Wentworth County, Ontario
- 1 Getting Started
- 2 History
- 3 Places/Localities
- 4 Resources
- 5 Societies and Libraries
- 6 Web Sites
- 7 References
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To begin at the very beginning, Wentworth County’s nature is tied to the two geographical features that dominate it: the Great Lakes and the Niagara Escarpment. The Saint Lawrence River, Lake Ontario, Burlington Bay, the Desjardins Canal and Coote’s Paradise, provided means of transport well into the interior, assisted in settlement and made possible the establishment of shipping and industry. The escarpment, part of a formation over 700 miles long, forms a cliff 300 to 330 feet high running about 2-2.5 miles from the lake and bay, with a deeply eroded western section where the Dundas and Ancaster Valleys lie. The combination of water and height would result in mills.
Exploration and Settlement
The earliest settlers were, of course, First Nations people, the Neutrals (refusing to engage in the wars between the Iroquois and the Hurons), who occupied much of Southwestern Ontario. They left their permanent mark in the making of two trails, now called King Street and York Street, in the City of Hamilton. By the end of 1652, the Neutrals had been completed annihilated by conquering Seneca, a tribe of the Iroquois. So, the area was inhabited by the great Five Nations (later Six Nations).
The first Europeans to come to the interior were Etienne Brule and Robert de La Salle, French explorers in the 1600’s. But they formed no settlement left the land as they found it.
Settlement began in earnest in the wake of the American Revolution as those who preferred to remain under British rule left, or were forced from, their American homes. They moved to many areas of what was then Upper and Lower Canada, where their loyalty was rewarded by free land.
Famously (at least locally) was Richard Beasley, a man of many parts but mostly merchant, who settled on Burlington Heights at the Head of the Lake in 1777 on the land now occupied by Dundurn Castle. He was followed by Robert Land, in 1778, a member’s of the King’s Forces who lost his land and his family in the Revolution. There was a nearly unbelievable story of how the family was reunited in1791.
About 10,000 loyalists came to Ontario settling near the Bay of Quintet, Niagara Peninsula, and along the Saint Lawrence River. They were followed by many non-Loyalists in search of cheap land, and by many of the Native people who had fought for Britain.
In 1788 through 1793, the townships at the Head of the Lake were surveyed and named. This included all the townships of what became Wentworth, Haldimand and Halton Counties. The land was claimed only very slowly. Meanwhile, the village of Ancaster had been founded and was rapidly becoming a bustling centre of industry with mills. Dundas also had mills.
The principal historical divisions of the county were:
Ancaster, Barton, Beverly, Binbrook, Flamborough East, Flamborough West, Glanford, Saltfleet. All but Binbrook and Glanford are separated at least in part by the escarpment.
At various times the townships of Caistor, Seneca (both in Haldimand County) and Onandaga (Brant County) were part of Wentworth.
The new land was barely scratched at when the War of 1812-14 broke out. All adult men had to belong to the local militia, and some joined the regular troops, most of whom were British. Burlington Heights was a critical defensive point across the harbour and the Head of the Lake. But the famous local battle was the Battle of Stoney Creek in 1813, resoundingly won by the British forces.
The area had had many names, just as the province had many divisions. In 1816 Halton and Wentworth were named the District of Gore; at this time Wentworth included some townships now in Haldimand County. In 1853 Wentworth County was declared a separate entity.
In 1833 the Town of Hamilton was incorporated with a population of about 1,000, far smaller than neighbouring Ancaster. The 1837 Rebellion interrupted life (briefly) and the local Militia was lead by Alan MacNab, whose “castle” was completed. He was knighted the following year for his actions. In 1846 the City of Hamilton was chartered, the first telegraph wire (to Toronto) was strung and The Hamilton Spectator was founded. “The Spec” is still publishing.
In 1973, under Provincial order, the county and city reluctantly united into the Regional Municipality of Hamilton Wentworth, with two tiers of government. In 2001 the Region was further amalgamated into the City of Hamilton. Although the name of Wentworth County has officially disappeared, it lingers in the names of many organizations, just as the many local historical groups preserve the old townships.
Halton, Wellington, Waterloo, Brant, Haldimand, Lincoln
Halton, Wellington, Waterloo, Brant, Haldimand, Niagara
Figures from History
Robert Land -- First UEL arrival
Richard Beasley -- first settler at the Head of the Lake
Sir Alan MacNab -- Prime Minister
George Hamilton -- settler and founder of City of Hamilton
James Durand -- a founding father
Nathaniel Hughson -- a founding father
William Osler -- the father of Modern Medicine
Elizabeth Bagshaw -- early female physician, founder of the first planned parenthood clinic in Canada
At this time, please read about Cemeteries in the Province of Ontario Resources - Cemeteries.
At this time, please read about Census Records in the Province of Ontario Resources - Census.
At this time, please read about Church Records in the Province of Ontario Resources - Church Records.
At this time, please read about Court Records in the Province of Ontario Resources - Court Records.
At this time, please read about Directories in the Province of Ontario Resources - Directories.
At this time, please read about Genealogies in the Province of Ontario Resources - Genealogy.
Land and Property Records
At this time, please read about Land and Property Records in the Province of Ontario Resources - Land and Property.
At this time, please read about Local Histories in the Province of Ontario Resources - History.
At this time, please read about Maps in the Province of Ontario Resources - Maps.
At this time, please read about Military Records in the Province of Ontario Resources - Military Records.
Newspapers & Obituaries
At this time, please read about Newspapers and Obituaries in the Province of Ontario Resources - Newspapers.
At this time, please read about Probate Records in the Province of Ontario Resources - Probate Records.
At this time, please read about Taxation Records in the Province of Ontario Resources - Taxation.
At this time, please read about Vital Records in the Province of Ontario Resources - Vital Records.