Brockville by Gas Light … 1854

The text of two articles from the Brockville Recorder

26 January 1854  &  2 February 1854

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Brockville by Gas Light

26 January 1854:

Part one:

How speedily, in the new world, the solitude of the first gives way to the hum of many voices and the busy haunts of men. The spot where, a few years ago, the forest trees waved their leafy branches, has assumed a different aspect. The hardy pioneer penetrates the deep recesses of the woody wilderness, or fixes his abode on the margin of some solemn flowing river. A few years pass away, and other men seek his companionship and settle down beside him. Before the sturdy arms of these pioneers, the forest trees disappear and give place to smiling fields. Other settlers follow, and then again the fields give way to villages. Villages rise to towns, and towns grow to cities, and these important changes are but little noted, because in this, our noble country, they are of almost yearly occurrence.

Men are still living who remember when there was but one house in Brockville. There was little stir then; there is much stir now,   Brockville may not have grown so rapidly as some few other towns in the province, but it has increased greatly, and is becoming more important every year. The solitary one house of old has many companions now. In no town of its size are there so many elegant and substantial buildings to be found as in Brockville. Its stores, in extent, and in the quantity and quality of goods displayed, stand unrivalled. Its merchants are active, progressive men; its mechanics intelligent, and but for the spirit of Toryism (fast dying away), arising from “early associations,” we would almost feel inclined to set our beautifully located town down as the “model town” of Upper Canada.

But we are digressing. Our intention was to take a glimpse of Brockville by gaslight, and despite the snow storm raging around, (Friday and Saturday evenings), we will do so. Let us therefore begin at the Gas House, respecting which we note the following particulars:

The house was built at an expense of something over  1000. It was commenced about the 7th of October [1854] and on the 12th January inst., the gas was lighted for the first time   an evidence of energy with which the Directors carried forward the work. Mr. [William] Holmes was the contractor, but the brick work of the building was done, by Thomas Price;   James Perry, of Montreal, being the superintending spirit of the work. The gas-house is allowed to be a very fine one, being in size 46 by 100 feet. The works, we understand, are capable of supplying gas to a population of 30,000, with additional retorts to those already in operation. It was intended to have the streets lighted, but the directors were unable to procure posts. The lighting of the streets will be carried into effect as soon as possible. When the gas-works went into operation, upwards of 200 had contracted to use the gas. This number has been greatly increased since.

Leaving the gas house, the first glare of “the new light” is obtained from the residence of our esteemed townsman, Dr. [Robert] Edmondson. Passing on, it is next met with at friend W. [William] Gilmour‘s, but as we do not wish to obtrude on the privacy of families, we hurry onward through the drifting snow, till forced to seek shelter with our active and obliging friends, Hillyard and Griffin, who, under the auspices of the “Red Flag,” appear to be doing what the Yankees would call a “smart” business in dry goods and groceries. The stock being well shown off by the gas lights, crowned with chaste-looking white smoke bells edged with green, the appearance of which at a distance seem like inverted “lilies of the Nile”.

Onward a little farther and we step in to friend [Warren] Botsford‘s. Here the gas light forces, with good effect, the stock of hardware, heavy and light, full before the scrutinizing eye. Feeling satisfied of Botsford’s judgment in enlarging his store, and of the great improvement of gas light in displaying stock to advantage, we bid Botsford good night, and jump through the snow right into a bank of warm furs conveniently placed within the well-filled, gas lighted premises of our old friend [Andrew] Donaldson. From this comfortable retreat, we look around, and, imagination busy at work, conjure up the probable fate which might await us, were we surrounded by the living, original owners of Donaldson’s great fur establishment.
At length, remembering that there is no rest for us, we leave our comfortable quarters and enter leisurely the mammoth establishment of J. & S.[John and Samuel] Ross. To form a correct idea of the extent of this store it should be visited. Even with gas light, the length of the store is such, that a good telescope would be required to recognize an acquaintance at the extreme end of the dry goods range. When thoroughly completed, it will match any store in Canada. The various goods are divided into “departments,” each department being presided over by active, intelligent young men. In the chinaware department we observed three elegant dinner sets, two of them white, edged with gold, the third a rich Chinese pattern. In electro plate, we also saw several splendid specimens. We trust the Messrs. Ross will have no cause to regret the outlay ire rendering their store such as would do credit to any city in “the union”.

Crossing the street in an oblique direction from the premises just noticed, we were almost inclined to give friend [Alonzo B.] Dana, a call, but remembering that although he had lately been called out as one of the “town lights,” he had been disappointed in getting his gas fixings fixed, we passed to the drug store of Mr. Allan Turner, chemist and druggist, where alleviates may be obtained: “For all the ills that flesh is heir to” besides “oils and colours,” medical instruments, and a host of other articles as friend [Fordyce] Lothrop would say, “too numerous to mention,” and all to be had “by the light of gas”.

Leaving Mr. Turner’s and again crossing the street, we saw that Mr. [William] Johnston had taken advantage of gas light, which gave his store quite a life-like and lively appearance.

Mr. W. [William] Buell comes next in turn, and what with the light of knowledge in the shape of books of all descriptions to be had at his store, and the light of gas, if darkness prevails, either mentally or physically, the fault will not lie at his door.

Next comes Mr. R. [Robert] Fitzsimmons. Light in the grocery business is of the utmost importance, and Mr. Fitzsimmons has provided his store with an ample supply in order that his customers may see that full justice is done them, both in quantity and quality of their purchases, and which, be the quantity large or small, is always made up with a kind word and a pleasing smile.

Winks and Hutcheson [George Winks & George Hutcheson] stand next on the list. Before entering their “bower,” let us take a look at the windows. These silk velvets, laces, flowers, etc., must have been arranged by some Blythe assistant, no novice at his business. The tout ensemble does the young gentlemen credit. But enter the store and the same neatness of arrangement is observable. Mr. Hutcheson, we know, is method itself, but unless aided by able assistants, the store would sometimes appear “out of order”, but this never happens, and we think the excellent stock of goods, silks, etc., are seen at no disadvantage by gas light.

Here we are at the extensive wholesale and retail establishment of Morton, McKee & Co. [George Morton & Andrew McKee]. These gentlemen have lately enlarged their premises to a considerable extent, and yet every inch is occupied by a large and well-assorted stock of goods dry goods, hardware, crockeryware, groceries, and we do not know how many other wares. When all the contemplated alterations are completed, this will be one of the stores, in which, at night, the gas light will have a fine effect. This establishment is also divided into departments, each having active and obliging clerks to superintend them.

Now for Mr. [Clarence] Ashley’s and “the Golden Key”. Here there is but one department, but that department comprehends almost everything made of iron, or iron and wood, from the finest bradawls up to seven foot saws; from improved mouse traps to patent straw cutters. What may be found at Ashley’s would be as difficult to mention as what may not be found. Whatever is wanted, however, there is gas light enough to search for it.

But we are exhausted, and must break off for the present; next week we will resume our walk.

.Brockville ca1852 (an engraving taken from a drawing by Owen Staples)

The Town of Brockville in the early 1850s.

An engraving based on a drawing by Owen Staples.

2 February 1854:

Part two:

In noticing a few facts connected with the Gas House, we mentioned that Mr. [James] Perry, of Montreal, was the ruling spirit. We meant this in its widest sense. But for the exertions of’ this gentleman and his brother, Mr. A. Perry, of this town, as we stated on a former occasion, there would have been no gas in Brockville. We make this statement in justice to the two gentlemen named.

Last week we left off at Ashley’s. Since then we believe our local contemporary has supplied himself with an extra quantity of gas. We felt inclined to visit the establishment and chronicle the fact, but there was such a leak last Saturday, we were compelled to “make tracks” for the use of a smelling bottled from the establishment of “Ralph and Converse,” under the impression that some nasty, ugly, ill-tempered skunk had taken up its abode near the sanctum of our contemporary.

Ralph and Converse have their premises well lighted, the variegated lights reflecting beautifully on the stock of fancy perfumery, chemical compounds, medicines, etc., placed around their store. In fact this is the best lighted building in town, especially when the Reading Room and the Recorder Office lights are in full blast.

[Edward] Lawless, till he enters his new store still rejoices in lamp-light. We trust to have it in our power to blazon him forth as one of the “new lights” soon.

Friend [Alexander] Starr has done the thing handsomely. His premises, from top to bottom, are splendidly lighted. A well cooked plate of oysters could always be obtained at Mr. Starr’s establishment, but such things will now be swallowed with a double relish in his neat and comfortable back parlour, especially when the quality of fixings are taken into account.

We now introduce our readers to Mr. Thomas Smart. He too has made the most of his premises. Sleek furs and winter garments seem all the smoother when seen by gas-light. One would almost imagine that Smart had the produce of every quarter of the world to show, and they are well shown too. The very idea of being surrounded with so many articles for wear, is almost sufficient to induce a warm feeling towards Smart. May his light never be less.

Friedenheimer’s ;  ah, we must shade our eyes here. That bright light reflected on silver surfaces is really dazzling. Here rich articles for use and ornament are so nicely arranged, that but for the excellent light, it might be difficult to point out the prettiest. Gold and silver watches, rings, chains etc., are here in profusion, and all who know Friedenheimer know that in his hands, whether by daylight or gaslight, they are safe.

Willson’s Hotel is a prominent building in Brockville. From what is known of its spirited proprietor, it will at once be granted that he is not the man to allow a real improvement to escape his notice. Any person visiting the hotel will see at a glance, that gaslight has added much to the comfort of this now celebrated hotel. We might write a whole column in praise of [William H.] Willson‘s establishment, but we know flattery only pains the worthy proprietor, and we therefore leave him to enjoy the popularity he has so justly earned as a kind obliging host.

McKenzie‘s well kept hotel, is the last public place lighted with gas on the river side of the Main street. Mr. [John] McKenzie‘s quiet, kind and unassuming manners have earned for him many patrons. So far as gas-light is concerned, we know few things of so much benefit to a hotel. Mr. McKenzie seems to have been aware of this, and we have no doubt the improved light will add to the many comforts to be found within the friendly domicile of Mr. McKenzie.

Crossing the Main street from Mr. McKenzie’s a little westward, the next store fitted up with gas is that of Mr. Thomas Webster. This gentleman has also considerably enlarged his premises, which are now fitted up in a neat and convenient style. Dry goods, groceries, and hardware are piled around in well-filled compartments, attended to by two active and obliging assistants. The gas-light has improved Mr. Webster’s premises in a very great degree; indeed from the light thrown towards the street, that part of the town seems much more lively at night than it was formerly.

The City Block” cannot he passed unnoticed. Here the Messrs Parr have separate saddlery establishments, although that of Mr. Arthur Parr is the only one as yet furnished with gas. Under Mr. A. Parr’s store, as we mentioned a week or more ago, Mr. [Elihu] Spencer has opened a [daguerreotype] saloon, fitted up in city style. The saloon is also well lighted with gas.

Buss and McClear are the next progressive men we find on our list. These gentlemen have but lately “opened store” in Flint’s building, with a large stock of groceries, etc. and from their having introduced gas into their premises, it would appear they are determined not to hide themselves under a bushel.

Mr. Cole also holds out the inducement of “shaving made easy” by the light of gas. Mr. Cole’s attending to business is well known, and there is no probability that his attention will be less than heretofore.

Ah, friend, [Thomas] Camm, do not be afraid; though last, you are by no means least in the list of improvers. Some philosophers profess to mend other people’s morals, others profess to mend the manners of their fellow man; but it is thy duty, as it is thy business, to make some men, and to mend others (in shape we mean.) In this thy useful, and therefore honourable vocation, gas-light is an object not to be lightly esteemed. While, therefore, you improve others, we trust the new light” will lead you in the path of improving your own fortune.

This concludes our walk through Brockville by gas-light If any gas-consumers are omitted in the list, we will willingly notice them next week, if informed of the omission.

P.S. – Since the above was written, we understand that Mr. Dana has lighted his premises with gas. Leather and light will now go hand in hand.

Gas Works

A later photo of the old Gas Works on St. Paul St.

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One comment on “Brockville by Gas Light … 1854

  1. I read with interest your historic times at Brockville it may be that you can help me with the following for some years i have been tracing the donaldson family
    however Im 76years and left researching but i always hope that help could be at hand regarding the following
    two brothers left England Andrew Donaldson married Mary Story and had i son
    John Donaldson born 30 June in Brockville Andrew work with his brotherJohn at
    MT Healy Oneida Haldimand county Andrew died feb 1860 at St Cathrines
    his obituary mentions that he left a sister in Brockville and relatives in Alnwick
    Northumberland England.however not sure if she ever married but was alive in 1860 at the time of his death I would appriciate any hellp you could forward to
    me that could finally solve the mystery.you may be able to advise a
    suitable newspaper to write to or a long standing undertaker who may have been around at the time.anyway thought it was worth a try after reading your article.
    Many thanks

    Duncan Donaldson Newcastle upon Tyne England phone 0191 4887330

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