Welland History .ca

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.

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Sometime Allanburg Man Tells Experiences of Historic Days

[The Welland Tribune and Telegraph, 8 December 1925]

             A very interesting relation of the Fenian Raid experience of a native of Welland County is conveyed in a letter given the Tribune and Telegraph by J.A. Ramsden of Port Colborne, written to Mr. Ramsden by John R. Vanderburgh, born at Allanburg and now a resident of Powell, Ohio.

             The letter follows:

             “I was greatly interested in reading the various letters printed in The Welland Tribune and Telegraph that you have been sending me regarding the Fenian Raid of 1866.”

             “I had a little knowledge of the fight or rather aftermath of the fight myself but I don’t think I ever gave you any particular account of it so I will do so now.”

             “At the time of the Fenian invasion of Canada I was learning to be a boot and shoemaker with Miles Vanalstine at Allanburg and when I heard that the Fenians were in our country, having crossed Niagara River at Fort Erie, I was working on a pair of boots. I immediately threw them down and started for Ridgeway at 7 o’clock and when I got there, the battle was just over. I walked down to the battleground and they had all left, and I walked about the battleground and found two dead Fenians lying on the ground, of them had been shot in the abdomen and one of his socks was shoved partly into the hole to stop the blood. Near there I found a prayer book and a whiskey flask, one that you could take the bottom off and use to take a drink. I picked up one of their rifles and pretty soon afterwards I came upon two dead men of the Queen’s Own Company. I saw two men quite a way off and I went to them and asked them to come and help me carry them off the field as they laid right in the sun. They came back with me and we carried them to a shady spot and left them. One of those men was a Mr. W.F. Tempest and the other was a Mr. Woodruff, but they would not help to move the Fenians. I started to go away and was met by a doctor and he told me that two of the Queen’s Own men were lying badly wounded in a house close by and I went with him and found one shot in the hip and both were badly wounded. The doctor then asked me to stay with them and I stayed all night with them. He put a pitcher of water where it was handy and I kept the pitcher full of cold water and they drank considerable through the night. Some people came in the morning and offered to stay in my place until the young doctor came. I then went back to Ridgeway early in the morning. I had only been there a few minutes when four Fenians came to the railroad. There was a box car empty lying on the siding and I told them to get into that but one of demurred and I pulled a revolver on them and you would have laughed to see them pile into that car. I was at the car about an hour when along came six more and unarmed, in charge of some fellows, and they were also shoved into that car with the other four. I left them in the care of the fellows who brought the last lot that were put in the car. I then trudged back towards Uncle John Ramsden’s on my way home. Aunt Mary gave me a good lunch and I asked for you, and she told me she did not know where you were as you had gone off on horseback with some officials to carry dispatches as the telegraph wires had been cut and there was no way to get the news from Ridgeway except by messengers. I tell you that was a good lunch I had there, and I was hungry and had no money with me, having left my money in the pants I took off, but I had my revolver all right. I traded the Fenian rifle the day before for a chunk of bread. I was in such a hurry leaving Allanburg the morning before that I left my money in the pants I took off. When I arrived back to Allanburg I found the whole village had been looking for me.”


Former Stevensville Resident Writes of His Experiences

[The Welland Tribune and Telegraph, 11 June 1925]

             The following reminiscences of the Fenian Raid, the “invasion of a day,” show the feeling created in the Niagara Peninsula at that time. They were written for The Telegram by M. G. Sherk, 1201 Broadview avenue, Toronto.

             At the time of the Fenian Raid of 1866 I was living in Stevensville, a small village about four miles from Ridgeway, and about the same distance from the locality on Limestone Ridge where the battle occurred. My father, Rev. A.B. Sherk, the night the marauding army led by General O’Neil, crossed the Niagara River into Canada, had been attending an evening meeting on the Garrison road, three miles from the village of Fort Erie. He spent the night at the house of John Hershey, one of his church members, a well-to-do farmer.

             Early the following morning he was sitting chatting with his host when a neighbor dashed in and saluted Mr. Hershey with, “John, did you hear the news? The Fenians came over last night eight hundred strong and fifteen hundred more are ready to follow.” My father’s first thought was of his family, so he at once set out for home.

In a Panic

             My mother, alone with her children, was awakened at early dawn by the noise made by numerous vehicles rushing through the village, and saw women and children, some of them partly dressed, huddled together in wagons, along with articles of furniture, bedding and provisions, on their way to the big marsh, a few miles back in Humberstone township. One of the women, wringing her hands frantically, called out to my mother: “The Fenians are coming. They are only a few miles behind. They are killing men, women and children as they go.”

             I remember as a boy, not quite five years of age, my mother taking me across the bridge over the creek to the home of Peter Hendershot, the local merchant, Mr. Hendershot being away at the time. Mrs. Hendershot was having a wagon loaded with a few things preparatory to fleeing, but as my mother expressed no great concern, she decided to give up going. Just then my father was seen coming down the hill in his gig.

Seeking a Refuge

             He was anxious to follow the fugitives farther into the country. My mother objected, but proposed going down to her father’s (Capt. M.D. Gonder’s) one mile below Black Creek post office on the Niagara River road. This proposal did not suit my father, who thought there would be more danger there. My mother then said she would be willing to go to her uncle’s, Joshua Fare’s, a few miles into Crowland township. My father gathered a few things together and placed them in his gig and we started, but when we got to our destination we found my mother’s uncle’s family with their wagon loaded with a few necessities, ready to go farther away from the border. On my mother laughing at her for being so frightened, her aunt said to her, “Well, if you are willing to stay, we will.”

Found O’Neil’s Bible

             I remember going out into the old fashioned garden at the back of the house the morning of the battle and hearing the noise of the engagement on Limestone Ridge. My father and mother’s uncle went together to view the battle and before the bodies of the dead Fenians had been taken from the field. He noticed that the buttons had been cut off their tunics.

             One of my uncles found in the woods in the vicinity of where the Fenians had been encamped, leaning against a tree, a Fenian rifle with a knapsack containing among other things a Roman Catholic prayer book on the fly leaf of which was written in pencil, “John O’Neil, his prayer book. Holy mother for me pray and take on my dying day my soul to heaven.”

Too Excited For Church

             On the Sunday following the day of the battle, services in some of the country churches of the frontier were omitted, there being no congregation to greet the ministers, the people not thinking of worship.


A Farmer’s Daughter Runs Away With a Fenian

[The Welland Tribune and Telegraph, 11 June 1925]

             Every war has its stories of love and romance, and the Fenian invasion of the Niagara Frontier in 1866 was no exception to the rule. This story as published below, was discovered while rummaging through some old files of the Welland Tribune, and is dated May 2nd, 1867. There is no signature to the story, with the exception of the word, “Post,” as if copied from another newspaper.

             A singular case of elopement occurred in the Township of Bertie about a week ago, which affords another instance of the proverbial blindness of love and hasty ill-advised actions which those influenced by the tender passions of love will, at times, be persuaded to adopt. In order to fully understand the affair, we shall be obliged to refer to the events of the Fenian Raid of last June, in which the hero of the present narrative took a conspicuous part.

             Patrick J. O’Reilly of Buffalo, was a Fenian. He was a discharged American soldier; a saddler by trade, and an active and not bad looking young fellow, of twenty-four years, or thereabouts. Either from mistaken patriotism, love of plunder, recklessness, or as Artemius Ward has it, “pure cussedness,” P.J. joined the Fenian invaders, and on account of his military experience, obtained a lieutenancy, He participated in the Battle of Ridgeway, and at the close of the fight received part of his deserts in the shape of a ball in the side.

             Abandoned by his pusillanimous comrades, he followed the retreating Fenians for some distance, but at last, faint from loss of blood, had just sufficient strength remaining to crawl to the door of a farm house, about four miles from the Niagara  River and begged to be cared for and concealed from the red coats. The men of the family were away from home at the time looking after some horses which had been stolen by the Fenians- in fact one of the daughters was the only person left about the place. Taking pity upon the condition of the wounded man, and knowing that if her father and brothers found him in the house he would at once be handed over to the military authorities, she concealed him in an old disused barn at some distance from the house, assisted him to dress his wounds and supplied him with food for about a week and until he was able to travel.

             By her guidance, O’Reilly then succeeded, after much difficulty, in outwitting the vigilance of the sentries and escaping across the river, probably considerably benefited by his Canadian experience. While the foolish girl had thus, from a mistaken idea of sympathy, been conniving at the escape of a criminal worthy of severe punishment, and unluckily for her, her compassion changed to love- probably sincere, though sadly misplaced.

             After the departure of O’Reilly, she settled into a deep melancholy and her friends predicted an early death from consumption. Nothing was heard from the escaped Fenian until some time later, when an individual of much the same description, apparently a peddler calling at the farm house in the evening and asked for a night’s lodging. His request was readily granted and he accordingly made arrangements for passing the night there, retiring early.

             When the morning dawned, however, the peddler was gone and the young lady also. The latter had been observed to be much affected and unable to conceal her agitation on seeing the stranger the previous evening. A couple answering their description were seen driving rapidly towards the Suspension Bridge on the morning they eloped, and a Buffalo paper, a day or two afterwards, contained the announcement of their marriage in one of the Catholic churches in that city.

             The parents and friends of the girl are, of course, much grieved at the course she has pursued, and the unfortunate alliance she has formed. For this reason we suppress all names but that of the bridgegroom.

             We only hope the silly girl will never have cause bitterly to repent the match she has made.  -Post.


A Village Publication Ere Welland Was Named- Merrittsville -a Suburb of Fonthill-Names Known Today and Names Lost to Memory


Frank C. Pitkin


             Page 2 of the Welland Herald, printed at Fonthill and dated September 20, 1855, brings us to the editorials, the sanctum sanctorum of the newspaper of that age as it is of the press of our own day.

             But before venturing upon this holy of holies of that dead and gone journalist, A. Dinsmore, editor and proprietor, have pause for another of those times the columns of the paper afford, for the lack of local news and personals referred to in the opening story of its first page marks the sheet throughout, and only the advertising columns reveal names of those who then walked and had their being.

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A Village Publication Ere Welland Was Named- Merrittsville -a Suburb of Fonthill-Names Known Today and Names Lost to Memory


Frank C. Pitkin

             Let us turn the pages of a newspaper- a paper differing radically from the Tribune and Telegraph you are wont to peruse twice a week.

             Its pages reveal no reference to many things that are today found in the columns of the press. There is not a word of telephone or trolleys, the O.T.A. and its presumed alleviator, four point four, find no mention; radio and jazz are subjects not touched upon, nor can a cross-word puzzle be found in any of its corners, and the comic strip is likewise noticeable by its absence.

             The title of his paper is The Welland Herald, but Welland as we distinguish it is not noted therein, although reference may be found to Merrittsville, not of the fair province of Ontario but of Canada West.

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Has Nearly Attained the Century Mark

By Oliver Underwood

There has been in the city a venerable gentlewoman, once long a resident here, but who of late years has made her home with her grandson in Toronto, Eugene Beatty, also a former Welland resident. As a visitor to this city she has been the guest of her great-granddaughters, the Misses Morwood, of North Main Street, at whose home many of our older people have had the honor and pleasure of again meeting with Mrs. William Milton, who will in October next reach the great age of ninety-six years and whose remarkable personality is an exemplification of the observation made centuries ago by Cicero that old age is the consummation of life, just as of a play; as well as that of the more modern Robert Collyer who spoke of such age as the repose of life; the rest that precedes the rest that remains.

Highly illustrative of these two thoughts is this aged woman, whose facilities, with the exception of her hearing, are as keen as those of a girl of today, and whose gracious presence brings to mind another thought of advanced years that some old age is like the dying sun, which, even to the last, brightens the world with its glory.

That may well be written of her, for it is truly an inspiration to meet with such an one and to observe that she nears the blank, and to the most of us dread, door through which all mankind must in the course of nature inevitably pass, with no feeling of that blankness nor that dread, but rather as if she were about to step from one light and pleasant room into another far more illumined and made beautiful by the presence there of One to whom all humanity must instinctively look.

Mrs. Milton consented to receive a newspaperman, whose object in interviewing her was to dig up something of the life of old hereabouts; but said scribe will have to admit that he fell down on the assignment, in so far as that particular part is concerned, for, unlike the majority of the aged, she cared less about dwelling on the things of the past and more on the things that are yet to come.

So there was not much “old-timer stuff” gleaned from the call, although a little insight on days past was acquired as well as many interesting sidelights on the aged woman’s personal life, which would have no place in a news story.

Mary Eliza Harris was born in Nova Scotia in 1829, and left that Province in company with her parents, Elisha and Rachel Harris, at the age of five years for New York City, whither they travelled by packet boat and where they spent the winter. The following spring they travelled up the Hudson River to Albany, and from there journeyed to Buffalo via the Erie Canal, which passed through what was then mainly an unbroken wilderness.

The family remained in Buffalo between two and three years and when the child was eight years of age came to Canada and settled at Riceville, which was a settlement located at what is now the upper part of the village of Fonthill, along the Canboro Road, west of the Methodist Church.

There was then situated the residence of Dr. Fraser, the first Warden of Welland County many years later, and four or five other houses, all built of logs, as well as a school house and what Mrs. Milton recalls as the Price and Watson stores and-an essential component of every settlement of those early days an inn, Rice’s Tavern.

As her memory goes, there was no Fonthill at that time, although there were several log houses along the Canboro Road down the hill and at its foot; and she does not recall when the present village received its name, but she does say that the name was derived, not from Fonthill Abbey in England, as is popularly supposed, but from a drinking fountain erected near the foot of the hill in the vicinity of the present hotel and fed by a spring since filled in.

Mrs. Milton knew Dexter D’Everardo, often spoken of as the father of Fonthill and of whom more anon, and she dwelt at some length upon John Gore, grandfather of Dr. H.L. Emmett, of Fonthill, who, she said acted as best man at the wedding of her father and mother in Nova Scotia and was also among the guests present at the celebration of the golden anniversary of their marriage, held in Fonthill.

After the Harris family became Canadian settlers their daughter spent her school years in Buffalo, where she received her education, making her home with an aunt; and she told of crossing the Niagara in Indian canoes in the course of her vacation visits to Fonthill, and of the long drive through the bush from Waterloo, now Fort Erie, passing on the way the little settlement of Merrittsville, which is the Welland of today.

Mrs. Milton saw the building of the original Baptist Church in Fonthill and the present Methodist Church, which was originally erected as a Universalist place of worship and purchased by the other denomination when the founders became too few in numbers to support it.

She states that the land for the Baptist edifice was given by the father of Benjamin Camby, together with a cash contribution of $200, evidently a princely sum in those days, since the recollection of the donation has survived, all these years.

At the age of seventeen occurred her marriage to William Milton, a native of the United States, who conducted a business at Fonthill, Their married life was a brief one, death calling him after ten years, during which three daughters were born them; the late Mrs. William Beatty of this city; Mrs. Cornelia Harris, who is now a resident of Denver, Colorado, and has attained the age of seventy-four; and Mrs. Margaret Lyon, also of Denver, and the mother of the distinguished physician and surgeon, the late Dr. Roy Lyon.

Mrs. Milton has one grandchild, previously referred to, and there are five great-grandchildren besides the two in this city.

Confession has already been made that your scribe was a dud in the digging up of much old history, but the mind of the venerable woman was on other things and one was perforce content, not only because of that, but because Mrs. Milton’s outlook upon the ending of life here was a thing for even an newsman, who comes in touch with mankind at all angles, to marvel at.

In her case, it is truly

“O grave, where if thy Victory?

O Death, where in thy Sting?”

The Welland Tribune and Telegraph

14 July 1925