Bronte Harbour Tourist Area - Bronte Business Improvement Area
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History of Bronte

Bronte History

Bronte  is located within Trafalgar Township (area 67,055 acres (271 km2)), opened in 1806, the year of the Battle of Trafalgar. The township was settled in 1807. Community centres were Milton, Oakville, Bronte.

 Pre-colonial Period and European Settlement

From its early beginnings as a shipping depot for wheat and lumber, to its importance as a fishing village and present role as a regional recreational marina, Bronte is a community defined by its strong ties to the Lake Ontario waterfront.

The Mississaugas, a sub-tribe of the Anishinaabe First Nations people, inhabited the area around the mouth of Twelve Mile Creek prior to the arrival of Europeans in Halton region and the New Purchase in 1805 declared the area a fishing and hunting reserve.[1] However, after the War of 1812, the demand for land in southern Ontario increased dramatically and lots began to be sold or leased to European settlers and United Empire Loyalists.  In 1814, Philip Sovereign bought a lot on the west side of the Twelve Mile Creek and John Belyea leased land from the Mississaugas on the east side of the creek.[2]

In 1820, the five Mississauga Chiefs ceded the reserve land to European settlement.[3]  Lots were purchased at public auction in 1826 by notable early Bronte settlers William Peacock, Joseph Hixon and Asabel Davis, but the land was not immediately developed.  The town site at the mouth of the Creek was surveyed in 1834 by William Hawkins, Deputy Provincial Surveyor, and as the town lots were sold, the money was deposited in an account for the Mississaugas, who had re-located to a small government-provided village on the west bank of the Credit River.[4]  The original survey of Bronte Village went to Rebecca Street (then Concession Line) to the north, and East Street and West Street respectively, and the lake to the south.

The village was named for Lord Nelson, the British naval hero who received the Duchy of Bronte from King Ferdinand of Naples and Siciliy in 1799.  Townships of the area also bore tribute to Lord Nelson: Nelson Township and Trafalgar Township.

In 1837, Samuel Bealy Harrison acquired Joseph Hixon’s mill lands and built a saw and grist mill, and went on to petition the government, fundraise and eventually formed a public company to create a harbour at the mouth of the creek.  Bronte Harbour was completed in 1856, and Bronte rapidly became a popular regional port for wheat, fruit and lumber exports.[5] Skilled ship builders gravitated towards Bronte, capitalizing on the successful harbour community and a plentiful supply of lumber.[6]

The harbour activity attracted businesses to the Bronte area and offered increased trade opportunities for area farmers. Hotels were built to cater to overnight visitors, farmers and businessmen and the Thompson Hotel was established as a stage coach stop. During the early 1850s, the village reportedly had over 200 inhabitants, plus two hotels, a saw mill, two grist mills, a clothing factory, a shingle mill, a wagon works and a blacksmith shop.[7]  The permanent residents of early Bronte Village were largely labourers, mariners, and farmers.

Bronte Road

This road, also known as Regional Highway 25 or the Veteran’s Highway, links the historic villages of Bronte and Milton and is a busy highway in the west end of Oakville.  The highway runs from Bronte Village across the QEW up to Palermo where it intersects with Dundas Street and continues on to Milton.  Bronte Road was originally known as Trafalgar Street and Lakeshore Road (formerly Triller Street) were the main arterial roads in Bronte Village.  Bronte Road was used as one of the main trade routes to and from Halton County (i.e. Georgetown, Acton, Milton), especially during the wheat boom of the early 1850s.

Development of Industry

While the harbour was the centre of Bronte industry, its success and prosperity was limited by a drop in the grain trade and the newly developed railway to the north, which began to shift shipping interests to favour Hamilton and Toronto.[8] When the Grand Trunk Railroad opened its track between Montreal and Sarnia, passing through Georgetown and Acton, most farmers in Halton County began carrying their wagonloads of grain to these towns, eliminating the necessity of long wagon trips south to Bronte.[9]  Between 1856 and 1877, the population of the village dropped from a peak of 550 to approximately 220.[10] As the shipping industry in Bronte began to decline, commercial interests shifted to the utilization of other natural resources. “Stone-hooking”, the dredging of stone from the lake bottom, became an important source of income in Bronte.

Commercial fishing also became an important local industry and fishing activities defined the waterfront landscape at the turn of the century through to the 1930s. However, declining fish populations and the great storm of 1944 brought the fishing industry into a slump from which it never recovered.

As a result of the stonehooking, fishing and shipping industries, Bronte became known for its skilled woodworking tradesmen, particularly ship-building.  Local carpenters and shipbuilders created vessels suitable for each of the industries, including large two-masted schooners, smaller two-masted fishing boats and flat bottom schooners for stone-hooking.

With the slowing of industry at the Bronte harbour between WWI and WWII, the area became known as a summer resort location for vacationing families from Toronto and the surrounding area.  While there were some cottages built specifically to meet this new demand, it was not uncommon for low-income Bronte residents to move out of their homes for a period of time so that they could rent to families on holiday.

Twentieth Century ChangesUntil 1945 Bronte was, in all respects, a village-size community. It was small in area and had clearly defined edges, marked by Lake Ontario to the south and otherwise surrounded by open countryside. After 1945, however, the character of Bronte began to change dramatically. The increase in automobile traffic between Toronto and Hamilton after the Second World War necessitated the development of Highway 2 (Triller St./Lakeshore Rd.) and a new bridge over Bronte Creek.  This bridge was the only crossing south of Highway 5, and the volume of traffic through Bronte increased significantly. The resulting boom of commercial development along Lakeshore Rd. was vehicle-oriented.

Bronte was only officially incorporated as a Village in 1951, but reverted to Trafalgar Township in 1959.  Three years later, Bronte, with the rest of Trafalgar Township was amalgamated into the Town of Oakville, as widespread suburban development engulfed the countryside that previously defined the border of Bronte village.  By 1960, Bronte was one small section of the continuous belt of suburbia between Hamilton and Toronto, with no perceivable edges.  However, despite new residential and intensive commercial development along Lakeshore Road, Bronte has maintained its identity as a village community. The map in Fig. 2.4 illustrates the date of construction of many properties within the study area, based on available MPAC data.  While much of the commercial centre of Bronte Village has been rebuilt, the map shows the development of the surrounding stable residential areas.

courtesy of Town of Oakville Heritage Study

[1] Philip Brimacombe, The Story of Bronte Harbour. (Boston Mills Press: 1976), 7.

[2] Unknown, Bronte: New Life in Old Town, article in local newspaper, date unknown

[3] Brimacombe, 7.

[4] Bronte: New Life in Old Town

[5] Dorothy Turcotte,  Places and People on Bronte Creek. (Ampersand Printing, 1993). 85, 87, 88.

[6] Turcotte, 88.

[7] Brimacombe, 15.

[8] Turcotte, 88.

[9] Brimacombe, 22.

[10] Brimacombe, 23.

Sovereign House  – May  – Oct.

Home of the Bronte Historical Society
7 West River Street, Oakville (just west of Bronte Rd. & Lakeshore W. over the bridge)


The Bronte Historical Society welcomes you to visit historic Sovereign House, to tour the rooms in this historically renovated home, view the local history exhibits and to attend our special events.

The Sovereign House is owned by the Town of Oakville. It is maintained and operated by the Bronte Historical Society. The exhibits are closed in winter, but the office is open on wed. afternoons 1-4pm, year-round. Hosts welcome visitors every Sat., Sun. & Wed. from 1-4pm. Come and hear about Bronte stories in this beautiful location on the Bronte Bluffs. Take a walk in this shady paradise at the lake. Visit the historic cemetery nearby.

The gardens are reminiscent of the 1911-15 period in which the house is shown, when famous Canadian writer Mazo de la Roche called it home. Mazo is known chiefly for the Whiteoaks of Jalna series. She found inspiration here for her first novel, Possession, published in 1923.

·        Admission Free (donations appreciated)
·        FREE Parking
·        Wheelchair Accessible

Group Enquiries Welcome:
·        Rent the Sovereign House North Wing
·        Historic ambience
·        Quiet, picturesque location
·        Great for meetings/gatherings – up to 45 persons

Sovereign House Calendar of Events & Art Show (Art on the Bluffs)

Open to the Public
Sat., Sun & Wed. 1-4pm

September      ‘DOORS OPEN’- Sovereign House Bronte Village –Tours Sun. 10-4
From April to October each year, communities open the doors to some of our most intriguing and charming heritage sites. Admission is free. And the Ontario Heritage Trust invites you to experience these hidden heritage treasures first-hand.


Fishermen’s Memorial


Learn more about the history of Bronte Harbour by downloading the Bronte Fishermen’s Memorial – Facts and History brochure (pdf, 279 kB), or by visiting the Bronte Historical Society website.