William Hamilton Merritt and the Long, Hot, Days of Summer

 

I hate the heat.

I don’t think most people understand me when I say this or even try to explain it. You know how some people hate winter? Cold, unwavering winds and snow and ice? I love that. I just can’t do the heat. I know I’m not alone, but we’re not as vocal as the winter-haters out there.

I’ve been reading a lot of William Hamilton Merritt’s diaries, letters, and other primary sources lately. He is such a wealth of historical information about the early days in St. Catharines, it’s hard not to check in with him about particular ideas I have about how things went down, back in the day.

Aside from it being Merritt Day earlier this week (July 3) and the anniversary of his death in 1862 (July 5) it is this hot, dry, ceaseless hot weather that reminds me of the conditions that WHM dealt with in the early days of the 1820s. Consecutive dry and hot summers had Twelve Mile Creek running pretty low. And as I’ve said in other posts recently, no water = no power = no money. And we are talking about one or two mills. Merritt’s milling and commercial enterprises included a general store, a saw and gristmills, a distillery, a cooper’s shop, a smithy, a potashery, and a salt well. No water? No way! Our pal, WHM ain’t going to let that happen. No, sir!

Off he goes and builds a canal to solve all his, and the world’s problems. The end.

But the story doesn’t end there. The building of the canal is credited with the physical/urban, industrial, and social development and growth our city.

We know that while WHM was very involved in the supervision of the First Welland Canal (sort of an ‘all hands on deck’ project in the mid-to-late 1820s), he wasn’t often found digging along side the nameless American and Irish labourers who made his dream a reality.

WHM’s affinity for shovels aside, when was the last time you turned a hot, dry, practically useless summer into something so important that it helped found a city? Kind of makes you feel bad, eh?

Enjoy the summer!

And if you want to feel more feelings about history, come to the Museum.

Adrian Petry is a public historian and the Public Programmer at the St. Catharines Museum and Welland Canals Centre.

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