Belleville: Vintage Postcards and Rare Photos

July 12, 2018 | David

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Large brick building with trees in front

I was born in that building.

It's Belleville General Hospital in 1945. (I came a few decades later. Thanks, mom.) This is one of the many Belleville images that Toronto Public Library has digitized and made available on its Virtual Reference Library.

To celebrate this year's Belleville Waterfront & Multicultural Festival, I've highlighted some of these historical items. I'm bringing it all back home.

Before looking at the images, let's take a quick look at Belleville's history. It was settled in 1789. The land was originally the site of an Anishinaabe village, "Asukhknosk", meaning "place where the rushes end." Below is a description of Belleville's location and formation from The Canadian Encyclopedia (you can read a longer history on the city's official website):

Belleville, ON, incorporated as a city in 1877... The City of Belleville, the seat of Hastings County, is located on the Bay of Quinte, an arm of Lake Ontario about 180 km east of Toronto at the mouth of the Moira River. The original inhabitants were fur traders, but the settlement's founder is considered to be the Loyalist, [Captain] John Meyers, who built a gristmill beside the river in 1790. The village of Meyer's Creek grew up at the site. In 1816 it was officially surveyed and the name was changed to Belleville after Arabella, wife of Francis Gore [Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada].


Waterfront and Waterways

Long bridge over bay

This is the old Bay of Quinte Bridge, from the postcard compilation Souvenir of Belleville. Built in 1895, the bridge was praised at the time as "one of the engineering and mechanical triumphs of the age." Part of the bridge could pivot to allow boats to pass. Learn more about Belleville's bridges via Community Archives of Belleville and Hastings County.

Illustrated postcard of wider river with a few buildings on the shore and a bridge in the distance

Moira River is seen flowing through Belleville in this postcard by Valentine & Sons' Publishing Co. Ltd., circa 1910. In the book Mississauga Portraits: Ojibwe Voices from Nineteenth-Century Canada, historian Donald B. Smith notes that the river was known by the Ojibwe name "Sagonaska" until it was renamed "Moira" in 1807 — named after a British earl who did not happen to have a connection to the region. 

Illustrated postcard of a wide river with two bridges in the middle of a city

Another postcard of Moira River circa 1910. (On the day I'm writing this post, the Moira River has 4.9 out of 5 stars on Google — who knew you could review a river? That said, way to go Moira River!)

Colour postcard of several boats floating in a bay

Belleville's Harbour — seen here around 1910 — is situated by Victoria Park, where the Moira River joins the Bay of Quinte.

 Illustrated postcard park with a tent  which is surrounded by water on three sides with sailboats in the water

This postcard shows most of Victoria Park, home of the Bay of Quinte Yacht Club, the second oldest Yacht Club in Ontario. It was founded in 1876. (Read about the oldest yacht club in another Virtual Reference Library post.)

Men with poles use deviceto break up ice on froze river

The expert ice cutters in this 1950 photo cut a channel through the ice at the Moria River's mouth to prevent flooding during the spring thaw. See what happens when the river overflows in this 2014 video from Global News.

Streets and Buildings

Postcard of houses on a tree lined street

Postcard of Bridge Street circa 1910 by Warwick Bros & Rutter Limited. You can find three of Belleville's Heritage Properties on Bridge Street: 110 Bridge Street West, 118 Bridge Street East and 257 Bridge Street East.

A main dirt road with three story buildings towering above it on both sides

Postcard of Front Street, which runs through Belleville's historic downtown. It is home to more Heritage Properties than any other Belleville street. This includes the city hall (clock tower in the distance) which was built in 1873 and was the city's first heritage site.

Large building with people outside posing for picture

Postcard of Albert College, circa 1910. Founded in 1857, this private boarding school predates Canada's confederation by a decade. View a timeline of the school's long history — plus vintage photos — on its official website. On the Virtual Reference Library, see a promotional publication for courses offered as part of "Albert Business College" in 1915.

Large building with many windows and a pristine  large lawn in front

Photo from 1946 of Sir James Whitney School for the Deaf, a provincial school that now provides education from Junior Kindergarten to Grade 8. Some of its claims to historical fame: it was one of the first places in Canada to test a telephone; it was a training site for the Air Force during the Second World War (QNet News). On the Virtual Reference Library, you can read a promotional publication from 1911 (when it was known as the Ontario Institution for the Deaf and Dumb).

Construction workers flatten ground for new houses

A photo from our Toronto Star Photograph Archives of a new residential development being built in Belleville (1949).

Bonus Items!

Cheque with ornate symbol and the main text reads To U E Thompson Banker

A blank cheque for a Belleville banker from the 1890s. (Sorry, it's not that kind of blank cheque.) 

Men in military uniforms with rifles assemble standing beside bicycles

The Bicycle Corps were the first group of its kind in the Militia of Canada. The image is from the early-20th century postcard compilation Souvenir of Belleville.

Promotional postcard shoing four monkeys having tea with the text Minaker for fashionable furnishings  hats  caps and clothing belleville Ontario

Advertisement for George P. Minaker's business. In 1895, the Belleville Daily Sun wrote that Minaker had "one of the best assorted stocks of hats, caps and furnishing goods... all fresh and new, embrac[ing] the latest and nobbiest styles," adding that he "is a firm believer in the future of Belleville" (Belleville History Alive!).

Beyond the Virtual Reference Library, you can explore thousands of digital images from Community Archives of Belleville and Hastings County and Belleville Public Library's digital archive, Belleville History Alive!