WHEN THE DUNDAS VALLEY WAS THE OUTLET FOR NIAGARA FALLS
Some years ago the writer of these musings read in an ancient encyclopedia that once upon a time Niagara Falls was not heard of, for the simple reason that they not exist, but instead the overflow from Lake Erie came down through the Grand river into the Dundas valley, through what is now the Dundas marsh, out over the beach, and on to the sea through Lake Ontario. Of course, there was no beach then, for it was buried out of sight by the waters. There was no Hamilton then, but the Head of the Lake was there, with sufficient water power to turn all the electric machinery to make Hamilton the great industrial city of Canada, and furnish light to brighten the darkness that now prevails when the moon retires to rest. Ever since that time we have been searching for that old encyclopedia, intending to surprise the readers of the Spectator with a bit of ancient Canadian history that is not to be found in the archives at Ottawa. Hamilton has made a pretty good record of presenting to Canada the origin of many important industries, of which we will name only a few in this connection. For instance, the first matches known to have been made in Canada were the product of an English family who came from the town in which they were first produced in England. The husband and wife and two or three children occupied a little cottage near the corner of Cherry and Main streets, away back when Hamilton was but a little bit of a town and there they tolled day after day making matches, and for a rest from their labors used to go out in the evening and sold matches to the housewives, who were thus relieved from the worry of lighting their fires with the old flint and steel and a bit of punk. Then when the first great railroad was built from the Niagara river to the Detroit river, D. C. Gunn, who had a small machine shop down at the foot of Wentworth street, enlarged his facilities and manufactured the first railroad engines made in Canada. We might tell about the first dining and sleeping cars that were known being manufactured down in the Great Western shops, the invention of the master mechanic in the woodworking department, and of the discovery of acetylene gas by a young drug clerk in a shop on York street. But what is the use of going over the old story, now that we have the proof that it was down through the Dundas valley, which is an original suburb of Hamilton, being connected with it by the ancient marsh and what was called Lake Geneva when the geologists started out to discover the whereabouts when the overflow when the overflow waters from Lake Erie came rushing down the Grand river to the Dundas valley instead of over what is now known as Niagara Falls. Of course, this gives the muser the right to claim Niagara Falls as one of the original inventions of Hamilton. And here is the proof.
In a booklet by J. W. Spencer, A.M., Ph.D., F.G.S., entitled The Duration of Niagara Falls and the History of the Great Lakes, we find proof that “down this (Dundas) valley the waters of the ancient Erie basin was drained by the Grand river and Dundas valleys in the western end of Lake Ontario (Burlington bay), for the Niagara river did not them exist.” “With reference to the supposed old channel between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, by way of the Grand river and the Dundas valley, by which the Grand river now came down to the lake … In the formation of beaches, there is a tendency to straighten crooked coast lines by the construction of bars in front of inlets, which are thus converted into bays or lagoons. Burlington bay, at the western end of Lake Ontario, is an illustration. Here a narrow beach cuts off a bay five miles long, whose depth is considerable, reaching to 78 feet. This is a well-chosen example, for at the head of the bay is a spit – named Burlington heights rising to 108-116 feet above the lake – cutting off an older bay, now represented by the Dundas marsh.”
In the geological survey, the original outlet of Lake Erie is given at about forty miles west of the present outflow at Niagara Falls. In J. W. Spencer’s geological report on the Evolution of the Falls of Niagara, on the Grand river-Dundas valley’s ancient drainage, we read : “Western of the meridian of Dunnville, the land rises to a greater height with more varied features, though underlaid by the Salina formations, over which the Grand river generally flows. About Brantford, there is a deep, broad re-excavated valley forming a strong surface feature. The northern watershed of the Grand river approaches the margin of high country faced by the Niagara escarpment as south of Hamilton where it is 492 feet above Lake Ontario. Near the southern margin of the valley, at Onondaga, is a buried valley to 110 feet, or to a level 20 feet below Lake Erie. To the northward, the rocks are absent for a greater depth, as at Jerseyville, about twelve miles from Lake Ontario, where wells are 150 feet deep to rock, or to the level of Lake Erie. Then to the buried Dundas valley, the depth is known to be very great. Near Ancaster, the rocky wall of the southern side of the Dundas valley occurs under the drift, which also forms hills in the upper part of the valley. Its breadth, cutting through the limestone escarpment, is two and a half miles, but it partly expands so as to include the plains of Hamilton in an enlargement at the head of Lake Ontario. At Hamilton, the buried Dundas valley reaches 292 feet below the lake level. Here is to be found a deep buried depression through the Niagara formation extending to the buried Salina valley and Lake Erie, with a tributary from the upper part of Grand river district also joining it …. Before the recent explorations, the buried Grand river-Dundas valley was the only known depression between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie capable of lowering the upper lakes provided the drifts were removed.”
“The uniformly narrow Burlington beach, with a length of five miles across the end of Lake Ontario, is thus easily explained as having originated as a small barrier, in front of the narrow river flowing down the Dundas valley and across the now-submerged floor of Burlington bay. With the more recent backing of the waters of the lake, this bar grew to the proportions of the modern beach, built out of materials derived from the older shores and not from the river deposits. At the time when Burlington beach, then beneath the lake, was being formed, the waters had receded for only from three to five miles from what are now the western shores of Ontario, but they extended farther landward than at present along its northern side, as shown by the raised beaches, and by the absence of submerged channels.
In the numerous writings upon the Niagara river, one ancient topographic feature has been overlooked and another exaggerated into importance which it does not possess. The ancient drainage of the Erie basin was not by way of the Niagara, but by a channel forty miles to the west. This certainly settles the point claimed in the old encyclopedia, that the original overflow from Lake Erie into Lake Ontario was by the way of the Grand river and down through the Dundas valley, through Burlington bay, and thence into Ontario. At the nativity of the Niagara river, there was no fall. One writer says that allowing one thousand years for the duration of the river before the advancement of the falls – for that its commencement was not characterized by a cascade is shown by the terraces on the edge of the escarpment and at the deserted mouth of the river – and adding the duration of the four episodes, which have been calculated at 31,000 years, the age of the Niagara river would be about 32,000 years. It is further roughly estimated that the lake epoch commenced about 50,000 or 60,000 years ago, and there was open water long before the birth of Niagara in even the Ontario basin.
This ancient muser has done his best to give credit to Dundas and the Dundas valley as being the original outflow of what is now Niagara Falls, and if we have failed, it is not because we have been derelict in hunting up the geological surveys and getting from the books of writers on those subjects their best thoughts and conclusions. As a loyal Hamiltonian, we were bound to see that this old town got due credit for being at the head of the class when this part of the world was being created.
SIXTY-FOUR YEARS AGO - LOOKING OVER OLD NEWSPAPER FILES
How many of the old-timers remember the year 1854? That was the year of the cholera. We have had it recalled by a little bit of cardboard, which is owned by Faulkner, the real estate and insurance agent, on which was printed an invitation to a Fourth of July picnic, held in Land’s woods, when it was a real woods, for the old forest trees were thickly huddled together, and on very hot days it was a delightful place to hold a picnic, and the young and old took advantage of it during the summer months. The churches and the Sunday schools spent many joyful afternoons eating sandwiches and singing hymns, while what might be called the ungodly picked out a clear spot in the grove and danced to the sweet music of George Steel’s orchestra. My, what happy days they were! The old-timers will never see the like again, and the boys and girls of the present day have little or no idea of what real pleasure their fathers and mothers enjoyed.
Next Thursday will be the Fourth of July, and it will be just sixty-four years to a day that the Yankee citizens of Hamilton decided upon duly honoring the birthday of their native land. Hamilton was sort of a cosmopolitan city in its younger days – English, Irish, Scotch and about three thousand Yankees to fill out the census roll to make up the population. The Irish controlled the city hall, and not a man could get a job on the police force unless he wore a shamrock on St. Patrick’s day. A Scotchman to get a job clerking in a store had to be able to sing Annie Laurie, and the poor fellows had to practice singing in the alleyways and byways till they were perfect in the song before applying for the job. The Englishmen and the few native Canadians had to take what was left, and be thankful that they were permitted to live under the shadow of the mountain; while the Yankees lived on the fat of the land. And there you are. If anybody asks you nowadays what is the controlling element in the city, just whisper in his ear, the foreigners.
But let us get on with our story of sixty-four years ago. On that Fourth of July, the Yankee brethren decided to have the time of their lives, and it was to be a picnic down in Land’s bush. To do honor to the day, it was decided to invite the mayor, aldermen and councilors, and all the members of their families. Here is one of the invitations :
FOURTH OF JULY DINNER
Admit Councillor Faulkner, wife and children.
Chatterton’s Card Press.
The card was countersigned by “B. P. Leland, Treas.”
There you have the card in full, even to the name of the printer. In those days the city council was composed of two aldermen and two councilors from each ward, and from the number the mayor was elected. Charles Magill had the honor of presiding over the city council that year, and by virtue of his office sat at the right of the president of the day and made the speech of tendering to the Yankees the compliments of their fellow-citizens. As Joseph Faulkner’s son has preserved the card of invitation for sixty-four years, it gives this ancient muser pleasure to recall Councillor Faulkner and tell who he was. Joseph Faulkner was a citizen to be proud of. He was a contractor and a brickmaker. His brickyard was in the west end of the city. His influence was on the side of right, and the citizens of his ward always knew that while he held a set in the council their interests would be honestly guarded. He took an active part in church and in temperance work, and in the days of the old volunteer fire department was a member of the Cataract company, and treasurer of the department. The writer of these musings knew Joseph Faulkner well, and it is a pleasure to bear testimony to his worth as a citizen.
B. P. LELAND WAS THE FIRST CASE OF CHOLERA
Mr. Leland was the manager of Phinney n& Co.’s book and stationery store, No. 44 King street east, about where A. Mackay’s large department store is now located. Phinney & Co. was a Buffalo firm of booksellers who saw the prospect of a good business in this city, and they took advantage of it, and sent Mr. Leland here as manager. He was a clever gentleman and an intense American. It was through his love for his native land that he rallied his American friends to celebrate the Fourth in that eventful year of 1854. It was a fatal day for him. All that morning he dvoted to preparing for the celebration, and he was one of the most cheerful of the workers. He did not live through the day, and as the following paragraph in the Spectator of the 6th of July tells the story :
“Died – In this city, on the 4th of July, 1854, B. P. Leland, agent for Phinney & Co., booksellers, Buffalo.
“The deceased gentleman was highly esteemed, and his death is much regretted. He had been engaged all the forenoon in Land’s bush, making preparations for the picnic party to celebrate the Fourth of July, and the day being excessively hot, he over-exerted himself, and drank very copiously of iced water, which caused a cramp in the stomach, and which carried him off in a few hours.”
Mr. Leland’s was the first pronounced case of cholera in Hamilton. He died during the night, and his remains were buried in the Hamilton cemetery the next morning. That 4th of July was a day long to be remembered in Hamilton, for in the same week an epidemic of ship fever broke out among the immigrants who had been housed in sheds down at the steamboat wharf. From the 4th of July to the 22nd day of August, there were 524 deaths from cholera in this city, the first being Mr. Leland and the last case being an immigrant child, five years old, who died in the sheds on the wharf.
It was a sad two months in Hamilton, for every fternoon, lines of disconsolate mourners followed loved ones to the cemeteries. Hamilton had only two undertakers in those days – John Blachford and Arthur E. Snelgrove – and but few of the mourners could secure the services of an undertaker or of a hearse to convey their dead to the cemeteries. Carpenters were kept busy making cheap coffins, and every man who owned a horse and cart or wagon was pressed into service. That some were buried alive was the general belief, for almost as soon as life seemed extinct, the board of health insisted on burial as a protection to those free from the epidemic. We remember one case of premature burial. A woman died within a few hours after being seized with cramps, and that afternoon she was taken to the cemetery for burial. Owing to the large number of deaths that day, the grave diggers were unable to bury the dead, and the coffins of those not interred were piled in a shed till the next day. The woman’s son, after returning home, began to feel uneasy, thinking his mother had not died, and he went back to the cemetery, and asked the superintendent to let him open his mother’s coffin so that he might be satisfied. The superintendent who was a personal friend of the young man, told him that if his mother was not dead when she was placed in the coffin, that in the few hours since her supposed death, she certainly would have been smothered. The young man pleaded so earnestly to be assured of his mother’s death that the superintendent finally consented to open the coffin. To the surprise of both of them, the mother opened her eyes, although unconscious. The mother was conveyed back to her home and a doctor called, and in a few hours, she was resuscitated back to life. The old lady lived for fully three years afterward.
Daily meetings of the board of health were held till the 22nd of August, with Mayor Charles Magill as chairman, and there being no more cases reported, the board adjourned after passing a resolution “congratulating the citizens of Hamilton on the entire disappearance of the epidemic and on normal restoration to a healthy state and condition. The daily reports were then discontinued.