The Queen Street neighbourhood has been subject to historical development that can be significantly associated with the Merritt family. The Niagara Peninsula saw considerable economic growth after the construction of the first Welland Canal, a project initiated by the Hon. William Hamilton Merritt, a prominent land owner. The subdivision of his family´s estate in 1868 created the Triangular Tract, a new residential neighbourhood with an extensive open parcel of land known as Montebello Gardens (later to be acquired by the City as a park). By the 1870´s, Queen Street was a thriving residential street, while Montebello park observed the construction of a large pavilion and subsequently a smaller bandstand. It was not until 1913 that families settled into residential dwellings on Midland Street along the park´s border. The unique building styles found in this neighbourhood have lead the Queen Street District to be known for its diverse and rich streetscape.
The Yates Street residential district was developed in the late 1800´s and early 1900´s along the banks of the Twelve Mile Creek on land originally owned by the Hon. William Hamilton Merritt. Soon after he moved to St. Catharines, Merritt began building a mill along the shores of the creek. It was there that he discovered an artesian well, mineral water flowing from a deep cavity in the earth. This water could be boiled leaving behind salt residue, a valuable commodity at the time. In later years, spa resorts such as Springbank Hotel and Stephenson House were developed to profit from the healing powers of the mineral waters.
In the early to mid 1800´s, many mills were constructed along Twelve Mile Creek, all of which needed a reliable source of water. As well, the Erie Canal was being designed in the United States, a waterway that would divert vessels away from local businesses in Upper Canada. Hoping to solve both of these problems, Merritt formed the Welland Canal Company in 1824. The Company was made up of many investors, one of whom was John B. Yates, an entrepreneur from the United States. Yates Street was named in his honour. The Canal was finally finished in 1829, bringing vessels through Twelve Mile Creek on their way to the Great Lakes and beyond.
In the following years, many important businesses made their home on the banks of the Welland Canal. These included the Taylor and Bate Brewery, Shickluna Shipyards, and St. Catharines Wheel Works. Yates Street was located very close to the new businesses so many of the mill owners and managers chose to reside there. They were
generally very wealthy men and therefore wanted large, elegant homes. A lot of the homes were constructed in elaborate styles such as Georgian and Tudor which are rarely seen in other parts of the city due to the large size and detailing required. Over the years the home owners have wisely preserved many of the grown trees on their property, creating the beautiful tree lined streetscape we see today. Although the mills and other business ceased operation after a new route was chosen for the canal, the elegant residences remain creating a beautiful eclectic neighbourhood.
The origin of street names in the Yates Street Heritage District:
- Adams Street: Thomas Adams, father of Elias Smith Adams (local tanner and currier, Mayor 1852-1859)
- Brewery Street: Taylor & Bate Brewery (former brewery on east bank of Twelve Mile Creek)
- College Street: Ridley College
- Norris Place: James Norris (flour mill operator, Mayor 1874-1878, donated to local hospital)
- Salina Street: Salt Works
- Trafalgar Street: Commemorate British Victory over Napoleon
- Yates Street: John B. Yates (New York Entrepreneur)