A Walk Around Town – Walk S – The Discovery of Mineral Springs in St. Catharines

Excerpt from “Walk S” in “St. Catharines A-Z” by Junius, originally published in the St. Catharines Journal on September 18th, 1856.

Springbank Hotel, c.1903. StCMuseum, N1047


There has been a considerable amount of dialogue over the years about the mineral springs that used to be a celebrated entity in these parts. In recent memory, there have even been individuals who tried again to find them by digging up parking lots downtown. But, have you ever read this story printed by Junius?

“The origin or discovery of our Salt Works, or our present celebrated Mineral Springs was, we have been told nearly as follows:-

In June 1815, Mr. W’m H. Merritt was quarrying stone just above Ranney’s Mill in the Twelve Mile Creek, when a spring of colored water was observed and on tasting and testing its qualities, it was discovered to be very brackish or salty.  Mr. Merritt took a pailfull up to his house, (where now the St. Catharines House is) and on boiling it down to a proper consistency, sent it over to Dr. Prendergast of Mayville, Chautauque County for him to chemizize (sic) or analyse it; Dr. Chace was then a student with Dr. P.; both together did separate its component parts, note the proportions of each, and send back their combined testimony to Mr. Merritt; viz., 30-100 of Chloride de Calcium, 60-100 of Chloride of Soda and 10-100 of iron, clay &c.  After the interchange of various messages to and fro, Dr. Prendergast engaged Mr. Abram Messmore, who was then living at Westfield, Chautauque County, to remove to this Town, in 1816, and to commence operations in digging and boring the well, in order to obtain a sufficient quantity of the water to manufacture salt for the public hereabouts.  Accordingly Mr. Messmore did come over with his family and went to work for Mr. Merritt, and bored 80 feet in depth, which afforded a tolerable supply of salt water, so that with the manual force of Ezekiel Bunker, teamster, John Johnston, Jesse Crawford and John Vaughan, and by using 25 cords of wood per week they were enabled to make 4 barrels of salt, which then freely bro’t a dollar and ten shillings York per bushel.  Farmers then used to bring their loads of produce all the way from Ancaster, Oxford, Simcoe and other off-way places through this place down to old Niagara and exchange theirs for their cottons, teas, sugars and other necessaries, and on their return homewards call at Merritt’s Salt Works and buy a few bushels of Sal for their own use, which in those days in Canada was a cash article, dearer than wheat, and hard to be obtained. …

On the first discovery of these now celebrated springs, Mr. Merritt hired a Scotch chemist from Edinburgh to analyze the water, and to see what were its peculiar properties. Dr. Chace, while living at the south, had discovered that not only the workmen, but all others who resided near the salt water, and who made use of it in some way or other, either by cooking their potatoes in the salt water, or by sleeping on their wet blankets and moistened buffalo robes, or by bathing in salt water had regained their health. This induced him first to go into his salt spring speculation, which although not benefitting him materially, yet has resulted, thro’, in a very great measure, his instrumentality, to so much public profit and general good.  Whoever hereafter is healed, through these springs, let him remember gratefully Dr. W.C. Chace, and so shall we always…”

Ownership of the mineral springs changed hands many times as local businessmen sought wealth by selling the “magical healing powers” of the water. Hotel spas were opened, most commonly known was the Welland House Hotel and Springbank Hotel. People traveled from far and wide to stay at these hotels and benefit from the mineral springs.  Descriptions of packed rooms, full dining areas, late night balls and people being rejuvenated and healed have been written in various history books!

For more information on the mineral springs or spa hotels, please contact the St. Catharines Museum.

Written by, Alicia Floyd

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