150 Years of Brockville History – 1892-1916

In honour of Canada150, the Brockville Museum will be starting a special project.  For the 150 days leading up to Canada Day (beginning February 1st), we will post to Facebook something that happened in the Brockville area every year from 1867-2017.  These posts will include excerpts from the newspapers, photographs and artifacts from the Brockville Museum’s collection. After they have been posted to Facebook, we will add them to this site in 25-year increments.

Day 76: 1942

In 1942, Brockville was overrun by the German army! Well, not quite. The Officers Training Camp (OTC) staged the event as a training exercise and as a fundraiser for the Victory Loan campaign. Similar events were held in Smiths Falls and other towns.

Day 77: 1943

The Second World War created new jobs that no one had imagined before. There was great fear that the enemy would use ‘biological warfare’ on home soil. BCI student, Margaret Shannon, got a summer job checking traps that had been baited to capture Japanese beetles (then considered a threat). In her 2 years of searching, she only found one. She received a small wage and the certificate shared here.

Day 78: 1944

From 1941 – 1950 the Officers’ Training Camp (OTC), sometimes also referred to as the Officers’ Training Centre or Brockville Military Academy, operated along what is now Ormond Street. During WWII, its main purpose was to train – or retrain – officers before they headed overseas.

Shared here is an aerial view of the OTC (circa 1944, photographer unrecorded).

Day 79: 1945

Throughout 1945 some of the town’s biggest celebrations were to mark the end of the Second World War. VE Day (Victory in Europe Day) on May 8 is probably the best know, however V-J Day (Victory over Japan Day) was also celebrated.

Shared here is a photo (photographer unrecorded) commemorating V-J Day in Brockville. The photo captures not only the event, but the look of the downtown 72 years ago.

Day 80: 1946

In 1946, the bell from the HMCS Brockville was presented to the City of Brockville and placed in City Hall along with a scroll that described the ship’s history and which thanked the citizens of Brockville for sending generous contributions to the comfort and welfare of those who served.

Shared here is a photo from the HMCS Brockville’s visit to its namesake town in 1954 (Recorder and Times Collection).

Day 81: 1947

Pictured here is a store-front from 1947 as captured by the Recorder and Times. It is for The New Percival Furniture Company located at 127 King St. W (today the parking lot across from Shoppers Drug Mart). The New Percival Furniture Co. sold furniture, stoves, radios, electric refrigerators and appliances.

Day 82: 1948

In 1948 local boxer Harold Hamelin tried out for the Olympics. A member of the Brockville Boxing Club, Hamelin took up the sport during his time with the Brockville Rifles in 1941. His interest in boxing continued throughout the Second World War and he returned to the club following that conflict. Hamelin and three other local boxers took part in the Olympic trials in Ottawa. Unfortunately, none qualified.

Day 83: 1949

In late November 1949, fire raged through the Halladay Block (south side of King at John). It was reported to have been caused by over-heated furnace pipes or faulty wiring in Smart’s Hardware Store. In the end, four businesses, one government office, and apartments housing 100 people were destroyed.

Day 84: 1950

A new school was built in 1950: Commonwealth Public School on Pearl Street was one of the first new schools built in Brockville. An addition would later be placed on Prince of Wales and other new schools would be built later in the decade. This new school building boom was the first step in closing the aging schools built in the 1800s.

Shared here is a Recorder and Times photo of the dedication (1950).

Day 85: 1951

After almost a year of construction, the Brockville Memorial Civic Centre officially opened in February of 1951. This was not the first covered ice sheet for Brockville. The old wooden one on Gilmour Street was destroyed by fire in 1937. This “Memorial Centre” was located downtown at today’s Rotary Park. Unfortunately, in January of 1978, after a snow storm, the roof collapsed.

Photo: grand opening in 1951.

Day 86: 1952

After standing on the peak of the Counties Court House for more than 140 years, “Sally Grant” (a local nick name for the statue of justice) was removed out of fear that her rotting base would cause her to crash through the roof. Between 1952 and 1982 there was no statue of justice. In 1982 a replica was placed on top of the Court House.

Pictured is the original statue the day she was removed.

Day 87: 1953

In 1953, Phillips officially sold the telephone manufacturing section of their business to Automatic Electric Company. Quickly, a new plant was built west of Schofield Hill. The street was named Strowger Boulevard, after a telecommunications device that changed telephones forever. The new plant opened in 1954. Soon it was the second largest employer in Brockville (after Phillips).

Day 88: 1954

In June of 1954 there was a major construction project underway at the Manitoba Yards. The Manitoba Railway Yards (named after a nearby street, not the province) allowed trains to refill their coal supplies and shunt cars before continuing their journey.

The original CN coal chutes were built in 1904. The new construction was a more modern steel coal loader. The construction reportedly cost $30,000.

Day 89: 1955

The inspiration for today’s story comes from this photo in the Recorder and Times Collection taken in 1955.

Started by D.E. Lewis, George A. Beale and Eleanor Christy, they incorporated their business in 1948. Rollit Sales Limited (later Rollit Products Limited) began as a small company that manufactured ball-point pens. It soon expanded and employed over a dozen people.

Day 90: 1956

A special donation was made in 1956 by the ladies of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union: they donated an organ to the Brockville Jail for use in services held there.

This was not the first donation to Brockville. The most recognisable one is the water fountain located near Little Fulford Park. Placed there in 1939, it was built to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of the organisation’s founder.

Day 91: 1957

A major construction project was taking shape in 1957: Highway 401. It was pieced together using existing roads and some new sections. For a while, the designated route between Gananoque and Brockville was to be along the 1000 Islands Parkway but it was decided to keep it as a ‘Scenic Highway’. This was the final section completed and an historic plaque can be found at the Mallorytown Onroute service centre.

Day 92: 1958

One of the largest bank heists in Canadian history took place in downtown Brockville in 1958 when the Brockville Trust and Savings on Court House Avenue was broken into. The burglars got into the vault by taking down the adjoining wall and using torches to cut a hole into the metal. No one knew anything had happened until the next day. Only one person was ever charged and much of the loot never turned up.

Day 93: 1959

1959 saw the official opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway Project. On hand to officially open the Seaway was Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. The royal yacht Britannia even travelled up the St. Lawrence and made a stop in Brockville.

Day 94: 1960

Construction projects, new businesses and official openings marked the newspaper coverage of 1960. One of the these was the construction and the official opening for the new Thousand Islands Secondary School (TISS).

Day 95: 1961

1961 was the end of one era and the start of something different for Brockville’s waterfront. It was in that year that the majority of the Smart’s Foundry was demolished.

It wouldn’t be long until the site was cleared and a new public park put in its place: Hardy Park. This marked a major change in how the waterfront in Brockville was being used. What was once industrial lands became public green space.

Day 96: 1962

Early on a cold January morning in 1962 a fire started in the Grand Central Hotel (built in 1886). By the end of the day, the fire would claim the entire building.

Guests escaped the building by climbing out windows and sliding down makeshift ropes in their pyjamas. One member of the Brockville Police Force was credited with waking up the hotel guests and saving their lives.

Day 97: 1963

In 1963, a new home for the Brockville Legion Branch 96 was under construction on Park Street.

Founded in 1920 as the Great War Veterans Association, they amalgamated with the British Empire Service League in 1927. This group later became known as the Royal Canadian Legion and had its home in Horton School.

Shared here is a photo of the grand opening of the new building in 1964.

Day 98: 1964

1964 was another busy year as captured by the photographers at the Brockville Recorder and Times. Among the many events captured were record-low water levels on the St. Lawrence River.

Day 99: 1965

In 1965, another downtown landmark went up in flames: Dailey’s. It was known for selling leather goods and was a long-running family business. In 1958, a travel agency was added to the family business. The 1965 fire may have destroyed the building, but not the business. Moving into a new building, Dailey’s continued until 2000, when it was once again engulfed in flames.

Day 100: 1966

As the country approached its 100th birthday, cities, towns and groups began looking into their pasts and towards the future. A new flag was unveiled in 1965, but in 1966 Brockville got a symbol all its own: in March of 1966, a ceremony in Victoria Hall officially introduced the city’s new Coat of Arms. Brockville is one of only a few communities to have an authentic Grant of Arms from the Royal College of Arms.