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Two men of history may well be looking down on the Niagara Frontier this weekend as Buffalo and Fort Erie, Ont., celebrate the birthdays of both their nations during Friendship Festival '90.

The historic notables are La Salle, the 17th century French explorer, and Alonzo C. Mather, a turn-of-the-century philanthropist. Fort Erie's Mather Arch and Buffalo's LaSalle Park are named after the two. These are the festival's primary sites. They are on each side of the Peace Bridge, across from one another.

Mather's name is pronounced MAY-ther. La Salle had the more "Canadian" connection, and Mather was from the United States.

"Just think, if Mather had had his way, we would have a bridge quite different from the Peace Bridge," said Jane A. Davies, curator of the Fort Erie Historical Museum in Ridgeway, Ont.

Mather, born in Fairfield near Utica, in 1849, spent 1893 to 1903 pushing for an international harbor on both sides of the river and a bridge featuring five arches that would have linked the United States and Canada.

"There would have been a different mode of transportation through each arch," said Miss Davies, who pointed to an old newspaper article about Mather. "Streetcars would go through the middle, with vehicles on either side, and there would be pedestrian walkways. Pretty spectacular."

Miss Davies said Mather made his fortune by inventing a food-and-water-supplied livestock rail car to ship animals to the Chicago stockyards for slaughter. He decided to spend a large part of that fortune in the Buffalo-Fort Erie area and founded the Liberty Bank of Buffalo, now Norstar.

His proposed international bridge "was to be self-supporting financially by means of electricity-producing turbines built between the abutments," Miss Davies said. "But with the advent of the huge power development at Niagara Falls, the politicians saw Mather's plan as a threat to theirs."

Mather purchased all the land fronting the river in Fort Erie, however. And when the Peace Bridge was proposed in 1919, he sold it for the project. He also donated 75 acres adjacent to the Canadian entrance to the Peace Bridge on the condition that it become a park.

It did -- Mather Park. He also donated $35,000 for a monument -- Mather Arch -- which was dedicated in s with history
1940. Mather, 91 at the time of the dedication, died a year later in Pasadena, Calif., leaving $250,000 for the upkeep of Mather Park.

La Salle -- whose full name was Rene Robert Cavelier, sieur de La Salle -- navigated the Great Lakes in the late 1600s and probably is best known for exploring the Mississippi River.

He built the first ship on the Great Lakes in 1679 -- on this side of the Niagara River, possibly at Grand Island.

The ship was a 45-ton, five-canon caravel, and was adorned with a flying griffin, and an eagle above it -- an emblem from the coat of arms of Frontenac, the French general and colonial administrator of Canada.

Named the Griffon, the ship made a safe voyage to the Strait of Detroit, then disappeared. La Salle died in 1687, slain by mutineers in what is now Texas.

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