The Brock Monument
In 1824, the first monument memorializing British Major General Isaac Brock was erected at Queenston Heights. The white limestone tower was 65 feet (19.8m) tall. Inside this tower was a circular staircase inside the viewing area at the top of the tower. The bodies of Major General Brock and his aide de camp Lieutenant Colonel Macdonell were entombed at the base of this tower. The monument was dedicated on October 13th 1824.
On April 17th 1838, Benjamin Lett, an Irish Canadian rebel sympathetic to the Mackenzie Rebellion and a group of saboteurs set off an explosive blast at the base of Brock's Monument causing irreparable structural damage.
The bodies of Brock and Macdonell were disinterred from the vault and reburied in the Hamilton family cemetery in Queenston.
On October 13th 1853, construction of the new Brock's Monument was begun. It was designed by Toronto architect, William Thomas. It was completed in the autumn of 1856. The tower is 184 feet (56m) tall and inside has a 235 step circular stairway to a small twelve foot diameter observation deck/pod at the top. It was paid for from public donations.
At the beginning of the construction of the new monument, the remains of Brock and Macdonell were disinterred from the Hamilton cemetery and reburied in a vault underneath the monument.
On April 5th 1929, during a heavy gale, the outstretched arm of the statue of General Brock broke off and fell to the ground below. It broke into three large pieces weighing one thousand pounds. The arm and the entire upper portion of the statue needed replacement. Scaffolding was build around the tower to the very top to allow workers to reconstruct the statue of General Brock.
Brock's Monument continues to stand as a sentinel atop the Niagara Escarpment at Queenston overlooking the beautiful lower Niagara River area. Access to the top observation pod is allowed.
Several months after General Brock’s death at Queenston Heights, the beatification of the departed hero began. On March 14, 1814, the Assembly unanimously carried a motion to commemorate “the great and brilliant services” of Canada’s first “indigenous” hero by erecting on Queenston Heights a fitting mausoleum and a tall monument to his memory. As the colony's first attempt to perpetuate symbolically in stone the memory of its immortal hero, a Tuscan column 135 feet in height was approved by the Assembly’s appointed commissioners.
This concrete embodiment of gratitude quickly became a focal point for the growing Brock cult as well as the dissemination of the cherished militia legend. It also came to symbolize the conservative order and defiance of the Americans. Brock’s stature grew in proportion with the masonry — until the monument virtually usurped the place of the man. The symbol of Brock thus hardened into stone, and the memory of the battle faded into legend.
On June 1, 1824, during a small ceremony for the laying of the cornerstone of the first monument, William Lyon Mackenzie deemed it a fitting tribute to deposit in the foundation stone a bottle to accompany the General on his final journey. It contained a copy of the Colonial Advocate and some American coins. When this profanation of the sanctum sanctorum was brought to the attention of Sir Peregrine Maitland, His Honour ordered the foundation pulled down so that the offensive bottle could be removed. The “temple” had been preserved from desecration by infidels!
Reinterment ceremonies for the General and his faithful aide-de-camp were held on October 13, 1824, the twelfth anniversary of the famous battle. The crowd, estimated at 6,000 (unprecedented in the province’s history), gathered to watch the pious rites. Visits to the interior of the vault were also permitted. One observer noted that the body of the general had undergone little change, his features being nearly perfect, while that of Lt.-Col. MacDonell was in a complete mass of decomposition.
By 1840, the Brock monument had come to stand for concepts cherished by the conservative order: the continuing British connection; growing Canadian patriotism; defiance of the United States; determination to avoid democratic excesses. Therefore, when the sacred pillar was blown up on Good Friday, 1840, by a fugitive from the Rebellion of 1837-38, the indignation of Upper Canadians was heightened by that intensified loyalty that had grown out of the Rebellion, resentment over recent border raids, and uncertainties over the forthcoming Union. These threats had challenged the Family Compact’s dominance — and now its very emblem had been desecrated! On July 30, 1840, an immense militia gathering at Queenston Heights, part of a throng estimated at 10,000, determined to build an even greater memorial....
Lieutenant-Governor Sir George Arthur was advised that no time should be lost in its reconstruction. The proceedings of that halcyon July day, held in the shadow of the shattered column, afforded an excellent opportunity to venerate “the immortal Brock” and his heirs, “the men of 1812.” In the day’s oratory Brock was depicted as a classic hero of the Golden Age. But emphasis was solidly placed upon the present. It was repeatedly stressed not only that the militia’s valiant traditions were still a living principle but also that the fallen hero’s spirit yet exerted a powerful influence over the present. The camaraderie of the occasion reached its highest point at the banquet following the oratory. A large pavilion had been erected on the site of Brock’s fall, and the afternoon’s exuberance was kept afloat with champagne, while the projected obelisk grew larger and grander as the evening progressed. Even the very act of donating to its rebuilding became identified as a patriotic continuation of the traditions of 1812.
The newly created Brock Monument Committee, consequently, decided that the second memorial should be financed exclusively by donations from the militia and Indian warriors of the province. In a very real sense, it was to be the militia’s “own.” A design competition elicited 33 imaginative proposals. By 1852, William Thomas, the renowned Toronto architect of St. Michael’s Cathedral (1845) and the St. Lawrence Hall and Market (1850), was chosen to design the obelisk. While favouring a massive triumphal arch surmounted by an 18 foot equestrian statue of Brock, Thomas conceded that his alternative mammoth neo-classical column of the Roman composite order was more appropriate to the Heights because of the surrounding dense foliage. Its soaring elevation would make it conspicuous “from a very great distance.” Classically adorned with emblems of victory and recognition, symbolic of triumph and martyrdom, its 196 foot tower exceeded in height any monument, ancient or modern — save Christopher Wren’s towering memorial to the Great Fire of London of 1666, which surpassed it by a mere 12 feet.
Ceremonies for the third reinterment of the General and his aide-de-camp, and the laying of the cornerstone of the new monument, were held on October 13, 1853. An immense crowd, (12,000 to 15,000), witnessed the rites. A solemn procession was led by the massive funeral car, profusely adorned with Brock’s heraldic trappings and lavish military trophies.
This ceremony was dominated by the militia who by now had inherited Brock’s mantle. The emphasis of the patriotic orations had shifted from how well Brock had led to how faithfully the citizen-soldiers had followed, not only at Queenston Heights and during the war, but through all the intervening years as well. The aging survivors of 1812 were unmistakably the centre of attention, for their very presence represented a living bond with the past traditions of allegiance. The commemorators had themselves become the commemorated.
The inauguration of Brock’s second monument took place on October 13, 1859, and witnessed another outpouring of war mythology, subtly shifted from Brock to the militia, and from exclusively 1812 to the entire “Canadianized” ongoing struggle of the province’s defenders down to the present. Because the centenary of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham had been celebrated with unprecedented enthusiasm exactly one month earlier, Upper Canadians seized the opportunity to inaugurate their own shrine and venerate their own “Wolfe and Montcalm combined.” Similarly, the 1860 pilgrimage of the Prince of Wales to the battlefield, and his laying of the cenotaph on the spot where Brock fell, were last-minute inspirations that stemmed from a jealous reaction to the plans of the Lower Canadian militia to assemble at Châteauguay to witness the Prince lay the first stone of a monument to commemorate “Canada’s glorious Thermopylæ.”
In his address, Sir John Beverley Robinson emphasized that His Royal Highness could judge from his unprecedented tour “how valuable a possession was saved to the British Crown by the successful resistance” of the Canadian militia. The name of Brock, like a Trojan Horse containing the entire Canadian militia, had become a password to the inner sanctum of Imperial recognition.
A view of Niagara River and the Brock Monument, 1865
Watercolour by Francis George Coleridge (1838-1923)