There are villages, off the beaten track,
Small villages, whose history reaches back
To the first coming of the pioneers,
Who built a nation, beautiful and strong
To which their children's children now belong
The site of the village of Queenston was an a beaten track, made by the feet of Indians at the junction of a trail running north and south along the river and one running westward below the escarpment. Being as far up river as boats could safely go, and having a large level landing place, it was an ideal spot for this first village in the district.
From 1626 when Father Daillon visited the area, from 1678 when Father Hennepin first wrote a description of the Falls and La Salle passed on his way westward, many explorers, voyageurs, missionaries and traders had visited the area which was under French rule. La Salle, had built his first stockade on the site of Fort Niagara foreseeing it was to become the centre of French power in the area. It grew to be a fortress. The Marquis of Denonville, after the Iroquois campaign, realizing the importance of Fort Niagara, ordered the fort to be rebuilt of stone - which was found in abundance along the escarpment at what was later Queenston. Was this, perhaps, the beginning of the quarrying business here?
Fort Niagara was surrendered to the British under Sir William Johnson in 1759- On the westward side of the river was a Mississauga Indian village.
After the outbreak of the American Revolution in 1776, multitudes of Loyalists flocked to Fort Niagara for refuge. Provisions to feed these people, the many Indians who also gathered and the prisoners taken, had to be brought from England.
In 1778 Butler's Barracks was built on the western side of the river on Government land which had been ceded by the Indians and some small farms helped to supply food. By 1782 Col. Butler had asked King George to release officers and men from the Rangers that they might settle their families in what became Niagara Township. Lieutenant Adam Chrysler had already, in 178l, settled on land near Queenston. After peace was signed in 1783, all around Fort Niagara moved to the Western side of the river which became the boundary line.
In 1782 land grants were made by the Crown, through a land board consisting of Lt. Col. Hunter, Peter Tenbrook, Robert Hamilton, Benjamin Pawling and Nathaniel Pettit. Many families still cherish the Crown deeds with their large wooden seals. And so we find, in early records, the names of Butler, Brown, Bradley, Clark, Cooper, Chrysler, Durham, Dickson, Field, Kirby, Hamilton, Vroorman, Street, Secord - to name only a few.
The Durhams came from New Jersey in 1778, a large family who later started commercial fruit orchards. The Vroormans were United Empire Loyalists from Scoharie, N.Y. in 1786. During the War of 1812 and the Battle of Queenston Heights, they defended the border from a battery on their own land.
The Fields, George and Rebecca, and their family, came from Pennsylvania where they had lived along the Susquehanna River. After coming here, in 1782, they established a blacksmith shop and wagon-making business.
A few European families had settled in the area before the revolution. One was Francis Goring who came from England (at 21) as a clerk to Col. Gabriel Christie, acting Quartermaster General of Canada in 1776. In 1777 Goring settled on land still occupied by Frederick Stuart Goring, ex-Lord Mayor of Niagara. It was Francis Goring who started the first school in St. Davids.
Robert Hamilton came to America in 1778 and to Niagara in 1780. He was the son of the Rev. John Hamilton of East Bolton Lothian, Scotland and was born in 1753. He studied law in London and came to America as a representative of a fur trading company. Here, near Albany, N.Y., he was in business with Cartwright, McGill and Askin. Leaving there, Cartwright went to Kingston, McGill to Montreal, Askin to Detroit and Hamilton to Queenston, where he built wharves and storehouses. When Gov. Simcoe, organized his first Parliament, in 1792, Hamilton was one of those summoned to become a member of the legislature.
In 1786 he married Catharine Askin of Detroit, daughter of Col. John Askin. She died in 1796 and after her death, he married Mrs. Mary Herkimer McLean, a widow from Kingston. Robert Hamilton had four sons from his first marriage, Robert, George, James and Alexander, and from his second marriage, four more sons, Samuel, Joseph, Peter and John and a daughter Mary.
Besides being a member of Parliament, Robert Hamilton held many offices in Municipal and Government affairs. He carried on his trading business and began, with his sons, a tannery, shoe factory, a distillery, stores, and mills. He with his associates Thomas Dickson and Thomas Clark, established and carried on the Portage business for many years. He built his home on the river bank above the docks - near where St. Saviours Church now stands and here entertained all the important visitors including Gov. and Mrs. Simcoe.
He was interested in education, sending at least his older sons to Scotland to be educated. With Gov. Simcoe's plans for education, he was instrumental in bringing John Strachan to Upper Canada. From Dr. Caniff's book, "The settlement of Upper Canada", we learn that through Robert-Hamilton's brother in Scotland, an offer was first made to the celebrated Dr. Chalmers, who, declining to leave Scotland, passed the invitation to his friend John Strachan. I quote from the book, "Thus it was that the veteran schoolteacher, the divine, the founder of Universities, was led to Canada, to become the occupant of one of the most conspicuous places in the province of Upper Canada". He arrived at Kingston on the last day of the year 1799, having been four months on the way. But when Strachan arrived, Gov. Simcoe had been recalled and so his scheme (for education) was at least in Abeyance. A school was established at Kingston in 1800 by the Hon. R. Cartwright for his sons, with Strachan for a teacher and among his pupils were two sons of the Hon. Robert Hamilton, James and Samuel.
Robert Hamilton's sons followed in their father's footsteps. All became prominent in business, municipal and government affairs - some becoming members of Parliament, some holding military titles, one son Joseph a prominent doctor, John known as a marine king from his boatbuilding business at Kingston. It is believed the "Queenston" was built here in Queenston and carried goods for many years between here and Prescott. Brothers George and Alexander married two Jarvis sisters. Some had large families, a son of George Hamilton having twelve children. So there are many Hamilton descendants, some here today, one in particular whose father, grandfather and great grandfather -as was she herself, born in Queenston.
Her great grandfather, among other things was in the saw and grist mill business, was postmaster, judge of the Surrogate Court of Niagara District, Collector of Customs, District Assessor and Sheriff. It was he who built "Willowbank" in 1834. His brother John built "Glencairn" in 1834 - now owned by Dr. Afrukhteh. One could not, given a whole afternoon list the accomplishments of this prominent family.
Mayor George Neal was a devout Methodist, coming from Pennsylvania and crossing the river at Queenston on Oct. 6, 1786. He immediately began to preach and with Christian Warner of St. Davids formed Bible Classes. It is from his coming to Queenston that the Queenston United Church bases its founding and last Sunday (Oct. 21, 1973) celebrated its 187th anniversary.
Brock Memorial Church of St. Saviour was built in l879, replacing a much smaller one. It is the only Anglican Church in the world dedicated to a layman. The Chancel window bears Brock's coat of arms. The bell is the second oldest church bell in Upper Canada.
For its size, Queenston has more points of historic interest than any place in Canada. Laura Secord lived here, General Brock died here, and with his aide de camp Col. John Macdonnell had four burials, three of them in Queenston. William Lyon Mackenzie first published his Colonial Advocate here in 1824. Here was considered to be the first Post Office in Upper Canada, established in 1802 and here also Upper Canada's first railroad.
Since boats could only safely come upriver as far as Queenston, it was head of navigation with goods being portaged to Chippawa. Hamilton's and his associate's portage business gave rise to the establishment of the Queenston Chippawa Railroad. It is said so great was the portage business that 60 horse or oxen drawn wagons were being loaded in a day in 1805. The railroad was at first horsedrawn with metal covers over the wooden rails and had open passenger cars. In 1854, the line was rebuilt and extended to Niagara-on-the-Lake. The building of the Welland Ship Canal in l824 to 29 practically ended the portage business.
Perhaps no one could estimate the number of boats docking at Queenston, which had been declared a port in 1801 with Thomas Dickson as collector of customs. Following canoes, batteaus, schooners came steamboats first launched on Lake Ontario in l8l6. It was on the schooner Onondaga that Gov. and Mrs. Simcoe made their first journey to Niagara. The Sophia from Kingston was one of the first boats to land at Queenston. Ships of all kinds and descriptions continued to dock until the last large passenger ship, the Cayuga, was discontinued in 1956.
Plying between Queenston and Lewiston were ferryboats and older residents can remember the Ongiara. Now only sand boats unload their cargoes of lake sand.
The Baptist Church was built in 1842 and used till the First World War. Purchased by the Women's Institute in 1928, it was renovated and used by them until sold in 1953. Dr. D. Afrukhteh purchased the building in 1969, offering it to the then Township Council to restore for a library. The Queenston Community Association is only three years old, formed to keep Queeston just that - Queenston. It was through its concerted efforts in raising the money for restoration that we have our beautiful Library and Community Centre.
The Laura Secord Memorial School was built in 1914 replacing the old stone school, built in 1844. The William Lyon Mackenzie building was restored in 1937 and 38 by the Niagara Parks Commission and formally opened in June 1938 by the "little rebel's" grandson Premier William Lyon MacKenzie King. It contains the extensive Kirby collection and for the past three years, on weekends in July and August has been open to the public, manned by members of the Historical Committee of the Queenston Community Association. The two acacia trees planted in 1824 by Wm. Lyon Mackenzie still guard the entrance.
Then there's the Laura Secord Homestead, purchased in 1970 by the Laura Secord Candy Co. and rebuilt to what it was in 1803 to 1835 when Canada's heroine lived here, raised her family of seven children, rescued her wounded husband from the battlefield and later made her famous journey to DeCou. The sincere appreciation of a grateful village goes to the Candy Company for preserving this historic site.
In its more recent history, Queenston established its own Hydro Commission in 1920, the l8th Commission in Ontario, and had electric lights three years before the rest of the Township. The telegraph system was first established here in 1848 and the Bell Telephone Co. came to the village in 1893.
Queenston Post Office, established in 1802 was at the northwest corner of Queen St. and Dee Rd. Here the mail from the mail packets, carrying three wagon loads, was sorted for distribution to western Upper Canada, and beyond where it was taken by stagecoach and boat. It took 18 clerks under the direction of postmaster Alexander Hamilton to sort the mail. Overseas mail time was extra busy.
In 1890, the Queenston, Niagara and Stamford Street Railway was chartered and from 1891 to 1931 electric cars ran between Queenston and Chippawa meeting the boats and making connections with the great Gorge Route and with Buffalo. Buses took the place of streetcars, when the railway was abandoned.
Tourists coming from Niagara Falls along the beautiful Parkway, have passed the Whirlpool, the aerocar, the Glen, the Parks Commission School of Horticulture, the Sir Adam Beck Power Plants and the famous Hydro Floral Clock before reaching Queenston Heights.
Coming directly from the United States they have crossed the new Queenston-Lewiston Bridge opened November 1st, 1962, replacing one below the escarpment, which had been used since 1899. The first Queenston-Lewiston Bridge had been opened March 18, 1851. In 1862 it was blown down in a terrific gale.
At Queenston Heights Park, the tourist finds everything he needs - picnic and playgrounds, a snack bar and excellent Restaurant and a magnificent view of the lower river. Here is the monument of Sir Isaac Brock built in 1853 and replacing the first one which had been blown up on Easter Sunday 1840. Here also is a monument to Laura Ingersoll Secord. In 1970 the Federal Government erected 8 very modern markers at strategic spots of the Battle of Queenston Heights. In the village is the "little monument" unveiled by the then Prince of Wales in i860, marking the spot where Brock fell.
So Queenston today is not what it was in l8l8, with 6 stores, four liquor stores, thirteen hotels, two blacksmith shops, a shoe factory employing forty men, a tannery, a distillery, wharves and storehouses.
According to Regional Government we are nothing but a corner of the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, but we still have our churches, our school, our Post Office and our people joined in the Queenston Community Association to keep our name. Some residents belong to the only International Rotary Club -the Lewiston-Queenston Rotary Club, whose assistance in the restoration of our library is greatly appreciated. Some are members of the St. Davids and District Lions Club - and not to leave out the women - the Queenston Women's Institute was organized in 1908 and has been functioning ever since. Both the latter organizations also assisted in the restoration.
All are striving to keep Queenston as it is - with its tree-lined streets and well kept homes - some new - some old - some built by different Hamilton families. Its quiet beauty and friendly people make it a delightful place in which to live.
The pioneers who built Queenston laid firm and lasting foundations for their descendents.
"Isn't it strange, that princes and kings,
And clowns that caper in sawdust rings,
And common people, like you and me,
Are building for Eternity
Each is given a bag of tools
A shapeless mass, a book of rules,
And each must build, ere life has flown
A stumbling block - or a stepping stone"
May the stepping stones we are building for those who come after us, make and keep Queenston, what one historian has called it, "the most loved, and best known village in Canada".