Brockville, formerly Elizabethtown, is a city in Eastern Ontario, Canada, in the Thousand Islands region. Though it serves as the seat of Leeds and Grenville United Counties, Brockville is politically independent and is grouped with Leeds and Grenville for census purposes only.
Known as the "City of the 1000 Islands", Brockville is located on the north shore of the Saint Lawrence River, directly opposite Morristown, New York, about half-way between Cornwall in the east and Kingston in the west, and roughly a 50-minute drive to the national capital of Ottawa. It is one of Ontario's oldest urban centres, and is named after the British general Sir Isaac Brock.
Indigenous peoples lived along both sides of the St. Lawrence River for thousands of years. The first people known to have encountered the Europeans in the area were the St. Lawrence Iroquoians, a group distinct from and preceding Iroquois nations of the Haudenosaunee. While the explorer Cartier recorded about 200 words in their Laurentian language, the people disappeared from the area by the late 16th century. The Iroquois by then used the St. Lawrence Valley as a hunting ground.
This area of Ontario was first settled by English speakers in 1785, when thousands of American refugees arrived from the American Revolutionary War. The colonists were later called United Empire Loyalists for their political position supporting continued relationship with King George III. The struggle between Britain and the 13 American colonies took place in the years 1776 to 1783 and seriously divided loyalties among people in some colonies, such as New York and Vermont. In many areas, traders and merchants in the coastal cities or the northern border had stronger business ties and alliances with the British than did frontiersmen of the interior. During the 6-year war, which ended with the capitulation of the British forces in 1782, many of those colonists who remained loyal to the crown were frequently subject to harsh reprisals and unfair dispossession of property by their countrymen. Many "Loyalists" chose to flee north to the then-British colony of Quebec. Great Britain opened this western region of Canada by allocating land to the mostly English-speaking Loyalists and helping them with some supplies as they founded new settlements.
The St. Lawrence River, which separates between Brockville and Morristown, New York, was named by French explorers in the 18th century to commemorate the martyred Roman Christian, Saint Laurentis. The small inlet on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River had been a natural resting point for French voyageurs in the past. In 1785 the first U.E. Loyalist to take up land here on the site of Brockville was William Buell Sr. (1751–1832), an ensign disbanded from the King's Rangers, from the state of New York. Residents commonly called the first settlement "Buell's Bay". Around 1810 government officials of Upper Canada designated the village as Elizabethtown.
About 1812, leading residents of the small village decided to suggest a name which differed from the surrounding township of Elizabethtown. This was during the ensuing second war with Canada's American neighbours, known as the War of 1812. The commanding ranking British General in Upper Canada and temporary administrator of the province was Major-General Isaac Brock. He was celebrated as the "Hero and Saviour" of Upper Canada because of his recent success in securing the surrender of Fort Detroit. Perhaps to curry favour with Gen Brock, certain leading citizens in the village, including Charles Jones, proposed the name of Brockville. They began using this new name in their correspondence and dealings with Isaac Brock. Gen. Brock was soon involved in other battles on the Niagara Peninsula, and on October 13, 1812, he was fatally shot while leading troops up the heights near the village of Queenston, then being held by American militia.
The Raid on Elizabethtown occurred on February 7, 1813, when Benjamin Forsyth and 200 men crossed the frozen St. Lawrence River to occupy Elizabethtown and seize military and public stores, free American prisoners, then capture British military prisoners.
The general had been aware of the honour being offered by the residents of Elizabethtown, but had no chance to give it his official blessing before his death. Provincial officials accepted the new name, which was soon commonly used by residents and visitors. In 1830 the growing population of Brockville had managed to exceed the 1000 mark. This entitled it to be represented by its own elected member in the House of Assembly. Henry Jones, the village postmaster, was elected in October 1830 to the 11th Parliament of the Province.
Brockville became Ontario's first incorporated self-governing town on January 28, 1832, two years before the town of Toronto. By means of the Brockville Police Act, passed by the Legislative Assembly of Upper Canada, Brockville was given the right to govern its own affairs, pass laws and raise taxes. The first elections for the new Board of Police were held on April 2, 1832, to choose four members to the Board. These four in turn chose a fifth member, Daniel Jones, who was also chosen as the first Police Board president, or Mayor of Brockville. In March 1836 he became the first native Upper Canadian to receive a royal knighthood from King William IV, and became "Sir Daniel Jones".
In the 19th century, the town became a local centre of industry, including shipbuilding, saddleries, tanneries, tinsmiths, a foundry, a brewery, and several hotels. By 1854, a patent medicine industry had sprung up in Brockville and in bordering Morristown, NY featuring products such as "Dr Morse's Indian Root Pills", "Dr. McKenzie's Worm Tablets" and later, "Dr. Williams' Pink Pills for Pale People".
In 1855, Brockville was chosen as a divisional point on the line of the new Grand Trunk Railway, which was built and opened from Montreal to Toronto. This contributed to its growth, as it could offer jobs in railway maintenance and related fields. At the same time, the north–south line of the Brockville and Ottawa Railway was built as a transportation link to join the St. Lawrence River ship route with the timber trade of the Ottawa Valley. A well-engineered tunnel for this railway was dug and blasted underneath the middle of Brockville. The Brockville Tunnel was the first railway tunnel of its kind created and opened in Canada.
Brockville and many other towns in Canada West became involved in the threatened Fenian invasion following the close of the American Civil War in 1865. In June 1866, the Irish-American "Brotherhood of Fenians" invaded Canada. They launched raids across the Niagara River into Canada West and from Vermont into Canada East. Canadian Premier John A. Macdonald called on the volunteer militia companies in every town to protect Canada. The Brockville Infantry Company and Brockville Rifle Company (now The Brockville Rifles) were mobilized to protect Brockville. These unsuccessful Fenian Raids were a catalyst that contributed to the creation of the new Dominion of Canada in 1867.
By 1869, Brockville was a town of 5000 people and a station of the Grand Trunk Railway on the St Lawrence river in th Township of Elizabeth County Leeds. Brockville was the County Town of the United Counties of Leeds and Grenville and a port of Entry. Steamers stopped in Brockville daily while plying between Montreal, Kingston, Toronto and Hamilton. The Brockville and Ottawa Railway connected with Smith's Falls, Perth, Almonte, Carleton Place and Sandy Point. In summer, a steam ferry plied every half hour between Brockville and Morrisburg New York.
In 1962 Brockville was granted official status as a city. Its coat of arms features a beehive surrounded by a golden chain and bears the motto Industria, Intelligentia, Prosperitas. This is an official heraldic design. Brockville is one of the few cities that has a recognized heraldic flag.
The primary source for basic documents (vital statistics, land records, wills) for people who lived in the Province of Ontario is the Archives of Ontario, 134 Ian Macdonald Blvd, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M7A 2C5.
Civil registration did not begin in the province until 1869. Before then there may be church records of baptisms and burials. For the most part these are still held by the denomination who recorded them. Copies of marriage records made pre-1869 had to be sent by individual clergymen to the registrar of the county in which the marriage took place. These marriage records are available through Ontario Archives, on micorfilm through LDS libraries, and on paid and unpaid websites, but because they were copied at the registrars' offices, they cannot be considered a primary source.
Vital Records after 1869
Birth, marriage and death registrations are not open to the public until a specific number of years after the event occurred. Births to 1915 are now available [October 2014]; dates for marriages and deaths are later. Birth and death registration was not universally carried out in the early years after its adoption. Deaths were more apt to be reported than births for several years. The more rural the area, the less likely it would be that these happenings were reported to the authorities.
Land Records and Wills
Information on how to access land records and wills is best sought on the Archives of Ontario website. An ancestor's land holding might be found on Canadian County Atlas Digital Project if he was in occupancy circa 1878.
Association for the Preservation of Ontario Land Registry Office Documents (APOLROD). A list of Land Registry Offices for all Counties of Ontario.
The original censuses are in the hands of Library and Archives Canada, known to Canadians as "LAC". Copies of original microfilms are online at the LAC website for all censuses up to 1911. Each census database is preceded with an explanation of the geographical area covered, the amount of material retained (some census division material has been lost), the questions on the census form, and whether there is a name index. Census divisions were redrawn as the population increased and more land was inhabited. The 1921 census is only available through Ancestry.ca, but it is free-to-view.
E-books and Books
Some websites with more local information on Leeds and Grenville Counties