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.
Cornwall was first settled in 1784 by the United Empire Loyalists. 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. Their intent was to build new life on the scenic and fertile land.
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.
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. John Strachan also began the Cornwall Grammar School which later became the Cornwall Collegiate Vocational School, one of the oldest educational facilities in Ontario.
An Industrial Centre
In the latter half of the 19th century, the town emerged as an important industrial centre in Eastern Ontario.
Construction of the Cornwall Canal between the years 1834 and 1842 provided transportation and water power for the numerous mills and textile plants which were 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. In April 1833, electric lighting was installed in the Canada Cotton Milll, and this historic event was the first ever industrial application of Thomas Edison’s amazing invention.
The industrial expansion that occurred on the waterfront from 1870 to 1880, at a time when the rest of the country was experiencing a severe recession, resulted in a doubling of the town’s population.
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. For more information about Cornwall’s history, please visit the following websites: