By Terry Hughes
Pictured (top left) is the path leading into Merritt Park at the corner of King Street and the Division Street bridge. It is probably the oldest park in the city. Decades ago, it was home to the Welland Town Band and was a great venue for ship watching.
When examining old maps of Welland, the second canal was bordered with small streams and ponds on the east bank and this neglect would continue when the canal was widened in 1888. Though the west bank was widened, the east bank remained untouched. King Street went through several name changes and by 1900 was known as Muir Street.
One of the remaining ponds was found along Muir Street and became a catch-all for all kinds of refuse. It became known as McCarthy’s Pond. An entry in the city’s 1958 Centennial booklet was headlined: Midtown Park Once Unsightly Pond. It was “an unsightly place filled to overflowing with old bed springs, tin cans and refuse in general and rats in particular.”
When W.E. Phin was contracted to widen the canal between Quaker Road and Port Robinson, a town councillor convinced him to place the excess soil into the pond. In 1911 maple and elm trees were planted and then the soil was ready for seeding. The second picture shows the planted trees and the construction of the Welland Club in the background.
The next photo from yesteryear shows the park looking north from the Welland Club featuring a circular bandstand for use by the town band and a platform for local politicians. A canaller is passing the park in the third canal heading for the opened swing bridge at East Main and West Main streets. The bandstand was removed in 1952 and replaced with a circular fountain but it deteriorated and was little used.
Today, beautiful sculptures and a fountain – the Welland Canal Workers monument – occupy the site of the bandstand, enhanced by a brick walkway with many of the bricks carrying names of local residents.The park is also home to: the canal-side amphitheatre and floating stage; a permanent memorial to workers who were killed or injured while on the job; and most recently, a memorial celebrating 100 years of steelmaking in Welland.
It can be said Merritt Park evolved over the years, from unsightly McCarthy’s Pond of yesteryear into a passive park space rich with historical and cultural importance to our community.
(Terry Hughes is a Wellander who is passionate about heritage, history and model railroading. His opinion column, Heritage Lives, appears on the blog once or twice monthly.)
Great article Terry. Welland Heritage Council worked hard on getting that fountain completed with all the members of our community that contributed to its completion by purchasing bricks for the path way. The government gave us a small grant to get it started,.
Our appreciation to the coffee group at Eastside Restaurant along with a list of fabulous donors got Neil Bilbes statues in the glass house moved to Merritt Park.
Welland Heritage Council also built a garden and an engraved stone to honor the Queens Jubilee. All completed by Volunteers in this community. Great article. Thanks