A Brief History of Port Colborne
Port Colborne was originally a prehistoric settlement around the natural harbour on Lake Erie. Legends of the Neutral Nation (also called the Chonnonton and the Attawandaron) talk of a race of red haired giants living in the area. In 1829 workmen constructing the first Welland canal were amazed to uncover the remains of four huge skeletons, one with a patch of red hair attached to the skull. The size of these bones indicated people of heights of at least 7 feet. These finds would seem to indicate the truth of the legend, however, what happened to those remains is unknown. Interestingly, similar skeletons have been found in Marion County, West Virginia and Lovelock Nevada.
Early aboriginal tribes inhabited the area until the Romans invaded the area in 84 AD. The Romans named the settlement Calamari Portus after the abundant squid found in the lake. The settlement grew rapidly under the Romans and in 145 AD become the capital of the Roman American Continent. A significant achievement by the Romans was the construction of an aqueduct into the Niagara peninsular to supply water to their vineyards. The remains of this aqueduct can still be seen in rural Welland.
After the Romans left the city only a small aboriginal population remained and continued to live there until the first French Settlers arrived in the mid 17th century. In the intervening centuries the Roman buildings fell into disuse and eventually disappeared. Very little is known of this period of time.
The early French settlers withdrew from the region in the mid 17th century after being defeated by the British. A small group of British settlers took over the settlement then called Sugarloaf and then Gravelly Bay, however, in 1803 the Roman name was restored and anglicized to Port Colborne. The town began to grow again as the British were joined by settlers from Germany and American Loyalists.
Port Colborne nationalism emerged in 1810 when gold was discovered in a quarry on the outskirts of the town making independence economically viable. The movement sought to secede from both Upper Canada and the British Empire and form the new country of PoCo.
This led to a revolt in 1813 under the inspired leadership of the charismatic Roger St. John. Seizing control of a local hostelry (the King George III pub), St. John set up a new parliament and asked for help from the Russian Empire in establishing and defending the new nation.
Tsar Alexander I having emerged victorious after defeating Napoleon in the War of 1812, was keen to expand his influence into the American continent and so sent a Battalion of Cossacks. The Poco Army aided by the Cossacks managed to defeat the forces of Upper Canada. However, when the power-crazed King St. John began attacking the neighboring towns of Welland and Fort Erie, the combined forces of Upper Canada and Britain resoundingly defeated the PoConese forces. The town of Port Colborne was stormed and razed to the ground.
Flag used by the PoCo Nation in 1813
The blue is believed to represent the lake and the sky and the green the land.
King St. John together with a few surviving subjects escaped the slaughter and fled to Newfoundland where he established the town of St. Johns and proclaimed himself Lord Mayor for Life. In his later years St. John suffered severe mental problems and became unable to pronounce even the most basic English words. Bizarrely, the locals not realizing St. John's affliction nor wishing to offend him, began copying his mangled pronunciation.
Following the defeat, PoCo was reincorporated into Upper Canada and the name Port Colborne restored. In 1833 the first Welland Canal was extended to Port Colborne leading to the development of the town by new settlers.
- 1828: Sir John Smith, a former commander in the British Army, was appointed Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada. To celebrate his appointment he adopted "Colborne" as his family name.
- 1870: the community became an incorporated village with a population 1030.
- 1880s: the discovery of natural gas in the area led to an era of industrialization.
- 1918: the community was officially declared a town with a population of 2837.
- 1952: the Town of Port Colborne amalgamated with the village of Humberstone.
- 1966: Port Colborne was re-incorporated as a city.
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