History of Welland

Book cover of Aqueduct Merrittsville and Welland - Summary of 3 Books written by W.H. Lewis

The City of Welland is located on the Welland Ship Canal, almost midway between Lakes Ontario and Erie. It is served by the Toronto, Hamilton & Buffalo; Norfolk and Western; Canadian National and Consolidated Rail Corporation Railroads. It also has an excellent dockage facility of the Welland Canal.

With existing transportation facilities, together with availability of electrical power, Welland is a manufacturing centre of note with large iron and steel, textile, rubber and electrical equipment industries. With miles of paved streets, fine business section, parks and well-organized education facilities, including the Niagara College of Applied Arts & Technology, its advantages for the visitor are numerous and attractive.

The City of Welland is the outgrowth of a settlement which commenced about the year 1788, when a scattering of farms between what we now know as Quaker Road and South Pelham Street, along the Welland River came to be. Near Welland's eastern boundary, on Lyons Creek Road, is a cairn, plain and unpretentious, that marks one of the most interesting episodes in the history of this Continent.  It marks the spot where more than a century and a half ago, the forces of the United States and those of Canada met for the last time in armed conflict.  That was the Battle of Cooks Mills which ended an epoch of suspicion and enmity and opened another one of peace, understanding and goodwill.

The Cook Brothers had come up from Pennsylvania as Loyalists and had established their flour mills on Lyons Creek in the era of the first settlements in Ontario.  Came the last year of the war 1812-14.  The invaders had burned down Niagara, the ancient capital, and half of Fort Erie opposite Buffalo.  In mid-October a small army was sent out from the fort to take Cooks Mills for what grain and flour the mills might contain.  The Canadian forces under the Marquis of Tweedale, met the invaders a short distance east of the Mills.  The battle lasted two days without decisive results.  On the third day, the 20th of October, 1814, the Americans withdrew to the fort and on the following day crossed the Niagara to Buffalo and the war was over.

The story of the inland waterways of Canada is one of progress, from the early explorers and settlers to the present, when agriculture and industry place Canada as a leader among the nations of the world, thus focusing great emphasis on its lakes and canals.  It was on St. Andrew's Day, 1824, that a small company of men gathered near the junction of Holland Road and Canboro Road and one of them turned a sod.  That was all.  Then they adjourned to dine at the Black Horse Tavern, half a mile away.  That sod-turning marked the beginning of the Welland Ship Canal and the man who turned it was Mr. George Keefer, President of the Welland Canal Company.  A stamp commemorating this event and honouring William Hamilton Merritt, who initiated the construction of the first Welland Canal, was issued on November 30, 1974.

In 1829, when a wooden aqueduct was built to carry the Welland Canal over the Welland River, a true urban presence of settlement came to be around that location. The settlement was called Aqueduct or The Aqueduct. On November 14, 1844, following the replacing of the wooden Aqueduct by one of stone, the name was changed to Merrittsville to honour the Honourable William Merritt.  The settlement was incorporated as the Village of Welland on July 24, 1858.  Incorporation as a town took place on January 1, 1878, and as a City on July 1, 1917.

The City of Welland is located within the centre of the Niagara Region. Via excellent highways, Welland is approximately seventy-five minutes from Toronto and within thirty minutes of Buffalo, New York. 

As a shipping transportation node, Welland is the centre link of the Welland Ship Canal between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario joining the ports of the rest of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway Authority to other Canadian, American and international destinations.

In addition, the dissecting of the City by the Welland Ship Canal, the Welland River, and the Welland Recreational Canal provides an interesting geographic and island-like feature of bridges, tunnels, trails, water and routes for the enjoyment of citizens, recreationalists, and travellers alike.

The Welland Recreational Canal provides a unique trail park of over 700 acres that is completely owned by the City of Welland.

Rail linkage to major centres in Canada and the U.S. is provided by Trillium Railway Co. Ltd., the Canadian National Railway, and the Canadian Pacific Railway.  The Niagara Central Airport provides sight-seeing and private charter service to both business and leisure travellers to destinations in southern Ontario and the U.S. as well as accommodating both freight and private passenger aircraft.

Welland is located in the heart of the Niagara District, whose fruit orchards, vineyards and vegetable gardens have given the area the title of "Garden of Canada".  There are 462.61 acres of fine parks and one of the finest Rose Gardens in the Province.  This garden with others privately-owned, has earned for Welland the appellation of "Rose City" a title officially confirmed by resolution of City Council on October 18, 1921.

In 1991 Council adopted Rose #K0802647 as Welland’s Official Rose. The colour variation of yellow, red and orange was deemed appropriate by the selection committee as it represented Welland’s blend of cultures.

For recreation to go with its parks, Welland has tennis courts, a skate board park, three outdoor swimming pools, one YMCA indoor pool, two wading pools, one splash pool and two splash pads, lighted and unlighted baseball fields, two artificial ice arenas with a main arena capacity of 4,200 and a seating capacity of 2,049, six 18-hole golf courses, 8-sheet artificial ice curling rink and seven motion picture theatres.

The height above sea level is 575 feet (175.3m).  Latitude is 42° 59.400’N, longitude is 79° 15.600’W.  The average annual temperature is 47.3°F (8.5°C), with the coldest month averaging 40.5°F (-4.7°C), and the warmest averaging 70.5°F (21.4°C).  The average annual precipitation (snow being expressed as water equivalent) is approximately 39 inches (99cm), of which the average rainfall is 33 inches (83.84cm) and average snowfall is 60.2 inches (152.9cm).

Since incorporation as a City on July 1, 1917, the first expansion of City boundaries took place on January 1, 1950, when approximately 300 acres of Thorold Township were annexed to the City.  The annexed area comprised those lands west from First Avenue to the centre line of Willson Road, north to the centre line of Thorold Road and south to the Welland River.

During 1957, the City of Sorel, Quebec, and the City of Welland, Ontario, became Twin Cities.  A group of citizens and civic leaders from the City of Welland visited Sorel in 1957, 1964, 1969, 1973 and 1978, and a similar group from Sorel visited Welland in 1958, 1967, 1971, 1975 and 1979.

The City of Welland became 100 years old on July 24, 1958, and duly celebrated from July 21 to July 28, inclusive, by having special Church services, sports events of all kinds, a Mardi Gras, Band Tattoo, and finally a grand parade.  Special lighting on the main streets welcomed the guests home.

Nineteen hundred and fifty-eight was a red letter year for the Mayor and Council of the City of Welland, as they were presented with a Chain of Office for the Mayor by the Sawle Syndicate, in memory of the late David Ross, who was the father of the late Mrs. G.R.T. Sawle.  Mr. David Ross came to Welland in 1878 and from 1881 to 1933 was in public office most every year, being an Alderman, Mayor, Chairman of the Public School Board, a member of the Board of Education and the Parks Board.

In 1960, the City of Welland made application to the Ontario Municipal Board to annex 4,074 acres of the Township of Crowland, 2,311 acres of the Township of Thorold, 273 acres of the Township of Pelham and 50 acres of the Township of Humberstone.  The hearing was held on the 10th day of May, 1960, and their decision was reserved.  On October 3, 1960, the Board gave a favourable decision, plus 273 additional acres from the Township of Pelham, increasing the area of the City of Welland to 8,628 acres effective January 1, 1961.  The population of the enlarged City was 36,094.

Welland participated with the rest of Canada during 1967, with continuing program of events to mark the 100th anniversary of Confederation.  The City's Centennial Project, a $175,000.00 Youth Arena was officially opened on Wednesday, November 1, 1967.

On June 9, 1967, a sod-turning ceremony marked the start of construction of an 8.3 mile channel to relocate the Welland Ship Canal from the City's core, easterly a distance of approximately 1 1/2 miles.  On December 15, 1972, the bridges over the Welland Ship Canal in the city of Welland came down permanently as navigation on this channel closed forever.

The new channel which opened for shipping on April 1, 1973, and officially opened with appropriate ceremonies on July 14, 1973, has had a dramatic effect upon all aspects of Welland's continued growth and expansion.

On Thursday, January 23, 1969, at the historic Niagara Town Hall, the Minister of Municipal Affairs, The Honourable W. Darcy McKeogh, outlined plans for Regional Government in the Niagara Peninsula.

A second tier of government, known as the Regional Municipality of Niagara, replacing the two County Councils took office on January 1, 1970.  The twenty-four municipalities in Lincoln and Welland Counties were consolidated into twelve.  The City of Welland annexed half of Crowland Township, a large area of Humberstone Township and a small portion of Thorold Township.

Effective July 1, 1975, approximately 50 acres of the City of Thorold were annexed to the City of Welland.  This boundary adjustment was made so that all the Niagara Regional Agricultural Society Fairgrounds would lie within the City of Welland.

Effective January 1, 1986, 6.5 acres of the Town of Pelham were annexed to the City of Welland.  This addition brought the entire Summerlea Subdivision within the City.

This latest annexation increased the total area of the City of Welland to 21,260.5 acres, or 33.219 square miles, being 8,603.805 ha. or 86.039 km2.

On January 1, 1977, the City of Welland assumed responsibility for the operation of the Welland Transit System.  The System had been previously operated by private contractors, with Municipal Subsidy.

In 1982 the City of Welland opened its new Municipal Service Centre on Federal Road.  This Centre, built at a cost of $2,326,188.00, provides accommodation for the Works, Parks and Water Departments, previously housed at three locations, in different areas of the City.

In 1983, Welland celebrated its 125th Anniversary of Incorporation.  A Council Committee organized a series of events during a special period of celebration, July 21 to 24, and a Special Council meeting was held in the Court House on the Anniversary of the first Council Meeting, September 27.  A Souvenir Booklet was produced and a Commemorative Plate was sold to honour this momentous occasion in the life of this Community.

In 1984 Welland joined in Ontario’s Bicentennial celebrations.  With the co-operation of local organizations, supported in part by Provincial funding, many events were held to mark this historic occasion, highlighted by a visit of two Tall Ships and performances by Ontario’s Bicentennial Showcase at the Welland Arena.

Built with the assistance of the Provincial Government, under their Commercial Area Improvement Program, Welland's new Market Square Building, adjoining the present City Market, was officially opened on November 15, 1986.

One of the keys to Welland's success as a community is its wealth of dedicated volunteers, energetically working behind the scenes.  1988 saw these volunteers come to the forefront of some major initiatives aimed at revitalizing the downtown and promoting tourism throughout the City.

Welland's Festival of Arts brought in artists from across Canada to create "larger than life" murals on numerous buildings in strategic locations throughout the City.  These colour murals warmly portray various aspects of Welland's history, heritage and culture.

1988 also saw the commencement of construction of a $2.9 million Community Sports Complex located on Welland's north side adjacent to the Niagara Regional Exhibition Grounds.  The complex features 2 slow-pitch diamonds and a 2,500 seat capacity stadium and baseball diamond.

In June 1998, at the invitation of the Mayor of Tongxiang, Mayor Reuter and others travelled to China to evaluate the potential for a partnership agreement between the two cities and to explore economic opportunities for the City of Welland, its industries and investors, and for other industries in the Niagara Region. In December 1998, the City of Welland and Regional Niagara entered into a partnering relationship with Tongxiang, The People’s Republic of China to foster an exchange of information with respect to the automotive, textile and electrical industries as well as in the areas of agriculture, tourism, culture, education and technology. Civic leaders, citizens of Welland and Regional Niagara representatives hosted a delegation from Tongxiang, China in 2002.

In 1990, the City constructed the Rose City Seniors Centre which brought together into one modern facility various senior organizations for common pursuits.  With program assistance from the City's Recreation Department this facility is a constant bustle of activity and the envy of many communities.

1993 saw an anchor attraction come to downtown Welland when the City constructed the Welland Transit Terminal.  This facility is the connecting focus for local, regional and transcontinental public transportation.  The success of this facility was immediate as links between Niagara College and Brock University emerged; as well, major transcontinental public transit carriers began using Welland as a transfer point.

Economic resurgence continued throughout the mid 1990’s both in the private and public sector as Welland’s strength and resources in the emerging technology of call centres brought a competitive edge to the City for enticing new businesses to Welland.  By 1998, there were seven (7) major call centres located within the City, creating with them a total of 640 new jobs. As well, there are state of the art training labs at local high schools and Niagara College to provide employment training.

Meanwhile, in the public sector in 1998, Niagara College opened a 117 unit student residence complex at its Welland Campus.  The Welland Arena also saw major renovations adding administrative offices and meeting room facilities to the front of the Welland Arena.

The year 2000 saw significant expansion in the City’s industrial sector with John Deere adding some 88,000 square feet of new space, GDX (Gencor) adding some 18,000 square feet of new space and Premier Refractories / Vesuvius consolidating its operations to Welland and adding some 30,000 square feet of space to its Prince Charles location.  The additions to John Deere and GDX (Gencor) were the first capital expansions to these plants in over 25 years.

The 2001 Municipal Elections made local history when the City of Welland elected its first female Mayor.  Mayor Cindy Forster was sworn into office December 1, 2000.

Following the transfer of lands from the Federal Government to the City, the Welland Recreational Canal Corporation (WRCC) was established in 2001. The WRCC reports to Council and its members are appointed by Council.  The WRCC Board of Directors is made up of nine people; three members of council and six citizens. The mandate of the WRCC is to be the “stewards” of the Recreational Canal – to improve, develop, and protect the Welland Recreational Waterway.

In response to new technology and industry, Welland has developed new industrial sites to replace old technologies.  The latest industrial development park was named “Harry W. Diffin Industrial Park” on the 20th day of May 2003 in honour of Harry Diffin, long time Alderman and Mayor and development proponent.  Subsequently, on December 30, 2003, Harry Diffin passed away in his 94th year.

The completion of construction of the new Civic Square in 2005 was an integral step towards the revitalization of the downtown core. The Civic Square consists of the City Hall and Library, and is approximately 71,258 square feet. The official opening on June 28, 2005 was well attended by citizens and dignitaries as it took the will of three Councils and three Mayors to see the start and finish of this wonderful addition to Welland’s downtown. As well as being a very open and functional building, featured in the prestigious January 2007 edition of the Canadian Architect magazine, it also proudly serves as a gateway for residents and visitors alike for festival events between the Market Square, Downtown, and Merritt Island.

The City of Welland celebrated its 150th Anniversary on July 24, 2008.

According to Canada Census Records the population of the City of Welland in 2006 was 50,331.