Cornwall is a city in eastern Ontario, Canada, and the seat of the United Counties of Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry. Cornwall is Ontario's easternmost city, located on the Saint Lawrence River, in the Quebec City–Windsor Corridor along Ontario Highway 401, and is the urban centre for surrounding communities, including Long Sault and Ingleside to the west, Mohawk Territory of Akwesasne to the south, St. Andrew's and Avonmore to the north, and Glen Walter, Martintown, Williamstown, and Lancaster to the east.
Cornwall lies on the 45th parallel, approximately southeast of Ottawa, the national capital, southwest of Montreal, Quebec's largest city, and northeast of Toronto, the provincial capital and Canada's largest city. It is named after the English Duchy of Cornwall; the city's coat of arms is based on that of the duchy with its colours reversed and the addition of a "royal tressure", a Scottish symbol of royalty.
Eastern Ontario has always been a highway or corridor through which people moved, a corridor used by migration and conquest. Prior to European colonization, the Mohawks and Six Nations Iroquois settled and raided through the St. Lawrence valley. The French and British fought over the waterway, and after the American revolution, in 1812–14 it became a battleground between Americans and Canadians. Formally founded to be a new home for refugees, it remained a home for refugees and migrants for much of its history.
Early settlement of the region is largely undocumented, though oral histories and early accounts suggest that settlers, traders and farmers existed in the area long before formal recognition.
The post-contact regional population was a mixture of French Canadian, Ojibwe and Mohawk residents. To this was added an influx of American English loyalists and refugees from the Thirteen Colonies (now the United States), French Canadian and Acadian migrants, and later, poor Scottish and Irish immigrants and refugees. These different groups mixed and integrated over time, with family names and histories reflecting a blending of different backgrounds that was typical of Eastern Ontario.
Smaller but nevertheless impressive contributions in the region were made by everyone from Jewish traders, craftsmen and merchants, Eastern European refugees and even former slaves. Many of these stories go unreported. A good example is John Baker, who died in Cornwall in 1871 at the age of 93. Born in Lower Canada, he was said to be the last Canadian born into slavery, and had been an active soldier in the War of 1812, fighting in both Canada and Europe. Slavery was ended in the colony of Upper Canada in stages, beginning in 1793 when importing slaves was banned and culminating in 1819, when Upper Canada Attorney-General John Robinson declared any slaves living in Canada free, making Upper Canada the first place in the British Empire to unequivocally move towards abolition. Most of these former slaves settled and integrated into the same communities where they were freed. By 1833, all slaves in the British Empire were free, and Britain became the first major state in world history to abolish slavery. John Baker, the last slave to be born into slavery in Canada, died in Cornwall.
The aftermath of the American Revolution resulted in the formal division of Upper and Lower Canada (later, Ontario and Quebec) to accommodate loyalists fleeing persecution in the new United States, and distribution of land throughout Southern Ontario brought major change to Eastern Ontario. Cornwall and the surrounding area, originally called "Royal Settlement #2" and then "New Jamestown", was initially a rough place, and was largely left to its own devices. This reportedly bred a local culture of self-reliance. Governments have typically neglected the area, treating it as little more than a transit corridor. This began very early, with the founding of the city.
"The original 516 settlers arrived in Royal Township #2 with minimal supplies and faced years of hard work and possible starvation. Upon their departure from military camps in Montreal, Pointe Claire, Saint Anne, and Lachine in the fall of 1784, loyalists were given a tent, one month’s worth of food rations, clothes, and agricultural provisions by regiment commanders. They were promised one cow for every two families, an ax, and other necessary tools in the near future. For the next three years, bateaux crews delivered rations to the township, after which residents were left to fend for themselves."
The region's spirit of enterprise and fortitude was well known in the 19th century. David Thompson, the Welsh-Canadian explorer who mapped the Far West and was called the greatest land geographer in history, drew many of his traveling companions from Cornwall's rural hinterland, drawing on Scottish and native settlers, and himself lived in Williamstown.
Recently, Cornwall has seen an uptick in the arrival of new immigrants, who tend to integrate and better-off than immigrants in other parts of the country.
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 Stormont County