Know Your Neighbours – Oliver Phelps Esq.

Photo Attribution: St. Catharines Museum, N-9635

Oliver Phelps was born December 12, 1779 in Simsbury, Harford, Connecticut. He married Abigail St. John on January 16, 1800. In 1825 he and Abigail relocated to Merritton, Ontario and later in 1829 to St. Catharines, Ontario Canada.

Phelps was the chief builder and constructionist of the First Welland Canal. During the construction of the 1st Welland Canal, he helped build the “Deep Cut” and the original thirty four locks, the aqueduct across the Welland River and ten miles of the feeder canal. Phelps employed 4,000 men on the Welland Canal project.

In ca.1830 Oliver Phelps named Court St. and Geneva St. in St. Catharines.

The Red Mill Flour mill was opened in 1831 by W. H. Merritt and Mr. Phelps at the foot of Geneva Street. In ca.1895 a fire destroyed the mill.

Photo Attribution: St. Catharines Museum, N-2486

On January 7, 1831, the first church was organized by 4 men and 7 women who met on the 2nd floor of the Red Mill until 1834 when a frame building on the present site (95 Church St.) was erected largely at the expense of Oliver Phelps and on land to which he had legal title. Oliver and his wife were original founding members of the church.

Oliver Phelps was said to be a most empathetic man, diligent in business and reverent in spirit. William Hamilton Merritt said: “Upper Canada was largely indebted to Oliver Phelps’s enterprise and labors”.

Oliver Phelps Esquire died at his son’s home in Cayuga, Ontario, Canada on May 4, 1851 and he was buried in St. Catharines on May 7, 1851.


The St. Catharines Museum and Welland Canals Centre, located next to Lock 3 of the historic Welland Canal, is a leading local history museum and community gathering place, engaging visitors and building relationships with partners, while demonstrating curatorial leadership and innovative programming and exhibits. The St. Catharines Museum is dedicated to engaging visitors in the celebration of our local stories and the cultural identity and history of the City. We are a community resource that interprets, exhibits, researches, acquires, and preserves material culture and stories of St. Catharines.

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