The City of Cornwall is steeped in a rich and diverse history. Originally named New Johnstown, the name was changed to Cornwall in honour of Prince George, the Duke of Cornwall. The City was later incorporated as a town in 1834 and became a city in 1945.

 1784 and On - A Brief Look at Cornwall's History

A Loyalist Settlement
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.

War of 1812
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.

John Strachan and John Sandfield MacDonald
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 woollen 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 that had a significant influence on the City’s economy was built during this period, namely the Toronto Paper Company, which later become Domtar.
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. Another large industry of note, CIL which became ICI, established in Cornwall in 1935.

St. Lawrence Seaway
Cornwall’s steady growth continued 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 development of the largest international hydro-electric power dam.
For the past several decades, Cornwall’s economy has continued to grow and change. Today, Cornwall is a modern community with a very diverse economy that includes manufacturing, logistics/distribution and service sectors.

 A Francophone Presence

Due to its Loyalist beginnings, Cornwall could not at first boast of a substantial francophone community. The first official record of a francophone population dates to 1829, showing that 74 out of 812 Cornwallites were of French origin. Twenty years later, the census recorded that the number had jumped to 967.

The first important influx of francophones into Cornwall and the surrounding area took place between 1870 and 1890, due to the opening of textile and paper mills, and the overall industrialization of the City, with the subsequent availability of employment opportunities.

Since then, the francophone community has contributed towards giving the City of Cornwall its unique bilingual character.

The early nucleus of the francophone community was Nativity Roman Catholic Church, which was built during 1887-92 from plans drawn by parish priest, Father P. DeSaunhac.

Cornwall elected its first francophone mayor, Angus Lalonde, in 1904.

To learn more about francophonie in Cornwall, visit the Réseau des villes francophones et francophiles d'Amérique's website by clicking here.

The above has been prepared from a variety of sources.

To read the full text, visit Choose Cornwall's website. Other useful resources include the Cornwall Community Museum and Heritage-Patrimoine Cornwall.

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Kevin Lajoie
Tourism Coordinator
100 Water Street East, Box 877, Cornwall ON, K6H 5T9
T.: 613-930-2787 ext. 3547
F.: 613-933-0745
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