The Molson’s Bank Building

also known by Brockvillians as the old “Orange Lodge Building”

21 Court House Avenue, Brockville

Hubbell Building d - Court House Ave

  • Began as a three-storey stone house built about 1825 for Dr. Elnathan Hubbell.
  • Re-designed extensively in 1858 by Kingston architect John Power for the Commercial Bank of Canada.

This building has a very long and interesting history. The property is a piece of land given by William Buell to his daughter, Sabina Flynn, the wife of David Flynn, in 1810. She retained possession until 1824 when she sold it to Dr. Elnathan Hubbell for £100.

Hubbell had arrived in Brockville from Vermont about 1806. He, at some point, built a brick house on the main street on the site of the former Woolworth Store (36-40 King St. W.). That house was said to be the first brick house built in Buell’s Bay. It is not known for sure when Hubbell built this stone structure on Court House Ave., what its original purpose was, or even what it looked like originally.

The first known reference to this building was an item in the Brockville Recorder newspaper of August 2, 1833: “Henry Sherwood has removed his office into the large stone house belonging to Dr. Hubbell, situated upon the public ground in front of the Court House”. It has been said over the years that this building was used as a hotel during the War of 1837-38. This may mean that soldiers of visiting militia companies were housed here during the “Patriot” crisis. But no definite proof has been discovered to prove this point. However, we do have a lot of evidence of its use as a bank building for nearly 80 years.

Court House Ave 1849 (from the Maple-Leaf)

This 3-storey building, then owned by Dr. Elnathan Hubbell, stands at the top of Court House Ave. on the right, as depicted in this 1849 engraved illustration from a Canadian magazine, “The Maple Leaf“.

The Brockville agency of the Bank of Montreal was established in Brockville in the year 1843. We don’t know where they first located the bank that year, but the first agent is known to have been James Stevenson who remained in Brockville until 1849. The next agent was Thomas Lee, and a business directory published in 1851 gives the information that the Bank of Montreal was located on Court House Square and, therefore, was leasing space in Hubbell’s Building by that time. The Brockville map of 1853 shows the “Bank of Montreal” on this site and lists F.M. Holmes as the agent.

Map of Court House Square (w label) 1861

From the 1853 map of Brockville, during the period that the Bank of Montreal leased this building from Dr. Elnathan Hubbell.

Dr. Hubbell died on April 8, 1866 at the age of 74, and his property passed into the control of his sons. This was also the time that the directors of the Bank Of Montreal decided to build their, own building. They chose a site south of the Wesleyan Methodist Church (now, Wall St. United Church) on the east side of the Square, and were able to move into their new building in 1857. The same year, one of their competitors, the Commercial Bank, decided to take over their old location on Court House Ave. James and Henry Hubbell sold their father’s building to the Commercial Bank on December 16, 1857 for £1387. James Bancroft is listed as the manager that year and also in 1861.

A recent discovery was made that referred  to this building, in a microfilmed copy of the Brockville Recorder, dated January 14, 1858. It was the announcement that tenders are invited from “parties willing to contract for certain alterations to be made to a house and appurtenances at the corner of Court House Square and Court House Avenue”. The small ad was placed by John Power, Architect of Kingston for the Commercial Bank of Canada. This is the answer to a question about when the building received the alterations that created its present appearance. This is the common look that many Canadian banks were trying to present in the mid-1850s. The Bank of Montreal in its new location looked very similar when it was built the previous year.

The last record we have of the Commercial Bank of Canada, Brockville branch, was in 1867 with J.H. Roper as manager. It is known that later the Commercial Bank failed and had to close all their branches. The Merchant’s Bank of Canada took over their assets, including this building, and put it up for sale in 1869. A Brockville merchant, Thomas R. Sheffield purchased it for $5000.
For two years, while owned by Alphonzo Brooks, a civil engineer, there was no bank here, but on January 3, 1873, a new branch of the Molson’s Bank opened up at 21 Court House Ave. That same year, Brooks sold the building to Mrs. Margaret Hargraves for $6500. The first manager of the Molson’s Bank in Brockville was James W.B. Rivers, who held that position until the end of 1885. The bank, meanwhile, in January of 1874 purchased the building from the widow Hargraves for $8000.

Brockville- Hubbell & Comstock-buildings-1895

In this 1895 photograph, the Molson’s Bank Building is on the left.

Altogether, the Molson’s Bank carried on business here for a total of 51 years, during which time the name “Molson’s Bank Building” became attached to the building previously owned by Elnathan Hubbell. Over the years there was a total of eight managers in charge of the Molson’s Bank in Brockville, but none served as long as James Rivers. While the ground floor was the banking hall it appears that a number of the managers following Mr. Rivers, lived upstairs during their stay in Brockville. In 1925, Molson’s merged with the Bank of Montreal and sometime after, the bank in this building closed.

In 1927 the Directors of the Loyal Orange Lodge No. 1 purchased Hubbell’s Building from the Bank Of Montreal, and for the next fifty years the upstairs housed the Ogle R. Gowan Temple and the Orange Hall.

Later, in the 1950s, another tradition started on the ground floor when the law firm of Jack and Ned Stewart rented office space here. They were the sons of the former Federal Minister of Public Works, Hugh A. Stewart. In 1954, a second law partnership, made up of John Corbett and Howard Musclow, became tenants in the small annex (now demolished) on the south side of this building. In 1956 the two firms were merged and the new firm took the name “Stewart, Corbett & Musclow”. In 1967, Bob Barr joined as the fourth senior partner. The later firm of Stewart, Corbett, Musclow, Barr & Simpson purchased the building in 1976 from the Orange Lodge who had built themselves a new lodge building just to the east of Hubbell’s Building. The law firm took over the entire building for their own purposes, carrying out extensive renovations in 1977.

Presently the two firms of Stewart, Corbett Law Office [John D. Simpson, James N. Eastwood & Michael M. Johnston]  and Michael J. O’Shaughnessy are housed in the building.

Architecturally, Hubbell’s Building is a special example of a large 3-storey office building created in a earlier period of local branch banking. Its present appearance is representative of a style of building erected by the early banks as a symbol of strength and taste.

Historically, it is very hard to determine why this building was built in the first place. As far as can be learned at this point, Dr. Hubbell did not live here at all, or did members of his family. As well as being a medical man, his Interests included operating a grist will on the mill pond west of the Grand Trunk railway station on Perth St.

In any case, this building stands today in a proud position on the edge of
Court House Square and has a lot of tradition contained in its stone walls.

Brockville, by a visiting Journalist – March 1856

This newspaper article about Brockville was republished 24 April 1856

on the front page of the Brockville Recorder.

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Written by a correspondent of the Toronto Leader.

21 March 1856

Brockville Court House 1872

The Brockville Court House from an engraving based on a photograph by Geo. B. Murray – Canadian Illustrated News 1872..

The Court House and Jail are very justly the pride of the town.  I know of no county buildings in the province that surpass them.  Erected on the highest eminence in the town, they are possessed of much architectural beauty, and the details of the establishment exhibit great judgement.  From the cupola, I obtained a charming prospect of the town and surrounding country.

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Edgar Place, the Matthie House

Edgar Place, the Home of Hannah & William Matthie. William died in 1855.  Their 10-yr-old son, Edgar died in 1857.  At the time of this photograph ca.1890, the owner William J. Christie was standing outside his conservatory. His wife Mary was on the back porch.  Later this became the property of George T. Fulford and he replaced this house with his new home, Fulford Place.

There are several beautiful private residences here, situated at the east end of the town, among which may be mentioned those of Mrs. W. Matthie, Mrs. S. Jones, and Messrs  R.P. Colton, George Morton, and George Crawford, MPP.  These residences overlook the St. Lawrence, are surrounded by fine pleasure grounds, and have conservatories attached to them.

The churches, mercantile establishments, and indeed all the buildings of the town, betoken a liberal spirit.  There are few of those hovels here which are so frequently met with, even in smaller localities.  A Roman Catholic church of large proportions is being constructed of stone, on Church Street, and I understand that the Bank of Montreal will erect during the Summer, a building of the same material for their branch establishment.

The town being very compact, an agitation was commenced a few years since, to consolidate all the Common Schools, and to erect a suitable building in a central position, capable of containing all the scholars of the town.  It was urged that this would give greater facilities for the classification of scholars, and that the elementary and higher branches could thus be taught beneath the same roof, while the school would be essentially a common one.

David Wylie

David Wylie, Editor of the Brockville Recorder

The originators of this liberal movement – Mr. David Wylie and Dr. Thomas Reynolds – at first met with most inveterate opposition; but at length their efforts appear to have been appreciated, for a building upon that plan is now constructed, (at a cost of £ 3,000) and in use, which presents quite a collegiate appearance.  It contains five compartments – two above and two below, for the opposite sexes, and is designed for 400 scholars.  A Catholic Separate School is also in operation, the scholars in attendance numbering about one hundred.

Victoria Common School

Victoria Common School

I visited the extensive stove factory of R.P. Colton, here perhaps the largest in the province.  The moulding room is a large building, 160 x 80 feet, and contains a furnace with a capacity for melting from 15 to 20 tons of metal.  The building used as a warehousing and finishing department, is a four-storey one, and is 100 x 40 feet.

Mr. Colton confines himself exclusively to the manufacture of stoves and mill gearing; and you may form some idea of the extent of his operations in the former branch, when I assure you he turns out annually 4,000 stoves (Brockville Air-Tight), and keeps constantly employed in disposing of them from 20 to 40 pedlars.  The number of operatives employed within his establishment, when in full blast is about 85.  There is hardly a farm house between the Ottawa and St. Lawrence into which his stoves have not found their way.

The foundry is situated on the margin of the river, and the largest class of steamers receive and discharge their cargoes beneath its walls.

East end factories 1874 map

The 3 large factories on the east end of Water St.

The establishment of William McCullough is also deserving of notice.  He turns out annually about 6,000 sets of hames, 700 dozen of scythe snaths, 100 doz. Grain cradles, and about 300 doz. grain shovels, which he wholesales very readily to the hardware merchants of Toronto, Hamilton and London.

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(I omitted a long paragraph here on “Reciprocity”)

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The Brockville and Ottawa Railway is now in course of construction. The object in building this railway is to afford to the large and fertile country in the rear, access at all seasons to the markets of the United States, as well as to the various sections of our own province.

– population served is nearly 100,000.
– square timber trade.
– sawn lumber to the U.S.

Brockville aided construction with £ 100,000, Elizabethtown £ 50,000, and Lanark and Renfrew £ 200,000.  They hold the first lien on the railroad.

At that time, a preliminary contract was contemplated with Mr. Moore, railway contractor for completion of the road. The former contractors, Sykes, Debergue & Co. Were unable to carry out the contract they entered into.

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Willson House 1852

William H. Willson’s new hotel, the Willson House was opened 30 November 1849

5 – 13 King St. W., cor. Market Sq.

While here, I stay at Willson’s Hotel, which justly enjoys a high reputation.  Mr William H. Willson, proprietor, and Mr. John Brennan, assistant, are certainly most successful in making the house a real home to the traveller.

The sleeping apartments and drawing rooms are elegantly furnished, and the chief of the culinary department is certainly mistress of her profession, for I have fared sumptuously every day upon the most appetizing viands.  From its contiguity to the railway station and the steamboat landing, it is a most desirable stopping place to those in pursuit of pleasure or business.

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I copied this article out by hand in July 1977, from a copy of the Recorder  dated April 24th, 1856. Near the end, some of the trade description began to bore this scribe, and was left out. Other than that, this is generally complete and accurate.  You may notice that the practice of the day was to use long involved sentences, strung together by commas and “ands”.  These I have retained, but I have broken up some of the long paragraphs where appropriate for this format.