A Short Heritage of Niagara Falls, Canada
Most of the early settlers in what is now Niagara Falls were United Empire Loyalists. Arriving here just before and after the close of the American Revolution, their steadfast support of the British during that epochal event had brought them persecution and privation. Fleeing their homes in the former American colonies, they started their lives over again in various areas of what is now Canada, including the west bank of the Niagara River. The Lundy, Bender and McMicking families were among the Loyalists who became some of Niagara Falls’ earliest inhabitants.
Another local consequence of the American Revolution occurred when the British were forced to relocate the Portage Road from the east bank of the Niagara River to this side. Constructed to allow traffic to by-pass the rapids and falls of the Niagara River, the Portage opened in 1790. Its northern terminus was Queenston. The southern end was at the mouth of Chippawa Creek where a small settlement christened Chippawa soon developed. Its growth was checked by the War of 1812 but by the mid-nineteenth century Chippawa had grown considerably. It was incorporated as a village in 1850.
In the meantime another community had developed around the Portage Road (Main Street), Lundy’s Lane, Ferry Street intersection. Named Drummondville, it was incorporated in 1831.
In 1848, the first bridge opened across the Niagara River. Designed as a suspension bridge for carriages and pedestrians, it was located where the Whirlpool Rapids Bridge is today. Five years later, the Great Western Railway reached Niagara from Hamilton and was routed to the Suspension Bridge. Work then began to rebuild the bridge as a double-deck span, with rail traffic using the upper level while the lower deck was for carriages and pedestrians. The new bridge was opened in 1855.
By then, a small village named Elgin had grown up in the area around present-day lower Bridge Street. Elgin was a major divisional point on the Great Western Railway and was also at the Canadian end of an international bridge crossing. Consequently, it grew quite rapidly. In 1856, Elgin merged with a small community just to the south. Named Clifton, it was in the Victoria Avenue, Centre Street, Clifton Hill area. The enlarged town took the name Clifton.
In 1881, Clifton changed its name to the Town of Niagara Falls. Not to be outdone, the following year Drummondville became the Village of Niagara Falls. The two communities amalgamated to create the City of Niagara Falls in 1904. Within two years, three large hydroelectric generating plants began operating in the area around the Horseshoe Falls. Inexpensive and plentiful electricity, along with excellent rail transportation and close proximity to the U.S. market soon attracted many manufacturing industries to Niagara Falls, thus ensuring the new city’s growth and prosperity. A significant tourism industry also became increasingly important.
Niagara Falls’ area and population increased dramatically in 1963 when the adjacent Township of Stamford amalgamated with the city. With the advent of regional government in 1970, Chippawa, Willoughby Township and a small portion of Crowland Township also became part of Niagara Falls.
The city today, therefore, is a composite of a number of communities with a history stretching back many years.
Sherman Zavitz – Official Historian, The City of Niagara Falls, Canada