Old Morrison Street, in the historic Village of Elgin

The origins of Morrison Street are intimately connected with great wealth, power and enterprise.  They are also shrouded in mystery. It all started with a kite.

It was once considered impossible to build a bridge across the tumultuous Niagara River. In a magnificent 1848 engineering feat, the impossible was done.  The narrowest point of the Niagara Gorge, immediately above the Whirlpool Rapids had been selected by a team of visionaries as the site of a suspension bridge to connect the Canadian and American sides.

Suspension bridge construction begins by stretching a line or wire across the chasm to be gapped. The roaring rapids, 800-foot wide gap, and the 225-foot high shear cliffs of the Gorge made such a feat hopeless.

A flash of brilliance resulted in an offer of a cash prize to the first boy who could fly his kite from one bank to the opposite.  There was a tremendous turn out of local youths, Canadian and American alike, for the January kite contest.

After days of unrelenting effort an American lad, Homan Walsh, succeeded and was awarded the prize.  The next day, a stronger line was attached to the kite string. A rope followed, and eventually a cable.

Thus began the Niagara Falls Suspension Bridge.  When fully constructed, it featured an oak-plank roadway, dangling from iron cables, carrying carriages and pedestrians.

Interestingly, that year also saw “the day the Falls stood still.”  It stopped flowing, during the suspension bridge construction, for 30 hours in late March due to an ice jam.  (Glenview Mansion, featured in the international best-selling book, The Day The Falls Stood Still, is less than a mile away from 4446 Morrison.)  While the Falls stood eerily still, the barricades were coming down in Paris, as the War of the Streets (the beginnings of which - the 1832 June Rebellion - inspired Les Miserables) finally ended.

The same year the first suspension bridge was built, entrepreneurial American immigrant Samuel Zimmerman married the daughter of a St. Davids businessman/politician and bought several hundred acres of land in the suspension bridge area. Following his purchase, he began laying out streets.  One of the streets he created was Morrison Street.

In 1855, after the Great Western Railway reached Niagara from Hamilton, a second bridge - double-decked - opened on the same site as the first.  It was the world’s first working railway suspension bridge, carrying trains on its upper deck and pedestrians and carriages on the lower.

By then, a small village had grown up in the area.  Workmen’s shanties and then houses had sprung up around the bridge. As the settlement had grown, stores, hotels, a post office, and the Zimmerman Bank had been established. Zimmerman had profited by erecting its commercial buildings, its gas works and water works, and by selling building lots.

The Zimmerman Bank, later described by a government commission as an “ephemeral” institution, was partially supported by public funds, loaned secretly and without government authorization in 1856 by Zimmerman’s close friend, the lawyer, judge and politician Joseph Curran Morrison, who was Receiver General from 1856-58. It was not without reason that Morrison was referred to in political circles as “the member for Zimmerman.”

Official sources give namesake credit for Morrison Street to “Lt. Col. Joseph Wanton Morrison of the 89th Regiment of Foot, who commanded the British and Canadian forces at the Battle of Crysler’s Farm in the War of 1812, and was a battalion commander at the Battle of Lundy’s Lane” (the bloody night conflict waged in July 1814 in what would later become the Village of Niagara Falls).   It is possible, however, that Zimmerman named the street for his highly-placed friend.

Four years before Zimmerman’s untimely death in The Great Western Rail Disaster, the community he had built had been was incorporated as the Village of Elgin, named after Lord Elgin, then Governor General. Rapid population growth had followed. Within two years, Elgin had grown to include fifteen grocery stores and approximately twenty saloons and hotels.  Morrison Street was one of its thoroughfares.

The houses on this, the original section of Morrison, are Victorian and Edwardian character homes. A variety of styles (including Regency, vernacular Ontario Cottage, American “Stick Style,” Gothic Revival, Italianate, Queen Anne Revival) can be found in the old Elgin area.  This home at 4446 Morrison Street is a fine example of the Edwardian Classicism architectural style (1900-1920), with its simple, balanced design, wide chestnut trim, high ceilings, and large windows welcoming natural light.

In 1856, the boundaries of the Village of Elgin had been expanded to include the Table Rock area at the edge of the cataracts, and Elgin merged with the nearby Village of Clifton to form the Town of Clifton.

Later, a special Act of Parliament (in 1881) permitted The Town of Clifton to change its name to The Town of Niagara Falls.

The following year Drummondville, to the south, became the Village of Niagara Falls. By the early 1900s the boundaries of the Village and Town were overlapping.  The two communities amalgamated to create the City of Niagara Falls in 1904.

The downtown Queen Street area, a brief walk from Morrison, was the seat of government for first Elgin and Clifton, then the Town of Niagara Falls, and now the City of Niagara Falls.  Professional offices (doctors, lawyers, architects, insurance brokers …) and financial institutions flourish here.  The City’s Art Deco main post office building is found here too.  Recent years have seen boutiques and art galleries open.  The Gothic Revival VIA Rail and GO train station (designated historically both federally and municipally) is also close by.

Your entertaining needs will be well met by Lococo's Fresh Fruits and Vegetables, located within a mile of even the River Road end of Morrison.  Locally operated for over 100 years, Lococo’s ownership has passed down from generation to generation within the Lococo family.

They are dedicated to bring to your kitchen the freshest and tastiest foods at a great price.  Their staff are experts in creating gift baskets  and fruit & veggie trays filled with the freshest and most delicious fruits and vegetables. Now featuring over 350 different types of meat items as well, they strives to bring local Niagara produce directly to your table.

Other Niagara Falls stores feature fresh-prepared take-out meals, and the area offers many splendid scenic spots to picnic.  Niagara Falls has it all:  History, culture, nature, easy access to borders …

There’s much to do again and again:  Explore the Niagara Glen, through which the Falls cut its way thousands of years ago, leaving behind a wonderland of native Carolinian forest, trails for the adventurous, dramatic scenery and breathtaking views ... free.

Take walks down Clifton Hill at night:  Be a part of the street action, take in the lights and sounds of the Las Vegas of the North, then stroll through Queen Victoria Park by lamplight and watch the ever-changing lights on the Falls and the frequent fireworks ...

Life in Niagara Falls is always an adventure.

 

- Janice Wing, Battlefield Enterprises, under license to Barbara Grumme