Many of Bronte’s earliest settlers were United Empire Loyalists, and you can see the mark they left on the town through many of the street names that still exist – Sovereign, Hixon, and Belyea.
Despite it’s prominent fishing history, one of Bronte’s earliest industries was stonehooking. Stonehooking is the process of gathering stone slabs from shallow water, to be used for construction. This unique construction method was used to build Stoneboats Restaurant, still located today at 49 Bronte Rd. Stoneboats was created using “dundas shale” rocks collected in the shallow waters around Bronte Harbour, and remains one of Oakville’s protected historical buildings.
Bronte’s first harbour was completed in 1856, and became the central hub for all activity, recreational and industrial. Two saw mills provided wood for boats to be built in the harbour in the mid 1800s, and in 1858 a large grist mill was opened. Grist Mills grind grain into flour, and the Bronte harbour grist mill was one of the first steam powered mills in Upper Canada.
As freight carries changed to steam operations, Bronte harbour had to be ready to supply large piles of firewood to the boilers. As the industrial aspect of the harbour prospered, so did the recreational and residential. The town enjoyed recreational boat racing, including the Fisherman’s regatta that took place every summer. The Fisherman’s regatta changed with the times, and soon became a race for powerboats, instead of sail boats.
The neighbourhoods of Bronte began expanding at this point, and many new stores opened up to serve the growing community. One of the most prominent stores in Bronte’s history, was the Lakeside Marketeria and Bill Hills Ice Cream Shop. Located across the street from the Bronte Boardwalk and Heritage Park, the Lakeside Marketeria and Bill Hills Ice Cream Shop provided everything from fishing worms, to groceries, to Yogen Fruz in it’s later years.
Although Bronte has changed with the times, there are still many organizations and groups who work hard to help preserve Bronte’s history. The Bronte Historical Society, Oakville Historical Society, and Trafalgar Township Historical Society preserve hundreds of photographs and records, that help us to understand the history of this amazing town. Monuments like the Bronte Fisherman’s Memorial remind residents of Bronte about the history here, and how we can help preserve it.
Looking at map of Bronte today, you may not be able to recognize the historic little town that once was, but one thing is for sure… Whether it’s 1809 or 2013, when you look out from the end of the pier, you know you’ve found your own little piece of paradise.
Photo Gallery – Bronte Now and Then
Bronte Harbour and Pier
Bronte Rd. and Lakeshore
Glendella Cottage (Bronte Rd. and Ontario St.)