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Village Life

May 2010 - September 2010

Queenston, St. Davids, and Virgil are villages with unique stories, each with a distinct past that has shaped its growth and its people.
They came to be for different reasons: transportation, water, migration and to service the rural areas. However, they do have shared experiences and concerns about life in a small community.
This exhibition explores life in these villages as well as the new village of Glendale, the vanished village of Homer, and the community of McNab.
When examining these communities, it is apparent that the rural/urban divide is very difficult to determine. People from the outlying farms intermingle with those from the centre and this enhances the life of the village.

Queenston

Queenston from the Niagara River

Nestled underneath the Niagara Escarpment, along the Niagara River and across from the United States of America, is the village of Queenston.
This proximity was one reason why the village was the site of the first American invasion into Canada during the War of 1812. Its geographical location made Queenston a hub of transportation for over 200 years.
Queenston remained instrumental in the communications between the two countries. Starting in the 1790s, western bound goods had to land at Queenston to be carried around Niagara Falls. At one point all US bound post from Upper Canada moved through the village and ferries carried visitors between the two countries. Eventually, bridges permanently connected the village to the United States.

Virgil

Virgil Orange Lodge

Originally established as a coach stop along the Swamp Road (now Hwy 55) and called the Crossroads in early years because of the intersection of Swamp Road and Four Mile Creek Road, Virgil has grown into the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake’s centre of commerce and administration.
Although it remained a very small crossroads until the 20th century, Virgil had major growth after World War I with the influx of a large Mennonite population, after World War II with a large population of European immigrants and in the last decade as new housing developments brought new families to the village.
Today the community provides many services and offices, recreational facilities, shops and other amenities for the residents of Niagara-on-the-Lake.

St. Davids

St. Davids Canning Factory

For centuries, the village of St. Davids has existed because of Four Mile Creek. The site of a major aboriginal community, its early settlers also saw the benefits of this steady stream of water that rises out of the escarpment.
Ontario’s first mill was located in the village and many other mills, factories and breweries started in St. Davids as a result of its water source. The other natural resource for the community was the limestone found in the escarpment above St. Davids. This stone was quarried and used to build some of Ontario’s most important civic buildings.
St. Davids and the surrounding rural community were interconnected because of the mills and cannery that processed goods from the countryside, while the school and stores provided the services that the agricultural community required.

McNab

Lyndhurst Farm McNab

Named after Colin and John McNab who were granted 1800 acres around the mouth of Eight Mile Creek by the Crown, McNab was also known as the Eight. It was a part of Grantham Township until 1961 when Grantham was split between Niagara Township and St. Catharines.
Christ Church was erected in 1853 and the community had a public school that functioned until 1958. At one point, the village had a blacksmith shop, a grocery store, a hotel, and a post office. McNab was a stop on the electric street car line which ran from St. Catharines to Niagara-on-the-Lake from 1913 until 1931.
Today the community life of the village is centred around the church, which is known for its summertime teas.

Homer and Glendale

Homer was first settled in 1795 by Loyalist William Read who established a church there. Originally known as Upper Ten Mile, the village stretched about a mile east and west of Ten Mile Creek along Queenston Road. It was given the name Homer by the Post Office in 1859.
An important stage coach stop in the 1800s, over the years Homer has featured one store, a school, several hotels and restaurants, and a racetrack.
The third Welland Canal in 1930 tore the village in half. The 1939 construction of the QEW saw business pick up, only to virtually disappear in 1963 when the Garden City Skyway was completed. Today, nearly the sole remnants of the village are St. George’s Anglican Church, now in its fourth location, the original cemetery, and the Homer Bridge over the Canal.
In the 1990s, the community of Glendale began to emerge down the road from Homer, at the junction of the Queen Elizabeth Way and the main exit for the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake. Over the past two decades, a subdivision of houses, businesses, a campus of Niagara College, golf course, hotels and a service station opened on land that was previously agricultural.

The Sustainability of Village Life

Many in the villages are concerned with the long-term ramifications of expansion and the impact that it will have on life in their community. The villages of Virgil and St. Davids have seen the biggest changes over the last decade and a lack of cohesion has resulted from this expansion. Queenston is fighting to avoid these changes.
As expansion continues, a disconnect has occurred in these villages because many new families are not involved with the established organizations. However, families from all the communities do connect in Virgil as a result of its sports fields, stores and town hall.
The impact of expansion will have to be monitored over the coming years in order for these Niagara-on-the-Lake villages to retain their sense of community.

® Image: View of Fort George, Oil on canvass, C. Kreighoff 1823