Advances in Historical Studies
2013. Vol.2, No.2, 94-104
Published Online June 2013 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Borderland Theory as a Conceptual Framework for
Comparative Local US and Canadian History
Claire Parham
Siena College, Loudonville, New York, USA
Received January 15th, 2013; revised February 25th, 2013; accepted March 4th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Claire Parham. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attri-
bution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the
original work is properly cited.
My book From Great Wilderness to Seaway Towns: A Comparative History of Cornwall, Ontario and
Massena, New York, 1784-2001 compared the two towns at different historical moments from 1784 to
2001 by utilizing Oscar Martinez’s borderland theory and argued that the shared experiences of Cornwall
and Massena’s residents based on their borderland locations lead them to follow comparable patterns of
social and economic development. As former American colonists, both area residents wanted to develop
towns identical to their former communities. The founders of Cornwall and Massena and their descen-
dants, therefore, challenged national values and beliefs and developed a distinctive society and culture of
their own. In contrast to Seymour Lipset who argued that the organizing principles made the two coun-
tries different, my research suggests that Louis Hartz was closer to the mark when he stated “the differ-
ences between the two countries are less significant than the traits common to both.” To determine the
how the lives of Massena and Cornwall residents’ lives were affected by their border locations, I high-
lighted key events and experiences that caused these men and women to develop common values and be-
liefs and adhered to the methodology of local historians.
Keywords: Canada; U S Local
When I began researching the history of Massena, New York
and Cornwall, Ontario in 1996 as a possible dissertation topic, I
searched not only for historical documents, but also a method-
ology and theoretical framework to analyze the economic, po-
litical, and social values of these two border towns. The only
literature that existed at that time either concerned the lives of
residents on the US/Mexican border or the contrasting national
values of the United States and Canada. I, therefore, like many
local historians, came up with my own model and approach to
evaluate the history of Massena and Cornwall. In “A Manifesto:
The Defense and Illustration of Local History,” Paul Leuilliot
stated, “Sometimes for lack of a model, the local historian must
invent a method of approach… For local history this method
may differ from the method appropriate for general history—
for the simple reason that a history of a sector must develop its
own original hypothesis for discovery and inquiry” (Leuillot,
1977: p. 14). By using Oscar Martinez’s borderlands milieu
theory and local history techniques as a methodological and
research framework, I compiled my own interpretation of the
relationship and differences between the residents of these two
border towns.
Canadian and American scholars’ research comparing and
contrasting the values, experiences, and beliefs of residents of
these two nations has tended to reflect two broad schools of
thought. Seymour Lipset laid the groundwork for the first hy-
pothesis, known as the value-orientation theory in his 1963
paper, “The Value Patterns of Democracy: A Case Study in
Comparative View.” Recently, in Continental Divide: The Val-
ues and Institutions of the United States and Canada, he sur-
mised his 30-year sociological analysis of the cultural and in-
stitutional differences between Canada and the United States.
Lipset made specific assertions about how the establishment of
businesses, personal relationships, governments, and churches
by Canadians and Americans reflected their opposing economic,
social, and religious values. Since the American Revolution, all
sectors of Canadian and American society have diverged be-
cause of the countries’ contrasting organizing principles. Cana-
dians are more class aware, law-abiding, elitist, and collectively
oriented, while Americans pride themselves on living in an
egalitarian, classless society, and thrive on individualism and
personal achievement. Even with the increasing melding of the
economies and popular culture of Canada and the United States
since World War II, fundamental developmental differences
guarantee that the two nations will never be economically, so-
cially, or politically identical (Lipset, 1990: pp. 120-122).
Many scholars questioned the relevance of Lipset’s value-
orientation approach in explaining cultural changes in the
United States and Canada after World War II. In 1973 Irving
Horowitz challenged the contemporary merits of Lipset’s the-
ory based on the growing economic and cultural similarities
between the United States and Canada. In his essay, “The
Hemispheric Connection: A Critique and Corrective to the En-
trepreneurial Thesis of Development with Special Emphasis on
the Canadian Case,” he argued that the behavioral and value
differences between the United States and Canada were not
historically linked to the nations’ conflicting revolutionary ide-
ologies, as Lipset suggested, but were instead based on a lag
between the two countries’ social development. Once Canada
completed its social and economic evolution, Horowitz stated,
the country would become more like the United States and less
like Great Britain. This transformation began following World
War II, as the increasing level of crime, education, and reli-
gious participation in Canada narrowed the cultural gap be-
tween the United States and Canada. Horowitz, therefore, con-
cluded that “Lipset’s thinking is premised on a continuation of
pre-World War II tendencies rather than post World War II
trends” (Horowitz, 1973: p. 346).
In the last fifteen years, numerous books have surfaced in
which scholars compare the United States and Canada on a
national level. Firstly, Fire and Ice: The United States, Canada,
and the Myth of Converging Values author Michael Adams
pointed out how Canadians and Americans are not getting more
like each other, but instead are diverging in many important
ways. Jason Kaufman who penned The Origins of Canadian
and American Political Differences critiqued the public and
political policy of the United States and Canada from colonial-
ism to the present day by framing his argument around five
specific differences between American and Canadian develop-
ment: economic; collectivism, social services, and voter align-
ment; comparative federalism; individual and civil rights; and
identity politics. Finally, David M. Thomas and Barbara Boyle
Torrey’s five-section edited collection Canada and The United
States: Differences that Count allowed various authors to com-
ment on the values, politics, beliefs, and social policies of each
nations’ leade rs and citizens.
A second group of scholars offered a glimpse into the lives
of border residents in the American and Canadian Pacific re-
gion. Led by Wallace Stegner’s Wolf Willow, a poignant reflec-
tion of growing up on the Montana/Saskatchewan border at the
turn of the twentieth century, researchers in this new vein ana-
lyzed various aspects of life in borderland regions. Sterling
Evans divided his contributors’ essays, The Borderlands of the
American and Canadian Wests: Essays on Regional History of
the Forty-Ninth Parallel, into five sections addressing regional
definition, colonization of borderlands, agricultural economies
and labor markets, and environmental issues. While both groups
of comparative historians studied local and regional experi-
ences, a void still exists in terms of the lives of residents in the
North American Atlantic border region over an extended period
of time.
In Border People: Life and Society in the US-Mexico Bor-
derlands, Oscar Martinez outlined a set of criteria to evaluate
the uniqueness of border town life and used oral interviews to
prove his theory. His most useful tool for US and Canadian
historians was his argument that inhabitants of border towns
function in an environment called the “borderlands milieu”.
These circumstances are defined as “unique forces, processes,
and characteristics that set borderlands apart from interior
zones” (Martinez, 1994: p. 10). According to Martinez, resi-
dents of border towns face the constant threat of foreign inva-
sion, deal with heterogeneous populations, interact with for-
eigners, and feel separated or isolated from their countrymen.
Martinez also offered three models of borderland’s interac-
tion: alienated, coexistent, interdependent, and integrated. He
ascertained that the settlers of interdependent borderlands ex-
perience circumstances making their lives stand out from the
national norm. Borderlanders witness a flow of money and
people that created opportunity to establish social relationships
across the border. This fluid relationship also fostered fear
among men and women of outsiders because of their continued
exposure to people of varying ethnic background. Due to their
remote location, farmers, shopkeepers, and religious leaders
acquired a sense of otherness and thought of themselves as dif-
ferent from people in interior regions. In the case of US/Cana-
dian border, according to Martinez, several Hollywood films
portrayed the border as a place that offered escape, a second
chance, an opportunity to forget, and safety and comfort for
those in need. Politically, town leaders have often seen laws as
being made by distant, insensitive, and excessively nationalistic
politicians. The sparse number of residents and voters and re-
moteness from centers of power limit their political clout often
resulted in the proposals of their leaders for social and eco-
nomic improvements being frequently ignored by decision
makers. Finally, borderlanders differed from residents of their
national heartland because of their exposure to foreign econo-
mies, increased employment opportunities, and consumer cho-
ices unavailable to those in heartland (Martinez, 1994: pp. 23 &
My book From Great Wilderness to Seaway Towns: A Com-
parative History of Cornwall, Ontario and Massena, New York,
1784-2001 compared the two towns at different historical mo-
ments from 1784 to 2001 by utilizing Oscar Martinez’s border-
land theory and argued that the shared experiences of Cornwall
and Massena’s residents based on their borderland locations
lead them to follow comparable patterns of social and economic
development. As former American colonists, both area resi-
dents wanted to develop towns identical to their former com-
munities. The founders of Cornwall and Massena and their
descendants, therefore, challenged national values and beliefs
and developed a distinctive society and culture of their own. In
contrast to Seymour Lipset who argued that the organizing
principles made the two countries different, my research sug-
gested that Louis Hartz was closer to the mark when he stated
“the differences between the two countries are less significant
than the traits common to both” (Hartz, 1964: pp. 1-48).
To determine how their border locations affected the lives of
Massena and Cornwall residents’ lives, I highlighted key events
and experiences that caused these men and women to develop
common values and beliefs and adhered to the methodology of
local historians. In “A Manifesto: The Defense and Illustration
of Local History” by Paul Leuilliot, he described the different
techniques and elements of doing local history and chronicling
the lives of common people. Firstly all of the research methods
utilized by local historians are more flexible, more qualitative
then quantitative, and many times experimental. Also, the re-
searchers in this realm concern themselves with the invisible
aspects of daily life impacting peoples’ values and beliefs in-
cluding age-old traditions and folklore. Local history overflows
into the history of mentalities, of attitudes toward life, death,
money, and innovation. Unlike most historians, whose work
centers on colossal events and actions of leaders on a national
scale, I specifically exposed the differences in terms of values,
development, and social and economic experiences of border-
land residents in juxtaposition with their countrymen in other
regions. As Leuilliot concluded, my concerns and methodology
differed from academic and national historians and included
both primary and secondary sources. I exposed the differences
between national and local values and experiences and showed
why the heartland of the United States and Canada is different
from the borderland (Leuillot, 1977: pp. 6-26).
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 95
In 2009, my book entitled The St. Lawrence Seaway and
Power Project: An Oral History of the Greatest Construction
Show on Earth expanded my analysis of the interplay between
Cornwall and Massena residents with outsiders, the regional
interdependence in terms of trade and social relationships, and
the limited political clout of local leaders in terms of lobbying
state and local officials for funding for social and infrastructure
programs. As Martinez asserted, certain border regions experi-
ence a greater flow of economic and human resources across
the border, greater trade and consumerism, and a sense of other-
ness from those in the interior sections that triggers fear of out-
siders and a political inferiority complex. However, the lack of
long-term social and economic impact of the St. Lawrence
Seaway project on the area contradicted Martinez’s argument
that borderland areas thrived after World War II both socially
and economically. Instead my research supported Paul Leuil-
liot’s assertion that local areas serve as indicators of future
national trends. Both Cornwall and Massena residents wit-
nessed deindustrialization and a loss of population due to the
movement of manufacturers south in search of cheaper labor
and operating costs.
The Settlement of Cornwall and Massena
Cornwall, Ontario and Massena, New York are two towns
separa ted by a narr ow exp ans e of the St. Lawrence River on the
northern New York/Canadian border. Besides being close geo-
graphical neighbors, settlers arrived in each locale in the clos-
ing decades of the eighteenth century. In 1784 no longer wel-
come in the former colonies United Empire Loyalists and their
families relocated to Royal Township #2, later renamed Corn-
wall. Northeastern farmers migrated to Massena leaving family
homesteads in New England and New York in search of cheap
and abundant land on the newly opened frontier. As Martinez
suggested, both area’s founding families saw their new homes
as places that offered a second chance and an opportunity to
forget. Initially, both groups of settlers struggled to become
economically self-sufficient and foster cultural and political
institutions among a widespread and often transient population.
Settlers’ shared spiritual beliefs gave them the strength to en-
dure the harsh frontier conditions and enhanced their relation-
ships with their neighbors.
Cornwall and Massena’s isolated borderland location encour-
aged these men and women to adopt contrasting religious val-
ues and beliefs to those in other regions of the United States
and Canada. During the frontier days, in the absence of minis-
ters, Cornwall and Massena inhabitants took charge of their
spiritual lives by organizing congregations and recruiting new
worshipers as a way to create social bonds between members of
scattered and often transient populations. Many worshippers
saw their faith as a way to deal with the harsh conditions and
isolation of frontier living. Like the pioneers who settled the
American West, the loyalists experienced starvation, financial
uncertainty, and lonelines s.
While many of the loyalists and their families practiced the
more structured faiths of Presbyterianism, Anglicanism, and
Roman Catholicism, recruiting full-time ministers and priests,
proved difficult as many members of the British clergy viewed
Canada as an unsettled frontier and its parishes as an undesir-
able assignment. Therefore, settlers started their own congrega-
tions and conducted their own services without the guidance of
a minister. Lay readers not only presided over sporadic services,
but also performed weddings and funerals. The Presbyterians,
the most prominent faith in the area from the early days of set-
tlement and traditionally one of the most nationally organized
religions, altered the deference of local worshippers to the au-
thority of church leaders as it had in the former American colo-
nies. While Cornwall Presbyterians still accepted the Book of
Common Prayer and stressed ceremony and Christian discipline,
parishioners retained their ability to excommunicate members
and to ordain their own minister. In 1839, 961 residents at-
tended services at St. John’s Presbyterian Church (Upper Can-
ada Return of Population and Assessment, Volume 1: p. 574).
Methodism appealed to many Cornwall residents based on its
simple doctrines and organization and its evangelical traveling
preachers. John Wesley, the faith’s creator, stressed the role of
the individual in seeking salvation and preached that perfection
was available to those who desired it with the aid of the Holy
Spirit. While a superintendent oversaw and defined the circuits
that traveling preachers serviced, it was the weekly class meet-
ings that were the foundation of Methodism. Occasional camp
meetings, held by two or more ministers, also served as a
source of group consciousness based on shared spiritual values.
These planned gatherings made settlers feel less isolated and
part of a community. Ministers preached about the central val-
ues and motivation of settlers’ including self-sufficiency, social
equality, and individualism. The conversion experience itself
provided worshippers with a release from the anxiety and frus-
tration associated with frontier life. By 1839, the number of
Cornwall Methodists had risen to 160 (Upper Canada Return of
Population and Assessment, Volume 1: p. 574).
The religious experience of Massena residents mirrored that
of their Cornwall neighbors as they too organized congrega-
tional and voluntary associations. Between 1800 and 1840 Mas-
sena Congregationalists and Methodists met weekly for prayer
services as traveling preachers only periodically visited. These
loosely organized congregations served as the town’s central
social and cultural organizations. Congregationalists also peri-
odically reaffirmed and strengthened their spirituality by ob-
serving days of fasting and humiliation and attending weekly
prayer meetings. This faith offered Massena settlers some re-
gularity in their lives, while still appealing to their desires to
have a personal relationship with God. During early settlement,
the Methodists were the only challengers for the souls of the
Massena faithful. Beginning in 1805, circuit riders charged with
preaching to worshippers in Malone, Ogdensburg, Potsdam,
and Massena infrequently conducted services in private homes
and schoolhouses (Prince, 1961: p. 1). Most riders successfully
gained new followers because, unlike their Protestant counter-
parts, they ventured into the backwoods areas and preached to
members of the rural community.
Political Organization
Politically, the founding fathers of Cornwall saw the laws
and structures that distant leaders requested they implement as
insensitive and nationally oriented. Regardless of the fact that
the loyalists and Massena residents now lived on opposite sides
of the border, both still harbored comparable political goals and
values. These former soldiers and prominent farmers did not
desire a strong paternalistic government and did not defer to
authority. Cornwall residents, unlike their counterparts in the
neighboring towns of Alexandria and Kingston, never devel-
oped hierarchical political structures. Instead, Cornwall settlers,
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
similar to Massena residents, demanded a democratic, popu-
larly elected government. Loyalists attempted to establish the
same participatory government structure they had in their for-
mer home towns. Residents wanted town meetings and local
courts administered by officials who concerned themselves
solely with the financial and legal administration of the towns,
and who did not interfere with individuals’ rights. While Corn-
wall loyalists initially failed in their efforts to gain a democratic
local government, their protests exhibited their desire for the
same political system that their American neighbors imple-
mented after the Revolution. Like other frontiersmen, they in-
sisted on a degree of political autonomy which set them apart
from other Canadians and angered provincial government offi-
The attempt to establish an organized governing structure in
Cornwall exposed the differing political beliefs of the former
military commanders and common citizens. National govern-
ment officials first attempted to formalize the structure of town
government by ordering settlers of the royal townships to hold
town meetings in 1787. In Cornwall a conflict arose between
former military leaders, and local activists, over who should
conduct the meetings and be eligible for election as town dele-
gates. When the gathering was held on July 12, 1787, local
activists led by Patrick McNiff forced Samuel Anderson, the
current town magistrate and a group of fellow officers to leave
the proceedings by threatening their lives. The citizens who re-
mained at the meeting elected 10 representatives, including
McNiff. However, Anderson and the other regiment command-
ers challenged the election. In response to the controversy,
dominion officials set aside the idea of locally appointed offi-
cials administering town affairs, and instead created a regional
and national political structure that controlled town affairs from
above (Senior, 1983: p. 62, Report of Ten Inhabitants…, and
Ensign Francis McCarty Deposition).
Massena residents established a democratic government from
the town’s inception. In 1802 the New York State Legislature
passed the original county charter empowering the residents of
Massena to establish locally based legal and political structures.
Judges of the court of common pleas and circuit court decided
criminal and civil complaints, while town meetings adminis-
tered by elected officials authorized the construction of roads,
allotted funds for the poor, and dealt with other miscellaneous
town matters. Early town officials included a supervisor, town
clerk, assessor, overseer of the poor, commissioner of highways,
and superintendent of schools. The first town meeting took
place in Massena in 1803 at the home of Peter Tarbell. The
locally elected Massena government concentrated on complet-
ing road projects and developing a social welfare system (Pod-
gurski, Prince, & Peers, 1959: p. 5).
The Canal Era
For much of the nineteenth century, Massena and Cornwall
politicians found their demands ignored by state and national
officials concerning the development of waterpower along the
St. Lawrence River, and therefore, took matters into their own
hands. A debate raged over the practicality of constructing a
canal for the purpose of converting the energy produced by the
current of the St. Lawrence River into electricity for public and
private use. Local citizens and politicians realized the economic
opportunity offered by channeling this natural resource, but
could not convince state officials of the validity of their pro-
posal or garner the necessary private monies to bankroll the
The members of the Upper Canada Parliament initially dis-
cussed the Cornwall canal project in 1816 because of the diffi-
culties military commanders encountered transporting their
troops and supplies up and down the St. Lawrence River during
the War of 1812. In 1818 members of a provincially appointed
commission studied the specific geographic and economic as-
pects of such an undertaking. Following lengthy parliamentary
debates about the waterway’s merit and substantial price tag,
national officials authorized the Cornwall Canal project on Fe-
bruary 13, 1833. A decade later, contractors completed the
original 11 1/2-mile-long canal. Constructed between 1834 and
1843, the Cornwall Canal, the third in a series of nationally
funded projects built along the St. Lawrence River between
Montreal and Cornwall, improved inland water transport and
expanded the country’s hydro-generated power. However, soon
after the conclusion of the project, the Canadian government’s
transportation minister realized that the water depth and width
of the locks could not adequately accommodate the ships of the
age and improvements continued for several decades (Pringle,
1934: p. 3; The Chronological History…, 1934: p. 1).
The first political defeat in the US came in 1833 when local
Massena officials presented a petition to the New York State
Legislature that described the power canal and its potential
financial attributes. While the proposition peaked the interest of
enough of the members to warrant a feasibility survey, the
enormous expense of the undertaking, including the purchase of
large amounts of privately owned land, the employment of
large numbers of workers, costly machinery and materials,
compounded with the lack of industries to purchase the power,
caused the proposal to be tabled until 1897. Learning from past
mistakes, Henry Warren, a local real estate magnate, garnered
an impressive list of five foreign investors committed to fund-
ing the multi-million dollar construction and acquired the prop-
erty rights to the necessary land, prior to making a presentation
to the legislature. Among the original investors was Albon Man,
a long-time annual visitor to Massena Springs, who wished to
give something back to the community that had furnished him
with so many memorable vacations over the years. With Man’s
help, Warren enlisted the financial backing of three of his
friends, M. H. Flaherty, C. A. Kellogg and Charles Higgins—a
situation that left the men in Albany with little choice but to
approve the measure (Podgurski, Prince, & Peers, 1959: p. 7).
Upon the project’s completion, it had silenced its critics by
convincing the Pittsburgh Reduction Company to build a plant
in Massena and lease power from the newly formed St. Law-
rence River Power Company.
The Arrival of Foreigners
Cornwall and Massena’s locations near the canals forced
residents to deal with foreigners sooner than their immediate
neighbors. The Board of Works and private contractors em-
ployed more than 1000 Irish laborers on the Cornwall Canal
between 1834 and 1842. Most laborers lived in shanty huts near
the canal site and shopped at the company store. Poor living
conditions and high unemployment rates led to violence. Histo-
rian J. F. Pringle notes, “Hundreds of men were employed on
the various contracts and it was only natural that there should
be a rough element that were constantly making trouble” (Prin-
gle, 1934: p. 3; The Cornwall Canal, 1887: p. 1). Local inhabi-
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 97
tants distrusted the Irish canal workers and expected them to
abide by the law and adopt Canadian religious and social values.
As Oscar Martinez indicates, “In the case of isolated villages,
discord with other groups may arise out of fear and resentment
triggered by encroachment from outsiders” (Martinez, 1994: p.
When canal workers murdered deputy sheriff Ewen Stuart in
1834 and former lieutenant governor Albert French two years
later, animosity arose between the Irish laborers and long-time
Cornwall inhabitants, and exposed the latter’s fear and lack of
tolerance for immigrants. After canal workers repeatedly com-
mitted violent crimes, many residents considered the roads
bordering the canal unsafe for travel and took alternate routes.
In September 1835, Cornwall magistrates applied to Lieutenant
Governor John Colbourne for military assistance in maintaining
order and public safety until the project’s completion. Accord-
ing to a Cornwall Observer editor, “After this sacrifice of one
of our most respected townsmen, Sir John Colbourne cannot
refuse two companies at least to guard our jail and maintain our
laws” (Editorial, 1834: p. 1). In 1836, the troops arrived and
remained stationed in Cornwall until 1843.
Lehigh Construction managers promised Massena town offi-
cials at the inception of construction in 1897 that the canal
workers and their families brought to Massena to work on the
waterway project would not negatively affect the surrounding
community. As company officials strove to be self-sufficient in
terms of housing and supplies, they constructed Camp Bogart
on the north side of town consisting of a dining hall, kitchen,
and several 20 by 50 feet buildings, each housing up to three
workers and their families. As the project progressed, there was
not enough room at Camp Bogart for the increasing number of
workers, and many were forced to live in shacks or sand dug-
outs made of old boxes and lumber near the canal site. The
cluster of primitive buildings, referred to as White City, was lo-
cated on North Main Street, and extended from the town border
to the canal site. According to local journalist, Anthony Romeo,
“Life during the canal days was appalling. The Italian and Hun-
garian workers and their families spent subzero winter nights in
tarpaper shacks with no running water” (Romeo, 1961: p. 2).
Town residents became increasingly worried about the surge
in crimes committed by canal workers, much of which was
reported in the local newspaper. Canal workers not only got
into frequent skirmishes with each other, but also with the St.
Regis Indians. This behavior reinforced Massena residents’
aversion to foreigners. The Massena police chief did not hire
additional constables as most job foremen preferred to person-
ally deal with the indiscretions of their workers. However, sev-
eral incidents described in the Massena Observer required the
assistance of law enforcement personnel. Even though these
violent acts were not directed at members of the general public
as they had been in Cornwall, they aroused a great deal of fear
and concern for public safety.
From Agriculture to Industry
Contrary to Martinez’s argument that the isolation of border
towns resulted in their economic underdevelopment and neglect
prior to World War II, following the construction of power
canals on the St. Lawrence and Grasse Rivers, Cornwall and
Massena became major regional manufacturing centers. Weal-
thy Montreal entrepreneurs financed Cornwall’s initial factories.
More than a dozen manufacturing operations, including a paper
mill and a men’s clothing factory, joined these enterprises by
the early twentieth century. Massena’s first major manufactur-
ing firm was an aluminum processing plant constructed by the
Pittsburgh Reduction Company in 1903, later known as the
Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa). The workers recruited
by the owners of these large enterprises altered the population
of Cornwall and Massena and increased the number of local
residents employed in manufacturing.
In the second half of the nineteenth century, Cornwall’s
economy shifted away from agriculture to manufacturing as
Canadian entrepreneurs gravitated toward favorable locations
for factories near canals and dams. Manufacturers recognized
the St. Lawrence canals as accessible transport routes for their
raw materials and the accompanying dams as sources to power
their waterwheels and produce electricity. Municipal bonussing
program implemented by town officials additionally provided
mill owners with start-up cash, tax incentives, and emergency
loans. Andrew Hodge, a former mill operator and current town
councilor, stated, “This municipal council duly recognizing the
importance of manufacturing in this country… pledges to aid
and assist all cotton, woolen and other similar factories which
may be established within the municipality” (Senior, 1983: p.
George Stephen became the first to set up a factory incorpo-
rated as the Cornwall Manufacturing Corporation along the
Cornwall Canal in 1867. His primary investor, Sir Hugh Allan,
served as a silent partner and Stephen served as vice president.
The factory’s looms driven by waterwheels allowed workers to
produce Canadian tweed blankets and flannels for a national
and international market. The facility included a dye house,
storehouse, and tenant cottages for workers in addition to the
main mill building. By 1887 Stephen employed 750 workers
with an average monthly payroll of $18,000 (Parham, 2004: p.
Following the success of Stephen’s mill, Andrew and Robert
Gault, Bennett Rosamond, a partner of Stephen’s in Mississippi,
Montreal businessmen Edward MacKay and Donald Smith, and
Cornwall mill owner John Harvey, financed two other cotton
plants. Similar to Stephen, the workers in each facility pro-
duced woolen goods for Montreal merchants to sell wholesale
and retail. Each of the manufacturers solicited incentives and
long-term tax exemptions from local officials. In 1903 the three
mills’ owners jointly employed 1463 workers, produced goods
valued at $1,647,347, and paid $446,588 in wages (Senior,
1983: p. 233; Pringle, 1980: p. 294; Parham, 2004: p. 37).
John Barber and a group of Toronto investors also located a
major paper mill in Cornwall because of the area’s ample wa-
ter-borne power. The Cornwall canal provided Barber with
waterpower for his machinery and paper processing. The wa-
terway also offered him a direct transportation route for his raw
materials from northern Ontario and for his finished product to
various ports, including Montreal. In 1882 Barber completed
construction of a $141,674, 33-acre facility on the north end of
the Cornwall canal. He also purchased $126,397 of the latest
water-powered machinery and hired 100 employees. Surpris-
ingly, Barber received no bonuses or incentives from the town.
The operation of his paper machines around the clock on every
day but Sunday reflected the success of his new operation
(Pringle, 1980: p. 295; Harkness, 1946: p. 236; Senior, 1983: p.
The most important social effect of industrialization on Corn-
wall was an increase and diversification of the population.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
From 1870 to 1891 many French Canadians from surrounding
towns and impoverished British subjects from overseas came to
Montreal in search of employment. Unlike many areas of Can-
ada during these decades where town officials battled a reces-
sion, Cornwall leaders welcomed three new mills, whose em-
ployment needs exceeded the local supply. With the poor con-
ditions in the surrounding rural areas, French Canadians moved
into town to fill these new factory jobs. By the turn of the cen-
tury, 1105 individuals had immigrated to Cornwall, with 466
new residents arriving between 1881 and 1890. The town’s
total population increased from 5081 in 1871 to 6790 in 1891
(Census of Canada, 1871: Table 4, p. 274; Census of Canada,
1901: Table 17, p. 459; Census of Canada, 1941: Table 10, p.
113). As French Canadians spoke a different language from
existing residents, they relied on each other for financial and
spiritual support and security. In Cornwall the Quebecois be-
came active members in the Catholic Church as a means of
dealing with their new unfamiliar surroundings.
The abundance of inexpensive power created by the Massena
canal caught the attention of the nation’s largest aluminum
processing companyPittsburgh Reduction Companylater
known as the Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa). Founded
in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1888 under the watchful eye of
Charles Martin Hall, the inventor of a low cost way of produc-
ing aluminum, and with the financial backing of a group of
young entrepreneurs headed by Alfred Hunt, the company mo-
nopolized the national market within a few short years. For
almost a decade, the Pittsburgh Reduction Company resisted
expansion and concentrated on improving its Pittsburgh opera-
tion. But, the constant protesting of workers and the astro-
nomical price of electricity encouraged the company to seek
alternate manufacturing sites with more favorable conditions,
first in Niagara Falls in 1895 and seven years later in Massena
near the new power canal. The locale presented the company
with two long sought luxuriesaffordable electricity and a
docile labor supply (Carr, 1952: p. 2).
Following a May 15, 1902 visit to Massena by company ex-
ecutives Arthur Davis, Charles Hall, and E. S. Fickes, Pitts-
burgh Reduction purchased 100 acres of land east of the canal.
Two months later contractors began construction of a $1 mil-
lion facility that included five 550-feet long production build-
ings, a storage yard, and company-owned railroad tracks. Alcoa
officials also purchased the entire annual output of the newly
finished powerhouse from the owners of the St. Lawrence
Power Company. Davis, Hall, and Fickes expected their new
Massena factory to eventually become Pittsburgh Reduction’s
main processing plant. At the inception of production on Au-
gust 24, 1903, Pittsburgh Reduction’s Massena managers hired
67 men to manufacture aluminum wire, cable, and cooking
utensils (Massena Alcoan…, 1952: p. 7).
Within three years, company executives approved the con-
struction of a new reduction facility and enlarged the original
wire department, thereby doubling the factory’s production ca-
pacity and increasing the number of workers to 581. Alcoa
employees also deepened the Massena Canal, updated the gen-
erators and turbines in the powerhouse, and constructed another
pot room, rolling mill, and a larger wire mill. By 1910, com-
pany managers employed 171 men and boys in the reduction
division, 59 in the carbon plant, 140 in the fabricating plant,
and 269 in the power division (Internal Alcoa Document).
The success of Alcoa encouraged the establishment of other
manufacturing companies including a silk mill, insulating com-
pany, a macaroni factory, and a lingerie factory. These busi-
nesses provided jobs for the wives and daughters of aluminum
workers and local female residents who wanted to supplement
their family’s income. Also the construction of Diamond Crea-
mery in 1907, a cooperative producer of condensed milk fi-
nance d by farmers a nd local i nvestors, served as another source
of employment outside of farming and aluminum production.
Massena’s population and social life changed with the influx
of foreigners to work at Alcoa. The town’s population quadru-
pled and diversified with the arrival of European immigrants.
These immigrants initially consisted of Italians and Jews from
New York City, and later of recent arrivals from Eastern
Europe, Central America, and Scandinavia who adhered to dif-
ferent cultures and religious traditions that taxed the patience of
local residents and stressed the available housing market. The
transformation that took place in the first half of the twentieth
century pressured this small town to come to terms with its new
identity as an industrial center and with the difficulties of deal-
ing with a diverse population.
To combat local residents’ uneasiness, Pittsburgh Reduction
officials constructed separate housing for workers and manag-
ers in previously undeveloped areas of town. Throughout the
next several decades, Alcoa officials also enrolled their immi-
grant workers in company-sponsored Americanization pro-
grams, in which instructors taught new families the English lan-
guage and the basic elements of American history. On a mu-
nicipal level town councilors approved funding for a larger
police force and the construction of more schools to accommo-
date the increasing number of school-age children. However,
the implementation of these initiatives did not erase the intol-
erance community members held for outsiders and their unfa-
miliar customs.
In addition to dictating where its workers’ resided, Alcoa
controlled other aspects of their lives as a preventative measure
to guard against complaints about unruly behavior outside the
factory walls. Doctors treated injured workers and the ailments
of their immediate family in an on-site hospital in order to dis-
pel the idea that immigrants had poor hygiene, lacked respect
for medical care, and therefore, contributed to the ill health of
the community and burdened local health care facilities. Com-
pany officials also organized bowling leagues and created a
local baseball team that played matches against neighboring
towns. Both measures gave members of the community and
Alcoa workers a common social experience with the hopes of
improving the tenuous personal relations. However, company
executives underestimated the power of the long history of
local biases and dislike for outsiders that dated back to the early
encounters with the St. Regis Indians. It would take more than
fancy housing and sports teams to overcome these heartfelt
A local reporter provided the first documented example of
the misconceptions Massena residents harbored about immi-
grants in his account of a visit to 600 illegal Chinese immi-
grants detained at the county jail in 1901. Under the title,
“Hundreds of Chinese: Yellow Tide Still Streams,” the writer
told of the deplorable conditions in the jail where the Chinese
men were housed and described it as the “black hole of Cal-
cutta”, an obvious reference to the perception of the poor living
conditions in India. He continued by expressing amazement at
the jovial attitudes of the inmates and assumed that this behav-
ior was based on the conditions at the jail being more favorable
then those left behind in their homeland. In the remainder of his
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 99
commentary, the writer repeatedly exhibited his ignorance of
foreign cultures and his support of the popular opinion that
Asians were naturally weak and childlike. T he most memorabl e
portion of the article detailed the attempts by local boys to
teach the Chinese how to play American football. Throughout
this example, the author compared the awkwardness of the
physical movement of the Chinese in comparison to the skill-
fulness of the young Americans highlighting his narrowmind-
edness and intolerance for foreign cultures (Hundreds of Chi-
nese…, 1901: p. 6).
The Seaway Politicians
Politically both towns’ leaders continued to be ignored in the
twentieth century by state lawmakers in their quest to improve
their regional economies and future prospects with the con-
struction of the St. Lawrence Seaway and Power project. Based
on the remoteness of the area and the sparse number of voters,
in order for their voices to be heard, their campaigns lasted
decades and finally achieved their goals when national security
matters added a global component to their demands. Without
the effort of these individuals, the Seaway would have slipped
off the national radar without being constructed. Most Cornwall
and Massena politicians believed the future economic survival
of the region hinged on the completion of the St. Lawrence
Seaway project. Aaron Horovitz, Lionel Chevrier, Thomas Bush-
nell, and Dr. Rollin Newton all recognized the potential of the
cheap water power and transportation for attracting new busi-
nesses. They spent their lives pressing for the passage of Sea-
way legi slation by Ca nadian and US national officials. Without
the perseverance of these men, the project never would have
come to fruition.
Aaron Horovitz was the most influential and longest serving
twentieth century Cornwall politician. Horovitz, a native of
Romania, established the Prince Clothing Company along with
his brother Louis in 1911. In 1930 Horovitz became the mayor
of Cornwall and the first Jewish leader of a Canadian town.
Between 1930 and 1956 Horovitz occupied the mayor’s office
for 18 years, the longest tenure in Cornwall history. His exper-
tise as a business owner helped him settle the labor disputes and
worker housing problems of the 1930s, handle the earthquake
devastation of 1944, and convinced him of the importance of
the Seaway project for the survival of current manufacturers
and the future economic development of Cornwall (Horovitz to
Seek Reelection, 1956: p. 2).
Horovitz spent his final years as an elected official promot-
ing the economic benefits of the St. Lawrence Seaway project
to local business leaders and politicians. In a speech to the
Cornwall Board of Trade in May 1954, he described how the
completion of the power and transport elements of the Seaway
would boost the local economy and job market. Horovitz em-
phasized the reluctance of many business owners to locate
plants in Cornwall without the passage of national legislation to
fund the Seaway. He indicated that many company executives
had decided to construct operations in other towns due to
cheaper electricity and transportation. A positive outcome for
ongoing negotiations depended upon the Seaway project ap-
proval. The completion of the waterway would cause manufac-
turers to flock to Cornwall and provide long-term employment
for area residents. Horovitz ended his speech by stating “we are
close to a transition period in Cornwall, and planning for the
future is essential” (Horovitz, 1954).
Lionel Chevrier earned the title as one of the most well-
known national leaders from Cornwall in the twentieth century.
He was hailed by the press and the people of Cornwall in the
1950s as “Mr. Seaway” due to his efforts from 1930 to 1953 to
convince Canadian and American officials to pass the St. Law-
rence Seaway legislation. Chevrier was born in Cornwall in
1903, the son of Joseph Chevrier and the former Melvina De-
Repentigny, both French Canadian Catholics. His parents came
to Cornwall on their honeymoon and moved to the area in 1890
because of the promising business opportunities. By the time
Lionel was born, his father, Joseph, owned a thriving grocery
business and later became a Centre Ward councilor and Corn-
wall’s first French Canadian mayor (Good, 1987: p. 15).
Chevrier followed in his father’s footsteps in terms of poli-
tics and inherited his father’s dream of constructing the Seaway.
Lionel attended the Centre Ward Separate School and the
Cornwall Collegiate Institute before enrolling at the University
of Ottawa in 1917. Following graduation he attended a semi-
nary for a year and then went to law school at Osgoode Hall.
Lionel was admitted to the bar in 1928 and set up a practice
with George Stiles, a well-known Cornwall lawyer, and How-
ard Hessell, a former classmate. Upon his return to his native
town, he became a member of the Board of Trade and was ap-
pointed secretary of that organization from 1931 to 1934. In
that position he prepared and presented an in-depth study re-
garding all the ramifications and possible local effects of the
proposed St. Lawrence Seaway project. A summary of the in-
formation Chevrier uncovered was released to the public and he
made numerous speeches to civic organizations. His report put
the Seaway back on the national political agenda in the US and
Canada. According to biographer Mabel Tinkiss Good, this re-
search project on the Seaway and his connection with the board
brought Chevrier into the national spotlight and led him into an
unplanned political career. When the liberal party leadership
sought a spirited and well-spoken political candidate for one of
Ontario’s parliamentary seats in 1935, Chevrier fit the bill
(Good, 1987: p. 51).
In 1935 Chevrier won a seat in Parliament for the Liberal
party. He began a three-decade-long undefeated political career
highlighted by his constant efforts to promote the Seaway. In
May 1943 Chevrier was appointed assistant to the Minister of
Munitions and Supply, C. D. Howe, in the MacKenzie King
government. Two years later, King appointed him Minister of
Transport offering him the perfect opportunity to promote the
Seaway project at home and abroad. By January 1953, Chevrier
and other leaders, including Prime Minister Laurent recognized
that American interest in the waterway and power project had
dwindled and determined that Canadian contractors should
complete the project exclusively on the Canadian side. Months
later, President Harry S. Truman and the US Congress passed
the Wiley-Dondero bill and the project was undertaken jointly.
In 1954 Chevrier assumed the post of president of the St. Law-
rence Seaway Authority, a position he held for three years
(Good, 1987: pp. 53-56).
During the Great Depression and times of global conflict, the
leaders of Massena also kept the vision of the Seaway alive as
state and national leaders paid more attention to social pro-
grams and the war effort. All of the leaders of Massena prior to
the construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway spoke of the pro-
ject as the key to the area’s future economic success. Their life-
long commitment, public campaigning, lettering writing, and
speech making led national leaders to approve the St. Lawrence
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Seaway bill.
Thomas Bushnell had a long local political career, but his
dedication to the Seaway project caught the eye of state offi-
cials almost garnering him a coveted trustee position in the
newly formed New York State Power Authority in 1943. He
was born in 1889 in Palmyra, New York, a town between Ro-
chester and Syracuse, the son of a Civil War veteran.
Bushnell lost his first mayoral race to W. Gilbert Hawes by
three votes in 1929. Bushnell defeated Hawes two years later
by a margin of 1312 to 1037. In 1933 Bushnell was challenged
by Ira Dishaw, but won the contest 1364 to 1062. Two years
earlier he was considered by local Democrats and Republicans
as a strong contender for one of the trustee positions with the
New York State Power Authority. Although he was not ap-
pointed to the board by Governor William Harriman, Bushnell
remained a strong proponent of the Seaway and for a time be-
came the project’s unofficial spokesmen. As mayor he had
traveled with other area politicians and business leaders to the
Hotel Franklin in Malone to encourage Warren Thayer, a state
senator from Chateaugay, to cast his vote in favor of the Power
Authority bill. Bushnell also presented a speech at a meeting of
the Great Lakes Association in Toronto in 1934 in which he
expressed support for the Seaway project and its benefits for
Massena. The following year he lost the mayoral race to Dr.
Rollin Newton (Prince, 1967: p. 5).
Dr. Rollin Newton was the most important leader in Massena
in first half of twentieth century. He was a major supporter of
the Seaway project, a champion of infrastructure improvements,
including better roads and sewers, and the benefactor of the
town’s first hospital. Newton was born in Stockholm, New
York in 1872. He attended Brasher and Stockholm High School
and graduated from Potsdam Normal School in 1896. Prior to
entering the University of Buffalo Dentistry College, Newton
studied law under Judge Preston in Parishville and taught at his
alma mater. Upon completion of dental school, he operated
practices in Troy and Parishville, New York before assuming
the patients of Dr. C. S. Ober in Massena in 1900. While New-
ton arrived in Massena by train, his father brought his dental
equipment by sleigh. He opened his first office in the Russell
business block, but moved his practice several times over the
next five decades (Prince, 1967: p. 5).
Like Bushnell, Newton became convinced of the imminent
federal approval of the Seaway and power project and made it
his life’s mission to keep the project in the national spotlight as
well as garner support from other local residents. His most
rudimentary method of spreading the gospel of the Seaway was
to explain the social and economic promise for the area during
and after the construction of the various facilities to any captive
audience including many of his dental patients undergoing
lengthy procedures. In an article in the Massena Observer, pub-
lisher Leonard Prince described his first teeth cleaning experi-
ence in 1928 and being apprised of the many reasons why the
Seaway needed to be built and assured that the United States
Congress would pass the project bill during its next session.
Prince admits that while his hope waned as the years passed
and no construction began, Massena natives led by Newton
remained confident the Seaway would eventually be completed
(Prince, 1967: p. 6).
After Newton conceded defeat to O. T. McGuiggan in 1945,
he turned his attention full-time to convincing state and federal
lawmakers of the urgency of passing the St. Lawrence Seaway
legislation. As President of the Northern Federation Chamber
of Commerce, he wrote to Senator George Aiken of Vermont, a
long-time supporter of the Seaway, and attached a press state-
ment sent to the Rochester Times Union, Syracuse Post Stan-
dard, and Buffalo Evening News. The opinion piece outlined
the importance of developing the hydro-electric potential of the
St. Lawrence River and challenged Seaway opponents to a
public debate (Newton, 1945).
Contrary to most borderland residents, Horovitz, Chevrier,
Bushnell, and Newton demanded the attention of state and fed-
eral policymakers and gained redemption for their efforts when
the Seaway project commenced in 1954. The persistence of
local leaders kept the Seaway in the spotlight. This group rec-
ognized the reluctance of state and national officials to provide
funding for any economic or social programs that did not ap-
peal to a national constituency and took it upon themselves to
become the promoters of the economic future of the region. As
Martinez indicated national politicians foster laws and policies
that impact the masses and often neglecting isolated border
areas. However, even with little political clout, Chevrier rose to
a national leadership position and was able to gain passage of
the Seaway and power dam project that for several decades
fostered the economic prosperity of Cornwall, his hometown.
Rather then sit back idly and criticize distant federal officials,
each learned to work the system and the media to his advantage
and gained prominence through hard work and perseverance.
The St. Lawrence Seaway and Power Project
The St. Lawrence Seaway and Power Project is often referred
to as the “eighth wonder of the world.” Covering 265 miles
from Montreal, Quebec to the Great Lakes, the undertaking
remains the largest jointly-built power production and water-
way in the twentieth century. Twenty-two thousand workers
labored on the simultaneously built, five sections of the project
erecting dams and locks and dredging channels. On the Cana-
dian side, engineers, property agents, and carpenters acquired
and flooded 22,000 acres and seven villages, and moved 531
houses and 18 cemeteries. Operating engineers manned $75
million in equipment, while laborers poured six million cubic
yards of concrete in all weather conditions (Parham, 2009).
Dedicated contractors and their employees made financial and
personal sacrifices to finish the job on time and on budget.
From 1954 to 1958, Massena and Cornwall residents wit-
nessed an invasion of transient workers with different accents,
religious beliefs, and social lives due to their towns’ roles as the
headquarters of the Seaway and Power Project. Prior to 1954,
local politicians, church leaders, and school principals had dealt
with issues related to the arrival of new residents with differing
values and traditions during canal construction in the nineteenth
century and the successive period of industrialization. Cornwall
and Massena residents mutually disliked their towns being in-
vaded by outsiders and even though Seaway and power dam
workers and their families temporarily altered Cornwall and
Massena’s populations and social institutions, residents’ clung
to their regional identity. Historically, the residents of these two
border towns had been exposed to outsiders from various re-
gions of the country with different social and religious values
sooner than their more homogeneous rural neighbors. But as in
the past, residents would resist the cultural and social change
and try to cling to their traditional values.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 101
In August 1957 during the peak of construction on the US
side PASNY contractors employed 6672, while Ontario Hydro
contractors employed 6007 in June 1956. The maximum com-
bined employment of 11,924 skilled and unskilled workers was
recorded by Seaway officials in August 1957 (Parham, 2009).
According to David Manley, a fifteen year old laborer on the
project, “Some of the workers were local including some Indi-
ans from the reservation. Others came from Georgia, Alabama,
Florida, and Virginia, particularly the engineers. Many worked
in the spring and summer and returned home in the winter be-
cause of the cold” (D. Manley, personal communication, July
24, 2004).
On the Canadian side Bob Goodrich, the head of the em-
ployment office for Ontario Hydro, indicated that many of men
constructing the Canadian side of the power dam had worked
on the Niagara Falls project that had just been completed by
Hydro. At that time, the agency had a core group of workers
who moved from one power project to another. Other workers
were from Cornwall or recruited through the Employment Ser-
vice Office as demand warranted (B. Goodrich, personal com-
munication, March 6, 2004).
John Dumas, the son of a Watertown Daily Times reporter,
described the diversity of workers who came to live and work
in his home town. “I am not sure there was any mold to build
the construction workers that came here. They were all kind of
different. We had one that stayed at our house as a matter of
fact. We had a large four bedroom house in downtown Massena
and used only three, so my grandmother rented a room to a
construction worker. Our renter was a nice old southern man
named, Seth. He told some great stories about going out in the
woods of Kentucky or Louisiana and picking up a bear cub and
trying to outrun Mama bear” (J. Dumas, personal communica-
tion, August 3, 2004).
College students comprised a large portion of the seasonal
worker population in the US and Canada. During the summer
months, they often filled laborers or machine operators’ jobs.
David Flewelling asserted, “In 1957 I was nineteen and I
flunked of college. As part of a northeastern cooperative pro-
gram I had spent previous summers making a dollar an hour as
a labor foreman and chief laborer. In March of 1957 I hitch-
hiked from Pine River Junction to Massena, New York. The St.
Lawrence Seaway was a big draw in those days because work-
ers were in short supply and contractors were paying men high
wages. I was hired the first week I was there by Perini as a
draftsman on the Grasse River Lock doing rebar lift drawing. I
was there from March until mid-July” (D. Flewelling, personal
communication, November 30, 2004).
Besides diversifying the population of Massena and Corn-
wall, the Seaway workers and their wives established social
relationships on both sides of the border allowing for a cultural
transfer to take place through extensive border crossings and
increased trade and consumer consumption. As Ambrose Andre,
a concrete inspector for the Corps of Engineers explained, “I
met my wife one Friday night at Picky’s bar. She was a school
teacher and was there with a friend. We chatted a little and to
make a long story short, my friend and I picked them both up.
The fellow I was with knew them both, so that helped. I took
her home and made plans for a date a few nights later and we
were married six months later” (A. Andre, personal communi-
cation, July 17, 2004).
Ray Singleton who worked on the American side as an oper-
ating engineer married a women from Cornwall exemplifying
the cross border interaction highlighted by Martinez. “We went
on strike in Massena and I spent a lot of time at the bars. That is
when I met, Melba, the gal I married” (R. Singleton, personal
communication, June 22, 2005). His wife Melba elaborated, “I
would go over to Massena with four or five of my friends in-
cluding my best friend Bessie, who had a little black car. We
would drive over to dance and have a good time and go home.
We were all in our late twenties and worked for Bell Telephone.
A lot of people from Cornwall traveled to Massena and spent
an evening over there. Cornwall didn’t have places like that
where you could go and dance and have a drink” (M. Singleton,
personal communication, June 4, 2005). John Dumas explained,
“At that point in time Cornwall’s drinking age was 21 and ours
was 18. Because of the lower drinking age, the Canadians were
attracted over here by the droves” (J. Dumas, personal commu-
nication, August 3, 2004).
Seaway workers and their wives also enjoyed Massena’s
borderland location as it allowed greater access to shopping
and personal services. Joyce Eastin, the wife of an Uhl, Hall
and Rich engineer, reminisced, “I remember one time several of
us went shopping in Cornwall. We would go and shop and
stop and have lunch and come home particularly when the
kids were in school” (J. Easton, personal communication, Feb-
ruary 26, 2005). Her friend Ann Marmo added, “One of my
favorite places to shop and get my hair done was across the
river in Cornwall. I don’t think I thought there were any good
beauticians at the time in Massena. In those days the prices
were much better in Canada than in the US especially on
woolens goods, and clothing, so some of us would go over for
the whole day and have some fun. We were different than the
local women” (A. Marmo, personal communication, June 15,
Even the workers enjoyed the ability to cross the border to
buy consumer goods. Jim Cotter explained, “We could go over
to tailor shops in Canada and get tailor made clothing because
subsequent to World War II Canadians encouraged skilled
craftsmen from Europe to migrate to Canada and so there were
things available over there that weren’t available on the Ame-
rican side. They had some great hardware stores where you
could find horseshoes that you couldn’t find west of the Missis-
sippi” (J . Cotter, per sonal commun icatio n , September 1 1 , 2004).
The construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway was portrayed
as an economic bonanza for Massena and the surrounding St.
Lawrence County communities that bordered the St. Lawrence
River. Numerous reports were published that marketed the area
as a perfect location for manufacturing firms due to the avail-
ability of cheap electricity and the easy access to the Great
Lakes and the Atlantic for transportation of finished goods.
Plans were drawn up for the reconstruction of the town’s roads
and five schools were erected to accommodate the current and
anticipated long-term increase in school aged children. How-
ever, once the bulldozers left town, the project had only enticed
one new manufacturing operation, and the talk of economic
grandeur fell by the wayside. The neighboring Canadian town
of Cornwall, however, managed to take advantage of the op-
portunity and until recently was referred to as the southern
capital of Ontario. The reason for Massena’s lack of progress
and failure to live up to the expectations of the Seaway planners
has long been debated by local economic development officials.
A main component of this stagnation can be credited to the
area’s historically ethnocentric mentality and its desire not to
revisit its past social problems.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
From the early days of settlement, the men and women of
Cornwa ll and Massena created orga nizations t hat benefite d and
complemented their lifestyles in terms of government structures
and houses of worship. Due to their isolated locations on their
nation’s periphery, these residents thought of themselves as
different from people in the interior sections, causing a sense of
otherness reflected in their development of similar economic,
social, and political values and practices. They often saw laws
as rules made by distant, insensitive a nd excessively nati onalist
politicians and often dealt with unruly residents and immigrant
workers as they saw fit. The sparse number of voters and their
distance from the center of power should have limited their
political clout resulting in their demands for social and eco-
nomic assistance and improvements being frequently ignored
by decision makers. However, both area business men and poli-
ticians raised the money and garnered national approval for the
construction of canals and eventually rallied for the construc-
tion of the St. Lawrence Seaway and power project. When na-
tional and state officials ignored these areas based on their iso-
lated location, local leaders who had garnered political office
based on their visions of the future forged ahead with their
demands and kept them in the national spotlight even when
their terms in office ended.
According to Martinez, towns like Massena and Cornwall
should not have prospered or attracted manufacturing prior to
the end of World War II. This however, is one of the main areas
where the border towns in northeastern New York and southern
Canada differed from those on the Mexican/US border. Their
economic success in the nineteenth and early twentieth century
occurred solely based on their geographical location that up
until that point had been a disadvantage. The accessibility for
manufacturers to cheap water power, navigable waterways, and
non-union workers coupled with financial incentives from local
government officials resulted in the industrialization of these
two towns earlier than in other areas. Increasingly, the workers
who manned the machines at these factories spoke different
languages and harbored spiritual and cultural values and con-
tinued to diversify the population of Cornwall and Massena
sooner than other regions. Crimes committed by these new ar-
rivals often led to ethnic tension and social uneasiness that was
played out on the front pages of the newspapers and in the
criminal courts.
While the St. Lawrence Seaway and Power Project had been
portrayed by economists and politicians as an economic bo-
nanza, for the residents of Cornwall and Massena, it was an-
other bout with an invasion of outsiders who threatened their
quiet small town lives. At the beginning of the Seaway project
in 1954, Cornwall and Massena residents still harbored a mu-
tual dislike for men and women who held different spiritual
beliefs or spoke a foreign language. Area inhabitants found the
untamed lifestyle of Seaway workers to be unacceptable, and
tried to curb their behavior with an increase in law enforcement
and crime prevention initiatives. Local parish leaders also
added extra Sunday services to accommodate workers’ sched-
ules. While Massena natives on the surface appeared more ac-
cepting of newcomers, they were happy to see them leave after
the project’s completion. With these workers came new cul-
tures and religious traditions that taxed the patience of local
The borderland location of Massena and Cornwall offered
opportunities for greater consumer choices and transborder hu-
man relations for workers, their wives, and many single women
during the St. Lawrence Seaway and Power Project. Many
crossed the border to shop, dine, or meet a prospective mate.
The geographical location of these two towns offered a unique
experience for workers and their families, most of whom had
labored on and lived near projects being constructed in the mid-
dle of nowhere. In this case, these temporary borderlanders es-
tablished social and economic relationships across the border as
had early settlers. These shared experiences fostered the devel-
opment of similar beliefs and values that stood out from the
national norm. As Jim Cotter, an engineer on the Seaway pro-
ject concluded, “I’ve always felt that Massena residents due to
their closeness to the Canadian border felt a greater attachment
to Canada then they did to the United States” (J. Cotter, per-
sonal communication, September 11, 2004).
My research, therefore, offers a new interpretation of the life
of residents on the US/Canadian border since the American
Revolution. Like other borderlanders around the globe, Corn-
wall and Massena residents lived in a unique human environ-
ment and developed a set of values and beliefs that contrasted
that of their compatriots in the heartland based on shared social
and economic experiences. By exploring the lives of common
people and being flexible with my analysis and source material,
I uncovered a different perspective to existing US/Canada his-
tory that has an ideological, national or northwestern focus.
Combining the techniques of local historians and the theory of
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