Written by: Russ Disotell & Gordon Beck from Leeds & Grenville Rural Landscapes
Brockville’s Court House Avenue may be the most impressive urban panoramic vista in all of Ontario. Add a splash of colour from the springtime tulip beds and the issue is settled. If you have an interest in Ontario history, architecture, or photography then this is a setting you shouldn’t miss.
It may come as a surprise to many that Brockville is the oldest incorporated city in Ontario, having been granted that status on January 28, 1832 with the passing of the Brockville Police Act by the Legislative Assembly of Upper Canada, 1832. Yes, before Toronto and other larger urban centers.
The spectacular neo-classical Brockville Courthouse built between 1842 and 1844 crowns the crest of Court House Avenue. The statue of Lady Justice that tops the building is locally known as Sally Grant after a remark at her 1845 installation that she bore a resemblance to the rather tall, local dignitary Major Alexander Grant. Unlike most of her kind she has no blindfold, perhaps because of the spectacular view all the way to the St. Lawrence.
The impressive Courthouse Green has its origin in the traditions of the United Empire Loyalist founders of Brockville, who came from communities with large courthouse greens capable of accommodating town meetings. Today the Green continues to serve that purpose as the site for many city celebrations.
Surrounding the Green are three spectacular churches, First Presbyterian (northwest), Wall Street United (northeast) and First Baptist (southeast). The present incarnations of all three date from expansions that began in the late 1870’s. Their steeples and others from downtown churches can be seen from the St. Lawrence River and led to one of the city’s nicknames, “City of Churches”.
A handsome bust of Sir Isaac Brock, hero of the War of 1812, for whom the city is named, sits at the south end of the Green. The General has one of the most panoramic views in the province as the wide boulevards of Courthouse Avenue gracefully descend to the St. Lawrence. Slightly to the east, still on Courthouse Green, is the site of an October 1831 riot between Reform supporters of William Lyon Mackenzie and Orangemen led by Ogle Gowan on the occasion of a Gowan-Mackenzie debate at the nearby Methodist Church. A stone’s throw further east you will find the site of the first Orange Lodge in Canada, founded by Gowan.
On the west side of Courthouse stands Brockville’s former Post Office completed in 1886 and designed by Thomas Fuller, the Chief Dominion Architect. The ornately carved pink Credit Valley sandstone structure is a testament to the skills of 19th century stonemasons. Fuller was responsible for many prominent Canadian architectural treasures including the Parliament Buildings, Library of Parliament, Halifax Armouries, the administration buildings at the Royal Military College and St. Stephen-in-the-Fields Anglican Church in Toronto. His great grandson, Simon Fuller, purchased the property on E-Bay (!) and has lovingly restored it to its original splendor.
The gorgeous John H Fulford Memorial Fountain with its ornately sculpted fish and turtles sits amidst the flower beds of the boulevard. It was erected by an appreciative populace in memory of the one time mayor. At the foot of the boulevard is the Brockville War Memorial erected in 1924. The figure atop the Memorial is modeled after Major Thain MacDowell, one time Brockville resident, who was one of four Canadians to receive the Victoria Cross at Vimy Ridge and the only one to survive World War One.
Grab a camera, some sunscreen and enjoy the view!