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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

King Street West, looking east from near Kincaid St.

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This ia a “gritty” view of King Street, with dirt road, wooden sidewalks, gas lamps and towering wooden electric poles. Dominating this old scene is the large brick Central Block which has stood on this part of the main street since it was built in 1878.The first awning on the left was that of McConkey’s Grocery, then Edward Clint, undertaker and furniture dealer, George Wooding, boots & shoes (note his stock in the front), Michael Kehoe, merchant tailor, Morrison & Percival, tinsmiths, Timothy Browne & Co., grocers, and lastly, McGlade’s Hotel. The small building where the present Tim Horton’s stands was the location of Anson Carr, the barber and Ross & Burns, butchers.

On the other side of Chase St. is the three-storey Grand Central Hotel, at that time operated by Samuel Connor and owned by Charles and Kate Cossitt.

The corner of the street at Kincaid on the bottom right was vacant, and the second large building with the tower was the Tompkins Block. This property later became the western part of the Strathcona Hotel, also developed by Thomas Tompkins one of Brockville’s earlier property developers.


For comparison, this later view shows part of the same area about 40 years later. Parking a car on the main street was becoming a problem most days. The “gasoline” sign was outside the new building of Beacock & Co., dealers in Cadillac, McLaughlin, Oldsmobile and Pontiac automobiles, which stood at the south-east corner of King & Kincaid Sts. Beyond that, one can see the sign of the Capital Theatre, previously known as the Brock Theatre.

On the north side are first, the sign of George Morrison’s cigar store and pool room, and at the far end, Diana Sweets Restaurant, run by Mike Leras, was formerly “Diana Sweets Confectionery Shop”.

June 1, 1941

Victory Loan Parade

Sources: The older photograph on the left was first published in the Christmas 1894 edition of “The Canadian Annual” a graphic magazine which featured “Beautiful Brockville, The City of the Thousand Islands” that year in a 41-page special section.

Edwin P. Comstock (1865-1892)

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The tragic early death of a young man, whose talents and potential were widely recognized by the people of Brockville and area, is a story that has been lost in our history.

Edwin Perkins Comstock was the only son of William H. Comstock (1830-1919) and his first wife, Josephine Flint (1840-1890). He was only twenty-six years old, but had gained a reputation in business and public matters that was beyond his years. His father, one of Brockville’s successful patent medicine manufacturers, had taken him into the family business when he was only 19 years old.

Young Comstock had become involved in many of the activities of his home town, and was well-known, bright, and popular, with all those he came into contact. He was described by the Rideau Record as “of a particularly cheerful and loveable disposition, kind and generous, good and true, strikingly free from many of the failings which oft times ruin the lives of young men in his position.”

Another outside newspaper, the Ottawa Free Press wrote that “the universal opinion of his fellow townsmen is that Brockville never had a citizen of his age before, who did so much for the advancement of his native place, and contributed as largely to the interests of charity.”

His health had been a concern for about a year before his final days. He had been struck in 1891 with what was described as a “hemorrhage,” leaving him in a critical condition. He rallied, however, and went south to spend the winter there. On his return to Brockville he felt very much improved. In the spring of 1892, however, he contracted a severe cold from which he never fully recovered, and which led to his death. He was attended by two physicians, Dr. McMonagle and Dr. Cornell who were unable to combat his illness which was pronounced in the press as “inflammation of the heart and stomach.”

His Funeral

On the day of his funeral, Wed. May 25, many people gathered at the family home called “Rockcliffe,” located on King St. East where his body had been laid out for two days. A short service was held at the house in the early afternoon, after which a procession led off for the public service at the First Presbyterian Church on Court House Square.

Funeral Procession on King Street for Edwin P. Comstock, May 25, 1892

This photograph records the afternoon possession of funeral carriages traveling along the main street on May 25, 1892 from the family home of Edwin P. Comstock at 185 King St. E. to the mournful celebration of his life in the First Presbyterian Church. This young man had died two days earlier in the prime of his life and career. The shock and loss felt by the people of Brockville resulted in one of the large funerals ever known to be held in the town. The picture also shows the south side of King St. just west of West Market St. including the businesses from the Revere House hotel to Ritchie’s store. Notice, as well, the dirt road, wooden sidewalks and crossing, and the new wooden electrical power poles.

His funeral was the largest and most impressive seen in Brockville up to that time. The service was conducted by the Rev. William A. MacKenzie, assisted by Rev. Dr. Saunders, Rev. Mr. Cairns, and Rev. Mr. Cheetham. The church choir who supplied the music was led by Miss French.

After the formal service was completed, a long period of time was allowed for citizens to view the body while it was in the church.
It was not until about 4:30 pm that the procession to the old Brockville Cemetery led off. In the lead was the 42nd Battalion Band, followed by the 42 members of the volunteer Hook and Ladder Fire Co. with their wagons, Members of the Board of Trade, Town Council, and other citizens were next, all on foot. Then carriages provided by the Comstock Company and the Leeds Reform Association came along filled with floral tributes. Next came the undertaker’s carriage with Rev. MacKenzie, the hearse with his coffin, and numerous citizen’s carriages.

Besides the many people walking in the procession there were about 125 carriages in line. The cortege, owing to its great length, was fully a half hour in passing down Court House Ave. Every place of business was closed, the large factories were closed down and mourning emblems were displayed at frequent intervals along the route. Both sides of King Street, as far as the Kingston Bridge, were lined with people, many of whom could not hold back their tears.

The chosen pall bearers for the funeral were all warm personal fiends of the deceased, Messrs. George A. Dana, Oliver K. Fraser, Frank E. Clayes, Thomas Southworth, Alson A. Fisher, and Charles S. Cossitt. The casket of Edwin Comstock was buried next to that of his beloved mother, Josephine who had died just two years before, in the family plot in the old Brockville Cemetery on the south side of the highway.

As a final note, to quote the Brockville Evening Recorder: “Party feeling, which for many years had been carried to its highest point in Brockville, seemed to have been buried in the general grief, and as a result, young and old, rich and poor, Liberal and Conservative, united in giving expression to the general sorrow which all felt.”

Sources: This little-known story of the life and death of Edwin P. Comstock was found on the microfilmed pages of the Evening Recorder during the period of May 23-27, 1892. These filmed copies are invaluable for research, and can be viewed at the Brockville Public Library. These and other historical resources can also be discovered in the research library of the Leeds & Grenville Genealogical Society in the basement of the Brockville Museum. The photograph, a copy which is now in the photo collection of the Brockville Museum, is believed to have been owned by the family of Mrs. Griswoldine (Comstock) Lewis. Edwin was her half-brother. The photograph was also first published in Brockville, A Pictorial History (1972), edited by Adrian Ten Cate.

Copyright, June 2008, Doug Grant, Brockville, ON

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