St. Davids

A brief history of the village of St. Davids in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

By Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum

Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum

WampumNiagara-on-the-Lake Museum

Indigenous People and first settlers

Indigenous People have inhabited this Region for over 11,000 years. Around 1300, distinctive nations emerged, including the Neutral Nation, which resided in Niagara until the 1650s. Evidence of their settlement in St. Davids was found when a large Neutral ossuary, or cemetery burial pit, was uncovered in 1828.  

Draft Newspaper Ad Draft Newspaper Ad (1844)Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum

When the Europeans began settling the area, the village that would become St. Davids was initially called Four Mile Mills due to the number of mills that were popping up along the creek.

Butler's Rangers Belt PlateNiagara-on-the-Lake Museum

The first European settler to establish his family in the village was Peter Secord, Senior, in 1778. Peter may have also been the first European to settle in Niagara.

Land Grant issued to David Secord, 1790 Land Grant issued to David Secord, 1790Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum

However, it was David Secord who was instrumental in the development of Four Mile Mills. He owned numerous properties in the village including 5 dwellings, an inn, a blacksmith shop, a general store, and a mill on the creek, along with other properties in the village. David donated a large plot of land for a church, school and cemetery. Eventually Four Mile Mills underwent a name change, to St. Davids, after David Secord.

St. Davids School (1914)Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum

The first public school in Niagara-on-the-Lake was built in St. Davids in 1790. Prior to this, local teacher, Francis Goring, would travel to private homes to instruct students including the children of Robert Hamilton, Colonel John Butler, Daniel Servos, and Christian Warner. Like many other buildings in the village, the school burned during the War of 1812.

Battle of Queenston Heights, October 13, 1813Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum

War of 1812

The residents experienced significant plundering from the British, American and Native forces. While it is well known that Niagara was burned during the War of 1812, many do not know that St. Davids was as well. On July 18, 1814, a detachment of militiamen from the American encampment at Queenston was sent to attack St. Davids. The American commander exceeded his orders, and looted and burned the community. 

Eventually a new stone school was built in 1871 on land donated by David Jackson Lowrey. Over the years the school has undergone expansions and renovations, including the removal of the 1871 stone building, but St. Davids Public School still occupies the land donated by the Lowrey.

St. DavidsOriginal Source: From the Collection of John and Judith Sayers

Post war years

Like the school, the community of St. Davids was eventually rebuilt. There were a number of businesses in the community during the post-war years, including four gristmills, a tannery, shoe, potash, plough and barrel factories, a harness shop, a print shop, several blacksmith shops, three hotels, and at least one brewery.  

Stamford Springs BreweryNiagara-on-the-Lake Museum

Stamford Springs Brewery

This company was established by John Sleeman (yes, that Sleeman!) in 1836 along Four Mile Creek. While his business was a success, the creek’s pollution from the mills and factories along it, began to affect the product. In 1847, Sleeman sold the brewery and moved his enterprise to Guelph, Ontario. The building remained a brewery until 1916, when the owner, James Oswald, sold the property and it was converted into a dance hall and a spring water bottling plant.

Niagara Fruitman MagazineNiagara-on-the-Lake Museum

The Woodruff-Lowrey General Store

After the original Woodruff store was burnt during the War of 1812, it was rebuilt at the corner of Four Mile Creek and York Roads, where it was under the operation of George Woodruff until 1893. Edwin David Lowrey and then later his brother took over the operation of the store. Eventually, the building would house the Niagara Fruitman Magazine and The Growers Monthly. 

Main Street in St. Davids, ca. 1880Original Source: From the Collection of John and Judith Sayers

The Woodruff-Lowrey General Store, along with many of the older buildings in the village, were torn down when major road widening occurred in the 1960s.

St. Davids from the Niagara Escarpment, ca. 1910Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum

Eventually fruit growing replaced mixed farming and milling as the main industry in St. Davids. David Jackson Lowrey has been credited with bringing the first commercial peach trees and vineyards to the area in 1867.

Canadian Canners Ltd. Factory #22, St. Davids, Ont., 1934Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum

The Silver Lake Canning Company, the first canning factory in St. Davids. The factory canned fruits and vegetables until it closed in 1926. Two other canning factories were also in operation: The Usher Canning Co. and St. Davids Canning Co.

Usher Cement WorksNiagara-on-the-Lake Museum

Queenston Quarry

The Queenston Quarry was another major business that was in operation in St. Davids, starting in 1837. After numerous changes in ownership, the quarry was eventually owned by various members of the Lowrey family from 1897 until 1925, when it was purchased by Canada Crushed Stone Company Limited.

Usher Cement WorksNiagara-on-the-Lake Museum

In 1885, Isaac Usher established a cement plant when he leased it from Queenston Quarries under the name “Isaac Usher & Son” [also known as Queenston Cement Works]. Six kilns were built, and the cement was used to help build the Welland Canal, as well as some homes in St. Davids.

Jerman's Service Station and Refreshment Stand, St. DavidsOriginal Source: From the Collection of John and Judith Sayers

Jerman's Service Station & Refreshment Stand

Ravine Hill and Tunnel Between Stamford (Niagara Falls) and St. DavidsOriginal Source: From the Collection of John and Judith Sayers

Ravine Hill and Tunnel between Stamford and St. Davids.

Log Cabin Tourist Camp, St. DavidsOriginal Source: From the Collection of John and Judith Sayers

Log Cabin Tourist Camp in St. Davids.

Today St. Davids remains a vital and welcoming community in Niagara-on-the-Lake, and one that is proud of its rich heritage!

Credits: All media
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