By Charlene McKellar
The Haldimand Press – October 6, 2022
PORT MAITLAND—The shores of the Grand River have a rich and busy history that many hope to discover, understand, and share with others. One group, the Port Maitland “On The Grand” Historical Association (PMHA), has been doing just that since it was founded in 2005.
The group focuses on the heritage of the “former townships whose borders touched the Grand River between Port Maitland and its source.” One of the numerous objectives include “to encourage the citizens of this area to learn about their history by documenting and photographing, sketching, and writing about it.”
“We believe in preserving history through art,” said William (Bill) Warnick, Association President, who has been in the position since it was founded. Prior to that Warnick had written a newsletter called The Grand Despatch, mostly read by the cottagers of the area.
The publication included stories of the area to help inform people of the local history, and one of his readers asked him to write about an overgrown shipping lock located where the Welland canal used to come out.
“I had to do some research for that,” admitted Warnick. His research led him to believe the land was owned by Haldimand County, though later he found out it was actually owned by CP Rail.
The local group cleaned up the area, but learned they had to lease the land to continue cleaning it for public use. To do that they had to be a corporation, and from there they formed PMHA.
The original membership of PMHA was about 10, with volunteers helping to keep the lock cleaned up. Warnick stated they were up to 120 members prior to COVID, and since starting back up again just a few months ago they stand at about 40 members.
“We’re always looking for volunteers,” said Warnick, adding, “I’d like to have more people come join our executive.”
Previous projects of the PMHA include unveiling a portrait of Sir Frederick Haldimand by artist William Biddle, which was hung in the new municipal building; a commemorative cairn erected in Port Maitland to pay tribute to significant historical events of the area; and the donation of history books to the Dunnville Secondary School.
With their objectives in mind, PMHA has now commissioned original paintings to sell the prints. The newest print for sale is a revised painting of the Grand River Naval Depot.
Port Maitland served as an ideal place for a Royal Navy Depot during the War of 1812 and continued to serve this purpose for some time after the conflict. Some of the depot was washed away by a storm in 1827, and the remaining buildings had fallen into ruin by 1834 when the establishment was fully abandoned.
In 2000, local John Docker commissioned Peter Rindlisbacher to paint an impression of what the Naval Depot may have looked like in 1817. Warnick explained, “I think they got it pretty close except for one thing.”
As Wanick grew up around Beckley Beach, the place where the naval depot had been located, he recalls seeing what looked like quarried sand, explaining that there would be shear drops in the area.
From that he came up with the theory that Beckley Beach used to be much higher than it is today. Further research both into the movement of sand in the area and into the local memory of a boat called Charles Dick, a sand dredger located at Port Maitland, satisfied Warnick that his theory held some truth.
After discussing the theory with Rindlisbacher, the artist agreed to modify his original painting and create a new impression of what the depot may have looked like in that time.
This modified print is available in two versions, an 11″ x 14″ with a half-inch border is available for $50, and the second version is a limited edition print with the artist signature, sitting at 12″ x 16″ and available for $75. Shipping is an extra $31 if pick up cannot be arranged.
Another image available for purchase is a print of a painting by William Biddle of William Biddle Gallery Dunnville. This print depicts aspects of Port Maitland Harbour spanning three decades.
Warnick explained that the pier is a depiction of how it might have looked around 1900, the ship from early 1900, and the boat is more accurate to 1930. This print is available for S50 as well. Further prints are also available of the Mohawk Lighthouse for $75.
The PMHA will be donating copies to libraries in the southern part of Haldimand County close to Port Maitland, as well as a variety of other places.
Warnick disclosed that the prints are worth more than they are really charging but said, “We want to get them out there, more than making money.” He went on to exclaim that preserving history with art allows history to live on: -100 years from now the history is still there.”
For more information, people are encouraged to contact Warnick by email at president@ port-maitland.ca.