In the Niagara Peninsula, ghosts of Canada’s past keep step with the quick commerce, the fruitful beauty of her present
The New Purchase
In the Niagara Peninsula, ghosts of Canada’s past keep step with the quick commerce, the fruitful beauty of her present
THE GREAT silver-blue sheet of the lake is to your left, shoreless and vast. The highway sweeps on, paved, triumphant, formidable, a sword cut through the countryside. Left behind is the flat-topped Hamilton Mountain and Burlington Beach with the row of houses edged between the railway and the road. The road rises and now, lacquer green and lush, the orchards begin.
This is the fruit basket of Ontario, the cradle of Upper Canada’s history; that square peninsula, Niagara, jutting between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, separated from the United States by the booming falls, the swirling rapids, the rich green flow of the Niagara River.
Ghosts of Canada’s past keep step here with the quick commerce of her present. In the hush of the evening the echoes of old battles may sound over the peach orchards and the purple vineyards. In the misty dawn on the river road a man gallops again to his death upon the heights of Queenston. On the rich wheat fields Loyalist fathers in their sturdy homespun keep step with their Tory sons in their overalls. The land calls to its heirs here. Here Canada is old.
This is the New Purchase, bought from the Indians at one tenth of a penny an acre 160 years ago, and settled by families whose descendants, in many cases, still live upon the land. Cultivated too, these days, by newcomers, men of other heritages, speaking a dozen different tongues.
Peninsula Is Settled
THE Treaty of Paris ending the American Revolutionary War was in 1783. It was the beginning of the settlement of the Peninsula. Men who had remained loyal to the British Crown came by boat and on horseback and even afoot, from their homes in the lost colonies. At the Crysler Farm, some miles south from the town of Niagara-on-theLake, there is an amazing record, compiled by J. M. Crysler, of one such saga.
Today, the Crysler farmhouse, a prosperous, red brick pile, stands on the acres granted over 150 years ago to Adam Crysler. It is still a crown deed farm, never having left the Crysler family.
Today’s house rises
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the Niagara River rushes its prehistoric way. Because of the Welland Canal, no longer is there need to portage around the falls or the rapids. Canoes, pleasure yachts, freighters—all float down the 326}/¿-ít. drop from Lake Erie to the wide lap of Ontario. There was a canal before, built in 1824-29 by the Welland Canal Company. It stretched from Port Dalhousie via the Twelve Mile Creek to Port Robinson on the Chippawa Creek, where it joins the Niagara River. Previously all water freight was transported overland around the falls from Queenston to Chippawa.
There was a Second Canal, a mere enlargement of the first one, completed under the careful eye of the Legislature of Upper Canada in 1845.
The Third Canal was again an increase in size, but now the Great Lakes steamers had grown too large to leave Lake Erie and the grain traffic from the west to the Atlantic had been increasing.
So, the Fourth Welland Canal, the present one, went into construction in 1913. It follows the Ten Mile Creek, joins the Third Canal at Thorold where the elevation is 568 ft. above the sea level and follows the enlarged and straightened old canal to Lake Erie. The first lock is at Port Weller, the second between there and Homer, the third south of Homer. At Thorold there are double locks, similar to the Gatun locks on the Panama Canal, electrically controlled. The control lock at Humberstone is 1,380 ft.—the longest lock in the world. The canal was completed in 1931. It cost $130 millions. A ship can pass through the canal in eight hours.
Some of this information you read, some you get off-handedly from your friend who works the bridge, as you lean on the iron railing, the sun hot at the back of your neck. Little boys spit at the sinking ship. A girl on a bicycle waves at the sailors below. The waste water roars. Shades of Adam Crysler at the Niagara portage!
On from there, rising out of the orchards, are the factories of an indus-
trial community as flourishing as the farms.
Around St. Catharines there are great canning centres for preservation of the fruit and vegetables of the peninsula; wineries, and plants turning out automotive parts, roller bearings, furnaces, motors, generators, locks, garden tools, boilers and axes.
Near Merritton and Thorold, newsprint is made as well as many other kinds of paper, wallboard and roofing. Welland and its district specializes in steel, electric equipment, carbide and chemicals, piping, tubing, rubber and plastics. There are foundries near Colborne and Humberstone. There are refineries, flour mills and boatbuilders. In Dunnville there is a textile mill. Near Niagara Falls, chemicals, fertilizers, abrasives, cellucotton products are manufactured; and at historic Fort Erie, within sight of the restored Fort, aircraft are made.
Niagara-on-the-Lake — also called Newark—breathes the tranquil peace of age. The fat, round and imperturbable stone tower of Fort Mississauga sets the mood for the historic town. The Fort, built during the war of 1812 with material taken from the burned ruins of Newark, was built too late to get into the war. But it is at last getting shot at. One of the holes of the town’s golf course is within the star-shaped ramparts.
In the office of the Niagara Advance, pleasant with the smell of printers’ ink, Douglas Young, the editor, will tell you of Newark’s “firsts.” In this former capital of Upper Canada the first parliament was opened by Governor John Graves Simcoe in 1792. Here was built the first church, here installed the first printing press, newspaper, schoolbooks, public library and agricultural society. Here came all the notables, visitors and makers of Upper Canada, when Canada was young. And here came the fabled Butler’s Rangers and here they stayed.
Butler’s Burial Grounds are less than 10 minutes from the main street. You might miss the way, for it’s off the road, along a grassy, two-track path, between meadows grown wild with goldenrod and Queen Anne’s lace. Through an iron gate and up a few stone steps and
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you are under the deep shade of old oaks, maples and chestnuts. Sharing the quiet shadows with you is a mossy slab of grey stone and a grey stone tablet.
In fading letters you read: “In
enduring memory of the unflinching loyalty and valiant service of the officers and soldiers of Butler’s Corps of Rangers. After striving dauntlessly for seven years to maintain the unity of the Empire and sacrificing all their worldly possessions they came as exiles into a wilderness to find new homes in this peninsula, and to lay the foundations of a new province under the British flag.”
The other side of the tablet tells of the action at Butler’s Farm. “On the Eighth of July, 1813, an outpost of the invading force encamped near Fort George, was defeated by a band of Six Nations and Western Indians led by Chiefs John Norton and Blackbird and interpreters Michael Brisbois, Louis Langlade and Barnet Lyons. Lieutenant Samuel Eldridge and 22 soldiers of the 13th U. S. Infantry were killed and 12 taken prisoners.”
The sounds of the battle are still. You think of the days when 22 men killed in battle marked a national tragedy. In the quiet of the Ontario countryside there Ls the faint tinkling of cowbells and the hum of bees.
Back in Newark, on a quiet street, you find St. Andrew’s Church, second Presbyterian church in Ontario. Here, by the steps, are the iron slabs on which worshippers scraped the snow from their boots in 1792, when the first meetinghouse was built by a united effort of the congregation founded in 1791. The first church, built in 1794, was burned in the war in 1813. The present one was built in 1831 and restored in 1937. The interior is white —no painted windows here, no colored plaques. In the boxed-in family pews you can almost see the men in homespun, the women in crinolines, kneeling, their backs to the minister.
On the other side of the small town, restored again, is the group of buildings dubbed Navy Hall, which served as residence to the officers of British men-of-war patrolling Lake Ontario, and were later the meeting place of the first Parliament.
War After Dinner
Built by Lieutenant-Governor Simcoe to defend British soil against the Americans, Fort George is one of the most peaceful-looking forts I’ve ever seen. From the ramparts you have a pleasant view of the buildings and wharfs of lower Newark, the green calm mouth of the river, and the red banks and towers of Fort Niagara on the American side. Leaning against the grassy bastions you can well imagine the red-coated officers of His Majesty’s force loitering here at sunset, or, as General Brock records, fishing off the long wharf.
The story told of the beginning of
the War of 1812 seems entirely plausible, remembered here upon the site of its happening. In the candle-lit officers’ quarters, about an oaken table, so the story goes, one night in 1812, the 41st Regiment, stationed at Fort George, was entertaining at dinner a group of officers of the American garrison at Fort Niagara across the river. While they were still at dinner an orderly brought word that war had been declared.
Can you see them rising from their chairs, fingering the handles of their swords, their gaze upon one another? And then the British very calmly insisted their guests finish the dinner, linger over their brandy. And only after that did they accompany the Americans to their boats and watch them row into the night, enemies now.
Here, too, the message came on a rainy October dawn, to General Isaac Brock—“the Americans are crossing the river.” From the same officers’ mess the young general hurried to his grey charger Alfred, brought across the common by a rain-soaked groom. Toward Queenston the sky was alight with warning beacons. In the faint light of dawn Isaac Brock paused for a moment by the white house of Captain Powell, and, so we are told, a girl ran down the walk and he called her Sophie, and kissed her, before he rode on. That night Brock rode to his death and into the pages of history— the battle won by the fury that swept his handful of ragged troops after they saw him fall.
Now Brock sleeps at Queenston, under a tall monument. From the top of the monument, through slit windows, you see the rich farmlands of the New Purchase. On the other bank is the United States, and the man you meet on the narrow stairs going down may have just come over the river in his pleasure boat. There is peace at Queenston on summer days.
Yet, beneath the peace and the history of this pleasant quiet place lies the throbbing beat of commerce, the gigantic Queenston power plant, a vital unit in the Hydro-Electric System of Ontario. It provides part of the power needed to make Ontario an industrial province, and the Ontario housewife, with her cheaply run electric home appliances, the envy of the continent.
It was night when I got to Niagara. The silly fingers of colored light were touching one of the world’s great phenomena. The roar of the Falls is thunder in your ears and on the embankment the spray is a wet, blue sheet. Here intrepid Father Hennepin paused one wintry day in 1678 and lifted his hands in wonder at the works of God. You feel his wonder yet in the crowds about you.
In many lands the name of Niagara is familiar, in some lands the only concrete thing known about Canada. As a small girl in a far country I dreamed of these falls, and their power and beauty became a symbol of a great country. They still are. it
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