Submitted by Christine Whelan
July 22nd, 2021 VOL. 2 ISSUE 24
June E. Chipp, historian and author of Duty and Honour: The Stand Against the Fenians in Fort Erie, ran across the story behind the Ontario Bakery building while researching the history of the Fenian Invasion for her book.
“I’ve been studying the history of Fort Erie now, for ten years. I found a document about a court case. There was a situation where the Commander ran away and was charged with desertion. In that court case, it had all the 50 witnesses and all the dialogue. It said exactly what happened and where it was, who was there, and what was said.”
Referring to the document, June continued, painting a picture. “It told about going into this house, being surrounded by the Fenians. The Fenians fired at them. Bullets were coming right through the walls because the walls were only made of plaster. They kept firing until they used up all their ammunition. Then the Fenians shouted, ‘Burn the building down!’ and started setting fire to it.”
The author found more, “In fact, one of the men who was in there — one of those volunteer militiamen — wrote a memoir about it some years later.” June published this memoir as a book under the name Shootout at the J.W. Lewis House: Reminiscences of the Fenian Raid, 1866 by Stephen Beatty. It was released last year.
“It’s basically a transcription of his memoir that I released as the editor.”
June continued, “So, the Fenians started burning the building. These men had to surrender. They were marched up the street, to the Old Fort. They were kept prisoner on the grounds of the Old Fort.”
The buildings of the fort, at that time, had all been blown up by the Americans at the end of the War of 1812. Remnants of stone walls were all that was left.
“They kept them there, but during the night, they did release them.”
According to June, and the photos she found, this building where the fight broke out, J. W. Lewis House, is the building where the Ontario Bakery began.
About The Ontario Bakery
“I understand that the bakery started in the 1960s. I know an old resident and asked him. He said the bakery was not there in the 1950s.”
She referred to the one photo she gave me. It was taken in 1969. “The name is on the building and if you compare it to the one taken of the house in 1866, you can see it’s the same building. Then in 1971, the building was demolished and the new building was built right on the very same foundation.”
I was not surprised to find out June had found the photos in Louis McDermott’s Collection at the Fort Erie Library. She shared, “That’s how I first found out where J.W. Louis House was. Louis McDermott found that the J.W. Louis House building went at least back to 1826. He found a reference to that date.”
With her findings, June was able to take me even further back. “I know that there was a hotel at the site in the 1770s. An American United Empire Loyalist (UEL) built a hotel and he ran a stagecoach service. That was a stagecoach stop. There was a ferry across the road. That dock, we called the Catherine Street dock, was there until a storm washed it away a couple of years ago. Now all that is left are concrete pylons. There was also a big fight at that dock. Can you imagine?”
Talking about the south end of Fort Erie, Chipp painted a further picture. “That area, along the Niagara Boulevard, from Catherine Street to Queen Street, that is the original village of Fort Erie, when Fort Erie incorporated as a village, in 1853.”
Imagine, back then, there was no Peace Bridge. “Originally, there were ferries that crossed the river. They took horses and carriages across on the ferries. They also took train cars across on the ferries, then loaded them onto trains once they were over the river.” So the big deal then, as the Peace Bridge is now, was the docks.
“When they built the International Railway Bridge, that became the way to travel over the river. And that started the Bridgeburg area.”
More About The Fenians
“Before the Fenians went to Ridgeway,” referring to the well-known Battle of Ridgeway on Garrison Road, “they went to Fort Erie first. They landed at Bowen Road, at a dock. They went south, into the village, and made the people give them breakfast. They then set up camp at Frenchmen’s Creek, and went by a secret route that night to Ridgeway.”
June went on to tell more of the story of the Fenians and the Fort Erie area.
If you are interested in learning more of what June E. Chipp discovered in her years of research about this piece of local history, you can find both of her books at the Old Fort, Lakeside Bookstore in Ridgeway, or on June’s website: forteriehistory.com