Cobourg (pop. 18,500) is a town in the Canadian province of Ontario, located in Southern Ontario 95 km east of Toronto. It is the largest town in Northumberland County. Its nearest neighbour is Port Hope, 7 km (4 mi) to the west. It is located along Highway 401 (exits 472 and 474) and the former Highway 2 (now Northumberland County Road 2). To the south Cobourg borders Lake Ontario, while to the north, east and west, it is surrounded by Hamilton Township.
The settlements that make up today’s Cobourg were founded by United Empire Loyalists in 1798. Some of the founding fathers and early settlers were Eluid Nickerson, Joseph Ash, Zacheus Burnham and Asa Burnham. The Town was originally a group of smaller villages such as Amherst and Hardscrabble, which were later named Hamilton. In 1808 it became the district town for the Newcastle District. It was renamed Cobourg in 1818, in recognition of the marriage of Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld (later Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, who would later become King of Belgium).
By the 1830s Cobourg had become a regional centre, much due to its fine harbour on Lake Ontario. In 1835 the Upper Canada Academy was established in Cobourg by Egerton Ryerson and the Wesleyan Conference of Bishops. On July 1, 1837, Cobourg was officially incorporated as a town. In 1841 the Upper Canada Academy’s name was changed to Victoria College. In 1842 Victoria College was granted powers to confer degrees. Victoria College remained in Cobourg until 1892, when it was moved to Toronto and federated with the University of Toronto. In 1842, John Strachan founded the Diocesan Theological Institute in Cobourg, an Anglican seminary that became integrated into the University of Trinity College in Toronto in 1852.
Standing at the heart of the downtown is Victoria Hall, a building that now serves as the town hall, as well as home of the Art Gallery of Northumberland, the Cobourg Concert Hall, and an Old Bailey-style courtroom that is now used as the Council chamber. Victoria Hall was designed by architect Kivas Tully. The landmark is known for its impressive stone work. Charles T. Thomas, a master stone carver from Wales, executed the fine stone carvings. Victoria Hall was officially opened in 1860 by the Prince of Wales, later to become Edward VII of the United Kingdom, King Edward VII. At that time, Cobourg was a significant town in the Province of Canada, and some townspeople felt that Cobourg would be a suitable capital for the newly united provinces; this privilege went to Ottawa, Ontario, however.
In the late 19th century and early 20th century, wealthy Americans built enormous summer homes there, many of which still stand today. A major ferry service connected Cobourg and Rochester, New York from 1907 to 1952, transporting passengers and cargo across Lake Ontario, allowing Americans to reach the town more readily. After World War II and the advent of improved transportation technology, this economic link decreased in importance.
On December 20, 1951 Cobourg experienced media attention as a C-46 Curtis Commando crash landed in local farmer Charles Wilson’s field. 12
Cobourg was the site of No. 26 Ordnance Depot, later Canadian Forces Station Cobourg, from 1953 to 1971.
Throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s, the town invested heavily in purchasing property along the waterfront and beautifying the area. The harbour and large sandy beach are now connected by a boardwalk and pathways that stretch through Victoria Park and into the downtown. Many community activities developed in conjunction with the revitalization of the waterfront lands. One of the major events that grew out of Cobourg’s focus on the lake front was the Waterfront Festival.