One might think that all the excitement and action for St. Davids was in the 19th century but during the 20th century the town had its fair share of excitement.
At the turn of the century St. Davids had one bank, the Imperial Bank, located in the Odd Fellows Hall at 231 Creek Rd.
The Odd Fellows Society was a fraternal organization dating back to the mid -1700s. Their primary function was to assist those in need; widows and orphans to men looking for work. The name is felt to have derived from their charitable work, seeming “odd” to many people … thus they became known as Odd Fellows.
The Imperial Bank in St. Davids might have been considered an easy target for bank robbers what with it being a small quiet village, close to Niagara Falls where roads and railway lines would make for an easy and successful escape.
The first robbery attempt was in 1907. In the early morning hours the robbers entered the bank and blew off the door of the safe with nitroglycerin. The teller who was returning home (one might say from a late night of partying) heard the explosion. Having nothing but stones at his disposal, he threw them through the back windows of the bank to scare the robbers away.
With guns blazing, the robbers ran from the bank to their get-away vehicle, a horse drawn carriage, fleeing the scene leaving behind $5,000 sitting in the open safe.
By 1923, the Imperial Bank was now in its own building at 253 Four Mile Creek Rd. It was built to house the bank on the street level with an apartment being provided for the bank manager and family on the second floor.
A single robber attempted this next heist, when during the night he entered the apartment of the manager, Mr. Rogers. The robber’s plan was to force the manager to open the safe.
Unfortunately, the manager woke up before the robber was fully in the bedroom, a struggle ensued and the robber’s gun went off wounding Rogers.
However, Rogers kept up his fight and moved the struggle out onto the back stairs of the building. With the gun going off, many neighbours awoke and decided they must assist.
One such person, in the home behind the bank, was a Mrs. Archie Woodruff who threatened to fire her shotgun from her bedroom window. Poor Mr. Rogers pleaded for her not to do such a thing for he had already been shot once and did not want to take his chances on being shot again.
At that very moment another shot rang out. It was Mrs. Rogers, who upon finding her husband’s revolver, fired through the screen door at the bank robber, wounding him. Another bank robbery had been foiled.
On Aug. 17, 1951, two men were successful in robbing the Imperial Bank in St. Davids.
Boldly entering the bank they demanded from the teller, Ann Neufeld, the money in her till. While they were distracted with scooping all the money out of the drawer, Neufeld was able to sound the alarm. With the alarm going off, another teller grabbed the manager’s revolver and fired off three shots at the robbers. The robbers fled the bank and jumped into their getaway vehicle, this time a car, which they had stolen.
The Evening Review (Niagara Falls) reported this on their front page “Brave Woman Teller Saves Bank $27,000, St. Davids Holdup”. The robbers were both apprehended within a few weeks of the robbery.
The last bank robbery was on Sept. 10, 1951. Three men tried to rob the Imperial Bank in St. Davids and once again the teller sounded the alarm (no idea if it was Neufeld).
The manager grabbed his revolver and shot two of the bandits. With all this noise of the gun shots from the bank, many people decided to become involved.
Carl Slingerland, who owned a grocery store, ran out onto the street with his gun and fired shots into the tires of the getaway car. Another customer in the bank grabbed the manager’s revolver and took off after the robbers firing the gun at them as they ran. Three young, wounded bandits were captured later in the day.
It was discovered that their getaway car had been stolen from a lawyer, Judy LaMarsh, who later became a Federal Cabinet Minister for Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson.
Not all the excitement in St. Davids has involved bank robberies. One very unusual tradition, Devil’s Night or Cabbage Night, which was held on the night before Halloween, created great amusement for many, but not all.
Pranks by local young men have stayed in the memory of residents over the years with many of these stories being spun into local folklore.
Mrs. Paxton and her cow, Daisy, were always a challenge to the lads. Pranksters would sneak into the barn to steal Daisy and tie her up in the centre of the village. One year it is said the Paxton went to extreme measures to secure Daisy by locking all her gates and barricading the barn door. Not to be thwarted, the young pranksters removed barn boards and poor Daisy was on a new adventure.
Another prank saw the lads stealing farm equipment, such as wagons or buggies from surrounding farms and placing them on the veranda of the local grocery store owned by the Woodruff-Lowrey family. It was a grand endeavour, but the fun they said was watching all the farmers sorting through the pile of equipment the next day figuring out who owned what.
In 1960-63 Hwy 405 was being constructed just south of the village of St. Davids. One Cabbage Night (or Devil’s Night) some local lads took all the blinking warning lights and set them up as a detour route around the construction. The next morning many unsuspecting drivers were lead southward, up Henley’s Hill (top of Tanbark Road) to a dead end. But that was not the worst of it, once stuck in the dead end the vehicles were pelted with tomatoes.
St. Davids has a very colourful past, one that even new residents will enjoy learning that their village was not always a quiet peaceful place.
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.
Ascenzo is a regular Niagara Now contributor. Her full profile can be found here.