A Short History of Brockville

View of Downtown Brockville in the 1930s

Downtown Brockville, as pictured on a postcard issued in the 1930s


The City of Brockville is one of the oldest and historically-important communities in Ontario.  It was first settled and founded by American citizens, loyal to the British government, following the closing of the British-American War of 1775-83. These new settlers became known as “United Empire Loyalists”.

William Buell, Daniel Jones and Charles Jones were the three village founders that were granted the land which forms the historic area of the original downtown Brockville.

A town site was first laid out about 1802 on the central portion owned by William Buell, who lived here for 47 years, from 1785 to 1832, developing his properties for later settlers.

Brockville stands on the eastern edge of the Canadian Shield, a rocky, geological formation. The local terrain, near the shore of the St. Lawrence River, although not conducive for farming, included Buell’s Bay, Buell’s Creek, three rising plateaus from the shoreline, and a small island, close to the shore, later named Blockhouse Island. These characteristics were exploited as the small village grew in the early 1800s.

In 1809, the government of Upper Canada decided to build a new court house and gaol here, on the high plateau back of the shore, on a piece of land offered by William Buell. These facilities led to the establishment of the seat of government here for the District of Johnstown and then later, the United Counties of Leeds and Grenville. Court House Square and Green, surrounded by public buildings and tall neo-Gothic churches, in front of the 1842-built Brockville Court House, is one of eastern Ontario’s most attractive urban spaces.

Brockville was named in 1812, to honour General Isaac Brock, the “Hero of Upper Canada”, whose command of the British and militia forces of this province led to success during the second British-American War of 1812-14. His tragic death in October 1812 confirmed the wisdom of being the first adopters of his name for the small village.

Later, when Brockville’s population exceeded 1000 residents, the village became one of the first places to send an elected representative to the provincial legislature. In 1832, Brockville was successful in becoming the first incorporated and self-governing “Police Village” in Upper Canada.

View of Brockville from the water in 1910

A view of Brockville from a postcard picture, about 1910.

Located on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River, Brockville became a popular port-of-call for the steamships that travelled up and down the river. These ships carried immigrants to Canada and raw materials and manufactured products to their markets. The waterfront of Brockville was soon dotted with new industries like foundries, tanneries, breweries, as well as numerous warehouses.

In the 1850s, the town of Brockville was made a centre of railway transportation, as both the Grand Trunk Railway and the Brockville & Ottawa Railway open their rail lines here. These decisions led to further growth and development of this community.

Brockville Railway Tunnel - south portal photo

The south portal entrance to the Brockville Railway Tunnel

Brockville is the site of Canada’s first railway tunnel, opened in 1860. It provided a route for trains from the Ottawa Valley to the Brockville waterfront for over 110 years.  The Brockville Railway Tunnel passes completely under the centre of the city for a third of a mile and is always open to the public in season.

The downtown streets of Brockville are an “outdoor museum” of beautiful buildings throughout the Historic Area. The variety of early stone houses, brick commercial blocks and Victorian homes has been preserved over our 200 years of growth. This cultural heritage is something that needs to be discovered on foot.

Court House Sq (by Fred. C. Gordon 1887)

Brockville’s Court House Square as drawn by Frederick C. Gordon in 1887.   This shows the First Presbyterian Church and the Brockville Court House.

One comment on “A Short History of Brockville

  1. Joan Ellis says:

    Very interesting and well presented.

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