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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


Just a Memory

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We are very proud of the many significant buildings that still exist in Brockville. However, there are a number that are no longer with us. The five photographs below may remind some of our readers of buildings that have disappeared from view, or introduce to others, one or more they have not been aware of.

Horton Public School

9 James St. E., Brockville
photo taken around 1905

The Horton School was opened in 1899 to accommodate elementary students from the central and eastern part of town. It was a four-room brick school that took over the site of the old Grammar School (later the Brockville High School) and was named after Dr. R. Nelson Horton whose efforts on the School Board were appreciated. After closing in 1950, the former school served for a time as the home of the Royal Canadian Legion, Brockville Branch.

Anne & William Fitzsimmons House

24 Home St., Brockville
photo taken in 1973

The Fitzsimmons House was built in the 1840s for a growing family of 10 Fitzsimmons children. William Fitzsimmons (1819-1894) was a builder and politician who served his community from 1847 to 1882. This house was torn down in 1974 to make way for the Buell-Fitzsimmons Manor for Seniors.

The Comstock Building

11-17 Court House Ave., Brockville
photo taken around 1960

The Comstock Building was erected by William H, Comstock in 1886-87. It housed the head office and Canadian factory of the W.H. Comstock Co. Ltd.. Also in this building was D.A. Cummings Co., Beale & Summerby, lawyers, Edgar, Willows & Locke, insurance, and Prus & Martin, architects. The building was demolished in 1966.

1 Thomas St., Brockville, ON [now demolished] Electric Power Plant - taken about 1905

Electrical Power House

1 Thomas St.
photo taken about 1905

Thomas Street is a short dead-end street in the west end, south of Hartley St., and was named after Thomas Wilkinson (1832-1912), who for a long time was manager of the Brockville Gas Co. and the Central Canada Coal Co. When electricity was introduced to Brockville in 1887, Wilkinson and the Gas Co. built this generating plant to produce power. The electricity created from coal-powered steam engines was used to power some early arc lamps in the downtown area. In 1893 their new company was known as the Brockville Light & Power Co.

“Waterniche,” The Woodcock – Delahaye House

101 Hartley St., Brockville

Brockville landscape and portrait artist Percy F. Woodcock (1855-1936) and his wife Aloysia (Pratt) were the earliest known residents of Waterniche. It was, however, after 1909 for many years connected with the family of Thomas Delahaye, who was the managing director of the National Manufacturing Co. Ltd. (earlier the Cossitt Co. Ltd.) for many years. A disastrous early-morning fire on June 2, 1951 destroyed this house, while owned by Dr. Thomas J. Goodison.

Sources: Two of these photos were published in the 1906 Brockville Old Boy’s Re-union special magazine. The photo of the Comstock Building was shot by an unknown staff member of the Recorder &Times. I took the one of the Fitzsimmons House during the time of the 1973 Summer Museum held there by the Brockville & District Historical Society. The various details about each building were extracted from many different sources, as usual.

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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