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May. 26, 2019 | Sunday
Entertainment News
Niagara's History Unveiled: Queenston - Civic life in a small village
An illustration of Queenstown, Upper Canada, on the Niagara River, now known as Queenston, Ontario. Painting by Edward Walsh circa 1803 and 1807. (Wikimedia Commons)

By the end of the 19th century, the governance of towns and villages in Ontario was changing. The days of the autocratic land grant owner were fading, partly because men like Robert Hamilton and Thomas Talbot were dying, but also because settlers were no longer willing to accept such authority without some form of representation. 

Talbot had been particularly notorious. Even though his settlers completed their duties of building homes, clearing the land and helping to build roads, many of them were faced with the results of Talbot’s habit of pencilling their names onto the survey map of the area. If he didn’t approve of a particular settler, he erased their names from the map or “forgot” to pass the information on to the government.

The Queenston of Hamilton’s day was gone. The thriving port with docks, warehouses, taverns and even a post office was making way for the Welland Canal. The old portage route from Queenston to Chippawa was no longer necessary. The docks, along with the jobs provided by them, languished. The population of the village declined.

In 1911, Queenston became a police village. These were created in Ontario under the Baldwin Act of 1850. This method of managing small communities had been created during the 18th century in Catherine the Great’s Russia. They allowed for “Boards of Police” in villages that were not large enough to have an elected council – those with more than 150, but fewer than 500 people. Amherstburg, Ancaster, Belleville, St. Davids, Fenwick and Caledon are among the many other municipalities that were incorporated as police villages.

Instead of an elected council, the villages were governed by boards of trustees who were allowed to deal with issues such as street lighting and safety concerns. In 1911, the trustees included a Mr. Sheppard and a Mr. Digweed, names that are familiar in Queenston today. After 1965, police villages were no longer created, and by 1973, the village of Queenston became a part of the newly formed Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake. 

There have been times when villagers believed Queenston was being neglected, but more often than not, they feel that they’re overwhelmed by government. Besides the town, villagers often have to deal with the Niagara Parks Commission, which is responsible for maintaining the Niagara River Parkway and the south end of Queenston Street. As well, the Niagara Escarpment Commission looks after part of the river bank, which sometimes frustrates homeowners who would like a clear view of the river. On the other hand, people who live in Lewiston, N.Y., have been known to comment on how much they like the forest-like aspect of their river vista.

In the early 1970s, the villagers were aware of the changes that were coming to Queenston’s governance. At the same time, the village’s post office was threatened with closure. In February 1970, the villagers thought it wise to form an association that could be used to help preserve the village’s uniqueness. The objectives of the Queenston Community Association were to:

— Preserve the name of Queenston and to encourage the study of Queenston history, the collection of historical records and the preservation of relics and buildings important to the history of Queenston and the surrounding area.

— Assist and promote social, educational and cultural activities with the young people of the area.

— Encourage the study of all government (federal, provincial and municipal) plans and directives that will affect Queenston and area, and to take action on any legislation or taxation the association feels is detrimental to good government and not in the best interests of the residents of the Queenston area.

— Study, review and act with foresight on land development plans, building codes, pollution, police and fire protection, and all other matters that are apt to affect the well-being of Queenston and area.

— Maintain close affiliation with the school administration and to be well informed about the total educational structure of the country.

Today, the Queenston Residents’ Association keeps up much of the work of its predecessor. The dues have jumped since the 1970s, but villagers appreciate the work done by the group in its efforts to keep the village a livable place. The annual Christmas bake sale and the biennial art show and sale have been going on for decades. This year’s annual spring cleanup attracted more volunteers than it has for some time. Most recently, the association helped to establish the village’s first park. Adults and children enjoy the space and visiting cyclists use it as a resting place and picnic ground.

Queenston, a village that has maintained its population of about 400 for well over a century, continues to thrive.

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To learn more about the topic of this story you can visit the Niagara Historical Society & Museum website at, www.niagarahistorical.museum, or visit the museum for yourself.

The Niagara Historical Museum is located at 43 Castlereagh St. in Old Town, in Memorial Hall. Visit, or give them a call at 905-468-3912.

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