Settling Flamborough

The life of Alexander Brown, Part 1

The first European settler to establish himself on the escarpment in East Flamborough Township was Alexander Brown. Born in the Parish of Glencairn, Dumfriesshire, Scotland on December 24, 1776, he was just 17 years old and in the employment of the North West Fur Company when he came to their headquarters in Montreal in 1793, accompanied by his future brother-in-law, James Grierson.

Brown left Montreal and his employment with the North West Company in 1805 and moved to Upper Canada. Grierson, who had left Montreal earlier and settled in Nelson Township just as it was opened up to settlement, may possibly have provided Brown with the information about the availability of good land further west in East Flamborough. Later the same year, Brown purchased 800 acres of land that stretched from Lake Macassa (Burlington Bay) to present-day Parkside Drive. This enormous parcel of land lay east and west of a fast-flowing stream, later to be named the Grindstone Creek, and a powerful waterfall with a number of drops, totalling 20 feet (6.1 m.) as it descended over the escarpment.

On July 28, 1806, at Wellington Square, Alexander Brown married Merren Grierson, sister of James Grierson of Nelson Township. During the first years of their marriage the couple lived in a log house, located above the Great Falls – thus becoming the first settlers in what is today the Village of Waterdown. Before the outbreak of hostilities between Canada and the United States, known as the War of 1812, Brown constructed at least one sawmill using the power of the Grindstone Creek, in the hope that it would be an incentive to early pioneers looking to settle in the area.

Tombstones of Alexander Brown and his wife, Merren Grierson, as found in the 1970s.

When war was eventually declared, Brown left East Flamborough and served as a Captain in the Lincoln Militia, rising to the rank of colonel after seeing service at the Battle of Lundy’s Lane. While he was away, a group of First Nation Indians invaded the Brown homestead, threatening Merren and her children and reputedly “taking every vestige of food the family had.”

About 1816, following his return to the township, Brown built a small schoolhouse for his rapidly growing family and the other children of the area. This one-room building on property owned by James Grierson, was one of the earliest schools in Upper Canada. Miss Mary Hopkins of Nelson Township was hired as the teacher and taught until 1823, when she left to marry Elijah Merritt of Niagara.

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

This article was originally published in the Flamborough Review, 12 May 2006.


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