The village of Queenston is another community slated to lose its identity under the new Regional Municipality of Niagara set-up. Originally known as West Landing, and later Queenstown, or Queenston, it is one of the most famous and well-known villages in Canada, due perhaps to its important place in Canadian history.
The name West Landing was applied to the settlement that it is sprung up opposite East Landing (now Lewiston, N. Y.) after the American Revolution forced the British to vacate the east bank of the Niagara River when the later became the new International boundary line in 1783. The place was renamed Queenston in 1792 in honor of Queen Charlotte, the wife of King George III, the reigning monarch of that time.
The name Queenstown, was also said to have been given to the place in honor of the Queen's Rangers, the famous I British regiment commanded by Lt. Governor John Graves Simcoe, who was instrumental in having the Queen's Rangers build 28 log houses here in 1793 to be used as their barracks.
A letter dated November 28, 1792 (a year earlier), by the Honourable Robert Hamilton, first records the official use of the name Queenston. It reads: "West Landing, now Queenston." Father Hennepin is the first recorded white man to have visited the site of Queenston, having crossed from Lewiston to here in December, 1678; while exploring the Niagara region with the French explorer La Salle. Queenston's founder and first permanent white settler was the Honourable Robert Hamilton, who located here in 1789. He had settled first at Ft. Niagara in 1785 but when the British had to move to the West bank of the Niagara, he was successful in obtaining the exclusive rights, with two others, for the operation of the overland portage on the west bank.
Just north of the present Queenston dock, Hamilton erected Queenston's first buildings — warehouses and a wharf, which he likewise erected at Chippawa, at the other end of the portage, — in a venture that was to make him wealthy and famous.
Within a short time, he had acquired thousands of acres of land in the Niagara peninsula and had a huge farm at Queenston, as well as a distillery and tannery here. He built one of the finest, early stone residences on the bluff not far from the site of the present Brock Memorial St. Saviour Church. This house was a social centre in Queenston's early days and was visited often - by the Simcoes and in 1792 hosted Niagara's first royal visitor, H. R. H. the Duke of Kent, Queen Victoria's father.
The house burned accidentally shortly after the War of 1812 started. Robert Hamilton died in March 1809, at the age of 59, and was buried in the Hamilton private family burying ground in the village. His wife, Catharine, gave her name to St. Catharines, the land on which most of this city is located, having at one time been owned by her husband as well.
Queenston became a port of customs in 1801, with Thomas Dickson being its first collector of customs. The following year, 1802, it became a post office, which it still retains, making it one of the longest continuing post offices in Ontario.
At the start of the War of 1812, Queenston had a population of 300 inhabitants and boasted six stores, 13 taverns, a tannery, a distillery, a shoe factory and 60 good sized homes. Many of these are still standing, having survived the battle of Queenston Heights in October, 1812 and the subsequent frequent change of ownership by the Americans and British during that 2 1/2 year conflict.
By 1820, Queenston's population rose to 500 in number but by 1865, it had dropped to 400, with the village listing three stores, a school, two churches and three hotels. By 1884, the population had sunk to a low
200 but since the turn of the century, it has slowly risen again to number approximately 500 people.
Queenston's greatest claim to fame is its connection with the famous Battle of Queenston Heights fought here on October 13, 1812. General Sir Isaac Brock, the hero of Upper Canada, was killed during this battle, while leading his men up the hill in an attempt to dislodge the invading Americans entrenched atop the heights. Only a later in the day manoeuvre by General Sheaffe in which he surprised the Americans from behind turned almost certain defeat into victory.
Queenston boasts many monuments to this War, this battle, and its heroine, Laura Secord. Brock's two monuments, the cenotaph marking the spot where he was killed, and Laura Secord's monument, erected in 1910, are but a few of them. Laura Secord's home in the village from which she set out on her perilous walk of 20 miles or more to warn the British at DeCou House, near St. Catharines, still stands, although somewhat modernized from its original appearance.
Queenston was the locale in which the little rebel, William Lyon Mackenzie, printed his famous (or infamous) Colonial Advocate newspaper from May through November, 1824, in which he advocated much needed political reform and also bitterly attacked the Family Compact or ruling clique of the day.
Many old timers best remember Queenston for its docks from which the steamers sailed daily to Toronto on a pleasure cruise across Lake Ontario. Although, first sailing ships, and, later, steamships have sailed from Toronto to Queenston as early as the 1790's, the famous Five "C" ships of the Niagara Navigation Company, (later the Canada Steamship Lines) are best remembered. These were the Cibola, the Chicora, the Coronna, the Chippawa, and the Cayuga. The Cayuga, operated up until 1952 when the automobile Finally spelled its doom.
Queenston is best known today for its fine fruit orchards, from which tons of fruit were once shipped by water from Queenston docks but are now sent by truck. Queenston docks are today piled high with sand that has been dredged from the river bed at its mouth at Lake Ontario and bear little resemblance to their former busy days of passenger service. Queenston has a proud history.