Map offers bird's-eye view of Cobourg's past

By Charles Beale, For Northumberland Today

Northumberland Today is pleased to introduce a new local history column by Cobourg resident Charles Beale. The column will appear approximately every other week.

Former Mayor Peter Delanty knew Cobourg well and wrote about its early street names in Cobourg History, which can be read online. Recently, I bought a bird's-eye view map of Cobourg. Although the town was incorporated in 1837, this illustrated townscape is dated 1874 and shows the parameters of Burnham Street on the west and D'Arcy on the east. At the time, Elgin to the north bordered on forest and pastureland. The map's legend points out each of seven large mills, churches and hotels as well as three schools.

While the topographical print sets out the town's features, Delanty informed us how streets were named. Some were assigned to the 'high and mighty,' while others were for ordinary folk. These place names are a keen insight into the workings of Cobourg when it was once nicknamed Hardscrabble.

There are the familiar royal street titles assigned: King, Queen, Prince, George and, of course, Victoria, after the Queen whose name is most honoured of any across Canada. Governors of British North America, such as Durham, Sydenham, Elgin and Monk also figure in the notable addresses. But there are also streets like Ball, Mathew and Swayne that are reminders of a shopkeeper named Joseph, a carpenter called William and shoemaker christened John, respectively. Many of these tradespeople were of United Empire Loyalist stock and arrived in Cobourg after 1798.

There are also the religious landmarks, so Church and Chapel streets remain to this day; Church Street being named for the early Anglican movement and Chapel for the Methodist meeting hall here.

Of added interest is that King Street, named after King George IV, was referred to as High Street, as was so popular in many English towns and villages. East of Division was then called Boulton, named for D'Arcy P. Boulton (nephew of Peter Robinson who settled Peterborough in 1824). Boulton was a well established lawyer in Cobourg with his home at the corner of Queen and D'Arcy. He was also a keen supporter of the Cobourg & Peterborough Railway and was mayor from 1854 to 1857.

University Avenue was named Seminary in the early 1800s after Methodists who opened the Upper Canada Academy. After its closure,Victoria College opened in 1841.The college offered degrees and so the name of the street was changed to University.

The bird's-eye view map illustrates the importance of the harbour then and now. A wide boardwalk graced the Division Street entrance leading to the lighthouse and boat entrance to the inner harbour. The C & P Railway line ran from north of Seminary on Spring Street to the wharf with a loading depot, also in the inner harbour and a west boardwalk beginning at Hibernia enclosed the harbour area.

Of all of Cobourg's public houses, The Arlington House Hotel was the largest, sitting prominently on an impressive parcel of land on King Street East (Boulton) opposite College. Built in 1874, in large part to house Americans visiting Cobourg in summers, it closed in the late 1920s and after a fire was demolished in 1937. Today the site is part of Victoria Park.

Victoria Hall, the matriarch and centrepiece of Cobourg, looms as impressive today as it did in the 1850s when it was built. Local citizenry, puffed about the establishment of the C & P Railway and thoughts that Cobourg might be chosen as the provincial capitol, erected what some would call a 'white elephant.' Over time the building deteriorated and was officially closed in 1971. Local visionaries saw to its restoration and reopening in 1983.

And for all his efforts, former mayor Delanty was recognized with the naming of Delanty Road - a short street off Willmott Road near King Street East.

Charles Beale is a former educator, historian, freelance writer and author of an art landscape book: Manly E. MacDonald - Interpreter of Old Ontario. Visit Beale's website at

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