MORRISBURG – The Morrisburg Heritage Waterfront Path was officially opened Sat., Sept. 14.
John Gleed, the force behind the project, explained to visitors at the ribbon cutting what the project was all about.
“The Morrisburg Heritage Waterfront Path consists of 15 heritage information signs depicting the original Morrisburg waterfront,” he said.
The signs are placed strategically in three different locations along the pathway from the Morrisburg Beach to the waterfront boat launch and pavilion.
A centrally located sign called Then and Now illustrates the area of old Morrisburg that was lost to the new St. Lawrence River reality.
This is the 60th anniversary of the project and the heritage path is a commemoration of that event, while showing respect for the residents along the Seway who had to sacrifice their community so that the river could reach its potential.
“This is a good day for Morrisburg and all of the history that is buried in the seaway,” South Dundas Mayor Steven Byvelds said. “This is a great example of a way to tell our history.”
The mayor thanked the Morrisburg Waterfront Committee for being open to the idea and John Gleed.
“John had the vision that we could not let this history go,” Byvelds added.
Gleed noted, “Five-hundred homes and 6,5000 people were displaced. Where we are standing right now was the Main Street in Morrisburg and the main route to Montreal,” said Gleed.
When he first settled in Morrisburg with his wife 10 years ago, Gleed did not know the history of the area. He eventually found out what had happened along the Seaway so long ago and decided to find a way to preserve the history and the story.
His first plan was to make a miniature model village of the town before the flood and have it on display at the waterfront. The cost of such a plan was too much, so he decided instead to create the Morrisburg Heritage Waterfront Path.
The project was realized with community fundraising and cost $10,000.
MPP Jim McDonell, who attended to ribbon cutting said, “There is a great deal of history here, a proud history.”
Long-term resident Mike McGinnis made a few comments about Morrisburg’s past.
“My parental home was in Matilda Township, about halfway between Iroquois and Morrisburg and very near the present route of the 401,” he said.
He remembered his family divided its time between the two communities, but Morrisburg on Saturday night was the place to be.
“It was a lively gathering place,” said McGinnis. “As I stand here I can visualize Art Edgerton’s Texaco service station just over there by the present parking lot for the municipal dock immediately east of Dr. Schnurr’s residence, then known as the George Fredrick Tourist Home. Directly across from there on the north side of Main Street was Harry Duvall’s Supertest and going east on Main Street there was Morely Beckstead’s grocery store, Hurlings Restaurant, Johnny Thompson’s radio repair shop, Kreck’s Funeral Home and Colquhoon’s grocery.”
McGinnis described the political past of the area.
“Sir James Pliny Whitney was born in Williamsburg Township in 1843. He became a lawyer and practiced in Morrisburg,” he said. “He became active in politics and was elected to the legislature. He eventually became the leader of the Conservative Party and after several election defeats was elected as Premier of Ontario in 1904.”
Whitney had several legislative achievements that would impact on the Seaway project.
He introduced workman’s compensation. He also created the Ontario Street Railway and Municipal Board, which in later years would become the Ontario Municipal Board that almost a 100-years-later would play a key role in helping homeowners affected by the flooding get a fair deal from Hydro land agents.
Whitney also believed, as electricity became more important, and its generation became more efficient, that its control be in the hands of the province and not private industry so he created the Electric Power Commission of Ontario.
“It is ironic that a lawyer from a small town over 100-years-ago created an agency that carried out the remarkable project depicted by these pictures we see here today,” said McGinnis.
The final irony in his tale of Morrisburg’s past is that the grave of Whitney, who had been buried in an Anglican Cemetery along the banks of the St. Lawrence River several miles east of Morrisburg, had to be re-located to higher ground as a result of the flooding.
The purpose of the St. Lawrence Seaway project, started in the 1950s, was to make the Seaway bigger so larger cargo ships could navigate all the way from the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes.
At the same time, the project hoped to increase the hydroelectric generation capacity of the St. Lawrence River for Canada and the U.S.
The cost to the various communities located along the Seaway was significant.
The water levels between the Iroquois Control Dam and the Cornwall Power Dam would rise as a result of the expansion of the Seaway, and much of the farmland and small communities located along the St. Lawrence was flooded.
Communities had to be moved further back from the shoreline and consequently nine villages and towns lost part of their existing infrastructure, including homes, businessiness and farms.
The downtown area of Morrisburg was lost under water.
Andrew Bogora, the communication officer at St. Lawrence Management, said expanding the river allowed cargo ships filled with 1,000 truckloads of goods to travel from the ocean to the Great Lakes.
The project was completed in 1958 and the resulting savings in carbon emissions and wear and tear on the roads between the East coast and the Great Lakes was significant.