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Niagara Genealogy

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(someone sent this to me. I am sure it is out of a book somewhere, if you know, could you tell me which one so i could credit it!! Thanx!)

The first pioneer villages to develop in the Peninsula were the merchant - military villages along the Niagara River. They include Niagara and Fort Erie as the defensive sentinels at the entrances to Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, and Queenston and Chippawa at the northern and southern ends of the portage around the Falls of Niagara and the Niagara Gorge.

At Queenston and at Fort Erie, there were ferries between Canada and the United States. The traveller and writer, John Howison was not impressed by Queenston in 1821: "The buildings are irregular and inelegant; and an
air of depression and inactivity pervades the whole place". Chippawa, with the important Clark and Street saw-mill near the Falls and at the
mouth of the navigable Welland River (Chippawa Creek) was more prepossessing, "containing some neat houses, and about one hundred and fifty inhabitants", including merchants.

Inland, as the townships were surveyed and settlement encouraged through the system of land grants to the pioneer settlers, reservations were not made for village or town locations. Agricultural villages had to emerge against the backcloth of the land and in response to the demands from settlers for service centres and service facilities. They did so, typically at mill sites, like Cook's Mills, and where two or more roads met. Here the village might be named after a nearby resident, like Shipman's Corners, (now St. Catharines), or Moyer's Corners (now Campden), or Beamsville, named after Jacob Beam.

This spawning of numerous agricultural villages may be grouped into sub-categories according to their position within the Peninsula. Stamford and Drummondville were located on the Niagara Portage Road. Cook's Mills began as a small village when a saw-mill and grist-mill were constructed on the banks of Lyons Creek. St. Johns and Effingham took advantage of water power in the Short Hills. With land north of the Niagara Escarpment having a high level of productivity, a series of villages developed along the important wagon road and stage coach route from Queenston to Ancaster, including St. Davids, St. Catharines, Jordan, Beamsville, and Forty Mile Creek (now Grimsby). In the centre of the Peninsula, the triumvirate of Fonthill, Ridgeway and Fenwick were grouped on the road from Niagara to Detroit across the Fonthill kame, while Stevensville and Ridgeway were important in the east and St. Ann's and Smithville were important in the west.

Jordan may be used to typify the type and range of facilities that arose in these agricultural settlements. By 1846, it is described as:

A village in the township of Louth, situated on the Hamilton road, eight miles from St. Catharines. It contains four churches and chapels, viz. -- Episcopal, British Wesleyan, Canadian Wesleyan and Presbyterian. Population about 200. Post office, post every day. Professions and Trades -- Three stores, carding mainline and cloth factory, one tannery, two taverns, one saddler, one cabinet-maker, two wagon-makers, four blacksmiths, two shoemakers, one tailor.

The next great surge in the evolution of villages occurred with the opening of the First Welland Canal in 1829, its expansion to Lake Erie in 1833 and its improvement during the 1840s. These events introduced a new north-south line of canal villages into the landscape of the Peninsula.

Port Dalhousie and Port Colborne arose at the northern and southern entry points of the Canal, and Port Robinson came into being where the Canal connected with the Welland River. Thorold grew where the Canal crossed the Escarpment, and Allanburg at the end of the Deep Cut, the major construction project on the Canal. Merrittsville (later Welland) was the site of an aqueduct that took the Canal over the Welland River, and Petersburgh (later Stonebridge and Humberstone, and today's Port Colborne) was fostered at a road-crossing point inland from Lake Erie. Dunnville graced the dam on the Grand River, and Stromness and Marshville (later Wainfleet) became villages at strategic points on the line of the Feeder Canal. As the Welland River was also improved, its riparian centres, such as Wellandport and the less well-known Port Davidson, were also stimulated.

With ships, water power, harbours, wharves and sometimes manufacturing activities, these villages took on a different character from agricultural settlements. They were no longer rooted in the land, but on the trade from passing ships. For example, Port Colborne in 1846 is described as: "A village in the Township of Humberstone,... it is a port of entry and has a resident collector of customs. Population about 150". Nearby Stone¬bridge is stated to be "supported almost entirely by works on the Canal".

Railway villages were the next to develop. Lines of track were routed across the Peninsula in the 1850s and again during the 1870s. Villages were promoted along the railway lines, as at Bridgeport (Jordan Station) where
the Great Western Railway crossed Twenty Mile Creek, and at Merritton where the same railway crossed the Welland Canal.
Railway village-- also arose where the great engineering feats of the day were constructed. Two examples are Roebling's slender Suspension Bridge that was opened over the Niagara Gorge in 1855, and Gzowski's International Bridge that crossed the upper Niagara River at Fort Erie-Buffalo in 1873. Permanent settlements resulted. The Village of Elgin was incorporated in 1853 at the western end of the Suspension Bridge, later to become the north end of the city of Niagara Falls. Further south, on the upper Niagara River, the village of Fort Erie was by-passed as a railway terminal, and a new community known variously as Victoria and International Bridge became the Village of Bridgeburg in 1894.

Railways, together with steamers and later, the street car, encouraged the development of recreational villages in attractive lakeshore locations. Some of the best known are Crystal Beach which at one time was a popular summer playground for the residents of Buffalo, and Port Dalhousie and Niagara-on-the-Lake on Lake Ontario, which had good steamer connections with Toronto. Niagara-on-the-Lake, Grimsby Beach and Niagara Falls, each with religious campgrounds, might also be noted as summer religious¬ recreational villages.

The railway also fostered a series of postal villages, for mail was received by train and the station was a convenient point for the disposal of mail. There were, for example, Attercliffe Station or Silverdale Station -- names which are little known today except by their postmarks.

Company villages might also be noted. One of distinction is Power Glen, located on the west bank of Twelve Mile Creek to serve engineers working at the DeCew Power Plant. The major company village, however, is the Plymouth Cordage development in Welland, where the spatial arrangements are reminiscent of the Garden Village theme as expressed at Bournville, England.

The village heritage in the Peninsula is therefore rich and varied. It is a pity that many centres, formerly independent, have been absorbed into a larger administrative embrace as towns and cities have expanded. Even so, their identity and pride remains, as at Port Dalhousie, Merritton and Power Glen in St. Catharines; or at Bridgeburg and Fort Erie in the Town of Fort Erie. These places, as part of the larger urban matrix, may now be described as urban villages; they provide points of historic identification as landmark elements within the prevailing continuity of extensive urban environments.



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