School of Architecture and Planning

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Historical perspectives


Border Zone or "Middle Ground"?

A History of Connections

The First Middle Ground

A New Borderland

The Canal Era

Niagara Falls

The Importance of the Border

Boom Times

The End of Boom Times

The Irony of Regional Peace

Time Line

Sources Consulted

Executive summary


Workshop / discussions

Wall survey

Meeting notes



Brownfield exchange
1999 (364Kb)

Brownfield exchange
2000 (3690Kb)

The rethinking presentation

The rethinking book



A good regional dialogue




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Michael H. Frisch
Professor of History and American Studies
University at Buffalo
State University of New York

The story traced in these pages is wonderfully rich and complex, fascinating in its detail and in the diversity of its themes. These all speak to our regionís unique character and identity, and to its equally unique opportunities at the start of a new century. To help make this story an even more usable resource, let me step back from the vivid detail traced here, in order to comment briefly on three broad themes the narrative shows running through our history from the beginning to the present, themes that can be applied in approaching the questions we face today.

There are really three distinct stories told in these pages. Each is true and crucial in its own way, but they are not at all the same story. They both do and donít overlap. They are at once consistent and yet in profound, energizing tension with one another. In sum, it is the individual evolution of these stories, and their intricate intertwining over time that has defined the history of our region ó and that will shape our future. In this sense, it may prove worthwhile for readers to use these as organizing tools for holding in focus the whole of the rich narrative presented here.

The first story is the story of the border as such ó as something real, meaningful in both law and culture, something evolving over time. The story begins in the days before the Niagara River was an international border, and then follows how it became and then evolved as one ó from the time of the French and Indian War through the American Revolution and the War of 1812, to dramatic moments of international conflict at the time of the Caroline incident and the Fenian raids, and to the modern era where the border has been embodied mainly in trade policy from Reciprocity Treaties to NAFTA, and in the complex relationships of immigration law and policy. In this story, the connections across this border have been many, and important ó but the border has always marked two distinct societies, and its unfolding meaning traces the evolving story of their complex relationship and interaction over time.

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The second story is the story of a region in which the concept of border is more a hindrance than help. This is a story of the intimate connections and intertwined relationships, especially in economic life and geography, which have always defined this area as a trans-border region. This is a story of competition and cooperation, but above all of interdependence and interaction, however different the forms this has taken over the centuries. From this vantage, what is important is understanding how the region has always existed, historically, and certainly must approach its future now, as a middle ground defined by place, and its connection to other places and economic regions. It is a story that has seen the successive re-imaginings of time, space, and regional relationships driven by history itself.

From the complex international diplomacy of the Iroquois, to the way the Erie and Welland Canals reshaped the meaning of geography and connection throughout North America, much less the Niagara Corridor, to the coming and then the decline of heavy industry and the dawning of a new identity as trans-national regional hub in a global economy, this is the story it is now crucial to tell: the story of a region whose breadth, depth, and fundamental character only become clear when we get beyond the blinders that the international border almost necessarily imposes on any vision of the region, from our vantage here, let alone from outside.

The third story touches both of the first two but comes at their relationship from a very different angle. It is the story, or stories, of how various peoples over time have experienced both the border and the region that transcends it. This begins with the Native Americans, who have continued to live in a world in which the international border has very limited meaning, and whose unique status in some way anticipates the kind of trans-border economic, cultural, and legal identities others are seeking to develop today. It includes African Americans and a range of immigrants, for whom race, identity, and culture have been intertwined with border and the opportunities of our region in distinctly different ways at various points in history. And it includes visitors and tourists who have been drawn to the area for almost two centuries now by Niagara Falls, but whose interests and experience have not been narrowly limited by that phenomenon or fixed by the patterns or relationships of a particular time period; this too, in other words, is a dimension within history, and with its own, still-evolving history.

Imagine these three stories as overlapping rings or circles, for almost any of the moments described in the narrative touches at least two of them: Border as Real, Region as Real, and People experiencing both Border and Region in wonderfully diverse, evolving ways. Does this way of mapping the complexity of the past not also describe our moment in the present? Does it not speak to the many futures that could evolve from this point, depending on how we understand this past and the choices it can help us to see and empower us to make in the present?

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