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Victoria Hall and East Ward Market House – Part Two

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1 King Street, Brockville

Built 1862-64



Brockville City Hall


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Victoria Hall photo ca1920

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


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.



copyright DG cards MAY 2009

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

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