A Walk Around Town – Walk Z

Excerpt from “Walk Z” in “St. Catharines A-Z” by Junius, originally published in the St. Catharines Journal on February 19th, 1857. We have reached the end of Junius’ 26 walk journey. For me it has been enjoyable to hear such personal perspectives about daily happenings in St. Catharines in 1856.

In this walk Junius tells us about various happenings in St. Catharines as well as large projects in Canada: “the magnetic cable will be laid down in the bed of the Atlantic stretching from the Old to the New World, so that friend Canada may ask her friend John Bull in England, any morning, noon or evening, how are you all?”

I was hoping for some sort of grand commentary on the grandeur of our beautiful city to end his series, but “Walk Z” didn’t seem to give readers much closure. Perhaps Junius had lost heart? Instead he elaborates on what he sees for the future of Canada. With that said, I will share with you his very final paragraph:

“According to Graham’s History of America, the first white child born in Canada, was at Quebec, (the key of Canada) in 1621; now we number three millions of souls, and if we are any Prophet, by the year of our Lord 1900, Canada will nigh equal in population that of the United States, as at present rated. When the Cunard Atlantic ships shall run to Quebec; as often as they now do to Boston and New York; when Canada has a weekly communication by steam, to England, and a perennial one by telegraph, when the vast British Possession, which the Hudson’s Bay Company now monopolises, shall be given up to the Government of Canada, and become a parcel of the same; when the Welland Canal shall be sufficiently enlarged with a double set of Locks, and the Georgian Bay Ship Canal completed; when all of our great railroads shall be done, and the Imperial Government sees and acts liberally towards Canada as she does towards the United States, as it respects ocean-patronage and Atlantic travel; and when Canadians themselves, and their own Legislature bestir themselves to place this favored land in a true light before all people, then may we expect to see a perfect flood of immigration to this country, and the immense idle waste lands here cleared up and cultivated, and United Canada one golden harvest field, capable of breading and feeding all Europe besides. Then too our lake-girt and ocean-bound country will take her proper place amongst the most enlightened of favored nations of earth!”

Before I sign off this blog series, I will share with you a little more about Oliver Seymour Phelps, a.k.a. Junius. Oliver Seymour Phelps was born on January 12th, 1816 to parents Oliver Phelps Esq. (1779-1851) and Abigail St. John Phelps (1783-1871) in Ludlowville, New York.  He was the twelfth son of the 17 children had by the Phelps’, and went by Seymour rather than Oliver.

Portrait of Oliver Seymour Phelps. St. Catharines Museum N9635


Phelps lived with his family in Ludlowville for the first ten years of his life until he and his family moved to St. Catharines. O.S. Phelps remained in St. Catharines for 43 years. On October 27th, 1840 he achieved his certificate of naturalization as a Canadian resident.

Phelps was married to his first wife, Hester Ann Dexter on May 6th, 1838. Dexter was born in Manlius, New York on February 18th, 1816 and died in Lewiston, New York on January 26th, 1849 at the age of 32 years.  Phelps was married a second time to Eliza Rebecca Layton, also of Lockport, New York, on July 31st, 1850 with whom he had his only child, Frank Orson Phelps, born on December 1st, 1860.

Oliver Seymour Phelps is remembered in St. Catharines for articles he wrote under the pseudonym “Junius” titled “A Walk Around Town”, which were published in the St. Catharines Journal from 1856 to 1857.

There are various possible reasons that Phelps chose to remain behind the name Junius but there is no documentation that he actually spoke of this reason. The name Junius can be traced back to that of a Roman clan. There were two well-known Juniuses in ancient Rome: the founder of the Roman Republic in 509 BC, Lucius Junius Brutus; and the man who killed Julius Caesar, defender of personal freedom, Marcus Junius Brutus.  However, local historian Alun Hughes believed that Phelps chose the moniker to emulate a different Junius; a man who wrote an anonymous series of letters in 18th-century England, to the London Public Advertiser.  England’s Junius, however was known for being brutally negative, especially toward the government of that time. Whereas St. Catharines’ Junius prided himself on being respectful and stated in one article that he: “designed to write or publish nothing that would give offence to any one…Our chief intention has been to please and amuse, as well as to enlighten and instruct as far as we are able…”

While the articles were being published, the true identity of Junius was never revealed, however citizens were intrigued and wanted to know who he really was. There were a number of investigations and many guesses as to who wrote the column but it is not known when his true identity was discovered.

In 1869 Phelps moved to Portland, Oregon with his family, where he became a judge. He eventually published a history of the Phelps family and was ambitious in his search for genealogical information. He even wrote a letter to Abraham Lincoln June 28, 1860 requesting information on his family and genealogical documents that he believed Lincoln may have access to.  In his letter he also affirmed his support and belief that Lincoln would be voted in as President.

Oliver Seymour Phelps died on July 22nd, 1902 in Viola, Oregon.

If you are interested in reading the full articles, visit the St. Catharines Museum library where a bound edition of each walk is available to researchers.

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