Dundas Street (the Governor’s Road), running between London and York, was originally conceived as a vital transportation route in the event the area faced invasion from the United States. The first section was completed by the late 1790s, and involved nothing more than clearing a corridor through the bush. The construction of the eastern branch of Dundas Street and release of the land east of the East Flamborough townline saw a “flood of settlers into neighbouring Nelson Township,” but only a couple of families into what was to become Waterdown: Alexander Brown and his wife, Merren Grierson and Alexander’s brother-in-law, James Grierson.
Brown purchased much of absentee landowner Lt. Alexander McDonnell’s Crown Grant of property that included frontage onto Dundas Street and a section of Grindstone Creek. Seeing the potential power of the Grindstone, Brown constructed a log cabin nearby and erected a small sawmill. Grierson purchased property west of the Grindstone Creek from Brown. Located in the area of present-day St. Thomas School on Barton Street, the land was developed partly as a quarry with its own road access to Dundas Street. However, there was no immediate influx of settlers. The problem of access to lots on the escarpment remained a deterrent until a decade after the War of 1812 was over.
Two other early families are known to have settled on the escarpment in East Flamborough Township, probably before the arrival of Alexander Brown and James Grierson in 1805: the Alexander Baker family and William Long family, both from Pennsylvania. While Brown and Grierson obtained title to their properties with relative ease, Baker and Long spent the decade prior to the outbreak of hostilities in 1812 petitioning without success to obtain their documents of ownership.
This overview illustrates the varying situations of settlement as war became imminent. Vast tracts of land had been awarded to absentee landowners who preferred to settle in York and Niagara. Beyond these communities was a dispersed population that represents how the Canadian citizenry viewed the approaching conflict, from the implacable hatred of the Loyalists to the indifference of the recently arrived Americans. Eventually, the plundering and destruction that the war brought did as much to turn these settlers from indifference to resistance and determination not to lose what they had acquired.
Sylvia Wray is the former archivist with the Flamborough Archives. She can be reached through the Archives at email@example.com.
This article was originally published in the Flamborough Review, 22 March 2012.