The Way Back, Playback
A Long Overdue Celebration of Life
(Published during the week of May 28, 2018.)
On May 22, a customer walked up to the bar at the Royal Canadian Legion (where I work), and complimented me on my previous article. After thanking him, we began discussing various subjects about Cornwall's history. Eventually, the topic of a particular tombstone was brought up, and to my surprise, this special memorial was not known to him. (This is the beauty of "finding" subjects to write about - They tend to find me!)
Between the years 1913 and 1952, what is now known as Heartwood Nursing home (at 201 Eleventh Street East), once operated as a local poor house.
In 1890, Canada created the "House of Refuge Act." This act stated that every county, or union of counties, was to provide a home accompanied by an industrial farm. This act aimed at removing severe cases of destitution from town streets, and organized it with administration.
During the facility's thirty-nine years of operation, 906 residents called Cornwall's House of Refuge home. These people were admitted to the local poor house for various reasons. Some of the reasons for admittance listed in Cornwall's House of Refuge register included: that residents were mentally ill, elderly, unable to work, "idiots", and women who were pregnant out of wedlock.
What surprises the majority of people I discuss this subject with, is that the entire grounds surrounding Heartwood Nursing Home is an unmarked cemetery. In April, May, and June of 1985, the area just West of the building was being transformed into Gretchen Court. During the excavation work on the property (as Benak Limited began digging the foundations for homes), the remains of twenty-nine bodies were discovered. (Residents of Cornwall's House of Refuge with no living relatives to claim the bodies were buried on the property in unmarked graves, some of which have been untouched since their original burials.) The bodies that were discovered in 1985 were moved to St. Lawrence Valley Cemetery, on the outskirts of Long Sault. For the second time, these House of Refuge residents were buried in unmarked graves.
On June 23, 2016, citizens from our community helped me write a new chapter in Cornwall's history: after eleven months of fundraising, a monument was unveiled, commemorating the lives of the twenty-nine former House of Refuge residents, and a small ceremony took place. Surrounded by dozens of people, their graves were blessed by Father Haley, and for the first time since their original burials, they received the celebration of life they had always deserved.
The Gray Family and their slave, John Baker
(Published during the week of May 14, 2018.)
James Gray was a Lieutenant-Colonel in the British Army. At the end of the American Revolution, British officers were given large land grants to settle into new colonies. Where Gray’s Creek is situated today, is the land that Colonel James Gray owned and lived on. (It has obviously been named after him.)
Colonel James Gray had four coloured slaves. Two were women, and two were men. The men were brothers: Simon and John Baker.
James Gray died in 1795, and left his land and property to his son, Robert Isaac Dey Gray. When Robert took control of his father’s property, he decided to travel to New York State, and purchased a coloured slave named Dorinda. Dorinda was Simon and John's mother.
Robert brought Dorinda back to his farm, and freed her. Dorinda ended up working for Captain Samuel Anderson, a local judge, as his house servant. (Captain Anderson’s land is down the road from Gray’s Creek, where the Glen-Stor-Dun-Lodge is today. There is a plaque detailing Captain Anderson's history, just West of the property, close to the sidewalk for the public to view.)
Robert Gray eventually became the Attorney-General of Upper Canada. He tried to create new laws which aimed at giving slaves a better quality of life.
Robert died in November 1804, along with his slave Simon. They were on a ship in Lake Ontario when a storm hit. The ship sank, taking both men down with it. In his will, Robert freed his remaining three slaves, and left them money and land to support themselves. In a Toronto newspaper from December 1869, John Baker is quoted as saying, "I and mother were
freed by Gray's will. We got a little of the money he left for us, but not much."
The Gray family has a very interesting history, but what captivated my interest the most while I began researching about James Gray and his son, was the history of their slaves. The slave that caught my attention, was John Baker.
John Baker was unlike most coloured slaves in the area. He was well-educated, and he could read and write. In his memoirs, he states that he worked for a judge who lived in York (Toronto) after Robert Gray died and freed him. In 1812, John volunteered for the Upper Canada militia to repel the American invasion. He already had military experience, because he had also fought in the American Revoultion. John fought in several major battles: Fort Erie, Sackett’s Harbour, and Lundy’s Lane. At the end of the war John was given a pension for his efforts. He was granted one shilling a day for the rest of his life. In 1815, John enlisted in the British army to fight in the Napolenoic Wars in Europe. He fought in two battles, and claimed in his memoirs that he saw Napolean riding his horse.
John eventually returned to Upper Canada, and lived in Cornwall for the rest of his life. For the last few years of his life, he was seen daily, limping down Pitt Street to visit P. E. Adams' store. He completed odd jobs for Mr. Adams, and always sat in one particular seat in the store. It is said that the floor was worn away in the place where his feet always rested.
John died on January 17, 1871, and the local newspaper at that time claimed that he was 105 years old at the time of his death. The Canadian Encyclopedia states, "In some ways, Baker's life was unique. He may have been the last surviving Upper Canadian slave. He had seen his adopted homeland become Upper Canada, Canada West, and then, the Dominion of Canada."
(Published during the week of March 19, 2018.)
In 1962, Cornwall would see a new bridge lining the sky for the next fifty-two years. Although some considered it to be an eyesore, I believe it was a Cornwall icon. The North Channel Bridge that linked together Cornwall and Cornwall Island, opened to traffic on July 3, 1962. This bridge, a high level structure, measured 1625 meters long, 8.2 meters wide, and was 36.6 metres above the canal below it.
Leaving Mattawa behind, Archie Latour needed a place to stay while he worked on Cornwall's new bridge. He rented a room from Rolande Séguin at 219 Sydney Street, which, at that time, operated as a boarding house. Travelling away from home to look for work resulted in a construction worker finding the love of his life. The couple would later have five children, and as the years passed by, they would be blessed with seven grandchildren... One of whom, was me.
Out and About in Cornwall in 1958
(Published during the week of January 22, 2018.)
I have often been asked how I choose column ideas or projects to research. The truth is, these projects and subjects always seem to find me. Earlier this week I was gifted a Cook Book from 1958. This faded blue soft covered book holds dozens upon dozens of recipes, with each submitter listed underneath their prized dish. What I found most exciting (aside from a sugar cookie recipe from the 1800s!), was the advertisements. Unexpectedly, this Cook Book painted a picture of the different businesses that were around Cornwall in 1958.
On the first page of advertisements, Bingloe’s Furniture is listed. Bringloe’s was located at 21 Pitt Street, beside the Lloyd George Hotel. This section of buildings on Pitt Street was owned by partners Lloyd Gallinger and George Bringloe. Today, the Cornwall Square stands in its place. Other furniture stores listed were: Julius Miller Furniture Company, located at 136 Fourth Street East, and Pearson Furniture, located at 130 Sydney Street.
Some popular restaurants from the 50s included: Shirley’s Restaurant (near the bus terminal), the Cornwallis Hotel which was demolished in 1982, and the Jade Garden Restaurant at 25 Second Street East. I know many of you will remember #17 from the menu at the Jade Garden!
I am amazed at how many shoe and clothing stores Cornwall had in the 50s. I think it comes as no surprise that the majority of these stores were located on Pitt Street: Well’s Shoe Shoppe Limited, The Marilyn Shoppe (ladies wear), Nyman’s Shoe Store, Clark’s Shoe Store (which served Cornwall for 116 years and closed in 2012), Herman’s “Smart Women’s Sportwear and Dresses”, and Martin’s Ladies Wear. Clothing stores in other areas of Cornwall included: Canadian Men’s Wear (on Montreal Road), Schulman’s and Goldhamer’s Limited who both sold “Fine Clothes for Men and Boys”, Dover’s Men’s Wear at the corner of Pitt and Second, Levesque’s Children’s Wear at 29 Second Street East, and Cornwall Pants and Prince Clothing Company.
Other stores that were included throughout the advertisements were: The City Smoke Shop and The Terminal Smoke Shop both located at Second Street East, and both of Fullerton Drug Stores locations (Corner of Pitt and Second and 354 Montreal Road.) Both Cornwall East Side Dairy Company (on Race Street) and Rivermead Dairy (at 37 Cumberland Street) were listed as well.
History is all around us. History is the buildings that align Pitt Street, the stores that have come
and gone, and can be found through the various writings that have been left behind... like in a
Cook Book from 1958.
Memories of Downtown Cornwall
(Published during the week of January 8th, 2018.)
Pitt Street has remained one of Cornwall’s main arteries since our city was founded in 1784. Old postcards of Pitt Street depict dozens of buildings and establishments along the city streets, and although these businesses continuously changed as the years have passed, many of these “Cornwall landmarks” have held a lasting impression on city residents today.
Pitt Street once mirrored Sydney Street, and had buildings aligning the road right up until Water Street. In 1979, many buildings and a sizable portion of Horovitz Park were removed to create room for Cornwall Square. One “hot spot” that was lost, was the Lloyd George Hotel. Many people enjoyed a 10-cent draft at the Wharf in the basement of the building.
On Monday, August 7, 1933 a group of about three young boys were seen playing behind Fursey’s Garage and the Victoria Arena. (Today, this area is behind Riley’s Bakery where the new Courthouse presently is.) In the midst of their amusement, it is claimed by news reports that the boys decided to make a small fire that they never bothered to put out. Cornwall would witness its biggest disaster, causing businesses between Second and Third Streets (on the West side of Pitt Street) to be completely gutted and destroyed by flames. The estimated cause of damage was $1,000,000.
In the 1950s, the streets were often flooded with people, so much so, that city residents were assisted across the streets on busier days by a police officer at the corner of Pitt and Second Streets. A staple fixture at the North-West corner of that busy location, was the Post Office building. Unfortunately, the city believed the building would “topple over”, so it’s fate became the wrecking ball in 1954. Despite the city’s fears of it falling over, it took over 120 blows from the wrecking ball to make the building budge even the slightest.
In 1970s, Pitt Street was a two-way street. Many familiar stores aligned the streets with neon signs to greet their clientele. Many people will remember: Jack Lee's, Peoples, the Metropolitan, the Palace Theatre, Millers Men’s Wear, and Fords Jewelers and the New York Café which burned down in August 1972.
In the 1980s, the Colossus Restaurant was located at the South-East corner of Pitt and Second. During this time, Pitt Street (between First and Second, and Second and Third) was a Promenade.
Pitt Street has had
dozens of makeovers, been faced with countless fires, and has changed from a
Promenade, a one-way, and a two-way street. It comes with no surprise that one
of Cornwall’s most historic locations, is Pitt Street.