The picturesque village of Ridgeway takes its name from the limestone ridge which runs through it from north to south. The main street of town aptly named Ridge Road, follows this ridge, and was part of one of the first two wagon trails in Bertie Township, connecting Point Abino on Lake Erie to Miller’s Creek on the Niagara River.
Ridgeway has a rich 200-year history, as it was settled by the United Empire loyalists in the late 1700’s, and was originally a farming community. In the 1850’s the Buffalo, Brantford and Goderich Railway line was put through, and service industries began to develop around the train stop on Ridge Road. The business district spread north from there towards Dominion Road. In 1873 the post office was opened, having been moved from Point Abino.
A year later the town hall for Bertie Township was built in Ridgeway, and now this building houses the Fort Erie Historical Museum. By 1886 Ridgeway had a population of 800, and also boasted three taverns, twenty shops, three planing mills, a gristmill, three churches and a public school.
An important battle took place in Ridgeway, near the intersection of Ridge and Garrison Roads on June 2nd, 1866. Irish-American revolutionaries known as Fenians invaded Canada as part of an attempt to oust the British and create an independent Irish republic.
This was the largest of these border skirmishes. Canadian militiamen under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Alfred Booker arrived by train and marched to battle the invaders. The Fenians retired to Fort Erie and returned to Buffalo the same night. The Battle of Ridgeway shocked the country, spurring improvements to Canada’s defenses, and helping to bolster the movement for confederation, which took place the next year.
Ridgeway is now a part of the Town of Fort Erie, and its quaint charm is enjoyed every year by many visitors to its festivals,and by those who just want to experience its inviting atmosphere and unique shops. In recent years the rail line has been converted to a lovely walking and cycling trail, part of a trail system circling the Niagara region.
Originally founded by British forces, Fort Erie was established in 1764. Used in the first instance as a supply depot for the British during the American Revolution of 1776, the fort was in the process of being rebuilt when the Americans invaded at the beginning of the War of 1812. It was, in fact, held by the Americans despite two British attacks, and was finally destroyed completely in the winter of 1814. American troops returned to Buffalo leaving the fort in ruins until it was rebuilt as a tourist attraction in the 1930’s. Today, the fort is an important historical site, playing host to War of 1812 re-enactments each year.
History is full of irony – and the ghosts of British troops must have shivered to see the border they fought so hard to close against the Americans opened wide with the construction of the Peace Bridge in 1927! To this day, the Peace Bridge remains one of the most heavily traveled border crossings between Canada and the United States.
The War of 1812 was the first of many important steps in creating the independent Canada that we know today. Much of the War was fought in the Niagara/Fort Erie area and Old Fort Erie was the site of the bloodiest battle on Canadian soil in our history.
The garrison of Fort Erie fought at the Battle of Frenchman’s Creek against American attacks in November 1812. In 1813, the fort was held for a period by U.S. forces after being partially dismantled by the small garrison of British troops and Canadian militia as they withdrew from the fort. British re-occupation followed the American withdrawal from the area in December 1813 and attempts to rebuild the fort were begun. On July 3, 1814 another American force landed nearby and captured Fort Erie again. The U.S. Army used the fort as a supply base and expanded its size. At the end of July, after the Battles of Chippawa and Lundy’s Lane, the American army withdrew to Fort Erie. In the early hours of August 15, 1814 the British launched a four pronged attack against the fortifications. A well-prepared American defence and an explosion in the North East Bastion destroyed the British chance for success with the loss of over 1,000 men.
A full scale siege set in and it was broken on September 17 when American troops sortied out of the fort to capture and wreck the British siege batteries. Shortly after the American sortie, the British lifted the siege lines and retired to positions to the north at Chippawa. After unsuccessful attacks at Cook’s Mills, west of Chippawa, news reached the American forces that the eastern seaboard of the U.S. was under attack. On the 5th of November 1814, with winter approaching, the Americans destroyed the fort and withdrew to Buffalo, leaving Fort Erie the bloodiest battlefield in the history of Canada. The Treaty of Ghent was signed December 24, 1814, ending the War of 1812-1814. (sited from the Niagara Parks Commission Web Site)
Fort Erie and the Niagara Region is planning a series of major events and re-enactments for the Bicentennial of the War of 1812 starting in 2012. If you would like a sample of this living history, a trip to Fort Erie and the Niagara area to these historical sites and battle re-enactments is highly recommended.