The earliest communities in what is now Thorold emerged at Beaverdams, DeCew Falls and St. Johns but, after the opening of the First Welland Canal in 1829, they were superseded by the new canal villages of Thorold, Allanburg and Port Robinson. Thorold, located on the brow of the Niagara Escarpment, soon became dominant and was incorporated as a village in 1850 and as a town in 1870. When the Regional Municipality of Niagara was formed in 1970, the Town of Thorold expanded to include the former Thorold Township. In 1975 the town became incorporated as the City of Thorold. Today, outsiders regard Thorold as not much more than a growing southern suburb of the much larger City of St. Catharines, to the dismay of Thorold residents who strive to preserve their identity.
The Welland Canal passes through the heart of the city, and the Twin Flight Locks, located downtown, attract thousands of tourists annually. Thorold is also the location of the War of 1812 battle site, Beaverdams, where, on June 25, 1813, Colonel Charles Boerstler and his American troops were defeated by a force of 80 British regulars and 300 Caughnawaga Mohawks.
Decew House, on DeCew Road, was constructed in the late 1700s as a home for British Captain John B. DeCou. It served as the area's British headquarters during the War of 1812. On June 22, 1813, Laura Secord journeyed from Queenston to DeCew House to warn Lieutenant James FitzGibbon of an impending American attack. FitzGibbon and his men were able to capture the American force and help turn the tide of the war. The house was destroyed by fire in 1950 but the site is commemorated by the rebuilt foundation and a plaque.
The Old Fire Hall, at 12 Albert Street West, was constructed next to the second Second Welland Canal in 1878. This building once housed Thorold's police force and, to this day, contains a jail in the basement. For many years, the fire bell tolled for the town's strictly enforced nine o'clock curfew. The Old Firehall was designed by the architect John Latshaw and built for $2,483. It has a combination bell tower and hose tower, yellow and red brickwork, semi-circular wood windows, and a circular wood window in the gable end at the tower. Decorative yellow brick arches frame each window. The bell which hung in its tower remained in use until 1964, when the fire department moved into its new hall on nearby Towpath Street. In 1967 the old bell was installed outside the new firehall.
Chestnut Hall, at 14 Ormond Street North, is a carefully restored 1862 building that was once home to John McDonagh, a lumber merchant and mayor of the Town of Thorold from 1881–1884. Chestnut Hall currently houses the Thorold & Beaverdams Historical Society, in addition to the Thorold Museum and part of the Thorold Public Library.
St. Johns School House, on Hollow Road, is a single-room wooden school house located in the west portion of Thorold. Opening in 1804, it was the first free school in Upper Canada. The first teacher at the school was Samuel Birdsall. The enrolment in 1826 was recorded as 29 students. The building was fully restored in 1974.
Maplehurst, at 14 Saint David's Road West, is a Thorold landmark and the former home of Jacob Keefer. The mansion sits on the highest rise in the city offering a commanding view of the community below. Built by Hugh Keefer in 1885, this red stone structure with elaborate gables and dormers has been variously used in the past as a residence, a hospital, and a private nursing home. Maplehurst was recently restored to its original condition and is currently known as the Keefer Mansion, a 10 room inn noted for its fine dining.
Welland Mills, at 20 Pine Street North, was constructed in 1846 on the bank of the second Welland Canal by Jacob Keefer and, at that time, it contained the largest watermill in Canada. The Keefers were entrepreneurs and are considered one of Thorold's founding families. At its height, the mill was capable of manufacturing 300 barrels (89 tonnes) of flour per day and storing 70,000 bushels (1,900 tonnes) of wheat and 5,000 barrels (440 tonnes) of flour. Today, the Welland Mills building is being restored to offer commercial space on the ground floor and residential apartments above.
Beaverdams Methodist Church and Burying Ground, on Marlatt's Road, was constructed in 1832. Beaverdams Church is the oldest Methodist Church still standing in Ontario. The first minister to preach in the chapel was Reverend Egerton Ryerson, who is largely responsible for founding the province of Ontario's education system.
Soldiers' Monument is a war memorial monument that commemorates World War I (1914–1919), World War II (1939-1945) and the Korean War (1950-1953). Located in Memorial Park, at the corner of Albert and Chapel streets, it was unveiled on Sunday, October 30, 1921 and was erected by the citizens of Thorold to: "Honour the Memory of the Men of Thorold, who gave their lives for the cause of freedom in the great war, and in grateful remembrance of those who shared its dangers."
The Old Public Library, at 1 Ormond Street South, is one of 156 Carnegie libraries to have been funded in Canada. The building, designed by architect A.E. Nicholson, was opened in 1912. The library moved from here to its present home in Chestnut Hall in 1983. The building now serves as the Thorold Seniors' Centre.
The Welland Canal Parkway Trail is a paved recreational path beginning in the City of St. Catharines at Lake Ontario and ending at Lake Erie in Port Colborne. Three sections of the trail are located within Thorold, which are:
Section Four: Glendale Avenue to Beaverdams Road, Thorold
Section Five: Beaverdams Road to Allanburg, Thorold
Section Six: Allanburg to Port Robinson, Thorold
The trail follows the Welland Canal, and passes next to the Thorold Lock 7 Viewing Complex.
Mel Swart Conservation Park is a waterfront park located on Lake Gibson. The park offers a large track along the perimeter, and has a boardwalk suspended out over the lake. The park is a popular site for family picnics.
Short Hills Provincial Park is partially located in the City of Thorold.
Some other of the numerous recreational parks in the city include:
Battle of Beaverdams Park - Historical displays, bandstand and playground equipment. It is not far from the actual location of the battle site. One of the locks of the second canal has been partially excavated for its historical interest.
McMillan Park - Baseball diamond, swimming pool and playground equipment.
Sullivan Park - Baseball diamond, splash pad, and playground equipment.
Hutt Park - Baseball diamond and playground equipment.
Confederation Park - Baseball diamond, soccer field, basketball court, tennis courts, Splash pad, and playground equipment.
C.E. Grosse Park - Soccer field, wading pool and playground equipment.
Beaverdams Park - Baseball diamond, basketball court and playground equipment.
McAdam Park - Baseball diamond, Skatepark and playground equipment.
The First Welland Canal: 1829-1844
In 1824, mill owner William Hamilton Merritt formed the Welland Canal Company, with George Keefer of Thorold as its first President. Construction began following a sod-turning ceremony at Allanburg on November 30, and in 1829, five years to the day later, the first vessels sailed from Lake Ontario to Lake Erie. The original canal followed the Twelve Mile Creek and Dick's Creek from Port Dalhousie, cut through the heart of Thorold and terminated at Port Robinson on the Welland River. Ships continued down the river to Chippawa, then followed the Niagara River to Lake Erie. In 1833 the Canal was extended south to Gravelly Bay (later Port Colborne). When complete, the canal was 44 km (27 miles) long, and had 40 wooden locks. In 1827, in anticipation of the completion of the Canal, George Keefer had built a mill (since demolished) near the edge of the Escarpment; an initiative that ultimately led to the creation of Thorold.
The Second Welland Canal: 1845-1886
Deterioration of the wooden locks and the increasing size of ships on the Great Lakes led to calls for a bigger and better canal. The government purchased the Welland Canal Company’s assets and proceeded with plans for a second Welland Canal. Construction began in 1841 and was complete by 1845. There were 27 locks made of cut stone. The second canal followed essentially the same route as the first, and it remained a feature of downtown Thorold until it was filled in during the 1960s. One lock has been partially excavated and is a feature of the Battle of Beaverdams Park.
The Third Welland Canal: 1887-1931
The third Welland Canal followed the same line as the earlier canals in the southern part of the Peninsula but, north of Allanburg, the route was quite different. It by-passed downtown Thorold to the east, following the valley of the Ten Mile Creek down the Escarpment and continuing in a broad arc to Port Dalhousie. It had 26 stone locks, extensive remains of which can still be seen east of the present canal. One of these, Lock 24 in Thorold, was the target of an unsuccessful bombing attack by Irish-American Fenian sympathizers in 1900. While the first two canals were lined by mills of various kinds, the banks of the Third Canal were kept free of industry by deliberate government policy.
The Fourth Welland Canal: 1932-Present
Construction of the fourth canal (officially known as the Welland Ship Canal) began in 1914 but, because of delays due to World War I and other factors, it was not opened until 1932. The number of locks, now built of concrete, was reduced to eight; four of these, including the world-famous Twin Flight Locks, are in Thorold. The canal adopted a direct north-south route over the Escarpment, following the valley of the Ten Mile Creek all the way to a new Lake Ontario outlet at Port Weller. New industries associated with the canal led to the creation of the community of Thorold South in the 1920s. In 1973, a by-pass was excavated around the City of Welland. This was to be the first phase of a fifth Welland Canal, which would cross the Escarpment in one super-lock, but plans for further development have been shelved.
Thorold is home to several festivals and annual events. Included are:
Mountain Top Ceremony - Held at the Lock 7 Viewing Complex, this annual celebration marks the opening of the Welland Canal shipping season with the arrival of the first ship of the year through Lock 7. Usually held in late March.
Italia-in-Festa - Celebrating Italian food, drink, dance and entertainment. Thorold is rich in Italian history and is the ideal location for a celebration of this culture. Usually held the last weekend in June.
Thorold Arts & Crafts Show - This event, begun in 1979, and was held during the month of July The event was moved from Battle of Beaverdams park to the Thorold Community Arena on Front Street in 2007 and is held during the last weekend of May each year.
Thorold Antique Car Show - Downtown Thorold is the location for this event, generally held at the end of July.
The Canal Bank Shuffle - A three day long, annual festival of music and dance in the downtown core. The Shuffle attracts some of North American's top Blues musicians and features over 20 acts at a dozen venues within walking disance of each other. (Member of the Crossborder Blues group. )
November Thorold's Christmas Arts & Crafts Show - The November Arts & Crafts Show is held at Thorold Secondary School the third weekend of November each year.
The City of Thorold Pipe Band has been serving the Niagara Region and beyond for almost 20 years in community based activities, civic parades, military parades, and a variety of other events.
The Pipe Band is solely supported by fundraising activities. The band's weekly practices are hosted by the Royal Canadian Legion, Branch 17.
The band's typical parade season is from May to November.
Official Name: The "City of Thorold Pipe Band"
Motto: 'S rioghal mo dhream (Gaelic: Royal is my race)
Tartan: Ancient MacGregor
Significance: Founder James (Jim) Greig
Pipe Major: Mitchell McDowell
Drum Major: Eric Millar
Band Logo: Two sets of pipes resting on a side drum
Thorold is home to four fire stations.
Station 1 - Located in downtown Thorold, Station 1 is home to Protection Hose Company No. 1. The Protection Hose Company No. 1 Precision Drill Team was established in 1903, and is the oldest active fire department precision drill team in North America. Throughout its history, this team of volunteers has been the honour guard for the Governor-General, the Duke of Connaught and Princess Patricia in 1914, their Majesties King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in Niagara Falls in 1951, and several others. Their shiny chrome helmets were purchased in 1929 to replace the original white leather helmets and the fancy dress uniforms were purchased in 1976. The type of marching that is done is called close-order drill, where they use only half and quarter steps while touching shoulders much like the early British military used in warfare.
Station 2 - Located in Thorold South.
Station 3 - Located in Port Robinson.
Station 4 - Located on Highway 20.
Length — 840 m
Height — 4.5 m
Vehicular lanes — two westbound, two eastbound
Speed limit — 80 km/h
Roof thickness — 1.8 m of reinforced concrete
Wall thickness — 1.5 to 1.8 m of reinforced concrete, covered with epoxy paint
Lighting — 2,300 high pressure sodium lamps
Traffic volume — approximately 24,300 vehicles daily
There is a legend in Thorold of a "Kissing Rock" located at the Lock 7 Viewing Complex. It is said that, around the time of the opening of the fourth Welland Canal, a sailor on the Great Lakes named Charles Snelgrove, originally from England, would bring his lady friends to the rock near Lock 7 to kiss the girl good-bye before boarding his ship. According to the legend, before long other sailors learned of the rock and they, too, began to bring their girlfriends or wife to kiss goodbye at the rock, sometimes chipping a piece of the rock and putting it in their pocket as a talisman for a safe journey. Sailors, being a superstitious group, considered it bad luck to embark at Lock 7 without first visiting the Kissing Rock.
A tornado swept through the Niagara Peninsula on 20 May 1996, and one of the things it damaged was the screen at the Can-View 4 drive-in theater complex at the southernmost edge of the city. Coincidentally, that drive-in was scheduled to show the movie "Twister" that evening. Luckily, the storm swept through a couple of hours before dark, so no one was yet in the facility when the screen came down. The drive-in, located near the intersection of highways 20 & 406, is the only one of its kind in the Niagara Region and is also the only movie theatre in Thorold. Show times can be found here: Can View Drive-In
The Thorold Blackhawks are a Junior 'B' hockey team in the Golden Horseshoe Junior Hockey League. The Blackhawks were League Champions in 2001, 2003, 2004, and 2005. In 2005, the team went on to capture the Sutherland Cup as the best Junior 'B' team in Ontario. Notable former players include Nathan Horton, Dwayne Roloson, and Owen Nolan. The Blackhawks home rink is the Thorold Community Arena in downtown Thorold.
St. Johns was one of the first areas in the interior of Niagara Peninsula to be settled by Europeans. The first Europeans settled in the area about 1792, when a sawmill was built on St. Johns Creek, a tributary of the Twelve Mile Creek. It was one of only two mills in Niagara at the time. In 1804, St. Johns became home to the first free school in Upper Canada, housed in a single-room, wooden schoolhouse. By the time a post office was established in 1831, the community included a woollen factory, a tannery, a foundry, stores, and a number of mills. Eventually, the hydro power offered by the site became less of a commodity. As industry in surrounding towns grew, St. Johns' affluence declined.