Place:Belle River, Essex, Ontario, Canada

NameBelle River
TypeTown or village
Coordinates42.3°N 82.717°W
Located inEssex, Ontario, Canada
See alsoMaidstone, Essex, Ontario, Canadatownship in which Belle River located until 1999
Lakeshore, Essex, Ontario, Canadamunicipality in which Belle River located since 1999
source: Getty Thesaurus of Geographic Names

Belle River is a "small urban community" in the former Township of Maidstone in Essex County in Ontario, Canada. Since the municipal reorganization of 1999 it has been located in new Municipality of Lakeshore.


the text in this section is copied from an article in Wikipedia

Areas along Lake St. Clair and the Puce, Belle, and Ruscom rivers were originally occupied by the Huron and Wyandot First Nations. Some French colonists associated with Fort Detroit and the fur trade settled in this area in the 18th century. Their descendants are known as Fort Detroit French. They also came from Sandwich, where colonists had developed farms at what was known as Petite Côte, a bend in the Detroit River.

The coast of Lake St. Clair and lots fronting the Puce, Belle, and Ruscom rivers were first surveyed in 1793 by Patrick McKniff. The area was not fully divided into concessions and lots, however, until the rear lines of the townships and the Middle Road (today County Road 46) were surveyed by Mahlon Burwell in 1823. Land speculation was endemic in Essex County at that time, as in many other parts of Upper Canada. Much of the present town of Lakeshore was once owned by a single speculator, the fur trader John Askin: by 1797, he held 80 lots, concentrated primarily along the Pêche (Pike) Puce, Belle, and Ruscom rivers.

From the 1840s, the town received numerous Irish immigrants, fleeing the Great Famine. Later additional waves of French Canadians migrated from Quebec. Development was slow until the construction of a series of railroads through the area. These include the Great Western Railway, opened in 1854 and passing through Belle River, and the Canada Southern Railway (later owned by New York Central and Michigan Central), opened in 1872 and passing through Comber. These stimulated the settlement by new migrants from the East.

Following the 1833 Slavery Abolition Act that abolished slavery in most of the British Empire, the Lakeshore region became one of several end points of the Underground Railroad, an informal network running from the South of the United States to help refugee slaves gain freedom. In 1851, the Refugee Home Society was founded in Detroit by Michigan and Ontario abolitionists. Under the direction of Henry Walton Bibb, the society purchased scattered lots in and around Maidstone, Puce, and Belle River to resettle refugee blacks. Although Michigan was a free state, slavecatchers operated in Detroit to capture refugees for the high bounties offered under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.

The two oldest communities in Lakeshore are Comber and Belle River. Comber was settled in 1837 by John Gracey and William MacDowell, two Scotch-Irish Presbyterians from Comber, Ireland. It was named after their home town in 1848 or 1850 when a post office was opened there in Gracey’s home.

Belle River, named for the river where it developed, was incorporated as a village on November 26, 1874, but its origins can be traced to the Jesuit Mission of St. Jude. The mission was founded in 1834 to serve the religious needs of the local population of French Catholics. The mission did not receive a resident pastor until 1857, after the Great Western Railway opened the area to large-scale immigration. Over the course of the 1870s, the town’s population was tripled by an influx of settlers from the province of Quebec, sometimes referred to as Canadian French, in contrast to the Fort Detroit French. The earliest industries in the town were operated by Luc and Denis Ouellette, who established a sawmill and gristmill on opposite sides of the river.

In 1881, the population of Comber was 250 and that of Belle River was 650.

Stoney Point was settled by 1851 and incorporated as a village in 1881, at which time it had a population of 375. The church of St. Joachim, which became the centre of the village of the same name, was completed in 1882 and enlarged in 1891. It was established to serve the needs of French Catholics in the area along the Ruscom River, who were distant from the existing parishes in Belle River and Stoney Point.[1]

Belle River was well known for bootlegging during Prohibition in the United States. The Wellington hotel, once located on Notre Dame, the town's main street, exported alcohol to the United States. Owners and residents of many American-owned cottages on Charron Beach Road also participated in bootlegging liquor.

In the 1920s, James Scott Cooper, a well-known local entrepreneur and bootlegger, built mansions from his profits in Walkerville and Belle River. The Cooper Court Motel and Bar in Belle River, built in 1920, still operates today. Cooper was a philanthropist and contributed greatly to the construction of Belle River's first high school 1922, St. James High School; it was named informally to honour Cooper's generosity. The building still stands today, housing the local Canadian Legion on Notre Dame Street.


A map showing the townships of Essex County as they existed from about 1800 till the 1880s. From 1800 until 1840 Ontario was known as Upper Canada, and from 1841 until 1867 it was known as Canada West.Image:Essex 1885 Ont Arch redraw.png
A map of 1951 illustrating the townships and larger urban areas as they existed in Essex County from the 1880s until 1999.
A map of Essex county since the municipal reorganization of 1999. Discussions started in 1990, but regulations were not put in place until 1999. Except for the City of Windsor, the new municipalities are called "towns".

The first two maps are based on illustrations in the Archives of Ontario website. The third map is based on one in Wikimedia Commons.

Research Tips

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.

Early Records

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.
Images and indexes of civil registrations for the "viewable" years can be found on paid websites, and indexes only on FamilySearch. The FamilySearch Wiki on Ontario Vital Records explains how these records are organized and their availability.
In September 2014 announced that its paid website has been subjected to a "houseclean" of its Ontario BMD database, adding data that had been omitted and making many corrections. Its provision now includes

  • Births, with 2,172,124 records covering 1869-1913.
  • Marriages, with 3,393,369 records for 1801-1928 including Ontario county, district and Roman Catholic origins as well as province-wide civil registration.
  • Deaths, with 2,190,030 records comprising Ontario civil registrations of deaths, 1869-1938 and registrations of Ontario overseas deaths for 1939-1947.

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 1921. 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.
Other websites, some paid and some free, also provide Canadian census originals and/or indexes online. One can also view censuses on microfilm at the LAC, at the Archives of Ontario (see address above), or at large libraries throughout Canada.

Hard-to-Find Places

E-books, Books and Newspapers

  • The Internet Archive, particularly texts from Canadian universities, can contain interesting material
  • Our Roots is a Canadian website similar to The Internet Archive
  • Global Genealogy is an online bookshop specializing in Ontario material who will ship anywhere in the world.
  • The Ancestor Hunt is a blog listing old Ontario newspapers that are available online, both free and pay websites. This is a very extensive list.

Some websites with more local information on Essex County

source: Family History Library Catalog
This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original content was at Belle River, Ontario. The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with WeRelate, the content of Wikipedia is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.