St. Catharines (2011 population 131,400; metropolitan population 392,184) is the largest city in Canada's Niagara Region and the sixth largest urban area in Ontario, with 96.11 square kilometers of land. It lies in Southern Ontario 51 kilometres (32 mi) south of Toronto across Lake Ontario, and is 19 kilometres (12 mi) inland from the international boundary with the United States along the Niagara River. It is the northern entrance of the Welland Canal. Residents of St. Catharines are known as St. Cathariners.
St. Catharines carries the official nickname "The Garden City" due to its 1,000 acres (4 km2) of parks, gardens and trails.
St. Catharines is situated in an area for commerce and trade since it is located between the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and the Fort Erie- US Border. Manufacturing is the city's dominant industry, as noted by the heraldic motto, "Industry and Liberality". General Motors of Canada, Ltd., the Canadian subsidiary of General Motors, operates two plants in the city (one plant was partially shut down in 2010) and until recently was the city's largest employer, a distinction now held by the District School Board of Niagara. TRW Automotive operates a plant in the city, though in recent years employment there has shifted from heavy industry and manufacturing to services.
The city was first settled by Loyalists in the 1780s. Early histories credit Serjeant Jacob Dittrick and Private John Hainer formerly of Butler's Rangers, among the first to come to the area taking up their Crown Patents where Dick’s Creek and 12 Mile Creek merge, now the city centre of St. Catharines. Although never documented, some local St. Catharines' historians speculate Dick’s Creek was named after Richard Pierpoint, a black Loyalist. Secondary to water routes, native trails provided transportation networks, resulting in the present day radial road pattern from the City centre. The surrounding land was surveyed and Townships created between 1787 and 1789.
After the Butler’s Rangers disbanded in 1784 and settled the area, Duncan Murray as a former Quartermaster in the 84th Regiment of Foot (Royal Highland Emigrants) was appointed by the Crown the right to distribute free Government supplies (victuals) for 2 years. He did this from his mill, built on the 12 Mile Creek in Power Glen. After his death in 1786, his holdings were forfeited to merchant Robert Hamilton of Queenston. Hamilton attempted to operate for profit the already well established Murray’s Distribution Centre and Mill under the management of his cousin. Among other ventures, Hamilton became land wealthy expropriating lands from subsistence Loyalist settlers who were incapable of settling their debts. Murray’s distribution centre, later Hamilton’s warehouse, and its location have long been a mystery. Hamilton’s major profits were derived from transhipping supplies for the military and civic establishments from his Queenston enterprise, not from charitably supplying the subsistence Loyalist settlers. With Hamilton’s lack of interest in social development the business was sold to Jesse Thompson before the turn of the 18th Century.
The small settlement was known as “The Twelve” and as “Murray’s District” to military and civic officials but to the local residents in 1796 and earlier as St. Catharines. This is confirmed in St. Catharines’ first history written by J.P. Merritt “to be historically accurate the name St. Catharines preceded all of these….”
The Merritt family arrived after this time being late Loyalists who had re-established themselves after the American Revolution, in the Carolinas, New York and New Brunswick. In 1796, Thomas Merritt arrived to benefit from the favours of his former Commander and Queen's Ranger, John Graves Simcoe, now the Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada.
At an unknown early date, an inn was built by Thomas Adams, located on the east side of what is now Ontario Street. It became a community meeting place, election centre, stagecoach stop, and mail delivery deposit. This was preceded by the Church and log school house completed before 1797 all located on the east bank of the 12 Mile Creek at the extreme west end of the what was known at that time as Main Street- an extension of the old Iroquois Trail and renamed St. Paul Street by the mid-19th century. Several mills, salt works, numerous retail outlets, a ship building yard, distillery and various other businesses followed.
The first Welland Canal was constructed from 1824 to 33 behind what is now known as St. Paul Street, using Twelve Mile and Dick's Creek. William Hamilton Merritt worked to promote the ambitious venture, both by raising funds and by enlisting government support. The canal established St. Catharines as the hub of commerce and industry for the Niagara Peninsula.
Merritt also played a role in making St. Catharines an important place of abolitionist activity. In 1855, the British Methodist Episcopal Church and Salem Chapel was established at the corner of Geneva and North streets, on land granted to the congregation by Merritt in the early 1840s. The area became known to escaped slaves as a place of "refuge and rest", and cemented it as a final terminus on the Underground Railroad for African American slaves. By the mid-1850s the population was about 6000, 800 of whom were "of African descent". St. Catharines remains an important place in Black Canadian history.
The Town of St. Catharines was incorporated in 1845. St. Catharines was incorporated as a city in 1876.
The St. Catharines Armoury is a recognized Federal Heritage building 1991 on the Register of the Government of Canada Heritage Buildings.
The primary source for basic documents (vital statistics, land records, wills) for people who lived in the Province of Ontario is the Archives of Ontario, 134 Ian Macdonald Blvd, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M7A 2C5.
Civil registration did not begin in the province until 1869. Before then there may be church records of baptisms and burials. For the most part these are still held by the denomination who recorded them. Copies of marriage records made pre-1869 had to be sent by individual clergymen to the registrar of the county in which the marriage took place. These marriage records are available through Ontario Archives, on micorfilm through LDS libraries, and on paid and unpaid websites, but because they were copied at the registrars' offices, they cannot be considered a primary source.
Vital Records after 1869
Birth, marriage and death registrations are not open to the public until a specific number of years after the event occurred. Births to 1914 are now available [October 2012]; dates for marriages and deaths are later. Birth and death registration was not universally carried out in the early years after its adoption. Deaths were more apt to be reported than births for several years. The more rural the area, the less likely it would be that these happenings were reported to the authorities.
Land Records and Wills
Information on how to access land records and wills is best sought on the Archives of Ontario website. An ancestor's land holding might be found on Canadian County Atlas Digital Project if he was in occupancy circa 1878.
Association for the Preservation of Ontario Land Registry Office Documents (APOLROD). A list of Land Registry Offices for all Counties of Ontario.
The original censuses are in the hands of Library and Archives Canada. All of the original census (1851-1911) images are online with the exception of that for 1861. Not all of them are indexed. Later censuses are not yet available. Census divisions were redrawn as the population increased and more land was inhabited.
E-books and Books
Some websites with more local information on Lincoln County