- 'William Merritt redirects here.
William Merritt was also the name of
a New York
City mayor from 1696 to 1698.
Also not to be confused with his grandson (1855–1918) of
the same name 
William Hamilton Merritt (3
July 1793 – 5 July 1862) was an influential figure in the Niagara
Peninsula of Upper Canada in early 19th century and one of
the fathers of the Welland
was born in Bedford in Westchester County, New York on July 3, 1793.
William Hamilton Merritt
Source: Library and Archives Canada
His father, Thomas
, fought as a United Empire Loyalist
. After the revolution, the family resided in New Brunswick
before returning to the U.S. In 1795, they moved to Upper Canada
, settling on the Niagara Peninsula
on the Twelve Mile
. Merritt attended school in Burlington, Ontario, studying mathematics and field
surveying. Afterwards , he became a partner in a store
at Shipman's Corners (now St. Catharines).
Just before the War of 1812
, he sold his
interest in the store and returned to his family's farm on the
creek. During the war, he joined the Second Lincoln
Militia, stationed at Chippawa.
was a captain and leader of the volunteer dragoons throughout the
war. During constant patrols along the Niagara River, an idea came to him for a canal to by-pass the Niagara Falls. He was captured during Battle of
Lundy's Lane and held prisoner of
war in Massachusetts until March 1815.
After the war, Merritt purchased at Shipman's Corners, where he
built a house and a store. He also sold goods in Niagara (now Niagara-on-the-Lake) and Queenston.
In 1816, he bought a rundown sawmill
on the Twelve Mile Creek, and added a
and a store. His property had a
spring, and Merritt began to
manufacture salt at a time when it was still expensive.
The water levels in the creek varied considerably, creating
difficulties for Merritt and his mill. In 1818, when the flow was
especially low, Merritt pursued the idea of bringing water to his
mills from the Chippawa Creek
idea of a canal across the Niagara Peninsula was examined before,
as early as 1799, but at that time the route for shipping materials
in order to bypass Niagara Falls still occurred along a portage road
. However, it is Merritt, and indirectly
the lack of water for his mills, that is credited with realizing
On July 4, 1818, Merritt organized a meeting in St. Catharines. The
outcome was a petition sent to Upper Canada
to provide for construction of a canal between the
Twelve Mile Creek and Chippawa Creek. Unlike Merritt's original
water-canal plan, the petition included plans for allowing boats to
cross the Niagara Escarpment
January 19, 1824, an act of the Legislature formed the Welland
Canal Company, with a capitalization of $150,000 and Merritt as the
financial agent. As part of his fundraising duties, he
travelled extensively, including the United States and Great
He recruited Alfred Barrett
as the chief engineer on the
Later, Merritt served in the Legislative Assembly of
from 1832 to 1841 for Haldimand County
. After the unification
of Upper and Lower Canadas, he served
in the Legislative
Assembly of the Province of Canada from 1841 to 1860 for
He supported free
policies and transportation projects, including the first
over the Niagara River. In 1860, he was elected to the
in the Niagara Division.
the residents of a community on the Welland Canal named Aqueduct, renamed their village Merrittsville
to acknowledge the role of William Hamilton Merritt's enterprise in
founding the hamlet.
The road connecting Merrittsville to
St. Catharines is to this day named Merrittsville Highway.
Merrittsville was later incorporated as the
Village of Welland in 1858.
Ironically, Merritt died in 1862 aboard a
ship near Cornwall.
He is buried at the Victoria Lawn cemetery
in St. Catharines, Ont.
His son, Thomas Rodman
, was later a member of the Canadian House of
- Lewis, William H. Aqueduct Merrittsville and Welland : a
history of the city of Welland : the beginning years, A.M.W
Publications, 1997. ISBN 0-9682743-0-7.