Naming names, Part 1


The beginnings of the small settlement that developed into the village of Waterdown date from the arrival of Alexander Brown, a retired agent of the Northwest Fur Company who settled on Lot 6, Concession 3 of East Flamborough Township in 1806. Although Brown’s construction of a small sawmill on the banks of the fast-flowing Grindstone Creek failed to attract early settlers to the area, by 1820 the site had come to the attention of two young entrepreneurs from the Smithville area, Absalom and Ebenezer Culver Griffin.

The two brothers quickly recognized that the force of the Grindstone Creek as it descended over the Niagara Escarpment at the Great Falls could be harnessed to provide almost year-round power to fuel a number of industries. Ebenezer Griffin, possibly the more ambitious of the two, also recognized that the site had the added advantage of the Dundas Street road crossing the Grindstone Creek and linking with two First Nation trails down the escarpment, Snake Road and present-day Waterdown Road.

During the 1820s, the two brothers oversaw the construction of the two most important buildings in any pioneer settlement: on the northeast corner, a general store and on the northwest corner, a hotel. Along the banks of the Grindstone, they began the development of an industrial empire that at first rivalled that of James Crooks in West Flamborough and eventually came to surpass it. It is from the building of a Griffin mill that the strange story of Waterdown’s name originates.

When the construction of such a new building was completed, custom demanded that the carpenter hold high a bottle of whiskey and call for a name for the structure to be announced. He then would smash the bottle against the wall to complete the ceremony. Since the Griffin brothers were devout Methodists and therefore strict abstainers from liquor, as was Mr. Van Waggoner from Saltfleet Township who is believed to have constructed several of the Griffin mills and factories that came to be located in the Grindstone valley, the use of whiskey was prohibited.

So water was substituted for the traditional liquor. A bystander, noticing the substitution, called out, “Throw the water down” and the carpenter, catching only the last part of the remark, duly named the structure Waterdown. Reputedly, this highly imaginative explanation subsequently led to the small community taking its name from that given to a Griffin mill.

Sylvia Wray is the former archivist with the Flamborough Archives. She can be reached through the Archives at

Editor’s note:

Since this article was published in 2010, our former Society president Nathan Tidridge was presented with the following information.

The name Waterdown was in honour of the Forest of Waterdown close to Royal Tunbridge Wells in Kent County, England, the former home of William Smithers, father-in-law of Ebenezer Culver Griffin.

Barbara E. Chipman, 2015

As published in his book, “The Extraordinary History of Flamborough”, the medieval forest of Waterdown has a recorded history that stretches back to 788 A.D., and was included in the Manor of Rotherfield.

This article was originally published in the Flamborough Review, 18 February 2010.


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