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The TALES you probably never heard about



A Glimpse of Welland Herald of Seventy Years Agone


Welland Was Then Merrittsville

By Frank C. Pitkin

[The Welland Tribune and Telegraph, 7 July 1925]

In your further perusal of the Welland Herald of 1855, printed at Fonthill, you will be on the lookout only for the high spots, the review of the copy dated Sept. 20 of that year having been extensive enough to give you a slant on the difference between the journal of those days and the newspaper of these times.

Anyway, in the second copy, dated Oct. 18, 1855, you find no changes in the first two columns of page 1, both of which carry the same advertisements as seen in the former issue.

Next comes a three-column piece of fiction entitled “The Mysterious Marriage.” The scene is laid in New Zealand and your eye is caught by such alluring phrases as “the piercing scream of a female voice” and “in the coffin lay the form of the murdered bride.”

But what catches your attention is the initials “H.H.” at the close of the story, for that gives ground for the belief that it was a production of some local genius, and maybe your mind reverts to the notice in the former copy of another and literary sheet published at Fonthill, “The Acorn” by Stone and Hobson.

But H.H.” does not square up with either Hosmer Stone or Daniel Hobson, which latter was a son of the first sheriff of this county, and that is that.

The two remaining columns of the page carry a miscellaney of clips from varied articles and some religious moralizing and but two approaching first-page news stuff of this day. One of these is some speculations on the coming winter in the Crimea and the course of the then raging war, and the other treats of the Atlantic and Pacific Canal, and says that a survey has recently been made for a ship canal across the Isthmus, and that “The cost of this great work is estimated at $150,000.” That is either a misprint or canal digging came considerably cheaper in those days. The item is an interesting forerunner of the present Panama Canal.

Turning the page to the editorial columns, you find at the head that the governor-general, Sir Edmund Head, has taken rooms at the Clifton, where, with his family, he will remain until the opening of Parliament at Toronto.

The Clifton may well point with pride to maintaining for seventy years a position in the favor of the high of the land. Most hostelries fade out of the picture as a resort of the elite in a much shorter space of time.

You also learn that Canadian wheat was selling at $2.12 and $2.25 in the New York market and $2.05 at Buffalo.

Fonthill Hotel

And then comes something with a familiar tang-Fonthill Hotel was for sale!

No, L.V. Garner did not own it then, but the inn was on the market, just as it is now; and the editor boosts the property by saying: “The traffic past this house at all seasons of the year, and the great number of visitors that every summer flock to this favorite and picturesque piece of resort, must render this property extremely desirable.”

Page C. R. Somerville and A.N. Armbrust

There was no Welland Fair in those days, because there was no Welland, and it is not known whether Fenwick Fair was in existence, but Pelham Township Fair was, but where were the fair grounds?

Anyway, the editor had his troubles over the event, for this is what he handed the predeclared of the two fair officials named above: “We regret to be unable to furnish our readers with a list of premiums awarded successful competitors at our annual Agricultural Show. The exhibition was, we believe, considered superior to any that have taken place, and those parties unable to attend would naturally feel an interest in learning the decision of the judges; and we may be allowed to add that whatever the duty of the secretary may be towards the public, it would be but courteous to the press through the instrumentality of which these annual gatherings are much promoted, had it been furnished with the information in question.”

It should be said that it has never been found necessary to hand the two gentlemen above any such slap on the wrist, as they are wised up to co-operating  with the press in spilling their stuff to the world; but should they fail you a similar rod will be in pickle and ready for application.

Next comes five news items from Nova Scotia- out of place in an editorial column, but real news none the less.

If you wonder why that province was thus played up, you have the explanation in the fact that John C. Gore, and other of the then prominent residents of Fonthill were that of stock and branches of the U.E. Loyalists who had migrated to the Atlantic border of the Dominion.

You will pause at one of these items: “An accident occurred to the passenger train on the Halifax and Windsor Railway, near the Colored Village, outside of Halifax. It appears a horse had made his way up a ravine, and thence upon the track. The collision threw the engine, tender and baggage cars, down the precipice, about twenty feet, smashing them to pieces. Fortunately, no passengers were injured.”

From this you gather that a cow or horse on the track was something serious in those days of light equipment; and the story gives you a decided contrast to the fate of the much heavier automobile that gets in the way of the heavy swiftly rushing trains we know.

Sporting Life

You will next light upon this one; “A female pedestrian has preformed at North, England, the astonishing feat of walking five hundred half miles in five hundred half hours and five hundred quarter miles in five hundred quarter hours. The event came off upon the village green in the presence of a large number of persons.”

The tang of this one is its beautiful indefiniteness. Five hundred quarter and 500 half-hours; that means about sixteen days. Did the fair pedestrian keep steadily plugging that long, and did the large number of persons hang around the while?

A modern newspaper would demand something a bit less vague.

Good Stuff, This!

Now you strike something worth your while- a two-column story written for the Herald and headed FONTHILL.

Near a column is devoted to the Fonthill in Wiltshire, England, from which the village her derived its name, and the William Beckford, founder of the Fonthill across the seas and constructor of Fonthill Abby there.

Then you have the following: “The tower at Fonthill (England) which is now no more, was visible at a distance of 20 miles, but the Fonthill from which we write, and of whose glories we would sing, may be seen from the blue ridge of the Allegheny Mountains, a hundred miles distant. This truly pretty Canadian hamlet was one unbroken forest when the trowel of the laborer piled so busily in the glare of midnight torches at the Abbey of Fonthill. The glory of the first Fonthill is departed; but neither time nor circumstances can ever remove the splendid and picturesque scenery that charms the view that is here before us. We need no lordly tower to assist our distant vision. From the humble shanty in which we write, we are monarch of all we survey. Looking to the north east, we observe a white sail in the distant sunshine, on the dusky waters of Lake Ontario; in the east, over a wooded valley studded with comfortable farm houses, eternally rises, now like a pillar of fire, and then as a huge cloud, dark as Erebus, the mists form that hell of waters-the Falls of Niagara.

The topsails of the numerous craft passing through the Welland Canal are distinctly observable, whilst, from the window at which we are reciting the beauties of our village, we distinctly observe two steamers ploughing their way along the shallow and dangerous waters of Lake Erie.

Having rambled after the picturesque in the Old World and the New, and been ravished with lake and mountain scenery that tourists have pronounced beyond compare, we affirm, without fear of contradiction, that nothing can surpass in glory and magnificence, the gorgeous color of the landscape, looking, at this period of the year, toward the Falls, a little before sunrise. The pencil of a Turner could not exaggerate the ethereal tints which gladded the heart of the beholder: he who rings with the lark to feast upon the sight, requires no poetic mind to persuade himself that he is gazing though golden vistas into Heaven. There is no sameness in the scenery.

Yesterday the lowlands were covered with a sea of mist, the topmost branches of lofty trees peeping up here and there, as if it were studded with a thousand islands, whilst the rising sun casting its glaring rays upon the surface transmitted it into an ocean of gold. Again no cloud is to be seen but that perpetually rising from the great cataract, and the steam of a distant propeller, conveying its freighted treasure from the ocean to the far west.

Twenty years ago there were but two or three buildings in this village. The house at the corner, now occupied by the Temperance Hotel, was then known as Osman’s Tavern. What is now the bar-room was then used as a store, the barn standing on the opposite side of the road, about where Mrs. Stone’s house now is. Mr. Swayze’s house was then in being, but we believe there was no other place nearer to the tavern than a log house belonging to Kelley, a blacksmith, on the property now owned by Henry Giles, his smithy standing near the present entrance.

The next building of any importance was the house now occupied by Dexter D’Everardo, Esq., to whom may very justly be ascribed the honor of founding one of the most delightful villages to be found on the continent.

The few straggling houses have grown into a bustling and active village, consisting of various places of worship, several well-stocked stores, whilst mechanics of every kind are profitably following their occupations. We claim one of the largest cigar manufacturers in the Upper Province, that of Messrs. Berston, Harris & Co., employing more hands and turning out, both as regards quality as well as quantity, an amount of weed that will challenge any competition.

Here also we have the largest furniture establishment of Mr. Gore, where it may be obtained equal in elegance and price to any that our large cities can produce. We have a spacious concert hall, erected by Mr. D’Everardo, and Oddfellows’ hall, and last but not least, a printing press, from which issues two weekly  journals-the Herald, is which these fugitive remarks will appear, and the Acorn, principally devoted to literature.

The registry office for the county of Welland is situate at Fonthill, and the village for its population contains the best public library in the province.

The vicinity is dotted with the tasteful and elegant residences of gentlemen who have been attracted hither by the healthy and picturesque invitation of the locality, amongst which that of Thomas Canby, Esq., is

pre-eminent, the pleasure grounds of this gentleman being kindly laid out for the accommodation of picnics and pleasure seekers.

So much for our Fonthill. We boast not the wealth, the grandeur, the heraldic emblazonments of the mansions that pilgrims from all parts of the earth once visited, but we claim a more happy and more enduring inheritance. We see around us a village rapidly increasing in population and wealth-a loyal and contented people, free from the calamities that afflict the poor, and equally free from the cares and solicitudes that oppress the great.”

The Fonthill of today has scarce achieved the destiny pictured by this old-time writer, but the natural setting of which he so eloquently speaks is there, ready and waiting for the development, which must inevitably come to the village in the growth of the county seat of which it forms a natural suburb.

Wait until 1955-A full hundred years. Then you may see.

(To be continued)

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