Take a virtual history tour of Cornwall

March 18, 2020

Cornwall Historic Walking Tour

History lives through art

The Cornwall Historic Walking Tour weaves a tapestry of stories and landmarks from the city’s past. Taken together, these beautiful pieces of art tell the story of Cornwall’s role in the development of Canada.

Spearheaded by Cornwall’s Heart of the City, the Cornwall Historic Walking Tour features several dozen plaques with each one showcasing a different piece of Cornwall’s past, from the early days of industrial development to the Earth-changing St. Lawrence Seaway and Hydro Project.

Each plaque features a beautiful original painting by renowned Cornwall artist Pierre Giroux. For Giroux, it was an artistic journey that spanned some four years and transported him all the way back to 1784 and the founding of Cornwall (then New Johnstown), with dozens of other stops along the way.

“They gave me carte blanche and it was an amazing experience,” Giroux said.

The ambitious project wasn’t Giroux’s first crack at a Cornwall art history venture.

“When I was 12, I took private art lessons from a great local artist, Bob Eadie. One of my projects was to do an aerial view of the city. I think I still have it somewhere,” Giroux recalls with a laugh. “I’ve always been fascinated with the history of the city. It’s always been there.”

That fascination has culminated in one of the most impressive visual histories of Cornwall ever assembled. The collection offers vivid snapshots of Cornwall over the ages, from the Loyalists forging a new beginning to the industries that countless families worked in to the place of worship that became the cradle of Cornwall’s francophone community.

There’s fond memories on display too – once-popular hangouts like the Capitol Theatre and New York Cafe and swimming spots like the Cornwall Canal and Sheik Island.

Each painting was originally created on watercolour before being scanned and repainted in Photoshop prior to reproduction on the plaques. Giroux had historic images to guide his efforts, but they didn’t always fit. The image of the Dry Dock at the Canal, for example, was looking westward however Giroux reimagined it looking to the east.

“I’m really proud of that one,” he said. “That was one of the more complex paintings for the project. I had to create it from scratch.”

Other personal favourites of the artist? Maple Grove ranks high on the list.

“It blew me away because it’s all underwater now. Nothing exists.”

The Stormont Mill may have been indirectly inspired by a hit show – “Some Game of Thrones went into that one. It looks like a castle” – while The Gift of Tulips didn’t stray from the artist’s original vision.

“When we printed that one on the panel, the colours were so accurate,” Giroux recalls.

Beyond the work itself, Giroux is most proud of the fact that the walking tour has created an outlet for people to learn about Cornwall’s rich history – or to rediscover it.

“I’ve heard so many stories (because of the plaques),” he said. “I certainly get a high when I see people looking at them.”

Walk through the past

The tour features three separate walks that can be enjoyed individually or together. Take a stroll along the waterfront walk and learn about Cornwall’s development along the river’s edge. Meanwhile, the Downtown and Le Village walks offer glimpses of landmarks from Cornwall’s two commercial areas – some of which still stand today.

Plaques can also be found at the NAV Centre, Saunders Hydro Dam Visitor Centre, the Cornwall Cenotaph and the Lost Villages Museum.

Click here to download a map of the Cornwall Historic Walking Tour

Take the virtual tour

The Cornwall Historic Walking Tour can also be enjoyed virtually through an interactive story map. View the plaque locations, the artwork and the stories behind each installation from your computer, smartphone or mobile device.

Click on the image above to begin your adventure!


Looking for other fun things to do in Cornwall? Check out the Explore section of our website for information on attractions, heritage experiences, outdoor adventure and much more!

Article by Kevin Lajoie