A Walk Around Town – Walk W – The Welland Canal

Excerpt from “Walk W” in “St. Catharines A-Z” by Junius, originally published in the St. Catharines Journal on October 16th, 1856.

The St. Catharines Museum and Welland Canals Centre is known for telling the amazing story of how the Welland Canal came to be.  This week, Junius tells readers his version of how Mr. Merritt began his plan for building his ditch!

“The Welland Canal is the great swivel link in the big heart arterial chain of that mighty and vast inter-oceanic water communication, now stretching from the Atlantic to the head waters of Lake Superior, and which at no distant day will extend by means of another great Canal and the Columbia River, to the Pacific Ocean. The origin and author of this stupendous work are both alike worth of our especial and particular notice. In the

M2017-2-1
Portrait of William Hamilton Merritt, owned by the St. Catharines Museum. M2017.2.1

fall of 1815 W’m Hamilton Merritt, Esq., was returning home from Chautauque County, N.Y., whither he had been visiting his friends, and where he had some new ideas and interesting statistics about Canals, particularly about De Witt Clinton’s Erie Canal; while riding on horseback from Chippewa to Queenston, and meeting a great many of old Elijah Phelps’s and Clark & Streets loaded teams, with Government stores, transporting goods for the troops across the Niagara Peninsula, conceived the original idea of building a Canal around Niagara Falls, and of thus avoiding this serious land transportation and overcoming this expensive difficulty. He thought, talked and wrote much about this pet scheme of his for several years afterwards. His first plan was to tap the River Welland, or the Chippewa Creek as it is commonly called, and bring it down by the old DeCew Falls and the Twelve Mile Creek to Lake Ontario, making a more boat, four foot deep Canal, and thereby affording a water power for his Mills on the Twelve. Somewhere about the year 1822 or 23 Mr. Merritt, Dr. W’m C. Chace, Com. Job Northrup, George Adams and Henry Mittleberger congregated in the back room of the Dr.’s old store, now the Post’s Printing Office, and after mutual consultation, then and there drew up three subscription papers, Mr. Merritt taking one, Dr. Chace another and Mr. Mittleberger the third, which they on starting out, circulated pretty freely, and raised the whole sum of some $62.50; and Mr. Merritt gave $10, Dr. Chace $10, Com. Northrup $10, Geo. Keefer $10, Henry Mittleberger $5, Capt. John DeCew $10, Paul Shipman 41, George Rykert 50c., and some farmers the balance. The Dr. got some $12.50 on his paper after driving around all day with his horses and sleigh, up to DeCew’s and over to Joe Smith’s, who remarked to him that “he hoped he would not have the head-ache until the waters of the Chippewa came running down the Twelve. The farmers for the most part, as well as many other persons scouted at Mr. Merritt’s plan and hooted at his crazy crotchet, as they then believed it to be, and would not aid at all in this Canal conception.  Many were the jeers and jibes which Mr. Merritt, the Dr. and others got as they called upon various persons and stated their novel enterprise. In fact Mr. Merritt was considered by some then, as a sort of mono-maniac, and was thereby spurned. Mr. Merritt’s brilliant mind conceived, his will prosecuted, his hands executed and his perseverance accomplished this wonderful work, the Welland Canal, which was born in Dr. Chace’s shop, in the fall of 1823.  At a subsequent meeting of this handful of men, Mr. Merritt was appointed as their President or Chairman, and deputised to proceed immediately to the States, and secure the services of a competent Civil Engineer to make a primary survey. Mr. Merritt hired on Col. Tibbetts, and Dr. Chace brought the Col. And his Theodolte and Mr. Merritt up from Queenston. Mr. M.’s expenses which was some $2.50 was paid him out of the above $62.50, leaving only $60 to commence and complete the survey of their embryo project. A bee (which was a usual thing in those days and in early times here) was made; the Dr. gave two hams, some flour, 10 gallons of whiskey and one gallon of brandy and sent a man; Mrs. Merritt baked the bread, and others afforded their mites; all things being got ready Mr. M. took his two men, with the Dr.’s, and with the Col. started off to make the survey in the spring of 1823; they found that there would have to be some 69 feet of cutting in some places, but nothing daunted they continued on and finished up the survey.  Subsequently Mr. Merritt and several other gentlemen hereabouts and a few elsewhere formed themselves into a sort of a Company, and petitioned his then Excellency, Sir Peregrine Maitland and the upper Canada Parliament for an Act of Incorporation, which passed the Legislature of the Province of Upper Canada in February, 1824, incorporating a Company with a capital of 40, 000 pounds to cut a Canal for boat navigation, round the cataract of Niagara, and thus to open the navigation from Lake Ontario to Lake Erie, b means in part of the River Welland, which flows into the Niagara above the Falls, and from which the Company and the Canal took its name, being incorporated under the style, at the first, of the “Welland Canal Company.”  About 10, 000 pounds, or one-fourth of the whole capital was immediately subscribed, the Company was regularly organized, and the work commenced.”

 

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