Bronte Then and Now

Bronte Then and Now

Founded in 1834, Bronte Village was established as a small fishing village where the Twelve Mile Creek met the vast waters of Lake Ontario…

Bronte Harbour Village is Oakville’s waterfront destination. Situated midway between the GTA (population 5million plus), and the Golden Horseshoe and the U.S. border, makes for easy access from the QEW (Hwy 25 South/Bronte Road) and Lakeshore Road. Direct access to the harbour combined with shopping and dining attract visitors seeking a more relaxed getaway.

Bronte’s first harbor was built upon the last of the traditional lands of what we now know as the Mississaugas of New Credit First Nation and completed 22 years after the Village of Bronte was founded in 1834. For thousands of years, this waterway was used by the original inhabitants as a means of transportation, source of agriculture, hunting and fishing for sustenance and commerce. After European settlement, it became a commercial shipping center for grain and timber. Halton County farmers shipped their wheat by wagon to three storage warehouses at the mouth of the Twelve Mile Creek. The grain was destined for Great Britain. In 1850 alone, farmers shipped over 70 thousand bushels from Bronte Harbour. By 1856, Bronte was a busy Lake Ontario port, exporting wheat, building ships, and developing a thriving commercial fishery and stonehooking industry.

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The Evolution of Bronte Village

Bronte Harbour and Pier

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Bronte Rd. and Lakeshore

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Glendella Cottage (Bronte Rd. and Ontario St.)

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Bronte Harbour Lighthouse

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Bronte Harbour - The Recreational Hub of Bronte

As the industrial aspect of Bronte Harbour flourished so did the recreational and residential. The town enjoyed recreational boat racing, including the Fisherman’s Regatta that took place every summer. Traditionally First Nations peoples would also come and gather along the shores of this creek as families and communities to acknowledge the land and enjoy the gifts of the Creator. By the 1950’s Bronte Harbour became known as a summer resort location for vacationing families from Toronto and the surrounding areas. 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.

Bronte Heritage Waterfront Park

Ashquasing “that which lies at the end” is the original term for Bronte Creek by the Ojibway people. Bronte Heritage Waterfront Park is the perfect destination for family-fun. Enjoy one of many FREE events hosted here throughout the year including Oakville’s Canada Day and the Art in the Park Festival. More than just events, visitors come to the park for its scenic harbor views and calming Lake back drop. Walk, bike or jog the waterfront trail to learn about our history along the Bronte Heritage Trail.  Oakville offers 1,420 hectares of parkland and over 200 kilometers of recreational trails.

The Glendella Cottage & Post Office

Constructed in 1845 and named Glendella in 1887, The Glendella Cottage was known for many years as the Thompson hotel and serving as a stagecoach stop. Later it served as a tavern, a grocery store and candy shop. Located at 2405 Ontario Street, The Glendella Cottage was also the home of Bill and Donna Hill, for whom the Boardwalk on Bronte Road is named. Bronte’s first Post Office building was constructed by John Belyea in 1870 and originally stood on the west side of Bronte Road, north of Marine Drive and then moved to 45 Bronte Road where it was used as an art gallery. It was relocated again in 2007 to where it stands today to at 2411 Ontario Street as a residence.

The History of Stone Hooking In Bronte

Despite Bronte’s prominent fishing history, one of its earliest industries was stone hooking. Stonehooking is the process of gathering stone slabs from shallow water, to be used for construction. As of 1870, Bronte was one of four settlements along Lake Ontario’s northwest shore involved in the stone hooking trade.  The tool for prying up the slabs evolved into a very long handled 4 – pronged rake, said to have been customized by Bronte blacksmith Sam Adams.  The shale was either unloaded at homeport or taken by schooner to Toronto or other settlements.

Dundas shale was used in the construction of many Bronte buildings in the early 1800’s through 1900’s.  For example, Yolandas restaurant (formerly Stoneboats) at 49 Bronte Rd. was built of lake stone and Dundas shale.

The Veteran’s Highway

The Veterans Highway is an honorary dedication of Regional Road 25, also known as Bronte Road, to Halton’s Veterans. It runs from right here in Bronte Village all the way to Shelburne, Ontario. The signs posted along this route serve as a permanent tribute to our veterans for the sacrifices and hardships endured to award us the freedoms and opportunities we enjoy today.

Bronte’s Role In The Underground Railroad

Bronte harbour played an important role in Oakville’s Black History, as the entry-point for many American slaves travelling the Underground Railroad in search of freedom. During the 1850’s, black emigrants fled from the northern United States to escape the fugitive slave laws.  Some settled in Bronte and built cabins on both sides of Twelve Mile Creek. The Duncan MacDonald – Harry Hartlands House is thought to be a rudimentary residence for black slaves who travelled to Canada through the Underground Railroad system in the pre-Civil War years. In 1990, the Town of Oakville bought the property and leased it to Halton Regional Police for the village constable’s office. The building is now located behind the old Post Office, next to Glendella Cottage on Ontario St.

The Sovereign House

The Sovereign farm was once located west of the last remaining tract of land of the Missisauga peoples. This solid Ontario farm house was built by Charles Sovereign, as his family’s home. It was constructed in stages between 1825 and 1846. Charles built on his father’s farm, where the family had settled in 1814 before Bronte and Oakville had yet to be surveyed for settlement. In 1988, The Bronte Historical Society and Town of Oakville saved the house from demolition, and moved it to the Bronte Bluffs parkland – where it stands today.It was also home to author Mazo de la Roche of Whiteoaks of Jalna fame. The house, owned by the Town, is operated by the Bronte Historical Society and operates as a museum dedicated to showcasing Bronte’s history. Visitors can enjoy a self-guided tour of the restored rooms with artifacts, photographs, archival documents and memorabilia. Events such as Art on the Bluffs are held throughout the year featuring local artists and historians.

Bronte Creek & Fishery Management

Until the late 19th century, Lake Ontario had a population of Atlantic Salmon native to its waters. These fish were a source of sustenance to the original peoples of this area for thousands of years. Unfortunately, that population, which supported sustenance and commercial fisheries, was eliminated through the combined effects of the environmental degradation of streams, ecosystem changes in the lake and over-fishing. Atlantic Salmon was one of the first fish species in the Great Lakes to disappear as a result of human contact. The government of Ontario, along with conservation partners have long supported the restoration of native species and the conservation of biodiversity. Many years of research have shown that the restoration of Atlantic Salmon is possible. For these reasons, more than 40 partners are working together on this initiative to restore a self-sustaining Atlantic Salmon population to Lake Ontario and its streams.

Street Names in Bronte

Welcome to Nelson Street, one of the many streets in Bronte named after its European settlers. The area that is presently Bronte was first settled by the original inhabitants thousands of years ago and yet began its European beginnings in 1807. The name of the village and many streets reference British Admiral Horatio Nelson’s Battle of Trafalgar and early settler families. Some of Bronte’s European settlers were United Empire Loyalists. Many of the streets were named after these founding fathers such as Sovereign, Hixon, Nelson and Belyea. These names can still be found in families that reside in the village today.

The History of The Bronte Pier - A Thriving Lake Ontario Port

In the 1800's, funds were raised with public support to build piers, wharves and warehouses here in Bronte. The Government granted a plan to incorporate a company to build a beautiful harbor and after a 10-year struggle to obtain support, by 1846, the Bronte Harbour Company was founded. By 1856, construction of Bronte's new harbour with two piers and a lighthouse was complete. In 1948, the Department of Public Works built concrete and steel piers; the lighthouse burned down and was replaced by an angle iron structure with flashing red light and fog horn. Bronte’s waterfront was transformed from a shallow marshland, inaccessible from the water, to a harbour with sufficient depth to sustain itself as a thriving Lake Ontario port.

The Bronte Commercial Fishermen’s Memorial

The Fishermen’s Memorial is a granite monument dedicated to the fishermen who battled wind and waves on an unforgiving lake to earn a living for their families, just as the original peoples of the land did and maintained Bronte’s history as a fishing community. Bronte Village was a commercial fishing port from the mid 1800’s to the 1940’s. In the early days, fishing was done by open sailboat, as the gasoline engine wasn’t introduced until 1907.  Back then, Bronte had one of the largest fishing fleets on Lake Ontario with 22 commercial boats operating out of the harbor during peak years. Fishing was a major source of employment for the men of Bronte and by the turn of the 1900’s, over half of the adult male population would be out on the water every day, year round. Boats have not only sailed out of Bronte Harbour for almost two centuries, but many have been designed, built, repaired or modified in or near this little harbour. Bronte is considered the best harbour for sport fishing on Lake Ontario, yielding the best salmon catches during the annual Great Ontario Salmon Fishing Derby. It also remains a place of historical significance to the First Nations communities.

The Lakeside Marketeria and Ice Cream Shop

This location used to be home to the Lakeside Marketeria and Bill Hill’s Ice Cream Shop. In business for more than 54 years, it was one of the most prominent stores in Bronte’s history.  These stores were regular meeting places for area residents and visitors to Bronte Harbour. Bill Hill, owner/operator of the ice cream shop had a reputation for friendly personal service and home delivery of groceries. In 1986, Bill Hill was voted Oakville Senior of the Year.  A section of the Oakville Waterfront Trail has been named and marked with a wooden sign in in his honour, “The William Hill Promenade” which can be found in Bronte Heritage Waterfront Park Today.

Bronte’s Saw Mill and Grist Mill Industry

The Saw Mill and Grist Mill that once stood here are a large part of Bronte’s industrial history.The Saw Mill was built in 1850 and provided wood for boats to be built in the harbor, this helped to drive Bronte’s Ship Building industry. In 1858, Jones William Cummer Co. built one of the first and largest steam powered Grist Mills in Upper Canada.  The Grist Mill turned grain into flour so it could be used to make bread and other baked goods. Today, the Stone Boat Quay Condominium stands where the Bronte’s Saw Mill and Grist Mill once stood.

The History of Ship Building in Bronte

From the First Nations who built their canoes to wooden schooners, steel tugs and fiberglass pleasure boats, boat building and repairs were important industries in Bronte. With an abundance of lumber and sawmills along the mouth of the Twelve Mile Creek, Bronte became home to major shipbuilding activity. One of the largest schooners built in Bronte (1853) was the 172 ton “Peerless”, built by John and Melancthon Simpson. The Northern Shipbuilding and Repair Co. Ltd. plant was built in 1945. Many fine boats were constructed in the building including large and small motor cruisers, pleasure and racing yachts of all sizes. The Town of Oakville purchased the building and renamed it Oakville Harbour Marina and it still the home of many boats of residents and visitors docking at the Bronte Harbour.

Environmental Stewardship at The Bronte Bluffs

The Bronte Bluffs are an elevated, forested park that overlooks Bronte Harbour and Lake Ontario. Popular with cyclists and hikers, the Bronte Bluffs offers a variety of environmental, cultural and recreational pursuits. The Bluffs represent a rare landscape feature along the Lake Ontario shoreline and forms a part of a significant stopover/staging area for migratory birds.  Halton residents have inherited a rich and diverse natural legacy from the original stewards of the land, now known as The Mississaugas of New Credit. This includes a wide range of plants and wildlife, unique features and areas of spectacular beauty. Halton offers a Woodlands Stewardship Program, which provides funding for the preparation of a Forest Management Plan, purchase and planting of nursery stock, as well as no-cost tree marking services. The goal of this program is to increase awareness in stewardship of forested areas and increase the quantity and quality of forested areas in Halton, to ensure its beauty is kept.

The Vibrant History of Bronte Beach

A natural pace to launch canoes for the First Nations peoples, During the 1900’s Bronte Beach extended much further, housing 2 rows of cottages, a pavilion and a picnic area.  The pavilion was the site of dances and social events while a juke box played the tunes of the big band era. A local business man, Mr. Collins leased a large area of the beach from the Federal Government and created a summer resort, including a merry-go-round and play equipment.  The beach park became a summer home for vacationers from Toronto and the surrounding areas. Storms and high water levels resulted in loss of beach sand and much property damage. By the 1950’s, Mr. Collins summer resort shut down. Today Bronte Beach on the west side of the harbour features a quiet playground and offers a desirable sanctuary for birders and photographers. It is also a leisure spot for picnics, and a great spot for canoe, kayak and paddle boarding enthusiasts. The Bronte Harbour boat launch is close by.

The Waterfront Trail

Welcome The Waterfront Trail. The Trail was first constructed in 1995 and at the time was 350km long. Today the tail stretches over 1600km along the Canadian shores of Lake Ontario, Lake Erie, Lake St. Clair and the Niagara, Detroit and St. Lawrence Rivers, the Waterfront Trail connects 86 communities and over 405 parks and natural areas including wetlands, forests and beaches. This trail was built upon many existing First Nations trail systems that were in place for thousands of years prior to European contact. Created to protect, celebrate and reconnect people to our Great Lake waterfronts, the Trail has become a well-loved and used recreation, fitness and green transportation amenity and a world-renowned tourism attraction. Enjoy the Trail for a quick stroll or as part of a multi-day, long-distance adventure.

Today Bronte is an exclusive lakeside community with properties that range from charming historical homes to luxurious waterfront developments. Whether you seek a family home or a trendy condo, Bronte suits every lifestyle. Perfectly positioned between Toronto and Hamilton on the lake, Bronte provides an idyllic escape from big city life while not being too far away.

With several parks, schools, and grocery stores close by, Bronte Village is a popular place to raise a family. Bronte has excellent sports and recreational activities. Nearby campgrounds, miles of walking and biking trails, tennis, sport fishing/cruises and watersports and public pools attract residents and visitors of all ages.

Oakville and Bronte area residents enjoy a higher than average household income and property values remain high, making it one of the most liveable communities in Ontario.

Hundreds of businesses operate and thrive in this relaxed and picturesque waterfront community. Bronte is a neighbourhood you want to be a part of.