Monday, July 4, 2011

Brockville's Changing Waterfront

By : Dennis Stein

 Few places in Brockville have faced as much evolving change as Blockhouse Island. In the early history of our city, it was indeed an island, and like alll others in the St.Lawrence, belonged to England. It was destined to become 'Hospital Island' in June of 1832, when a series of events occurred, beginning with the ship 'The Carrick', arriving at the port of Quebec from Ireland. The ship carried immigrants from Ireland. A few of these people were feverish, and three days later cholera morbus struck, spreading like wildfire up to Montreal, and then into Upper Canada. Several quarantine hospital sites were erected, such as one on Grosse Ile, Quebec, which stood to screen immigrants to Canada more than a century. Here in Brockville, 'Refuge Island' as it was then known, was set up in June of 1832 to quarantine immigrants wishing to land at Brockville. City Council appointed a Board of Health, and a special police force to assist in enforcing regulation. Thanks to the quick reaction by Council, and the procedures used to house and treat patients, only a handful of people died. By the end of 1832, 9,000 people in this country had died of the disease, more than half in Lower Canada.
  Later, 'Grant's Island' as it was then known, was called into service in 1838 by the military, with a six-pound gun and a wooden blockhouse for barracks, in response to the growing threat of American invasion. Blockhouse Island was never really involved in any fighting, although militiamen from Brockville did see action in that year east of Prescott at the 'Battle of the Windmill'. As the threats of invasion cooled the following year, the island remained a military istallation, still isolated from the mainland for the following two decades.
  During the late 1850's and early 60's, the Island evolved again, becoming the hub of transporting goods and people alike on the Brockville and Ottawa Railway. With the completion of the railway tunnel down to the waterfront, a stretch of land between the mouth of the tunnel and the island was filled with rock and soil, and the island now became part of the railway's terminal, complete with a roundhouse, warehouses, and lumber yards. Blockhouse Island was then used for many years to transfer goods from the railway to waiting ships.
  Recently, Blockhouse Island has become a tourist location, its wooden blockhouse and railway yards all but gone. A popular spot for visitors to our city, it continues to evolve. A short distance away, Tall Ship's Landing is now under construction, along with the Maritime Discovery Centre of the 1000 Islands, a $20 million dollar attraction to showcase wildlife and the environment of our world class tourist hotspot. Both facilities will change the Brockville waterfront yet again...

  For more info about the MDC, visit, and for historical information about Blockhouse Island, visit local historian Doug Grant's website, at

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