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Category Archives: Drawing

Brockville’s First Court House…….1809-1841

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built 1809-1810


Map of Village of Elizabethtown (later Brockville) 1811 (by Doug Grant)

I drew this map based on the earliest discovered map of Brockville. At that time, in 1811, the village was officially known as Elizabethtown by the government of Upper Canada.

I would like to try to tell the story of the development of the District of Johnstown Court House in Brockville from the earliest period, using what information has been discovered to date.

For many years, I believe, we have been told a mistruth by earlier compilers of Brockville history. The story has been reprinted over the years that there have been three court houses build in Brockville. This cannot be substantiated by facts and I have come to believe that what was thought to be a second building was simply a renovation and addition to the first building.

The story goes back to about 1805 when a petition was first circulated in the central part of the District of Johnstown. This document asked the government to consider moving the Courts from the village of Johnstown to a more central location. Later in December of that year, having been signed by “William Buell, Daniel Manhart and 107 others,” this petition was submitted to the government at York.

The end result was to convince those in power that moving the Court House and Gaol to a more central location “near or about Mr. Daniel Jones’s mill in front of the 1st concession of Elizabethtown” was a good idea. This decision was made in 1808 and an act was passed on March 16th of that year, in spite of counter-petitions from the residents at the Edwardsburg end of the District near the village of Johnstown who were very upset with the suggestion.

The decision being made, a high piece of land offered by William Buell was chosen in June 1808, and plans were drawn up for the new Court House.

The cost for the new Court House was to be paid by canvassing the residents of the area for subscriptions. The job of collecting the subscriptions and the contract for construction was placed in the hands of Charles Jones (1781-1840). Jones was still just a young man at this time, but had lots of Loyalist and “Family Compact” connections.

A contract has been found made between the two representatives of the District Justices of the Peace, Solomon Jones and James Breakenridge, and Charles Jones. It is dated November 9, 1808 and describes the proposed building in these words: “sixty-three feet long by forty feet wide, the foundation are to be of stone and raised four feet above the ground, the wall of the first story to be twelve feet high of brick, and of the length of two bricks in thickness, the second and third stories to be twenty feet high, and the length of one brick and a half in thickness”. Also mentioned is the fact that they will pay Jones so much of the 800 pounds for the building as he could collect from the subscribers to the project, and after that they will pay the remaining amount outstanding.

The nine District Magistrates meeting in Quarter Sessions in May 1810, and led by chairman Joel Stone, ratified the deal and placed the funds in the hands of Charles Jones.  For a nominal twenty pounds in consideration, Mr. Buell drew up a deed on May 16, 1810 to give to the Crown all the required land for a square (about four acres) and a wide road leading down to the river.

Another interesting document, dated January 13, 1809, has been found in the Archives of Ontario which describe the sub-contract for the new building. It was a contract made between Charles Jones, the general contractor, and Joseph Bryan a carpenter living in Augusta Township to perform the “carpenter and joiner work” involved in the “new brick Court House to be erected on the site in Elizabethtown” (at that time the government name for Brockville). The building was described as being “63 feet long and 40 feet broad, and in shape agreeable to the plan drawn by the said Bryan.”

Furthermore, Joseph Bryan was responsible for “framing all the timbers and joists and scantling for the support of the floors and roof, the making of all the window frames, the putting up of the cornice, boarding the roof and shingling the same, and covering the Octagon”. He was also to make “the outside doors and window sashes, and put up the columns in front”.

Charles Jones was responsible for the masonry work, stone foundations and brick walls which were to be completed by September 10th. Jones would also supply all the wood materials and nails needed by Bryan and his crew. The contract promised to pay Bryan a total of $984.00, in three instalments ending the following June, the proposed time of completion.

These two recently discovered documents provide much important details to give a description of this first Court House. It was to be a long three-storey rectangular brick building with windows on the sides, topped by a gable roof covered in shingles. In front of the entrance doorway we would see a number of columns, and it will be topped by a octagonal shaped tower. That is what has appeared in numerous drawn views up until the time it was replaced by the present Court House in 1842.


1816-Map of Brockville Court House area (by Doug Grant)
The area around the first Court House was used during the War of 1812-14 to house British troops and militia. This map shows the general placement of the various structures that were built in the Court House Square area. It is based on a plan from the period.


Old Brockville Court House ca1840

The only picture ever found of the exterior of the renovated old Court House, as it may have looked between 1824 and 1841. This drawing was one of a number of engravings of Brockville buildings in a special section of the Canadian Illustrated News on May 3, 1879.  The first Court House shown here was replaced by the present one in 1842.


part view of Brockville ca1840 by Holloway

A notable artist who lived and worked in the Brockville area in the 1840s was Frederick Holloway. In this drawing done about 1840, he was able to accurately capture the town of Brockville, with the first Court House and the first three churches on the highest points of land.


Sources: History writing is problematic. It only works well when the true facts can be discovered. Otherwise myth may creep into what is passed on. I would like to thank those people who labour in Museums and Archives where insignificant scraps of information are filed and stored. The details I have used here are possible because of what was not thrown out in the past.

Victoria Hall and East Ward Market House – Part One

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1 King Street, Brockville

Built 1862-1864


Brockville City Hall



Along with the Court House, I would place this building at the top of interesting and treasured building designs in Brockville.


Victoria Hall tower 1

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……


Victoria Hall engraving ca1879

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.



copyright DG cards MAY 2009

Word Press

William Buell’s 1816 Map of Brockville

This is one of the earliest maps of the Village of Brockville and shows many of the early details upon which the later Town, and then the City of Brockville have been superimposed.

The War of 1812-15 has just been over for a short time. The area around the first Court House shows the wartime accommodations for soldiers, with barracks, cook house, and hospital still in place.

The waterfront shows the original shoreline characterized by “Oak Point” on the left, a natural landmark known by Indians and French voyageurs. Here, where we stand, is the small bay and beach where landings were common. This is the origin of the possible early name of the settlement, “Buell’s Bay.”

William Buell (1751-1832), a disbanded Ensign in the Loyalist regiment, the “King’s Rangers,” arrived here in 1785 and took up his Crown Grant of land. He took advantage of the situation, and developed his land into a town site for the settlers who arrived in subsequent years.

From this location northward runs the present Apple Street, which was opened through the middle of Buell’s early apple orchard.

Reference to initials and abreviations on the map:

P.C. – Presbyterian Church
C.H. – Court House
A.S. – Adiel Sherwood
S.F. – Sabina Flynn
E.H. – Elnathan Hubbell
A&W M. – Alexander & William Morris
W.B j. – William Buell Junior
R.E. – Roderick Easton
B.F. – Billa Flint
L.P.S. – Levius P. Sherwood

S.C. – Stephen Cromwell

P.W. – Parker Webster
C.J. – Charles Jones
H.S. – Hiram Spafford
S.B. Sabina Buell
A.P. – Andrew Prevost
W.C. – Hon. William Campbell

C.D. – Charles Dunham
A.Sm. – Anna Smyth
S.R. – Stephen Richards
N&D – Northrop & Dean
A&D McD. – Alexander & Donald McDonell
J. McD. – John McDonell
S.S. – Stephen Skinner
A.C. – Allan Curtis
R.S. – Ruben Sherwood
A.K. – Archibald Kincaid
C.C. – Cesar Congo


B.Y. – Barrack Yard
H. – Hospital
c. – Cook House
b. – Barracks
m. – Meadow
O’d – Orchard
o.p. – Oak Point
R.Isl. – Refuge Island

“Round Corner Building” – built 1842

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also known as

The Prevost – Fitzsimmons Block

73-85 King Street W. cor. St. Andrew St., Brockville, ON

Henry Field and his brother Richard were hardware merchants in the “Round Corner Store” during the time this large building was known as the “Fitzsimmons Block.

This is one of my favourite commercial buildings on King Street. For almost 160 years the three stores that make up the length of this stone block have catered to the needs of Brockvillians. Today’s stores which some of you will know in the “Round Corner Building” are Leeds County Books, Biba, and Echo Clothing Co.

The building was erected by George Prevost, the son of Andre and Anna (Buell) Prevost in 1842. This was the corner lot owned by his parents who received it from his grandfather, William Buell in 1805. He borrowed the money to build, eventually receiving 1200 pounds in mortgage money against his new development.

Architecturally it was a very pleasing classical design in stone running one hundred feet from the corner at St. Andrew St. There were actually other round corner buildings put up on the main street, but only two exist now and this is the oldest. A visit to the site will reveal a lot of changes evident on the face of the three storefronts and second floor entrances. However, at #79 you may see one of the original entrances framed in bold pieces of cut and dressed stone. Likewise the original roof line in a hip design remains above the corner stores at #73 and 75.

The first tenants were Matthie, Easton & Co. The next year however this mercantile business was replaced by the store of Morton, McKee & Co. organized by George Morton and Andrew McKee. George Prevost’s untimely death in 1844 passed the indebted property to his sister, Julia and her husband David Mair who held the mortgage.

Morton, McKee & Co. was a large wholesale and retail business selling all manner of tools and hardware under the sign of the “Gilt Plough.” They were in operation into the 1850s.

In 1847 the western section of the buildings was purchased by Robert Fitzsimmons who moved his store to this location. Fitzsimmons, and then his sons Robert, William,Thomas and Hugh, stocked a large variety of groceries and liquors. They continued in business here for many years, eventually purchasing the rest of the building in 1865 from Andrew S. Mair the son and heir of David Mair. The property then was commonly known as the “Fitzsimmons Block.”

An architect’s rendering shows how the original main street facade of the Round Corner Building may have looked in the 1850s.

Over the years the corner store was leased by Smith & Shepherd (1861-64), John & Robert Blyth (1865-67)dry goods merchants, Richard & Henry Field’s hardware store (1871-1890).

A long time employee of the Field business, Alexander G. Dobbie purchased the business in 1890 establishing his own hardware business here. He purchased the “Round Corner Store” from Charles H. Fitzsimmons in 1907 This became the location of A. G. Dobbie’s Hardware Store for over forty years.

The Fitzsimmons Brothers grocery store had an even longer history, eventually being succeeded by William Lorimer’s grocery store about 1903-1912. Subsequently the Fitzsimmons store was occupied by tailoring establishments run by Samuel A. Jackson and John W. Ker.

A. G. Dobbie & Co. occupied the corner location from 1890 until about 1929.

[The above pictures 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: Information for this story came from many sources. Property records filed in the Leeds County Registry Office were invaluable, along with contemporary newspaper ads placed by each merchant. An adapted re-use project by Restoration Technology student, Marty Lillepold (1981) on this building was useful. The 1879 engraving was published by the Canadian Illustrated News. The old photo, although a bit fuzzy, is rare, and was earlier published in an advertising supplement of the time. A University of Toronto student architect measured this building in 1963 as a summer assignment, and is the source of the front elevation used here.

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

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