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.”
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.
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.