the interests of his religion all his life.

Because his parents did not have enough money to send him to school, young Christopher made up his mind to work his way, making whatever money was needed to provide his own schooling. One of his jobs as a youth was as a “printer’s devil” at the Brockville Recorder. He could work at a variety of jobs and go to school between stints of work.

He was apparently quite bright, and was able to express himself with brilliance, force and wit when a mere boy. He finished his high school education at the Seminaire de Quebec about the year 1859, and became a student-at-law in the office of Albert N. Richards, a Brockville lawyer who later became Lt.-Gov. of British Columbia.

In 1864 Fraser passed his legal examinations, and went to work with Alonzo Lafayette, a young lawyer in Brockville. In this office he began to handle cases on his own, having been admitted as an attorney in Easter Term, 1864. He was called to the bar early in 1865, and became a partner with Alonzo Lafayette in April 1865.

On January 10th, 1866, he married his partner’s sister, Mary Ann Lafayette, the daughter of John Lafayette. He also turned his attention to politics as a young lawyer, supporting the Liberal side. At the first Dominion Election in 1867, he offered himself as a candidate but was narrowly defeated. Four years latter he tried again in South Grenville for the Provincial seat, and was similarly defeated this time by McNeil Clark.

He was also during this time strongly working for Catholic rights, helping to form the Ontario Roman Catholic League about 1869. When Mr. Clark died in 1871, his South Grenville seat became vacant. Fraser received the nomination of his party, and was elected in March of 1872 to the Ontario Parliament.

A year later, his abilities being recognized, C.F. Fraser was appointed Provincial Secretary and Registrar in the Mowat administration. He held this post until April 4, 1874, when he became Commissioner of Public Works. He was re-elected again for South Grenville in 1875, and carried on in his cabinet position. He was made a Queen’s Counsel in 1876.

Christopher F. Fraser

In 1879 he was defeated by F.J. French of Prescott by 137 votes. Soon after, in the riding of Brockville, he was successful by defeating David Mansell, the Conservative candidate. Mr. Fraser was successfully elected as the MPP for Brockville in 1879, 1883, 1886, and 1890. He remained as Minister in charge of the Department of Public Works until 1894. He succeeded in having the Brockville Asylum for the Insane built just east of Brockville in his last term.

In 1868 he and his wife had purchased the stylish brick home in the centre of town at 8 James St. W. (still standing). This house remained in family hands until 1963. Christopher and Mary Ann Fraser had a daughter, Hattie born in 1868. She resided there with her mother, who died in 1929, and then until her own death in 1955.

Fraser was a lifelong member of St. Francis Xavier Church, a founder of the Roman Catholic League of Ontario, and president of the Roman Catholic Literary Association of Brockville.

He maintained a law office in Brockville in partnership with A.E. Richards for a while, and later with Edmund J. Reynolds in the Comstock Block.

In 1894, the Hon. C.F. Fraser resigned from the Government and was appointed Inspector of Registry Offices. Shortly afterwards he died at Toronto on August 24, 1894.

copyright March 2008 - Doug Grant, ON

Col. David Wylie, Journalist, Publisher & Local Politician [1811-1891]

David Wylie was a Scottish journalist who came to Brockville in 1849 to take over the ownership of the “Brockville Recorder“.


David Wylie engraving 1878


This portrait engraving of David Wylie was taken from”The History of Leeds & Grenville” written by Thaddeus Leavitt.

Notable Brockvillians

About David Wylie

From 1849-1875 and 1879-1885, David Wylie was the owner and editor of the “Brockville Recorder“.

A native of Scotland, he was born in the town of Johnstone, Renfrewshire on March 23, 1811, the son of William Wylie and his wife, Mary Orr. William, his father carried on a boot and shoe business in Renfrewshire, but emigrated to Montreal in 1819. He died in Canada before he was able to send for his wife and three sons. His mother was left the task of bringing up her young family in the village of Paisley where they had moved.

David at the age of fourteen (1826) was apprenticed to the printing trade for seven years with Stephen Young, a printer in Paisley. He completed his term with the University Printing Office in Glasgow where he was able to take courses in Latin, French and stenography.

Wylie began his work in journalism with the “Greenock Advertiser“, after which he went to the “Glasgow Guardian“, then the “Liverpool Mail” in England where he was engaged as a reporter and proofreader. His career moved ahead and he took charge of the office of the “Fife Herald” in Cupar, Scotland where he remained a while and developed his writing skills.

In 1845 he came to Canada as had his father, and accepted an offer to take charge of the office of a Mr. John C. Becket in Montreal. He was convinced of the benefits of responsible government from an early age and began to write on the subject while in Montreal. His next job was as a parliamentary reporter for the “Montreal Herald” which lasted until the burning of the parliamentary buildings in 1849. His last work there seemed to be a long report on the subsequent recalling of the Upper House which took up 18 columns in the Herald.

It was at this point that David Wylie came to Brockville to take charge of the “Recorder“, formerly owned by William Buell, Jr. He had as his partner for a short time, a printer named William Sutton who later went on to the “Victoria Chronicle” in Belleville. A staunch “Reformer” himself, Wylie carried on the traditions of the paper as established by the Buell family since its early days.

David Wylie soon became involved in the public life of his new town. During his first year’s residence in Brockville he was elected to the office of public school trustee. He spent about thirty years on the School Board working to better the educational system. He was chairman for many years.

Previously while in Montreal (1847) Wylie had became a member of Captain Lyman’s Rifle Co. Later in Brockville he held every rank up to Lieutenant-Colonel in the Brockville Rifle Co. from which he became known as Col. Wylie. In 1875 he was appointed Paymaster of Military District No. 4 by the Alexander Mackenzie government and held this position until the Liberals lost power in 1878. He was allowed to retire with his rank of Lt. Col.

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David Wylie ca1865

This portrait of David Wylie was copied from a small carte de visite taken ca.1865 by the photographic studio of A.C. McIntyre in Brockville.

Wylie was a member of the Oddfellows Lodge since his early years in Liverpool when he joined the Manchester Unity of Oddfellows. He took up membership again in Montreal and was elected Grand Master of the Order for Canada.

In party politics, he always worked for the reform party, and once stood for election for Parliament in South Leeds, but was defeated. He was, however, an elected member of Brockville Town Council for the years 1867-72.

David Wylie was married twice. Records do not make mention of his first wife’s name. On October 5, 1865, he secondly married Sophronia (Holden) Craig, a widow who was a native of Augusta Township. They had a son and a daughter. His wife outlived him, dying in 1912.

He ran the Recorder successfully for many years. The launch of the daily Evening Recorder on November 10, 1873 was something of which he was especially proud. He ran this company up until 1875 when he decided to give up his holdings and sold out to Dr. S.S. Southworth and Thaddeus W.L. Leavitt. Their tenure was short-lived, and Wylie resumed the editorial chair four years later. Finally he sold his interest to J.J. Bell who then teamed up with Thomas Southworth in partnership.

Col. Wylie continued to live in Brockville until his death on December 21, 1891, a well-respected member of his community.

copyright, February 2008, Doug Grant, ON

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