A Brief History
The site was first recognized as an entity as the direct result of a 1796 treaty arranged between John Jay, the Chief Justice of the United States of America and the British Government which made the St. Clair River the International Boundary. A military reserve of 1,000 acres was set aside for defensive works at the commanding point of land which was named in honour of Prince Edward Augustus, the fourth son of King George III and later the father of Queen Victoria.
In 1853, Point Edward was chosen as the Canadian Terminus of the Grand Trunk Railway. From that time until 1902, Point Edward was a company town when virtually all the residents were employees of the GTR. In 1878, Point Edward was incorporated as a Village.
The merging of the Grand Trunk and Great Western Railways in 1882 contributed immensely to the railroad ferry service to Port Huron, Michigan. The Village population climbed to 2,000. In 1891, a rail tunnel under the St. Clair River in Sarnia shifted rail emphasis to Sarnia. By 1901, the Village population declined to 780.
During the First World War, the Crosby Foundry and the Village ore docks were critical to the war effort. Following the war, new industries located in the Village. By 1921, the Village population topped 1,200. However, the opening of the Welland Canal led to Point Edward’s decline as an ore shipping centre.
In 1938, the Village received a major boost with the opening of the Blue Water Bridge. In 1997, with the addition of a second span, the Village now has the distinction of having the ONLY twin International Bridge Crossing in Canada.
Since the Second World War, Point Edward has enjoyed a healthy mix of residential and industrial development. In the 1980’s, industrial development began to decline. With the new Charity Casino which opened in April, 2000, emphasis is turning to Tourism/Commercial development for continued prosperity.
HISTORICAL PLAQUES IN THE VILLAGE
One plaque is located on Michigan Ave. at the Bluewater Bridge and reads as follows:
THE VOYAGE OF THE GRIFFON 1679
First ship to sail Lakes Erie, Huron and Michigan, the “Griffon”, probably 40-45 feet long, was built by Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, several miles above Niagara Falls in 1679. La Salle came to New France in 1667, became seigneur of Cataracoui (Kingston), engaged in the fur trade and sought a western route to China. In August, 1679, the “Griffon” sailed from the Niagara River with La Salle and a company of about thirty-three. In this vicinity, the crew had to haul the ship up the swift current of the St. Clair River. La Salle remained in the West while the “Griffon”, laden with furs, vanished enroute from Green Bay to Niagara.
The other plaque next to the Point Edward Library, 36 St. Clair Street, Point Edward and reads as follows:
THE FOUNDING OF POINT EDWARD
In 1838 John Slocum, a native of New York established a commercial fishery on the site of a former military reserve here where the St. Clair River flows out of Lake Huron. The area remained sparsely populated until 1859 when it became the crossing point into the U.S. for the Grand Truck Railway. Rapid development followed and in 1864 a town plan was laid out for the community called Point Edward, reportedly after Queen Victoria’s father, Edward, Duke of Kent. In 1870 a steamship service was inaugurated to transport immigrants and supplies to western Canada and by 1873 the town contained stores, hotels, sawmills and large immigration sheds. Five years later it was incorporated as a Village with a population of more than one thousand.
ABOUT THE SOULS MEMORIAL
Eons before trade flowed back and forth between Canada and United States across a bridge, this site was the hub of an Anishinaabek trade network that stretched over the entire continent. The Souls Memorial stands in tribute to the generations of Ancestors who gathered on this site for trade, for celebration, for teaching, and for sharing in seasonal spiritual ceremonies.
Naturally, as a site of such seminal significance to the Anishinaabek, some of the Ancestors were laid to their final rest in this area. This practice continued routinely for many hundreds of years, leaving untold numbers of Ancestors interred in the surrounding area. Centuries later, the expansive commercial dynamic of contemporary society inevitably resulted in the resting places of the Ancestors being disturbed by construction and redevelopment.
The Souls Memorial was designed and executed by Anishinaabe artist, Dennis Henry-Shawnoo. He handcarved, from a single massive stone, the tall plinth which embodies certain design features that will be utilized in the celebration of traditional ceremonies for many years to come. On the central statue, he depicted a series of faces representing the Ancestors.
To quote the artist, “… the inspiration for the Souls piece is the past, the present and the future. The piece reflects on the old ones who have gone … We all must find our true history before we come to the present and move forward to the future. The present is only a moment in time.”
The memorial is situated within a garden-plaza setting that was conceived and designed by landscape architect, Wendy Shearer. It incorporates the traditional symbols, shapes and colours of the Anishinaabek Medicine Wheel. The plants and shrubs that ornament the beds within the area are all selected from the original traditional medicines.
The Souls Memorial has been erected by the Blue Water Bridge Authority as part of a major re-development of its waterfront in Point Edward, for the enjoyment of the community. It will stand as a symbol of co-operation and respect between the Blue Water Bridge Authority and the Aamjiwnaang First Nation.