The city of Thorold was named after British Member of Parliament Sir John Thorold (1734-1815). Thorold sits atop the Niagara Escarpment and is physically linked to St. Catharines, Ontario, located to the north.
In 1829, with the completion of the First Welland Canal a townsite was laid out, and industries began locating within close proximity of the Welland Canal. One of Canada’s first cotton mills was located in Thorold, as well as flour mills and limestone quarries.
George Keefer and the Welland Canal
George Keefer was born in 1773 in New Jersey, the son of George Kieffer and Mary Cooke. George Sr.'s father, Samuel Kieffer was an Alsation Huguenot, who died at a young age leaving George Sr. to be raised by his mother, Ann Waldruff and his stepfather Frederick Saveraine.
George Sr. grew up in Sussex County New Jersey and eventually married Mary Cooke and together they had four children; George Jr., Jacob, Samuel and Mary.
Around this time the American Revolution was unfolding and George Sr. joined the Queen's Rangers, but unfortunately was stricken with thyphus and died in 1783.
Mary Kieffer eventually remarried and retained the family estate in New Jersey, but her eldest son George, risked having his property confiscated because of his father's previous loyalty to the Queen. In 1790, the young George, with his brother Jacob set out for Upper Canada. By now the boys were using the surname Keefer. The boys settled close to present day Thorold and being industrious men like their father George Keiffer Sr. and their grandfather Sameul Keiffer they proceeded to build a log cabin there.
By 1793 more of the Keefer clan arrived and the family prospered on the 600 acre land grant deeded to them by the government. In 1797 George married Catherine Lampman, a United Empire Loyalist from New Jersey and together they had eight children.
George worked as a cabinet-maker and farmer to support his young family. In 1807 he was appointed a deputy provincial land surveyor. George Keefer like so many of his predecesors before him, remained loyal to the Crown. When hostilities appeared between Canada and the American states George took up arms with the 2nd Regiment of Lincoln militia.
Shortly after war broke out his home in Thorold Township was taken over by the invading Americans and used as a military hospital. Catherine contacted typhus while nursing the sick and died, leaving Elizabeth, the eldest daughter to assume the duties of caring for her siblings while at the same time acting as a nurse for the sick and wounded Americans that had taken up residence inside their home.
By this time George had been made a Captain and alongside his company was active along the Niagara frontier during the War of 1812. He would remain a Captain of the 2nd Lincoln militia until 1828, when he left to pursue other interests.
Shortly after his release from the military George returned to his family and married the widow Jane Emory, a mother of five children. Together her and George would have seven more children bringing the family total to twenty children.
George Keefer had never forgotten his earlier training a a land surveyor. Two longtime friends, John DeCou and William Hamilton Merritt also owned mills nearby. Merritt envisioned a canal that would connect Lake Erie and Ontario, avoiding the cataracts at Niagara Falls and providing a more direct route through the interior.
The three men set about conducting surveys and eventually set up the Welland Canal Company in 1824. George Keefer was elected as the first president. He was able to obtain free land across from the site that would become lock 34, and proceeded to build a mill there in 1827.
At this time the canal was yet to be built and many looked upon his endeavour with amusement. The Welland Canal became a reality in 1829, and George was able to finally power his mill and provide his business with a method of transportation.
Life along the Twelve Mile Creek was good for the Keefer family. However in 1833 tragedy struck again and George's second wife Jane died leaving him with the formidable task of raising such a large brood alone. George would remarry two more times, but none of the marriages would produce any more children.
Three of George Keefer's sons; Samuel, Thomas and George Jr. would also make names for themselves as civil engineers while a fourth son, Jacob built one of the largest flour mills in Canada along the banks of the Welland Canal in Thorold in 1845 called the Welland Mills.
The mill located in Thorold would later became the Maple Leaf Flour Mills.