AN ANCIENT RIVER
In our last Saturday Musings, published in the Spectator on June 28, under the title of When the Dundas Valley Was The Outlet For Niagara Falls, we gave a bit of history gathered from the reports of Prof. J. W. Spencer, to the Canada department of Mines, printed in 1906, on the evolution of Niagara. It was an interesting subject for Hamilton and Dundas readers of the Spectator, as it brought the two old towns into the limelight of history. The story becomes more interesting, as Prof. Spencer was a teacher in the Hamilton Collegiate Institute nearly forty years ago, and is remembered by his pupils as an interesting teacher on scientific subjects. We are indebted to P. L. Scriven, a wood engraver, who has made his home in Hamilton, for a long number of years, for a pamphlet read before the Hamilton Association on the evening of December 8, 1881, by Prof. Spencer, which the author opened by asking the question “Did Lake Erie ever discharge its waters through the Dundas valley,” from which the muser intends to quote freely, as it gives much that will be of general interest to Hamilton and Dundas students of the origin of the Great Lakes, especially relating to the head of Lake Ontario.
While working out the origin of the Dundas valley, at the extreme western end of Lake Ontario, later known in history as the head of the lake (now the city of Hamilton), Prof. Spencer says, in his paper, the discovery that the present great rock bound valley is only one of insignificance compared with the buried channels of preglacial date led to the broader study of the origins of the lake basins themselves, as the buried channel in the Dundas Valley appeared to form a portion of the preglacial outlet of the basin of Lake Erie into that of Lake Ontario. On this subject Prof. Spencer read a paper before the American Philosophical society in March 1881, while he was yet a teacher in the Hamilton Collegiate institute, which paper was published in the reports of the Geological Survey of Pennsylvania. This was quite an honor as a recognition of the valuable research made by the professor.
“The Niagara escarpment encloses the western end of Lake Ontario (the head of the lake) by its hills, which face the lake just beyond its southern and western shores. Through this escarpment, at the western end of the lake, the Dundas Valley is excavated. In the expanded valley, the western portion of Burlington bay and the city of Hamilton are situated. Westward, however, of the latter place, the excavation through the escarpment closes to a width of rather more than two miles. Of these hills, the lower 250 feet are composed of Medina shales, and over these there are thin intercalated beds of Clinton dolomites and shales, surmounted by a still greater development of compact Niagara dolomites. The general attitude of the rocky boundaries of the valley is rather more than 500 feet above Lake Ontario (516 feet north of Dundas, and 510 feet south of Ancaster.
“After the escarpment closes to form a valley of about two miles in width, just beyond the limits of the city of Hamilton, it extends westward for six miles, but at Copetown, it becomes covered with drift, while on the southern side of Ancaster, less than four miles distant, it abruptly ends. Westward of Copetown, on the northern side of the valley, the escarpment continues; but it is more or less covered with drift, through which there are occasional exposures of a rocky floor.
“The deeper portion of the valley in which Dundas is situated is separated from the lake by Burlington heights, a ridge of stratified gravel, that rises 108 feet above the lake, being an old beach composed of Hudson river pebbles. Behind this ridge is the extensive Dundas marsh, and farther up is the town itself., but which is traversed by deep ravines. At the upper end of the Dundas Valley proper, the character of the country differs from that in the valley. There is a large basin, which may be defined approximately by drawing a line from Ancaster village to the Grand river on the west. Thence along the hills southward of the Grand river to near Brantford, thence northward to the main line of the Grand Trunk railway, and thence eastward from near Harriisburg to Copetown and the north side of the Dundas Valley. Much of this basin is from 50 to 100 feet lower than the country outside of it. The depth of the drift in the basin is said to be very great. In the Dundas valley proper, the depth cannot be much less than 1,000 feet. This being the case, the depth of the drift in the basin west of Ancaster, not more than seven miles distant, in all probability reaches a similar depth.
“The Grand river valley is characterized by a broad depression two miles or more in width. The lower portion of the river is through a broad, marshy country. At Dunnville, a few miles from the lake, piles had to be driven to a greater depth to get a foundation for an embankment across the river.”
Prof. Spencer arrived at the conclusion that the preglacial outlet into Lake Erie into Lake Ontario was along the buried portions of the Grand river and the Dundas Valley, hence the burden of proof is in favor of his view, that before the present Niagara Falls had an existence, the waters from the upper lakes and river had their outlet down through the Dundas Valley through the Burlington bay, and over the sandstrip, which is Hamilton’s great summer resort.
THE DISCOVERY OF BURLINGTON BAY.
Hamilton school teachers some 40 years ago were men and women who deovoted much study to the ancient history of Canada, especially to home surroundings. Take a circle of say fifty miles, with the Head of the Lake as the central point, and what more interesting places could be grouped together! Forinstance, take the history of our own county of Wentworth, so pleasantly told in the booklet entitled Wentworth Landmarks, the contributions of local writers, and it carries back to the early days of the pioneers who laid, broad and deep, the foundations of one of the richest sections of Canada. Benjamin E. Charlton was one of those old-time schoolmasters, and we are privileged in having the reading of a paper which he prepared and read before the Hamilton Association at a meeting held in the council chamber on the night of January 12, 1882. The report of the meeting says that there was a large attendance of members and visitors. It is different nowadays. The announcement of a lecture before the association by some of the best scientific minds hardly interests the members, let alone visitors.
Two and a half centuries ago, said Mr. Charlton in introducing his subject, which was certainly of local interest, being The Discovery of Burlington Bay, a glance at this portion of the continent of North America finds the French re-established at Quebec, and in a small way at Hochelaga, now Montreal. Some four or five Jesuit missionaries had for several years been laboring among the numerous towns along the east coast of the Georgian bay, then known as the Great Fish sea, with very indifferent success, but with zeal and courage under hardships and cruelties worse than death, and even martyrdom itself, that won respect even from their tormentors. They were in the habit of sending home to their superiors in France reports giving the most circumstantial details of every event which came under their notice. These Jesuit reports give the earliest glimpses of the birth of Canada. The missionaries to the Hurons, though accustomed to make excursions in various directions, do not seem to have penetrated nearer to the ground upon which we now stand upon than Lake Simcoe. Some unpublished manuscripts, having reference to explorations in America, was one giving an account of an expedition in 1669 by La Salle, whose name stands at the head of the intrepid explorers of this continent, and two Sulpicans, who started from Montreal in canoes, passed up the St. Lawrence, along the south shore of Lake Ontario, and made a short stay on the shore of Burlington bay. Mr. Carlton gave quite a lengthy history of the explorations of the Jesuit missionaries along the shores of Lake Ontario, coming to an Indian village on the borders of a small lake, in the township of Nelson, about ten miles from Hamilton, known as Lake Medad. The lake is a pretty sheet of water some eight acres in extent, fed by abundant natural springs. On one side beneath an abrupt rocky bank, and from a rocky basin which may have been widened and cleared of loose stones ages ago, bursts out a spring of cold water, sufficient in quantity to supply a small city. A steep pathway cut deeply into the rock and earthy embankment by the feet of botyh wild animals and Indians in prehistoric times, leads from the spring up to a sloping plain of considerable extent, on which but little modern cultivation has been accomplished. Scattered over this slope were heaps of ashes, containing fragments of Indian pottery, bones of animals and broken weapons. On a portion of the plain, the natives had probably cultivated Indian corn. Evidently at some distant period, there was an important Indian town of the Neutral nation. This tribe occupied the country between the Niagara and the Detroit rivers. In their wars with the Indians of Michigan, the Neutrals acted withy more ferocious cruelty than even the Huron or Iroquois, eating their prisoners of war of both sexes. Mr. Charlton gave a lengthy description of the highest point of the plain in the in the vicinity of Lake Medad were at one side a cluster of ash heaps were discovered – the ossuaries. In the year 1678, La Salle and Father Hennepin built the schooner Griffin, the first vessel which floated on Lake Erie.
History tells us that La Salle entered Burlington bay in September 1669, and landed on the shore about where the Grand Trunk railway station is now situated. That the first white settler was Robert Land, who chose the head of Lake Ontario for his new home in Canada, having left the United States when that country proclaimed its independence. His farm consisted of 300 acres in the territory bounded by the shores of the bay on the north, Wellington street on the west, Main street on the south and Wentworth street on the east. In 1823, Colonel Land sold the lot on the southwest corner of his farm to Richard Springer, John Aikman, John Eaton, Peter Ferguson and Charles Depew, for twenty dollars, on which was erected the first church built in Hamilton. It is now the site of the First Methodist church.