Cobourg is a town in the Canadian province of Ontario, located in Southern Ontario east of Toronto and east of Oshawa. It is the largest town in and seat of Northumberland County. Its nearest neighbour is Port Hope, to the west. It is located along Highway 401 (exits 472 and 474) and the former Highway 2 (now Northumberland County Road 2). To the south, Cobourg borders Lake Ontario. To the north, east and west, it is surrounded by Hamilton Township.
The settlements that make up today's Cobourg were founded by United Empire Loyalists in 1798. Some of the founding fathers and early settlers were Eluid Nickerson, Joseph Ash, Zacheus Burnham and Asa Burnham. The Town was originally a group of smaller villages such as Amherst and Hardscrabble, which were later named Hamilton. In 1808 it became the district town for the Newcastle District. It was renamed Cobourg in 1818, in recognition of the marriage of Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld (later Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, who would later become King of Belgium).
By the 1830s Cobourg had become a regional centre, much due to its fine harbour on Lake Ontario. In 1835 the Upper Canada Academy was established in Cobourg by Egerton Ryerson and the Wesleyan Conference of Bishops. On July 1, 1837, Cobourg was officially incorporated as a town. In 1841 the Upper Canada Academy's name was changed to Victoria College. In 1842 Victoria College was granted powers to confer degrees. Victoria College remained in Cobourg until 1892, when it was moved to Toronto and federated with the University of Toronto. In 1842, John Strachan founded the Diocesan Theological Institute in Cobourg, an Anglican seminary that became integrated into the University of Trinity College in Toronto in 1852.
Standing at the heart of the downtown is Victoria Hall, a building that now serves as the town hall, as well as home of the Art Gallery of Northumberland, the Cobourg Concert Hall, and an Old Bailey-style courtroom that is now used as the Council chamber. Victoria Hall was designed by architect Kivas Tully. The landmark is known for its impressive stone work. Charles Thomas Thomas (1820-1867), an English-born master stonecarver and building contractor, executed the fine stone carvings, including the bearded faced keystone over the main entrance into the building. Victoria Hall was officially opened in 1860 by the Prince of Wales, later to become Edward VII of the United Kingdom, King Edward VII. At that time, Cobourg was a significant town in the Province of Canada, and some townspeople felt that Cobourg would be a suitable capital for the newly united provinces; this privilege went to Ottawa, Ontario, however.
In the late 19th century and early 20th century, wealthy Americans built enormous summer homes there, a few of which still stand today. One notable home, on King Street East, became the Brookside School - now a youth detention centre. A major ferry service connected Cobourg and Rochester, New York from 1907 to 1952, transporting passengers and cargo across Lake Ontario, allowing Americans to reach the town more readily. The Cobourg and Peterborough Railway ran northward over Rice Lake to Peterborough, but the lines collapsed into Rice Lake in the late 1800s. After World War II and the advent of improved transportation technology, this economic link decreased in importance.
Cobourg was the site of No. 26 Ordnance Depot, later Canadian Forces Station Cobourg, from 1953 to 1971.
Throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s, the town invested heavily in purchasing property along the waterfront and beautifying the area. A boardwalk was developed to connect the harbour and large sandy beach while further pathways were created to encompass Victoria Park and the historic downtown. Because of this renewal and revitalization, many community activities now revolve in and around these spaces.
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 Northumberland County