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Friday, December 9, 2022
Niagara’s History Unveiled: The Early Years

Tucked under the Niagara escarpment and mostly overlooked by many, is a small village known as St. Davids.  Founded in 1780, when United Empire Loyalists as well as soldiers from Butler’s Rangers ventured across the Niagara River to settle in the new colony of Upper Canada.

Many families settled on land in Upper Canada, without a clear title to the land or a lease or any security of their farms.  The terms for resettlement were set out by the Governor of Lower Canada, (which included the Niagara region at that time) by General Haldimand (1778-1784) under the “Farming/Resettlement Program” for loyalist families.

Under the terms of this program, settlers would be granted land and provided with seed, ploughs and other farm implements.  There would be no rent charged on the lands given, but it was made clear in the signed agreement that surplus produce would be sold to the British forces only and not to any other persons.

This was how St. Davids was settled in 1780.  There were 16 families, Secords, Dolson, Stuart, Fields, Depue, Rowe, Phelps, Bender, Lutz, Showers, House, McMicking, Young, and van Every, 68 persons in total who saw a positive future and agreed to settle without clear title to the land.

The area allocated for these new settlers was where two busy trails intersected; a north/south trail (originally Paxton Lane) connecting Lakes Ontario and Erie and a trail that ran along the base of the escarpment (now York Road).  As well this area had a great source of water that would provide power to  grist mills and saw mills.

During the early days of this settlement, the village boasted several mills and people referred to it as Four Mile Mills (being situated on Four Mile Creek).  By 1800, Richard Woodruff started referring to the town as Davidsville or Davidstown after his friend and superior officer, David Secord.  At that time, men who showed great leadership were often referred to as “king” like a mayor of a settlement.

So how did this town become known as St. Davids.  Speculation has it that David Secord, who was known as King David, maybe reminded people of David from the bible and with a twist of words, the village became known as St. Davids – no apostrophe!

The town of St. Davids was severely impacted by the War of 1812 (1812-1814).  It was occupied by the American forces six times and by the British forces seven times.  At one point it was the Capital of Upper Canada when both York (Toronto) and Newark (NOTL) were occupied by the Americans.

It was also the headquarters for the British Army for a time, where in Solomon Quick’s Tavern on Paxton Lane, General Drummond and Colonel Murray (both British Army) planned for the capture of Fort Niagara (American side of the Niagara River) in retaliation for the burning of Newark (NOTL) on December 10, 1813.  It was a very detailed plan put into action on December 19, 1813. A successful battle that saw Fort Niagara captured with no loss to British forces. The British flag was hoisted above its fort walls once again.

During that winter of 1814, the British forces did not stop with just the capture of Fort Niagara but continued down the east side of the Niagara River, destroying all settlements from Lewiston to Buffalo.

In July of 1814, American forces landed at Fort Erie (on the east side of the Niagara River) and took the fort.  The Americans then continued north through Chippawa, Lundy’s Lane and finally occupied the village of Queenston.  Battles along this route between the British and Americans have been recorded as some of the fierce throughout the War of 1812.

The Canadian Militia and residents of St. Davids defended their homes with such tenacity that the American forces became very frustrated.  On July 19, 1814, the US Commanding Officer Colonel Stone gave the order to “burn” St. Davids to the ground with no mercy to be shown to soldier and civilians.

It was this final act of destruction by the American Army that provoked the British to march into Washington to burn the Whitehouse.

After the destruction of St. Davids, with the leadership of David Secord and Richard Woodruff, the town’s people were eager to rebuild their community.

In 1815 the first business to be established after the War of 1812 was the general store of Richard Woodruff.  It was on the south/west corner of York Road and Four Mile Creek Road until 1961, when it was demolished to accommodate the widening of York Road.

In 1816 the first school was built on land donated by David Secord (on York Road and Paxton Lane).  It was in operation until 1871 when the Lowry family donated land and a bell for a new school.  This school can be still be seen at its current location on York Road.

In 1817 the first newspaper, Niagara Spectator, was opened.   It later moved to Niagara (NOTL) where one of its publishers, Bartemas Ferguson was imprisoned for his political opinions.  The paper thrived on this publicity and was successful for many years to follow.

1818 the very first steam gristmill in Ontario opened in St. Davids.  It was built by Richard and William Woodruff.  Later the Lowrey family purchased it for the use of a “fruit evaporator”. Fruit evaporators dried fruit so that it could be packed in barrels and shipped great distances.  This plant was located at 215 Four Mile Creek Road.

John Sleeman from Cornwall, England built the Stamford Spring Brewery and Distillery in 1836.  It was located on the west side of Four Mile Creek south of Town Line Road.  It operated as a brewery, under four different owners until 1900 when a Mrs. H. Dixon purchase the brewery and turned it into a water bottling plant.  Fresh spring water from Four Mile Creek was a sought after commodity and the plant operated until the end of the First World War when the brewery/water plant was abandon after a century of prosperous commercial enterprise.

By the 1880’s fruit farms replaced the general farm crops.  David Jackson Lowrey is credited with planting the first commercial peach trees and later the first commercial vineyards.

With the twentieth century dawning, St. Davids had four canning factories, a huge quarry, tannery, three black smiths, two general stores, four gristmills and their very own Bell telephone exchange.

St. Davids had become a thriving viable community.  The first settlers would be very pleased if they could see what had become of their hard work in settling the land.


To learn more about the topic of this story you can visit the Niagara Historical Society & Museum website at,, 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.

Ascenzo is a regular Niagara Now contributor. Her full profile can be found here.