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

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built 1809-1810

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Victoria Hall and East Ward Market House – Part One

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1 King Street, Brockville

Built 1862-1864

now

Brockville City Hall

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

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Victoria Hall tower 1

The most distinctive feature of Brockville’s Victoria Hall is the 8-sided Clock and Bell Tower.

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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.

Willson-House-1860s

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……

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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

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“Woodlawn”, the Susan & James Crawford House

25 Woodlawn Place., Brockville

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The earliest picture of Woodlawn is this engraving printed on the edge of the 1853 map of Brockville. It was based on a daguerreotype taken by E. Spencer.

The central part of this house is the old stone farm house built by the Jessup/Covell families, around 1800. The property was part of the Crown grant (E1/2 lot 8, 1st conc.) received by Edward Jessup Jr. and his wife Susannah Covell in 1801. They would have been in possession of the land from the 1780s. This 100 acre parcel of land was turned over to her brother James Covell in 1806.

The house, along with fifty acres surrounding it, was next the farm of Jonas Jones (1791-1848), who purchased it in 1822. He was a Brockville lawyer who first practiced here, represented this area in the Legislative Assembly,and later was elevated to a judgeship and moved to the provincial capital of York. Jonas and his wife Mary (Ford) lived in their town house at the corner of King & Bethune Sts. The Jones had a large family of 8 sons and 3 daughters. They retained ownership of the farm for the next thirty-three years.

It was in 1845 that this property first became connected with the Crawford family. It was purchased at that time by the Hon. George Crawford (1792-1870), who acquired a total of 150 acres from Judge Jones. Crawford was a wealthy and successful canal contractor who came to Brockville in the 1830s. He sold the farm house and fifty acres to his eldest son James, two years later for $5000. James Crawford (1815-1878) had just married Susan Harris in 1847.

He, like his father, was a contractor, and later was elected a Member of Parliament (1867-68) in the first Dominion Parliament for one term. He was a long-standing officer in the local volunteer militia, being in command of the Brockville Rifle Company during the Fenian threats of the 1860s. In 1866, Major James Crawford was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel of the re-established 41st Battalion, Brockville Rifles.

crawford-jamesLt.-Col. James Crawford

James and his wife Susan, shortly after moving in, may have decided to expand their small stone house. An addition in the latest neo-Gothic style was added to the front or south side of the existing house. This new brick part seems to have been built about 1850. The ground floor of the original house behind is now used as the dining room. Another brick addition was added to the rear.

The James and Susan Crawford House stood as one of the new east-end estates which made their appearance on the eastern outskirts of Brockville in the 1850s. “Woodlawn,” the name used by the Crawfords, was located on the north side of the King’s Highway, set back at the end of a long entrance driveway.
After the death of James Crawford in 1878, his widow sold Woodlawn, the next year, to Judge Herbert S. McDonald. McDonald a former Brockville attorney-at-law was then judge of the County Court, when he moved in with his wife “Tillie” (Emma Matilda Jones). Their living children were Katharine and John McDonald.

25-woodlawn-pl-brockville-on-woodlawn-crawford-house-ca1920This photograph was taken sometime in the 1920s by Doris (Jackson) Arthur (1893-1978) of her family on the front porch of Woodlawn. Standing is her husband, William F. Arthur, their infant son Desmond Arthur was in the pram, and her parents, Dr. W. Fred Jackson (1852-1935) and Katharine H. (McDonald) Jackson were seated in the chairs.

Judge McDonald (1842-1921) was active in the life of Brockville serving a time on Town Council (1870-71) and MPP for South Leeds in 1871. He was appointed junior judge of County Court in 1873. Herbert S. McDonald was an active member of St. Paul’s Anglican Church, acting for a time as the Chancellor of the diocese of Ontario. He served as a member of the Dominion Royal Commission on the Liquor Traffic in 1892. His wife died in 1908.

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Judge Herbert Stone McDonald

The Woodlawn property was bequeathed to his only living daughter, Katharine Henrietta Jackson, the second wife of Brockville physician Dr. W. Fred Jackson (1852-1935). The Jacksons became the residents of this house upon Judge McDonald’s death in 1921.

Katharine Jackson, in turn, left Woodlawn to her two daughters, Doris and Athol, after her death in 1927. They sold the property to George T. Fulford, Jr. who had grown up in Fulford Place across the street.

This then became the Brockville residence of George and Josephine Fulford during the years that he was the provincial and federal representative in Toronto and Ottawa. Following his mother Mary’s death in 1946, the Fulfords moved back into Fulford Place.

Woodlawn was sold in 1947 to Arthur J. Soper (1883-1970), then living in Montreal, and he and his wife Ethel, and their son Arthur moved into the house. A second son was Allan J. Soper who worked at Dupont. Arthur, Sr., a retired official with Northern Electric Co., was returning to Brockville, where he had spent his youth, the son of John Soper. He and Ethel lived out their last years here, she dying in 1969 and he in 1970.

The next five families to call Woodlawn their home were: Natalie & Fred Hampton 1971-74, Jane & Peter Clarke 1974-1979, Heather & Bob Carson 1979-1985, and Mary & John Quigley 1985-1997. Later owners were Ann & Peter Bevan-Baker who continued to appreciate the charm and history of one of Brockville’s most interesting houses.

Sources: The pictures used here have been published previously in various forms. The photograph of Woodlawn was credited to the late Frank J.E. Rogers in The Pictorial History of Brockville (1972) edited by Adrian G. Ten Cate. The coloured painting of James Crawford is in the collection of the Brockville Museum. The source material used in this story was collected over a number of years. The records on the Woodlawn property were originally researched at the Leeds County Registry Office.

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Brockville’s Canada Carriage Company 1879 – 1930

Carriage and Sleigh Manufacturers

Park St., just north of the Grand Trunk Rail Line

[now demolished, and the site of the Brockville Legion and youth softball grounds]

This company was originally started in 1879 in Gananoque, Ont., by C.W. Taylor and his brother George Taylor, M.P. , where it was known as the Gananoque Carriage Co. They were the first company in Canada to issue an illustrated catalogue and to furnish the wholesale trade.

About 1887, Grant H. Burrows, involved in carriage building in Cincinnati, Ohio, as president of the Standard Carriage Co. and the Davis Carriage Co., bought into the Gananoque business to overcome the problems of importing his products into Canada. Canadian law forbad the importation of goods which were produced in any way by prison labour. In 1892, Burrows was also involved, in his home country, in the Union Axle Co. and the Carthage Wheel Co. in Carthage, north of Cincinnati, Ohio.

In 1891, being constrained by capacity and space problems,, it was decided to move the business to Brockville, where a substantial bonus was offered by the town. A large 4-storey brick plant was built in 1892 on Park St., on the north side of the mainline of the Grand Trunk Railway. Just to the west was the line the north-south of the Canadian Pacific Railroad. This made for much better and more convenient receiving of raw materials and shipping of the finished vehicles by rail.

At first in Brockville, they used the name Brockville Carriage Co., but soon incorporation of the new Canada Carriage Co. was granted on March 28, 1892. Grant H. Burrows became the president of the newly formed company. C.W. Taylor was the vice-president and general manager, and Thomas J. Shorey of Gananoque became the mechanical superintendent.

This engraving was probably created by the Toronto Engraving Co. for the new owners in their first year in Brockville. Upon incorporation in March 1892, the name Canada Carriage Co. was used from that time on.

By 1895 this plant was possibly the largest of its kind in the Dominion of Canada. The company manufactured carriages, surreys, traps, phaetons, wagons and sleighs. These were shipped throughout Canada and the United States, as well as foreign countries. About 300 to 400 men worked in the factory, and the payroll amounted to $3,500 each week.

In 1898, an experimental automobile, designed by William J. Still for the Canadian Motor Syndicate used a carriage built by the Canada Carriage Co. as a chassis, and added his engine and controls to it.

A fire occurred at the plant on February, 26, 1901, but it was not serious.

Canada Carriage Company

View looking north-east from rail line. Photo taken about 1900

On Jan 4th, in the winter of 1905, in the late afternoon, the plant again caught fire, and within three hours the entire structure was in ruins. At the time, they had 4,000 orders on file and no place to build the merchandise.

The morning after the blaze, work started in a temporary building, and within a week every man who chose to work under difficult circumstances, was again on the payroll. Within a month, goods were being shipped by the car-load throughout Canada.

By fall of the same year, new buildings had been constructed on the same site, which occupied about four and a quarter acres of floor space, and was equipped with the most modern machinery. Within another year, the company had outgrown the new facility and it was necessary to erect another large building nearby.

This engraving shows the new and expanded Canada Carriage Co. buildings that were built after the destructive fire of January 4, 1905.

In 1909, the president and general manager of the company was Thomas J. Storey, and Donald M. Spaidal was vice-president and assistant manager.

In the fall of 1909, James B. Tudhope, owner of the Tudhope Carriage Co. of Orillia, purchased the Canada Carriage Co., along with two others, E.N. Henry Co. Ltd., Montreal, and Munro & McIntosh Carriage Co. Ltd., Alexandria, and organized all his businesses into the Carriage Factories Ltd. This new company became a selling and distributing agent for the vehicles of each factory, but they retained their individual names and identity. Tom Storey of Brockville became the vice-president of the new larger company, while James B. Tudhope was president.

[check out a link to the Orillia Hall of Fame, and the story of James B. Tudhope.]


Sam McLaughlin of Oshawa sold the carriage side of the McLaughlan Carriage Co. to J.B. Tudhope of the Carriage Factories Ltd. in 1915. This was so McLaughlan could devote his full time to making automobiles. The deal gave Tudhope the right to use the “McLaughlan” name for a year. 3000 new McLaughlan sleighs were produced in that following one-year time. Many of them were made in Brockville. A metal badge attached to these vehicles identifies them as such.

Into the Automobile Age

There was also interest in getting involved in the manufacturing of automobiles in Brockville before this time. By 1911 the Canada Carriage Co. had acquired the Canadian rights to build the “Everitt”, an American car. About 80 Brockville 30 autos were assembled in Brockville that year. It appears that they were actually Everitt 30s, built from parts shipped from Tudhope’s plant in Orillia.

A new company, the Brockville Atlas Automobile Co. was formed in 1911 by Brockville businessmen, William H. Comstock, Charles W. MacLean and Thomas J. Storey with about $200,000 capital. A new car was designed for 1912, the Brockville Atlas, model A, priced at $2,000. Bodies and chassis were built by the Canada Carriage Co., an engine was mounted which came from the Atlas Engine Works of Indianapolis, Indians, hence the name. Transmissions were supplied by the Warner Gear Co. of Muncie, Indiana.

Between 1912 and 1915 the Atlas Automobile Co. in Brockville produced models C, D, E, F and G. For example, the model D was a five- or seven-passenger car, with a 40 hp engine, right-hand drive, dual magneto, optional electric starter, headlights, sidelights, tail light, speedometer, licence holder, mohair top with side curtains, electric horn, black with nickel trim and fine striping, multiple disk clutch, and leather upholstery stuffed with horsehair. By 1915, about 300 cars had been built. On view in the Brockville Museum is a 1914 Model G, five-passenger touring car. It was sold for $1,800 when new. 1915 was the last year for the Brockville Atlas, as the pressures of World War I created material shortages and lagging sales, and production was suspended.

The Brockville “Atlas” automobile was built in Brockville at the Canada Carriage Co. from 1912 to 1915


This was not the end of automobile production in Brockville. Tom Storey, then the vice-president of the Canada Carriage Co. branch of Tudhope’s Carriage Factories Ltd. and the president of the Brockville Atlas Automobile Co. embarked on a new enterprise in October of 1915. The Brockville company entered into an agreement with Briscoe Motors of Jackson, Michigan to form a Canadian branch called the Canadian Briscoe Motor Company. New buildings were built on the south side of the main GTR line west of the Waulthausen Hat Works, with an entrance off Hamilton St. This enterprise carried on successfully for the next three years with perhaps as many as 5,000 cars were turned out in the Brockville plant.

A fleet of new Brockville Atlas taxi cabs ready to go to work in Toronto

However, disaster struck at the older Canada Carriage site on Sunday, October 27, 1918 about midnight. An explosion was first heard in the Woodworking Shop’s dry kiln area on the north side of the tracks. The fire department fought the blaze all night, just managing to prevent the spread of flames across the tracks to the buildings of the Whyte Packing Co., the Briscoe Motors buildings and the Wolthausen Hat Co. Only four of the fourteen Carriage Co. buildings were saved. About 200 men were put out of work, just before the winter. Losses were estimated at $500,000, a major blow to the local economy.

Canada Briscoe Motors continued in business after the fire, but the Canada Carriage Co. was not re-built.

Brockville’s ten year experiment in automobile building ended in 1921. That was the year the American Briscoe parent company went bankrupt and its assets were purchased by Clarence Earl of the Willys-Overland Company. The last of the Carriage Company buildings were torn down in 1930. The Royal Canadian Legion, Branch 96 purchased the Carriage Co. property in 1963, and the new building which now exists, along with the young people’s ball fields, were built.

“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.

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: http://www.rootsweb.com/~onbdhs/panoramic_maps.html

copyright, February 2008, Doug Grant, ON

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