Canal System Built Brantford on the Six Nations’ Back

Posted on December 29th, 2019 by in History Read 2919 Times.

SIX NATIONS – The story of Brantford, its growth and the importance of the Grand River Navigation Company in establishing it and a number of other communities along the Grand River between Brantford and Duncanville., goes without saying.

The idea of connecting the Grand River in a more direct path to the Lake, cutting off 12 miles, made all the sense in the world in the 1830s when rivers were the main highways of travel and commerce. The success of the Welland Canal had spawned the idea of connecting another canal to expand the canal network considerably. The industrial revolution was in full swing and foreign trade was in the minds of European and Canadian movers and shakers eager to make their fortune quickly in the New World.

For a time there was prosperity and enormous growth as Brantford began gobbling up more and more land beyond the seven to eight square miles agreed to by John Brant and the Six Nations Confederacy.

The Grand River Navigation Company (GRNC) was incorporated on January 18, 1832 and promoted by several early Canadian industrialists and politicians, including David Thompson who certainly had vested interest in the project. He also had the ear of those in government who lusted over the increasing Six Nations Trust Funds bottom line, acquired through land sales and leases of Haldimand Tract land.

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But financial instability slowed the completion of the canal project down, alarming the settler investors of the expensive project. Those with their finances and reputations in the balance, could not afford to let this idea fail.

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The Chiefs said “no” to several overtures from government officials and speculators for Six Nations investment in the canal. Desperate, the board of directors found a way to access Six Nations Trust Funds and purchased on their behalf, 6,121 shares of GRNC stock to keep the company solvent for a time.

For all the money invested and all the labour intense carving of the landscape to straighten the meandering path of the Grand, the entire life of the GRNC lasted only 29 years. The development of the railway was the last nail in the coffin of the era of the canal. It was cheaper, more direct and it was usually open year round, whereas the canal season only lasted as long as the river was not frozen over.

But during most of those years, with its connection to the Welland Canal completed in 1824, it made Brantford, Caledonia, York, and Dunnville boomtowns. There is no questioning of the spin-off economic benefits the Grand River Navigation Company has had on settlers and speculators, if not investing in the canal system itself, investing in building the towns and villages along its path.

The entire canal system was not completed and opened until 1848. To accomplish this task, 360 of the 551 acres taken to build locks, erect dams and other support system, belonged to Six Nations. Settlers who sold their land in favour of the Canal were paid quite nicely while Six Nations received nothing. Timber needed for the project was also cut from Six Nations Territory with no compensation. But the biggest farce of justice is that the promoters of the Canal arbitrarily used Six Nations Trust Funds, without authorization or knowledge, to keep afloat this money-losing venture.

In its heyday, the Grand River was a busy place with 100 steamers registered operating on the Grand. By 1850, passengers  aboard the “Queen”, Red Jacket” and “Messmore” could make a return trip from Brantford to Buffalo in a mere 48 hours. Passenger and freight steamers made regular stops at Newport, Caledonia, Cayuga and Dunnville, along the way. The canal system created jobs along the canal front and the mills set up close by, but the GRNC itself was still leaking money and getting worse with the advent of the rail system.

By 1859 the canal locks were in need of much repair and the town of Brantford foreclosed on the mortgage it had put up for the GRNC. A court decision put full ownership of the company in the City’s hands in 1861.

The Haldimand Navigation Company was formed to purchase a part of the GRNC, except what is known as the Brantford Cut, comprising of three locks, tow-path and the canal path. By 1880, the system lay desolate, neglected, abandoned and becoming a liability and safety concern to the city.

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Mr. Alfred Watts had a solution. He would build a hydro-electric dynamo repurposing part of the canal as a water-race source to turn the turbines.

“Brantford was more than glad to deed this land to Mr. Watts in 1875, for the cost of one dollar,” writes author Bruce Emerson Hill in his book, “The Grand River Navigation Company”.

As part of the agreement, Mr. Watts was to maintain the canal property and protect the banks against the encroachments of the Grand River. By 1905, Watts’ dynamo  was generating a capacity of 1,200 horsepower and was supplying electric power to many large industries popping up in the area.

A win-win, right? Not for everyone. There is the little matter of the illegal and unauthorized purchases of 6,121 shares of GRNC stock valued at £38,256.5 ($160,000.00 CAD) bought between July 9, 1834 and March 13, 1845. Six Nations has been demanding some form of restitution ever since.

The town of Indiana was built to offer homes to mill and warehouse workers and a community to live in which was within walking distance to the canal. The community of Indiana was the brainchild of David Thompson, who, with thinly vested interest, promoted the Grand River Navigation Company using his government connections. His mansion, “Ruthven” still stands on Highway 54 as a tourist attraction where it was built, it is said with Six Nations Trust Funds, in 1845 located at the edge of what was once Indiana, facing the Grand River. There is little trace of Indiana left except for the “gatehouse” at Ruthven Park.

This unauthorized use of Trust Funds has never been explained or dealt with by Canada or Brantford and remains on file today. In essence, the Township of Brantford had purchased stolen stocks from the GRNC and using those bogus stocks as authority to sell off the real estate, alienating the people of Six Nations from 360-acrea of their land and all future revenues, which could have been derived from this land had it not been stolen.

This claim has been registered several times in Six Nations petitions addressed to the Crown, but as of today, some 180 years later, there is still no settlement.

In closing, to say the Grand River Navigation Company was essential to the growth and establishment of the City of Brantford would be a true statement and even an understatement, but it most certainly is not a proud moment in Brantford/Six Nations relations and remains a stumbling block today.

Written by: Jim Windle windlejim@rocketmail.com

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Tags: alfred watts, boomtown, brantford, caledonia, canal, david thompson, duncanville, dunnville, grand river, grand river navigation company, GRNC, haldimand tract, hydro-electric, six nations, york. Want to see all the Tags?

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