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Cornwall, Ontario

Last modified: 2005-02-12 by phil nelson
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[Cornwall, Ontario]
by Blas Delgado

See also:

The flag

The flag consists of the town crest on a Canadian pale.


Cornwall was first settled in 1784 by United Empire Loyalists consisting of the officers and families of the First Battalion King’s Royal Regiment of New York and a contingent of the 84th Royal Highland Emigrants. This group of disbanded soldiers and Loyalist refugees, led by Lieutenant-Colonel Sir John Johnson, came to the scenic and fertile site, intent on building a new life.

For years, these Loyalists had fought on behalf of Britain in Northern New York and Vermont during the American Revolutionary War. These people came to settle and prosper on the lands which the Crown had granted them in reward for their loyal service during the war.

Owing to its strategic location, Cornwall served as a garrison town, as well as a communications and supply post during the War of 1812. At nearby Crysler’s farm, the Loyalists successfully repelled American troops in one of the most famous battles of the War.

Soon after its settlement, Cornwall evolved into an administrative centre for Eastern Ontario and made important contributions to the province’s growth.

Under the influence of schoolmaster John Strachan, who would become the first Anglican Bishop of Upper Canada, Cornwall was transformed into a unique centre of learning and political influence that served as training ground for the “Family Compact”, Ontario’s ruling class until the 1850’s. One graduate was John Sandfield MacDonald, the first Premier of Ontario.

This early and colourful history makes Cornwall one of Ontario’s oldest permanent settlements. In 1984, the city recognized its historical heritage through a year-long celebration. The Bicentennial was marked by various activities, including the publication of a 500-page book, entitled From Royal Township to Industrial City, that sketched in detail Cornwall’s distinctive past.

An Industrial Centre

Significant chapters in Cornwall’s history were written during the latter half of the 19th century as the town emerged as an important industrial centre in Eastern Ontario.

Construction of the Cornwall Canal between 1834-42 provided transportation and water power for the numerous mills and later textile plants which located along the waterfront.

Industrial sites were first laid out in the mid 1840’s, and soon flour mills, tanneries, and woolen mills were in operation. Among the first major manufacturers to locate in Cornwall were the Stormont, Dundas Canada Cotton Mills.

The early growth in Cornwall’s industrial sector can be attributed to many of the same factors that continue to attract manufacturers to modern-day Cornwall: unlimited waterpower awaited exploitation, a major market, Montreal, was in close proximity, and a labour force was at hand.

The industrial expansion that occurred on the waterfront from 1870 to 1880, at a time when the rest of the country was experiencing severe recession, resulted in a doubling of the town’s population, from 2,033 in 1871 to 4,468 in 1881. A major industry which still provides a significant influence on the City’s economy was built during this period, namely, the Toronto Paper Company, which now operates as a division of Domtar Specialty Fine Papers Inc.

Amidst this flurry of activity, a historic event took place in April 1883, when electric lighting was installed in the Canada Cotton mill.

Another period of staggering growth took place between 1921 and 1931, when Cornwall’s population increased by fifty percent. A highlight from this era was the establishment of Courtaulds Canada Inc.’s rayon manufacturing mill. In addition, Canadian Industries Limited (C.I.L.), now I.C.I. Canada Inc., has operated a large plant in Cornwall since 1935.

Cornwall’s steady growth was capped in the 1950’s with the building of the St. Lawrence Seaway. Construction of the Seaway began on August 10, 1954 and was finalized on Dominion Day, July 1, 1958. Thousands of spectators watched as thirty tons of dynamite were detonated causing the last coffer dam to flood the riverbed and Lake St. Lawrence. This historic event marked the largest international hydro-electric power dam.

City of Cornwall