A close-up of St. Catharines, Ontario —hub of the famed and fruitful Niagara Peninsula
WHEN the late Mr. Rudyard Kipling bestowed upon our diverse Dominion the definitive title, "Our Lady of the Snows," he certainly could not have been referring to that lush and lavish neck of land lying between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, reaching from the city of Hamilton to the Niagara River, and known as the Niagara Peninsula. For here is a fruitand flower-producing area, approximately forty-five miles long by thirty wide, that is unsurpassed by any comparable region within the temperate zone.
Square miles of orchards and vineyards spread broad acres of lovel> blossoms before the-vision in late spring. During the summer luxuriant crops of grapes and peaches, strawberries, cherries, plums, apricots and nectarines load the trees to the horizon line, bowing their heavily burdened branches to the ground, trailing their fruited vines over the prolific soil. During the daylight-saving months this particular section of Canada is as remote from any conception of the Dominion as a land of snow and ice and subzero temperatures as is the champagne country of France, or for that matter the state of Georgia, where, Tin Pan Alley told us years ago, everything is peaches.
All over the Peninsula nurserymen grow exotic blooms and luxurious shrubbery. Nationally famous wineries and preserving plants are scattered along its length and breadth. It is a country of prosperous-looking fruit farms, handsome private houses, cottages shining with fresh paint. The humblest home is likely to be hung with purple wisteria, its garden paths bordered with roses running riot. Any man who feels like it can grow grapes in his back yard. Even the villages bear names that carry the fragrance of fruit and flowers to the senses—Vineland, Jordan, Winona.
The chief city of the Niagara Peninsula is St. Catharines, county seat of Lincoln County, and an unusual community, even for Canada, where special local geographical conditions so often combine with special characteristics of pioneer settlement to produce unusual communities. There are other towns of goodly size along the Peninsula —Grimsby, Welland, Merritton, Thorold. Fort Erie, Port Colbome, Dunnville, and Niagara Falls itself. St. Catharines is the largest of the group, one of the oldest,
and considers itself the most important—reasons gladly supplied upon request by Mayor Charles Daley, or Secretary E. A. Fox of the St. Catharines Chamber of Commerce.
St. Catharines is not an easy city to classify. It is an industrial city to some extent; it is a residential city; it is an agricultural centre of importance, offering the biggest market to be found between Hamilton and the United States border for the abundant luxuries yielded by the fruitful uplands of the surrounding countryside. St. Catharines publicity chooses to describe the place as “The Garden City of Canada,” but it is not possible to squeeze a completely comprehensive specification of so many-sided a community into one short phrase.
It is, in the best sense of the word, a conservative community. Citizens of St. Catharines hold fast to things and practices that have survived the battering tests of time. They are not quickly persuaded that new styles in politics, literature, art or music are necessarily excellent and desirable, simply because they are new. But while theoretical "isms" do not root easily there, St. Catharines is in no sense a backward or a hidebound community. Quite the opposite. The same influences that have molded it into a place of solid and enduring substance work to keep it well abreast of the times. Its stores are modern, well lighted, glass fronted, advertised with brilliant neon. It has one of the best—and most expensive—public school systems in Canada. The Municipal Building at St. Catharines—they don’t call it City Hall any more—is the last word in modern architecture, a handsome and compact model of convenience and design. The city boasts a larger proportion of completely paved streets than most others of comparable size. In years gone by, citizens who were cultured, sophisticated, travelled, built their mansions on Ontario Street, demanded the best in public services, and got it. Their descendants have identical ideas about affairs. They keep the town on its toes.
You will not wander long around St. Catharines before discovering that it is a very British city. Indeed, it lacks only an ancient, square-towered cathedral to resemble in some of its aspects any one of a dozen English county
towns—Gloucester, Lincoln, or perhaps York. It has that atmosphere of leisureliness, the flavor of good and spacious living. In the older residential sections the houses are unusually large, and set far back from the pavement amid widely spreading lawns. Lofty trees surround them, trees that may well have reached their growth when Laura Secord made her perilous way from Queenston. Ancient vines drape the walls, often covering them completely. The architecture is reminiscent of England, with many chimneys and gabled roofs.
No suburban realtor plotted those extensive mansions, or set them down so expansively. Plainly they are the product of the days when men of some wealth were accustomed to build their homes for the accommodation of large families and lavish hospitality; to surround them with as much ground as they thought they’d like to have, starting with ample.
British Emblem Proudly Displayed
ST. CATHARINES people seem to fly the Union Jack more generally than is the custom elsewhere. Tall flagpoles rise from the lawns of many homes, each of them carrying the British emblem; and w'here there is no flagstaff, citizens desiring proudly to demonstrate their loyalty in these difficult days hang the flag from the window s, or drape it across them inside a front room. In the course of an hour’s stroll on an ordinary weekday—not a public holiday or any other special occasion—this reporter counted more than twenty Union Jacks displayed on private premises, something to be seen in few other Canadian communities.
It’s a natural development. In its origin, St. Catharines was British, and passionately so. United Empire Loyalists, following the American Revolution, were its first settlers, as they were the first settlers of the entire Niagara Peninsula. The French had found it as early as 1626, but used it only as a military outpost in their warfare with the Indians. Their permanent colonization was carried out east and west of Niagara, along the main lake and river water routes. But the English and Scottish families who left the United States after 1776 to live in Canada under the
British flag were not fur traders, but for the most part farmers and men of business affairs. To them the pleasant and bountiful strip between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario was the promised land indeed.
Creeks and streams in large numbers empty their waters into the Niagara River. The pioneers named their hamlets first according to the approximate distance from the river. Settlements were known as “The Ten,” “The Twenty,” “The Forty” and so on. The beginnings of what now is the city of St. Catharines were first called “The Twelve.” Sometimes it was called Hunterton, probably from Colonel Hunter, who was the officer in charge of the district.
Among the big men of that era was the Hon. Robert Hamilton, of Niagara-on-the-Lake, a statesman and a large landowner, father of the George Hamilton who founded the city that bears his name. The Hon. Robert, a devout man and a staunch supporter of the Church of England, in about 1792 gave a piece of land for a site for a parish church. Mrs. Hamilton’s name was Catharine,
and the new parish was dedicated to St. Catherine; but the name of the community that grew up around the church has always been spelled with a second “a” not “e,” because that was the fashion Mrs. Catharine Hamilton chose to follow. In more recent times light-minded newspapermen have dropped into the habit of writing it “St. Kitts” to fit their headlines. This is a custom unpopular with St. Catharines burghers who regard it as flippant and lacking in proper respect.
There was a period, not so very long ago, when St. Catharines was famous as a residential city thickly populated with wealthy families whose heads had accumulated large fortunes and chosen the Niagara Peninsula as a grand place to retire to. Those stately mansions lining Ontario Street date from that phase; but conditions and circumstances have altered with the marching years. Some owners of those riches have died, and their estates have been divided among many heirs. Other goodly incomes have dwindled because of the depression, suspended or curtailed dividends and mounting taxation
levies. There are still plenty of well-to-do families in St. Catharines, but few, if any, millionaires.
We talked about this with a leading citizen who has been associated with public enterprises in the city for many years. He said: “I have seen the day when, if we required funds for some worthy cause, it was necessary for me only to tackle any one of a dozen men I knew, convince him that what we were planning would forward the welfare of the community, and get his pledge for ten, twenty, or twenty-five thousand dollars right away; but not any more. The men who are rated as well-off in St. Catharines today are industrialists, executives, or owners of businesses. Offhand I cannot name one of our citizens who has recently come here to live in retirement with any considerable fortune.”
City of Ouiet Elegance
FASHIONS in houses have changed, too. No miniature chateaux such as are to be found in the older residential sections are now being built in St. Catharines. Smart
modern villas, less roomy, but cosier, less ornate, but a lot more convenient, have taken their place in the community. Life in St. Catharines, as elsewhere, is less ambulant, crisper; but the city’s heritage of quiet elegance still exerts its influence. Store windows along St. Paul Street, the winding east-west main thoroughfare, display smart merchandise, much of it in the luxury class. The city’s hundred and twenty-five acres of parks are barbered to the last grass blade. The rose gardens, enclosed in a high barberry hedge, are maintained with meticulous care. St. Catharines is the type of community that would offer a public rose garden as one of its chief attractions.
The city has a population of 27,750 within its municipal boundaries and claims a suburban population of 25,000 more. Its shops draw customers from Merritton, Welland, Port Dalhousie and Thorold, as well as from the comparatively densely peopled areas of the surrounding fruit belt. Bank clearings, at the most recent report, were around the fifty-million-dollar mark annually. Very few business premises display “To Let” signs.
St. Catharines is easy to get at. King’s Highway No. 8, known in these parts also as the Great Lakes International Highway, passes through the city, and King’s Highway No. 20, another Niagara Falls-Buffalo link with the Dominion, runs five miles to the south. The new TorontoNiagara boulevard, the Queen Elizabeth Way, cuts through a section of St. Catharines. By rail, the city is on the main Toronto-Buff alo line of the Canadian National. It is a scheduled stop for Toronto-Buffalo bus services. Local bus lines connect with Niagara Falls, Hamilton, and other points along the Peninsula, and there is also the C.N.R.owned radial line to Niagara Falls.
There are altogether fourteen hotels in St. Catharines, as well as a plentiful supply of homes for tourist accommodation. The old Welland House, remodelled a few years back, has been famous for generations because of its
mineral springs and baths. The Hotel Leonard, newest of the St. Catharines hostel ries, is a local enterprise promoted by the Chamber of Commerce, and built with funds contributed by the citizens. The Leonard found the going rough during the depression years, but it has shown a profit for the past few seasons.
Municipal affairs are administered by a mayor and a city council of nine aldermen, elected at large. This year’s mayor is Charles Daley, who runs a grocery business, is a veteran of the last war, and now is fortynine years old. Mayor Daley was first elected for 1939, after a close contest. This year he was given an acclamation. The city clerk, Mr. Herbert H. Smith, has been ir\ the civic service for thirty years.
The money matters of St. Catharines are in the hands of Stuart K. Watt, working with the Finance Committee of the City Council. Mr. Watt’s official title is Commissioner of Finance. The 1940 budget shows the city to be in first-rate financial condition, with a decreasing tax rate and steadily diminishing debt charges. The city stands third in Ontario in its per capita debt. Only Chatham and Woodstock have a better showing in this respect. The per capita tax levy for 1940 is $35.61. • In the last two years the mill rate has been lowered 6.91 mills and now stands at 37.09 mills on the dollar.
For some years St. Catharines has been following a firm policy of reducing its gross debt, and as a result the amount has been cut almost fifty-five per cent in the past eight years. The 1940 figure of $1,900,000 represents a reduction of about $2,775,000 from the all-time high of 1923, and 82.1 per cent of the present debt matures and will be retired in the next ten years. Annual debt charges have been cut from $466,000 in the peak year to $218,000 for 1940, and by 1945 will be further reduced to $113,000 a year. Additionally, the city has a sinking fund surplus of $102,000, Tax arrears have been reduced by $173,000 in the past six years, and the annual tax levy has been cut by approximately $178,000 in the past two years.
Of some special significance is the large proportion of the city’s operating expenses devoted to educational services. Out of each dollar paid in taxes in 1940, 41.59 per cent goes to the support of schools and libraries, while 13.93 per cent goes for social services and 44.48 per cent remains for all other public services—police, fire, streets, parks departments, and so forth.
St. Catharines has twelve public schools with an enrolment of 4,200 pupils, five separate schools with 1,000 pupils enrolled, a Collegiate Institute and a Vocational School training around 1,300 advanced students. Also at St. Catharines is the nationally known Ridley College, with 265 students; but Ridley, of course, is a privately operated enterprise.
The Hydro-Electric System at St. Catharines is operated by the Public Utilities Commission, of which the mayor is automatically a member. St. Catharines Hydro, operating a $1,500,000 plant, has a net debt of only $58,000, and has reserves, invested in its plant, of $770,000. The average industrial rate for power is $14.50 per horsepower year. For domestic uses the rate averages 1.1 cents per kilowatt hour. St. Catharines is almost entirely an electrically operated community.
rT'HE WATER supply comes -*■ from near-by DeCew Falls, where Captain John DeCew, who later became a hero in the War of 1812, established the first grist mill in the district back around 1809. Members of the Waterworks Commission are elected, not appointed, and the same practice is followed with regard to the Board of Education. Other public administrative bodies, including the Board of Parks Management and the Public Library Board are appointed by the City Council. St. Catharines Waterworks Commission is an unusual, even a plutocratic, example of municipal ownership at its best. It actually makes a profit for the city.
The plant is valued at $2,000,000, and against it lies a net debt of only $215,000, while cash reserves on hand, as shown in the 1940 budget, are approximately $546,000. Average consumption is 5,000,000 gallons daily. In those circumstances it comes as no surprise to learn that both meter and flat lease rates for water are considerably lower in St. Catharines than in many other Ontario municipalities.
There’s plenty of water round and about. What with two of the Great Lakes on either side of the narrow peninsula, two Welland Canals, the Niagara River, and a score or so of contributory creeks and small streams, one thing that section does not fear is drought. Parts of St. Catharines are deeply scored with ravines and gullies running every way, across which streets have been carried. There are two high-level bridges, the Burgoyne and the Glen Ridge, and several smaller structures over the canals.
On the industrial side, St. Catharines is the home of some fifty manufacturing establishments, several of them producing goods for national distribution. To a large extent the type of industrial enterprise located within the city’s borders has been governed by the natural resources of the peninsula, but not altogether. Canadian Canners, Limited, has a St. Catharines plant, as might be expected. Wethey’s Limited makes jams, jellies, and other preserves there, and the Lincoln Canning Company is a local enterprise similarly occupied. There are four wineries in the district, and three dairies. The Lord and Burnham Company, Limited, a United States corporation manufacturing greenhouses and other similar large-scale horticultural equipment, has its Canadian factory at St. Catharines. The Welland Vale Manufacturing Company, Limited, makes garden tools, and the Shepherd Boats and Equipment Company’s products are what its name suggests. Industries such as these go naturally with an agricultural district that is well supplied with lakes and streams.
But the largest single employer of labor in the St. Catharines area has nothing whatever to do with agricultural products or waterways. The firm is the McKinnon Industries, Limited, a division of General Motors, manufacturing such automobile equipment as spark plugs, transmission and axles. The McKinnon Chain Company, Limited is not connected with the other McKinnon organization. It makes tire and general-purpose chains. Yale and Towne, internationally known manufacturers of locks and builders’ hardware, has a St. Catharines branch, and the Lightning Fastener Company, Limited, making zippers, is among those present. Thompson Products, Limited, makes automobile valves and pistons; the English Electric Company, Limited, turns out motors, motor generator sets, and transformers. Engineering Tool and Forgings, Limited, makes blowtorches, wrench sets and hammers, and Foster Wheeler, Limited, manufactures boilers and steam condensers. Other metal workers in St. Catharines are making steam and hot-water boilers and radiators, iron, aluminum, bronze and monel metal castings, auto bodies, motor and transformer coils, and lumbering tools. The Canadian National Railways, operating the interurban trolley lines, has its street car shops at St. Catharines.
Also there is a textile division of the St. Catharines industries, including the Monarch Knitting Company, Limited, making silk hosiery for both sexes, the Nu-Bone Corset Company, Limited (at Port Dalhousie), and Warren Bros., Limited, manufacturing sportswear. One firm makes haircloth; another, small rugs and mats. Grout’s, Limited, turns out piece goods of real and synthetic silk, and there is a silk dyeing plant as well as one making braidings and Lastex products.
Completing the round-up. Mercury paints and varnishes are made at St. Catharines. The city has a tannery, a paper-box factory, a soft drink bottling plant, and a factory producing special textile soaps and water softeners.
Together these industries represent an annual pay roll of around $8,000,000 to the St. Catharines area. This year, all except one or two of the luxury-line producers are working full shifts, some of them with overtime. There is no pressing unemployment problem in the district. Rather there is a shortage of skilled labor and the threat of a shortage in the semi-skilled classifications.
The community is well served by one of the best smallcity daily newspapers in the country—the St. Catharines Standard, published by Major H. B. Burgoyne, whose father published it before him. The Burgoyne family offers a typical example of the continuing, and deeply British, St. Catharines tradition. William B. Burgoyne, the major’s father, was mayor of St. Catharines in 1903 and again in 1916 and 1917. All through the list of leading St. Catharines citizens one discovers these typically British names carrying on from generation to generation. There was Colonel Frank Case McCordick, who organized the Thirty-fifth Battalion of the C.E.F. during the last Great War, and later commanded an Imperial Army battalion in France, a command rarely held by a Canadian officer. In 1930 and 1931, Colonel McCordick held office as mayor. Today his son, Major Frank McCordick, formerly Officer Commanding the Tenth Battery, R.C.A.,
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is serving as second-in-command of the Second Field Regiment, R.C.A., and is with the C.A.S.F. in England. That is typical of the way St. Catharines history has of repeating itself. Sons follow fathers and the old names remain, intact and honored.
It would seem that St. Catharines has never known a boom, in the sense that other Canadian cities have been known as “boom towns,” and it is probable that the community suffered less than many others —that were more intensively industrialized—from the effects of the depression. Population figures show a steady rise during the past decade, but not a spectacular one—an increase over the ten-year period of 3,553. There are 6,000 homes in the city, about sixty per cent of them owned by the folks who live in them.
THE BUILDING of the new Welland Canal—the fourth since 1826—during the years immediately following the last war, brought a lot of business to St. Catharines, but did not increase its population in any marked or permanent degree. Most of the canal workers preferred to live in the communities nearer their jobs. The Welland Ship Canal, however, has bestowed the gift of a new tourist attraction on St. Catharines. Seven of the eight locks are in the St. Catharines area, including the famous Twin Flight Locks, a mere five miles from the city. This Welland Canal feature represents an engineering accomplishment not duplicated anywhere else in the world. Upbound and downbound vessels pass each other through the Twin Flight Locks without halt or delay, and that operation is something to watch on a fine afternoon.
There is plenty for the visitor to do in St. Catharines, besides admire the trees and the flowers, or gorge himself on semitropical fruits. The St. Catharines Golf Club has a sporty nine-hole course, over deep gorges, inside the city limits, a casual stroll from any hotel’s front door. There are four other golf clubs within easy motoring distance, some of them championship courses.
Safe bathing resorts offer swimming facilities along the south shore of Lake Ontario. Lakeside Park at Port Dalhousie, the St. Catharines lake port, includes an amusement area among its attractions. Two miles south, at Port Weller, are the Garden City Beach and the St. Catharines Municipal Beach, the latter a recent civic undertaking promoted and operated for the benefit of the taxpayers.
Two major sporting events of international interest attract their thousands to St. Catharines every summer. The St. Catharines Horse Show, a five-day affair, with afternoon and evening performances, draws horse owners from all over Canada and many parts of the United States. It is held in the latter part of June, in the openair stadium of the St. Catharines Riding and Driving Club.
Then, a month later, the Royal
Canadian Henley Regatta occupies the attention of international oarsmen. The Henley course, on Martindale Creek, a widening in the first Welland Canal, is famed as one of the smoothest and safest on the continent. The water is never rough, and no racing craft, however fragile, has ever been capsized at a Canadian Henley meeting. American university crews are regular competitors here against the best Canadian scullers.
Sport in St. Catharines emphasizes the British origins and continuing traditions of the community. It seems a perfectly natural development that the two main sports events in this city should be concerned with saddle horses and rowing. There is a lot of cricket played around St. Catharines, too. The city is represented by a cricket club of its own, and Ridley College always has a crack school eleven. Lawn bowling, badminton and tennis are favorite summer pastimes, and in the realm of team competitive sport it is worth noting that St. Catharines is one of the comparatively few Canadian cities that has remained faithful to Canada’s really national summer sport of lacrosse. The formerly-great Billy Fitzgerald, a starry performer with Toronto lacrosse teams, and afterward with the late Con Jones’ Pacific Coast lacrosse league, was a St. Catharines product. His son, Billy Jr., now works in a Municipal Building office, and plays for the St. Catharines club in the Ontario Senior League. There is a senior amateur baseball entry from St. Catharines, and in the parks and playgrounds the ubiquitous softball diamonds are all over the place.
In the winter months St. Catharines supports a senior Ontario Hockey Association team, playing in one of the neatest medium-sized artificial ice rinks to be found anywhere in the land. That too, like the Hotel Leonard and the Municipal Beach, is a community proposition, financed co-operatively by the citizens and the municipality. The Garden City Arena, built in 1938 at a cost—including equipment—of $105,000, has a seating capacity of 3,240, with added room for 1,500 standees. The ice surface is eighty by one hundred and fifty feet, and the rink is completely equipped even to a broadcasting unit. (St. Catharines has its own radio station.) Citizens subscribed $50,000 toward the cost of their arena and on last winter’s operations the rink cleared a profit of $10,000, part of which was invested in permanent improvements, the balance going toward payment of the debenture debt. With some extra appliances, the rink could be used as an auditorium and convention hall in the summer months, but the St. Catharines folks, who like to pay as they go, haven’t got around to that yet.
Yet another outstanding sports enterprise belonging to this progressive community is the St. Catharines Flying Club, an organization that now has been called upon, with others of its type, to play a sterner game than flying for fun. The St. Catharines club is one of the older of the Dominion’s light airplane groups.
Its president, Major M. S. Seymour, was also president of the Association of Canadian Flying Clubs during the critical period of last year. In that office he was a moving spirit in the campaign to use the facilities of flying clubs to train beginners for advanced courses at Royal Canadian Air Force stations. Last June Major Seymour was awarded the Trans-Canada Trophy — more generally referred to as the McKee Trophy—given annually to the Canadian who has rendered the most meritorious service to the cause of aviation. The citation accompanying the reward set forth that it was made “in recognition of the outstanding leadership he gave to the flying clubs of Canada in 1939. He elevated them to a position where they could render a great service to Canada.” This summer the city of St. Catharines purchased a sixty-acre tract of land adjoining the present airport and at once conveyed it to the Dominion Government to be incorporated in the enlarged flying field. At the same time the city began
construction of a new $4,000 hangar. With this additional accommodation it is expected that an elementary training school will be established at St. Catharines this autumn, under the Commonwealth Air Training Scheme, taking care of fifty student fliers. St. Catharines, one sees, is carrying on in this war as she did in the last.
And, Hitler or no Hitler, Mussolini or no Mussolini, the peach trees will bloom again next May along the Niagara Peninsula, where the gladdest time of all the year is the annual Blossom Festival. It is a bonny pageant, with parades of decorated floats, of bands, school children singing, the coronation of a Blossom Queen, and similar carnival excitements. St. Catharines has been chosen to stage the festival in 1941. Already preparations are afoot for a show that will outshine all previous festivals, in this colorful comer of Canada whose miles of blossoms are a perennial reminder that Canada is more than “Our Lady of the Snows.”