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Category Archives: Notable Brockvillians

Two New Churches……..1878-1879

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Designed by
James P. Johnston, Architect
of Ogdensburg

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The town of Brockville saw the building of four new churches in the years between 1875 and 1879. The first one was the George St. Episcopal Methodist Church (1875) on the south-west corner of Court House Square. Then the congregation of Trinity Anglican Church (1877) built their new building at the corner of Clarissa St. & George St.

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ca. 1880

1 Pine St [Brockville, ON] - Baptist Tabernacle [ca1880] improved

The First Baptist Church was under construction throughout 1878.
The new Baptist church was situated on the site of the old one. It was built of blue limestone and trimmed with white crystalized limestone. The main sanctuary designed to seat 500 persons on the main floor measured 77 x 56 feet. The spire rose to a height of 120 feet. Four large stained glass windows enhanced the sanctuary. The pastor, the Rev. R.B. Montgomery led the dedication services on Sunday, March 23, 1879.
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This was followed by new church edifices, built to replace earlier buildings. These are the two modern churches pictured here. Above is the Baptist Tabernacle (1878) on the south-east corner of Court House Sq., and below is the First Presbyterian Church (1879) on the north-west corner opposite. Imagine the interest of Brockvillians in this frenzy of church construction, in an age when church attendance was an integral part of family life.
The latest approved style of religious architecture was the soaring neo-gothic shown here and the design of these two buildings was from the hand of James P. Johnston (1841-1893),a very successful architect, then practicing in Ogdensburg, N.Y. With the completion of these buildings Johnston gained a number of important residential commissions from the wealthy businessmen of Brockville including Newton Cossitt, Richard Field and Thomas Gilmour.

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ca. 1880

10 Church St [Brockville, ON] - First Presbyterian Church [c1880]

The First Presbyterian Church was completed in 1879.
The new church was the third one erected on this corner near the Court House. The large sanctuary measured 100 x 110 ft. with a seating capacity of 900. The cost of construction was said to be about $35,000.

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Source: These two previously unknown photos were found by the late John Kehn of Home Again Antiques, who allowed me to copy them a few years ago. They were taken by George B. Murray, and may have been the earliest professional pictures taken after construction was completed. Also note the smaller buildings on either side of the churches.

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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.

Victoria Hall and East Ward Market House – Part Two

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1 King Street, Brockville

Built 1862-64

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now

Brockville City Hall

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Market Day ca1903

The Brockville Farmers Market was a busy place on Market Day. This photo dates to about 1895 and shows the original design of the East Ward Market House which was located behind Victoria Hall.

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The new Concert Hall and Market House nears completion.

It might be interesting to quote here from a newspaper article written on Nov. 5, 1863 which anticipated with pleasure the future official opening of the new building:

“The new Market House in the East Ward is now all but completed, and on all hands we hear nothing but praise awarded to the capable and energetic contractors, Messrs. Steacy & Booth. On Thursday last we entered the building for the first time, and must express satisfaction at the manner in which the work has been done. The butchers’ stalls are equal, if not superior, to any we have seen either on this or the other side of the Atlantic, and we hope to see the lessees of these stalls vie with each other in the neat and cleanly appearance in which they will be kept. The stalls are ventilated by moving windows at the top, worked by cords placed in the centre of the passage. There are eight stalls on each side of the passage.”
“On the ground floor there are very fine rooms which might be let for public offices of some description. These rooms form the east and west portions of the main building, the centre being occupied by the main passage to the butcher stalls.”
“The upper storey contains “The Hall”, and a most splendid hall it is. Its size is 75 x 40. The ceiling is very beautifully executed, the centre pieces, in stucco, claiming a just need of praise. The stage is placed at the east end of the Hall, from which there is a door leading to the ante-room. There is also an orchestra on the north side of the Hall, but this is intended more to cover the arch forming the bases of the tower than for actual use.”

.FITZSIMMONS William ca1869

William Fitzsimmons, a master builder and the Mayor of Brockville in 1862 when this building was initiated. He was also appointed to be “Superintendent of Construction” by the Town Council.

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By November of 1863, the Brockville Gas Light Co. had completed their installation of gas fixtures. With the building almost ready for use, the winter months were spent levelling and preparing the adjacent streets and landscaping on all sides of the new market building.

The official opening took place on the Queen’s Birthday, May 24, 1864 at 8:30 p.m. with a grand ball hosted by the Mayor and Defiance Fire Co. No.2. Music was provided by the Olds Quadrille Band. Tickets were sold for $1.50.

During the summer months of 1864 they carried out the work of fitting up the butcher stalls. For example, local carpenter and builder, William Holmes received $120 for his efforts in “fitting up 16 stalls with tables and hook rails & beams”. Blacksmith Luke Leach was paid $160 for “making hooks, bolts, fastenings, etc.” for the stalls.

The first concert to be presented in the magnificent upstairs Hall was on October 8, 1864 with a musical concert by Madam Anna Bishop.

Work on the tower of Victoria Hall was the last to be completed as construction there continued through the winter and spring of 1864-65. Tinsmith R.W. Grant presented a $34.44 bill for labour and materials for tinning the roof of the tower in November of 1865. He was also paid $106 in full for his work on August 8, 1866.

As a final interesting item, they paid cabinetmaker John McElhinny $250 on September 3, 1866 for supplying 360 wood-seat chairs for Victoria Hall.

One of the first major tenants to occupy the ground floor offices was the main Post Office who remained in that spot for more than fifteen years, until new facilities were constructed and opened by the Dominion Government on the west side of Court House Ave. in 1883-85.

Town Council starts Conversion for Town Offices

In 1882, Town Council carried out repairs and improvements to the building based on plans prepared by Brockville architect O.E. Liston. Details are not available, but it is assumed that space was converted for town offices. The contract for the work was awarded to John Loftus for $1814. In 1886, the space which up to that time had been used for wagon passage through the central shaft of the whole building was incorporated into the building and the entrance doors at each end were closed up.

In 1904 two additional floors were added to the rear wing. This completed the new massing of the building as we see it today. All of the town functions were moved here, including the Police offices and jail which were housed in the ground floor of the rear portion.

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Victoria Hall rear ca1910

A view of the rear of Brockville Town Hall about 1910, following the renovation of the Market Area. The present Council Chambers are on the new third floor, as shown here.

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Victoria Hall Tower gets Clock and Bell

Also in 1904, Mayor S.J. Geash and property chairman, Alderman William H. Kyle moved for installation of a clock and bell in the tower for the first time. The clock was purchased from the Seth Thomas Clock Co. Of Thomson, Conn. The bell was made by the McShane Bell Foundry of Baltimore, Maryland. Local jeweller and horologist, Frederick B. Steacy was in charge of the installation for the town.

This clock has been operating for almost 100 years with the help of dedicated clock technicians from Steacy’s and Knowlton’s Jewellers, along with various Town Hall caretakers. Over the years the necessary once a week ritual of re-winding the mechanism which raises up the weights for the clock and bell has been carried out by Richard H. Miller and Ralph McInrue from Steacy’s, and then Glen Jackson, and his son Richard of Wingfields. For the last twenty years the job has been carried out by Vic Smetona who retired from the space industry but was trained as an horologist in his younger years. Vic has carried out his share of repairs when needed and coaxed the old clock back into running order when it has faltered.

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Victoria Hall photo ca1920

This photo is dated about 1920 showing how automobiles are becoming commonplace on the streets of Brockville.

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Sources: I began collecting information on Victoria Hall more than thirty years ago. Some of the sources are no longer available. The minute books of the 1859-62 Brockville Town Councils, and the Town Treasurer’s Cash Book (1861-67) were previously stored in the City Hall. I would like to regognize former City Clerk, the late John Miles who allowed me to copy information into notebooks which I have kept since the 1970s.

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copyright DG cards MAY 2009

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