When did Thorold Begin?
By Alun Hughes

I was delighted when the News asked me recently to contribute a monthly column on Thorold's history. I have been a keen student of local history for some time now, and these days Thorold is my focus. This community has an absolutely fascinating past, much of which has yet to be described, and I am very much looking forward to sharing what I have learned with you.

But if I am to write about the history of Thorold, I need to know how far back the story goes. So I must first ask myself, when did Thorold begin?

The answer is far from obvious, for it all depends on what you mean by Thorold.

The boundaries of the modern City of Thorold coincide roughly with those of the old Thorold Township, which came into existence when it was laid out in 100-acre lots by surveyor Augustus Jones in 1788. This was part of a crash program of surveys to provide land in the Niagara Peninsula for Loyalist refugees and disbanded soldiers following the American Revolutionary War.

The original Township had no name, but was simply labelled "Township No. 9." It was not until 1792, after the arrival of Simcoe as first Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada, that it was called Thorold for an old Lincolnshire family. Even then, the Township was not "finished," for Jones had not laid out the southern part, and it was left to another surveyor, Thomas Welch, to complete the work in 1794.

The early townships were simply convenient units for subdividing and allocating land, and served no administrative function. This changed after 1793, when a provincial act authorized the convening of township meetings and the election of officers. The first recorded meeting in Thorold was in 1799, though there is a suggestion that officers had been elected as early as 1796.

So we already have five candidates-1788, 1792, 1794, 1796 and 1799- for the founding of Thorold. How do we decide between them? Which matters most, the surveys, the naming, or the meetings? One way of deciding perhaps is to look at history of the people who settled here, and the communities they established. However, all this does is give us more dates again.

The earliest settlers were probably here by the mid-1780s (precisely who and when is open to debate), and the first recognizable communities emerged at Beaverdams and St. Johns. For awhile, these communities flourished, but after the opening of the Welland Canal in 1829, they went into decline and were supplanted in importance by the new canal villages of Allanburg, Port Robinson and Thorold.

Thanks to its pivotal location atop the Escarpment and to the enterprise of George Keefer, Thorold soon became nt. In about 1828, the Township post office was moved to the new village, and this is the official "founding date" displayed on the heritage street signs in downtown. There is evidence, however, that some of the village streets and lots had been laid out at least a year earlier.

The community's growing significance was recognized in 1850 when it was formally incorporated as a Village, separate from the rest of the Township, and in 1875, the Village of Thorold became a Town. To complete the story, when the Niagara Region was established in 1970, the Township was reunited with the Town, and finally in 1975, the Town became a City.

We therefore have a multiplicity of dates to choose from, but even if we take the easy way out and opt for the very earliest, we are missing part of the story, for we are forgetting the native peoples who occupied this area long before the arrival of the "white man." But that is a topic that must wait for another month.

© Alun Hughes 2003

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