Some 12,600 years after Indigenous peoples had set foot in Niagara, the first Europeans arrived in the 17th Century. They encountered a group called the Neutral Nation, a group of Indigenous people who populated this region living in bark-covered longhouses, planting corn and tobacco, and having developed a social order in which women played an important role. The largest group called themselves the Chonnonton (Keepers of the Deer). Another, the Onguiaahra (Near the Big Waters, The Strait, or The Neck), populated the southern Niagara Peninsula, and from which the region derives its name.
For both the Haudenosaunee (People of the Longhouse) and Anishinaabek (The People), whose later presence displaced the Neutral Nation, and for whom the region became important for hunting, trapping, and trading, Niagara Falls holds special significance as a natural world feature possessing great meaning and power. Both the beauty of Niagara Falls and its frightful connotations attracted visitors to this location, thereby transforming the Indigenous relationship to this place. (check out more Indigneous History)
The area now known as Niagara Falls was once known as Township Number 2, Mount Dorchester. It was decided that the area would be populated by the United Empire Loyalists in 1781. The roads in the early community were the Concessions and Lines, which later became the main grid roads of today (Drummond, Dorchester etc.); the Portage Road, which meanders through Niagara Falls; and driveways used to connect homesteads to these main arteries, the most famous of which became Lundy’s Lane. The Portage Road was to portage goods over land to get around the Niagara Falls on the western side of the River. This area, formerly known as Mount Dorchester, was renamed Stamford Township and was politically placed in Lincoln County.
Stamford Township played a large role during the War of 1812-1814 as the site of a major battle, Lundy’s Lane on July 25th 1814. The Battle of Lundy’s Lane was the bloodiest single battle to take part on Canadian soil during the War of 1812. It is oft described as a United States Army tactical victory but as a British strategic victory. After the battle the retiring U.S army raided Bridgewater Mills, located at modern day Dufferin Islands. Hydroelectric stations were especially constructed in the first decade of the 20th century. Later projects in Queenston, 1920s and 1950s proved to be even more powerful and essential to the development of electricity in Niagara Falls.
The economy of Stamford Township continued to flourish and led to the development of communities throughout the Township including Drummondville in the Main and Ferry area, Stamford Village in the north end, and Elgin in the area around the train station. Mills played a huge role in the development of the communities as did commerce and trade. A larger industry was growing during these early times, tourism.
There was a large historical influence on tourism with the Battle of Lundy’s Lane and the debate about who won the battle. This gave rise to Battle Ground Tourism and Fralick’s Tavern, now called the Battle Ground Hotel Museum, located at the top of Lundy’s Lane. Mr. Fralick had a tower on which visitors could have a great view of the former battlefield and cemetery.
With the growing population of Stamford Township it was decided to build a permanent political building, the Stamford Township Hall, in 1874. It was designed to be used as an office building for other groups in order to raise funds. In 1970 the building was transferred over to the Lundy’s Lane History Society Museum, the predecessor to the Niagara Falls History Museum. It is here that you can learn the fuller history of Niagara Falls including the Daredevils, Geography, Geology, Bridges, Hydro-electric Generating Stations, Culture and more about the War of 1812.
The community known as Chippawa was settled by the “Neutral” (Attiwandaronk, or Chonnonton) nation for thousands of years. The Neutrals are one of the possible originators of the name “Niagara”. They were characterised as “Neutral” by the French who saw that they were literally and figuratively between the Huron (Wyandet) and the Iroquois (Haundenosaunse) both of these groups warred with each other frequently, the latter destroying and absorbing the Neutrals during 1650/51. The land upon which the community of Chippawa would be founded was settled by the Mississauga and Chippewa peoples, branches of the Iroquoian league in the 1700s.
Loyalist settlement of Chippawa began in 1784, after Niagara Township and Stamford Township. The community was founded on the western bank of the Niagara River, where the Welland River (or Chippawa Creek) converges on the Niagara River. The Welland River actually bisects the village placing one half on the Stamford Township side and the other half on the Willoughby Township side. Due to the abundance of water and trees the original industry for Chippawa was shipbuilding. Another important development for Chippawa was the construction of the Portage Road starting in 1790, Chippawa was the southern terminus of the road with Queenston the northern terminus.
This community, because of its usefulness as a port and end of the Portage Road, was seen by the British as a key location and thus constructed Fort Chippawa, on the north side of the Welland River. During the War of 1812, Chippawa saw a spectacular British defeat on July 5, 1814 and the subsequent occupation of the village by the United States Army until July 25, 1814 when the U.S. Army retreated to Fort Erie.
The prosperity of the community grew in the post-war years because of increased use of the ports and Portage Road. The construction of the First Welland Canal by 1829 offered greater trade possibilities for Chippawa as it remained a terminus port for the first Canal. Unfortunately for Chippawa, the Welland Canal was later extended and rerouted to Port Colborne, bypassing Chippawa. Rail traffic would soon arrive as well, with the Erie and Ontario Railway in the 1830s; this largely followed the same path as the Portage Road and was meant to ease the trade of goods. With the railway, large industries were able to grow in this community including the “Chippaway(sic) Steam Foundary(sic)”, distilleries and in the 20th century Norton Abrasives. Later industries would include the construction of the Hydro Canal in the nineteen-teens and the Hydro Tunnels in the 1950s.
In 1967 Canada celebrated its Centennial of the British North America Act of 1867. A major repercussion of this is the encouragement of historical, nationalistic or patriotic studies of Canada and an increases in community museums. Chippawa and Willoughby were no exception; in 1968 the Willoughby Historical Society took ownership of the School Section Number 2 building creating the Willoughby Historical Society Museum. Two years later the Township of Willoughby was amalgamated with the City of Niagara Falls to form the Incorporated Municipality of the City of Niagara Falls.
Check out this good listing of Historic Places in Niagara Falls.
Museum Kids: Ancient Egypt and Niagara Falls
Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Centre Tour
History & Archeology @ the eXchange
J4BL Book Club