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Sep. 20, 2021 | Monday
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Niagara's History Unveiled: ​​​​​​​Rail bridge connects Queenston to U.S.
The Queenston Lewiston Bridge that opened in 1899 carried rail cars between the Canadian and U.S. side. (NOTL Museum)

This is the third in a four-part series based on a talk given as a part of the Niagara Historical Society’s lecture series. Because of the pandemic, the series, “All along the Waterfront” was done via Zoom. All of the talks are available online through the Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum.

The new Queenston Lewiston Bridge was officially opened In 1899.

Its predecessor had blown down decades before and, in the interim, people had used ferries to get across the river.

The new bridge was intended to enhance the tourist industry. Because rails were a part of the deck, visitors could make an excursion through Niagara Falls, viewing the Niagara Gorge from both sides.

Although there were six attempts to build a major railway crossing through Queenston to the United States, none were successful – perhaps to the benefit of today’s village.

When the first railway opened, Queenston was a village of about 300 people, a population similar to today. By this time, there were three stores, eight taverns, one wagon maker, one blacksmith, one baker, four shoemakers and one tailor serving the village.

For a short time in the 1830s, there was a newspaper printery run by former Toronto mayor and rebel leader William Lyon Mackenzie. The village school was founded in the 19th century, along with the smaller one-room school built for the children at Glencairn.

Hardly a village living through hard times.

Tourism was clearly important to the village. The railway was successful because large ships could dock at Queenston.

By 1878, Niagara Navigation Company operated docks in Niagara-on-the-Lake and Queenston. In 1893, the first excursions from Toronto began.

Over the years, five well-known vessels made the journey: the Chicora, Cibola, Chippawa, Corona and the Cayuga. Over 300,000 people took the tour and the trip from Toronto to Queenston via Niagara-on-the-Lake took about two hours.

Allan Sheppard, in his memoirs, said he believed the Cayuga was licensed to carry 2,000 people at one time. He also said that he remembered “Each evening residents would walk to the dock to watch it (the Cayuga) arrive, be unloaded and loaded, and then depart.”

It was not only passengers who were being loaded and unloaded. During the fruit season, the ships carried fruit to Toronto.

Three sisters, members of the Rae family, who grew up in Queenston remember, those times.

“Our uncle owned a peach farm near St. Davids. We would bike out there in peach season to help pick the crop. We’d come back with the truck and go down to the dock to watch them load the peaches for Toronto. On a 100-acre farm, six girls would pick, pack and ship 1,200 six-quart baskets a day.”

On Oct. 10, 1901, the Corona brought the second members of the Royal Family to Queenston. In 1860, the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, had visited the village.

It was on this visit that he gave Laura Secord 100 pounds for her service during the War of 1812. Edward’s son and daughter-in-law, the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York, (later King George V and Queen Mary) came for a short visit to Queenston. After a quick look around, they took the train from the dock to Niagara Falls.

The end to the excursion by ship and train came in 1957. By the mid-20th century, the automobile had taken over from ships and trains.

Next: Sandsuckers, ice jams and big changes

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