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Category Archives: Group Picture

The Wheelmen of Brockville

Members of the first Brockville Cycling Club



Alex. L. Murray  and  Crawford McClean

This is a studio photograph of two of the founding members of the Brockville Cycling Club posed on their new “High-Wheel Bicycles.” Alex Murray was the junior partner with his father, George B. Murray in the company, Murray & Son, photographers. Crawford McClean was the son of the late Judge Worship B. McClean, and lived at 35 Hartley St. in his father’s brick home.  Besides taking part in country tours, the racers of the local clubs were known to race around the track at the Driving Park, near Ormond St. and Central Ave. where the annual Agricultural Fair was held.

Bicycle development led to further improvements, including a high-wheel tricycle, and placing the small wheel in the front, but soon chain-drives, triangular configured frames and equal sized pneumatic-tired wheels arrived on the scene. This was when young women abandoned their bustles and corsets, and joined the bicycle revolution which forced women to adapt to more “common sense dressing.”



Young sportsmen around the world were quick to embrace the new sport of cycling in the early 1880s. Brockville was no exception. The new “High-Wheel” bicycles were being built of metal because of the advance of steel metallurgy in the late 1870s. With a large front wheel, solid-rubber tires, a high saddle and handle bars, followed by a smaller trailing wheel, it required a new kind of skill and athleticism to peddle these cycles.

Because the motive power on these cycles was a pair of peddles connected directly to the front wheel, the oversized wheel contributed to more distance traveled and speed with one rotation of the peddles.

The high-wheelers cost a small fortune to purchase. They could cost an average worker six month’s pay, but gained a great popularity among young men of means. In towns like Brockville, Lyn, Prescott, and Cardinal, small groups of bicyclists formed clubs to share their passion for riding. According to records kept by the Canadian Cycling Association, the Brockville Cycling Club was the first registered club in Canada.

The roads of the day were rough, often causing accidental falls and tumbles. Any small rut or stone could send a balanced rider over the handlebars and down to the ground in what was known as “taking a header.”

The local bicycle clubs took part in touring and racing in the 1890s, at times working toward building special cinder-paved bike trails alongside the existing roads. Periodically articles found in the local newspapers reported on efforts to raise money for these bicycle tracks such as one from Brockville to Lyn (1896), or from the “Dew Drop Inn” (on the Kingston Rd at Lyn Road) westwardly (1898).

Other Brockville wheelmen mentioned in local reports, in addition to the two in the photo, included: Capt. Ernie Bissett, Dr. Robert A. Bowie, brothers, Charles S. and Fremont B. Cossitt, Edwin Weatherhead, and Harry Going, the secretary of the club.

In May of 1897 a small item in the newspaper reported that a locally-made bicycle could be purchased at Dobbie’s Hardware Store for $60. It was the product of a young mechanic named Fred Ruetsch, who previously had worked at Stearn’s Bicycle Co. in Syracuse



Sources: Most of the bits of information about the local bicycle club has been collected by the Brockville Museum, but no detailed history of the Brockville Bicycle Club has been found yet. This photograph was one of two given to the museum 1981 by W. Stanley Adams, who owned a jewellery store on King Street.




Bohemian Athletic Club

51 Jessie Street, Brockville


1899 Champions – Bohemian War Canoe Team

bohemian-canoe-club-ca1899This photograph, taken in 1899, shows the 15 Bohemian Club paddlers in their war canoe, a young boy, and two club officials. Identified has been Frank Black, captain, first on the left, Alf Doran, 9th from the left, George L Horton, President of the Bohemian Athletic Club, standing on the left, with George C. Howison on the right. From newspaper accounts, we know that the following young men took part in the first years of the athletic club: N. Abbott, A. Champagne, William Daniels Jr., W. Deir, A. Fortier, Guilboard, John Hilliard, R. Lunney, John Monahan Jr., G. Morrison, J. Nicol, H. Price, Fred Robinson, Fred Timleck, Frank Timleck, Willy Timleck, I Wadham, and W. Winifred. This crew won most of their races in the club’s second year of operation and beat all comers in the northern division championships in Gananoque.

The Bohemian Amateur Athletic Association was established about 1898 to provide paddling and lacrosse experiences for the young men of Brockville. Their first achievement came the next year with a 15 man war canoe team which went on to great success in their first season.

June 7, 1899 was the first anniversary of the opening of the Bohemian Club House on Jessie St. The occasion was celebrated with the launching of their new war canoe, a boat about 30 ft. long by 3 ft. wide and holding 15 paddlers. George P. Graham MPP, and secretary of the club, officiated at a gala event in the evening which included a concert by the band of the 41st Battalion of Rifles, and culminating with a dance to the music of Prof. Stenson’s full orchestra.

The sport of canoeing gained a new interest in the Town of Brockville with the first races in June of 1899. A team was mounted by the established Brockville Rowing Club, and the “sports” of the YMCA placed an order for a new war canoe with Nelson Gilbert of Brockville and looked forward to its delivery. The Bohemians started practicing in earnest. Their team was made up of working class young men, some of them employed in factories like the James Smart Foundry.


This photo was taken during one of the canoe races held in Brockville and shows the big canoe of the Bohemian Club with captain, Frank Black at the helm.

The first organized race was held in Gananoque on July 1st. The Dominion Day events included yachting, rowing and bicycle races, but a lot of interest was centred on the war canoes and a race between the Brockville Rowing Club and the Bohemian Club. The canoe of the Kingston Club did not arrive for them to take part. The Bohemian canoe was the clear winner in this race taking home a handsome silver cup on their first outing.

The next occasion to race was in Brockville on July 18 when the Firemen’s Field Days were held in Brockville. On that occasion, a team from Vaudrueil, Quebec came to show the Brockville boats a bit of spray. The race, however, came off with the Bohs winning by a length and a half, and the BRC second.

The next big challenge to overcome would be the eastern Ontario meeting of all teams at the American Canoe Association (Northern Division) competition at Gananoque on August 14, 1899. In the morning race about a dozen crews were entered, including, Ottawa Britannias, Dorval Juniors, Toronto, Ottawas, Kingston Cataraquais, Brockville Rowing Club, and the Bohemians of Brockville. The Bohemians registered the win by a close margin as the top three canoes finished one second apart. The BRC was seventh in the race.

That year they were also the winners of the Walker Cup at the Canadian Association of Amateur Oarsmen championships.


The club house and storage buildings of the Bohemian Athletic Club were located on the shore south of Jessie St. The club was founded in 1898 and took over possession of the property of the former Chaffey Bros. Lumber business. This sports facility was located just east of Lachapelle & Sons, boat builders.



Sources: Most of the information about this war canoe team has been hard to puzzle together. Thanks to Chris Stesky, formerly a reporter with the Recorder & Times, for searching the newspaper microfilm. The excellent photograph of the crew at the top, formerly in the collection of George C. Howison, was in the possession of his daughters, Helen and Marion Howison. It was taken by Alex L. Murray of Murray & Son, photographers of Brockville.

The Old Brockville Collegiate [1889-1929]

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90 Pearl St. E., Brockville

Brockville Collegiate older view from front

Brockville Collegiate Institute, built in 1889

Miss Edith Giles who joined the staff of the High School in 1889, and taught there until her retirement in June 1927, wrote the following history in 1930:

The Brockville Collegiate Institute was built in 1889, and was formally opened for the Fall term in September of that year. The grey stone building of simple and dignified architecture stood near the centre of the block between Orchard St. and Ormond St. facing Pearl St. on the south. A beautiful lawn in front extended the length of the block and was terraced to the playgrounds of the boys and girls at the rear.

The school comprised the basement with cloakrooms for pupils and a furnace room, the main floor with office and library in a shallow extension at the front and three classrooms on the north. The second floor held a laboratory above the office, and an assembly room and one classroom; the third floor with two gyms for boys and girls.

Mr. John McMullen, author of “A History of Canada” and editor of “The Brockville Monitor” was head of the building committee. The citizens felt that at last they had a splendid school – one that would serve the town for ages. The new school evidently attracted more pupils, and in a short time, a small classroom was partitioned off the assembly room. Soon the later was required for classes.

In 1908, a north wing was added, containing the gymnasium on the ground floor, above that a laboratory and classroom, and on the second floor, a large assembly hall. But this too proved quite inadequate for the growing numbers, and the assembly hall was divided by means of temporary partitions into three classrooms. The two gymnasiums of the original building had long been used for very unsatisfactory classrooms.

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Brockville Collegiate older view from west

Brockville Collegiate Institute, destroyed by fire on March 8, 1929

The following was written in 1938, by a former teacher, John E. Elliott, who taught Mathematics in 1886-1889 during the time that Brockville High School became Brockville Collegiate Institute:

A look over the present roll of nineteen members of the staff of Brockville Collegiate Institute has put me in reminiscent mood and I have thought back to the time when there were only three teachers and I was one of the three.

My term in the old school began in September 1886, and the manner of my appointment was somewhat unusual. Being out of a position through attendance at the university, I wrote to the High School Inspector, John Sneath, an inquiry about a possible high school suitable for me.

His reply was concise: “Write to A.W. Burt, principal Brockville High School, stating qualifications and religious denomination.” That religious condition nettled me. I would not apply, but I was out and wanted a place, and finally I framed a letter, stating that I was a member of a Christian church, and I hoped no further question would be asked.

A prompt exclamation, with the appointment, was the reply. The high school board had instructed the chairman and the principal to secure a teacher through the high school inspector. Rev. E.P. Crawford, the chairman, Principal A.W. Burt and H.R. Fairclough, the first assistant, were all members of the Anglican church, and the inspector had been informed that they would prefer a man who did not belong to that church. Hence the reference to church affiliation.

It so happened that I qualified as a non-Anglican, and educationally, I put in three and a half very pleasant years under Mr. Burt, one of the best all-round men in the profession at that time. He had come to Brockville in 1885, as successor to Rev. Clare L. Worrell, afterwards Archbishop Worrell, who had been appointed headmaster at Brockville in September 1882, after a very successful term as the headmaster at Gananoque. Mr. Worrell’s predecessor was P.C. McGregor, who after serving a short term at Brockville, had been invited back to his old school at Almonte.

Mr. Burt became principal of Brantford Collegiate Institute in 1893, and there he closed his teaching career. He is not now living.

Mr. H.R. Fairclough, a brilliant classical scholar, taught under Mr. Burt until he received a university appointment in September 1886. He afterwards had a successful career in the department of classics in Leland Stanford University, California.

One of Mr. Fairclough’s fellow honour graduates of Toronto University, Mr. John T. Fotheringham, was his successor at Brockville. He, after a year or two, was appointed to the staff of Upper Canada College, and having graduated later in medicine, he became well known in medical and also military circles as Doctor and General Fotheringham.

Another of my colleagues was Peter Perry, classical specialist, afterwards for many years principal of the Fergus High School.

The lineup of teachers in 1887-88-89 was Burt, Fotheringham, Norrish, Elliott; Burt, Perry, Allan, Elliott; Burt, Perry, McArdle, Elliott.

[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]

Teaching Staff - Brockville Collegiate 1892

1892 Teaching Staff

(STANDING, from left) J.D. Dickson (Mathematics) and James S. Copland (Science)
(SEATED, from left) Miss A. Edith Giles (Moderns), A.W. Burt, principal (Moderns + English), Miss Hattie M. Burns (later Mrs. Geo. T. Lewis), Ralph E. Ross (Classics)

Sources: The above photograph was last published in the 1980 BCI 50th Re-union Souvenir Edition. John Elliott’s story was published in the Recorder & Times on December 22, 1938. Edith Giles wrote on the occasion of the opening of new BCI building in 1930.

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