Merritt, William Hamilton

William Hamilton Merritt, soldier, businessman, politician (b at Bedford, NY 3 July 1793; d at Cornwall, Canada W 5 July 1862). "A Projector," as he styled himself, he epitomized what John Beverley ROBINSON called the defining characteristic of American society, the "anticipating spirit." Merritt considered enterprise and commercial activity as the quintessential aspect of the American and English character. He believed that Providence had "ordained that Nature should do her part & leave it to the engenuity [sic] of Man so to improve." Confident that the "mind is never satisfied" and certain that industry rather than idleness conferred "the greatest peace of mind," Merritt proposed and undertook policies and projects to transform Upper Canada into a great commercial emporium.

Although he was an assemblyman in pre- and post-union Upper Canada and president of the Executive Council in the second Baldwin-LaFontaine administration, politics were secondary, at best complementary, to his policies on public works, transportation and trade. He is best remembered for his role in the construction of the WELLAND CANAL (chartered 1824). The idea likely arose from his plan to connect the water of the Welland River to Twelve Mile Creek to provide water for his mills. Merritt enlisted government support, raised funds and supervised the canal project. He was also very influential in promoting early railway projects, also with government aid.