Battle of Cook’s Mills remembered

By Allan Benner, The Tribune

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

From left, David Matthews, his brother Leonard and David's grandson, Justin, stand below a new sign he recently installed beside the cairn on property their family donated in 1922.

From left, David Matthews, his brother Leonard and David’s grandson, Justin, stand below a new sign he recently installed beside the cairn on property their family donated in 1922.

WELLAND – David Matthews grew up living beside the cairn that was built on property his grandfather Roy Matthews donated to the federal government in 1922, 16 years before he was born.

As a boy, he used to climb up the stone structure built to commemorate the Battle of Cook’s Mills that took place in October 1814.

“I used to put pennies up on the top,” he recalled. “I have a picture of me standing on the top of that monument.”

It wasn’t until the past few weeks or so that he noticed the face on one of the granite rocks near the top of the cairn. It’s just the natural shape of the rock, but it clearly forms a face.

“I wonder if I’m the only one that saw that face, or if when they put that up they noticed that,” Matthews said. “I would like to know.”

He pointed the face out for a small gathering of family, friends and neighbours along with representatives from Welland Historical Museum and War of 1812 bicentennial subcommittee.

Matthews invited them to the cairn at the corner of Matthews and Lyons Creek Rds. on Wednesday, to unveil a sign he mounted along the iron fence surrounding the site. The sign was originally mounted near Crowland Central School to inform travellers of a national historic site 300 yards down the road. Eventually the sign was taken down and forgotten, until Matthews found it in his barn.

He said the original paint was so badly faded it was difficult to read, Because it’s the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, he wanted to do something with it.

Matthews brought it to Goodman-Brown Machine and Marine Ltd. where staff donated time to sandblast it. They left behind a dent in the sign where it was shot with a rifle of some sort long ago.

Matthews then had the old sign painted grey and the words “National Historic Cook’s Mills Site Cairn Built 1922” added.

When the cairn was constructed, arrowheads and musket balls from the nearby battlefield were embedded in mortar, but over the years they eventually fell out or were whisked away by souvenir hunters, Matthews said. At one point, the mortar was redone removing any trace of the artifacts.

Museum director Nora Reid said she’d like a few of those artifacts if anyone has one. The museum does not have any artifacts in its collection from the Battle of Cook’s Mills — the last major engagement on Canadian soil during the War of 1812.

“We’ve never had any donated, so if anyone has something they’d like to donate that’d be wonderful,” she said. War of 1812 bicentennial subcommittee chair Ron Boyer said “enthusiasm from the Matthews family regarding the upcoming bicentennial of the Battle of Cook’s Mills really is remarkable.”

The Matthews family has been taking care of the property surrounding the cairn since it was donated 90 years ago.

•••

History lesson

• The cairn was built in 1922, but wasn’t officially dedicated until July 25, 1923.

• Wednesday, July 25, also marked the 200th anniversary the Battle of Lundy’s Lane

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