Niagara Historic Sights
Actually two distinct communities, embracing a largely rural area covering 131 square kilometres and the historic old town, Niagara-on-the-Lake has two unique personalities.
As the original capital of Upper Canada, the old town’s early 19th century homes and picturesque main street have been meticulously restored and maintained. A number of residents have designated their homes under the Ontario Heritage Act and the town council has designated the downtown area as a heritage district. The beautiful old homes, lining the tree-shaded streets attest to the prosperity of citizens.
The town is home to many historic sites and monuments: Fort George, Navy Hall, Queenston Heights, Brock’s Monument, The Mackenzie Printery (Canada’s largest operating heritage printing museum), the Niagara Society Museum (one of the oldest and most complete of its kind in Ontario) and the Niagara Apothecary. Other attractions include the marina, antique and gift shops, the golf course and several parks. Niagara-on-the-Lake, which has 13,700 residents, is also home to world-renowned theatre with the Shaw Festival and its three theatres in old town.
From the old town, a short drive along the scenic Niagara Parkway leads to Laura Secord Homestead and Queenston Heights. To accommodate the area tourists, Niagara-on-the-Lake offers elegant, luxury hotels such as Prince of Wales, Queen’s Landing and Pillar and Post, as well as numerous motels and bed & breakfasts.
Rural NOTL has rich farmland that is increasingly shifting from its historic tender fruit crops to vineyards. Some of Niagara’s biggest and best wineries and winery restaurants are located in rural NOTL.
Attractions include Fort George, a fully restored British garrison used during the War of 1812 to repel invading American forces, built in 1797; Shaw Festival Theatre, a live professional theatre for the presentation of plays written by George Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries, running April to October; Winter Wine Experience, in February, and the Virgil Stampede, the former village of Virgil, on the May holiday weekend.
Niagara Historic Sites. Found at Parks Canada Website
During the War of 1812, Fort George served as the headquarters for the Centre Division of the British Army. These forces included British regulars, local militia, aboriginal warriors, and Runchey’s corps of freed slaves. Major General Sir Isaac Brock, “the saviour of Upper Canada” served here until his death at the Battle of Queenston Heights in October, 1812. Brock and his aide-de-camp John Macdonell were initially buried within the fort. Fort George was destroyed by American artillery fire and captured during the Battle of Fort George in May 1813. The U.S. forces used the fort as a base to invade the rest of Upper Canada, however, they were repulsed at the Battles of Stoney Creek and Beaver Dams. After a seven month occupation, the fort was retaken in December and remained in British hands for the remainder of the war. After the war, the fort was partially rebuilt, and by the 1820’s it was falling into ruins. It was finally abandoned in favour of a more strategic installation at Fort Mississauga and a more protected one at Butler’s Barracks.
Mississauga Point was the location of a Neutral First Nation fishing settlement by the 15th century. The area was under the control of the Seneca Nation during the late 17th century, and it became home to the Mississauga Nation by the 18th century.
Fort Mississauga was begun during the War of 1812, and helped the British and Canadians defend the Niagara frontier against a powerful invading American army in 1814.
It was completed after the War, and was a part of a defence system including Fort George, Butler’s Barracks, and Fort Erie. The Niagara forts were a part of a chain of forts located along the Canadian-USA border, on the Great Lakes. Built as an emergency field fortification, this is the only example of a star shaped earthwork in Canada. The central tower was built on a foundation made from brick and stone salvaged from the rubble of the the town of Newark, the first Capital of Upper Canada. The Americans burned the town in December 1813. Garrisoned by the British until 1855, Fort Mississauga was later used by the Canadian military for summer training camps begun in the 1870s, during both World Wars, and the Korean Conflict. By the late 1870s a 9-hole golf course had been laid out on Mississauga Point. Fort Mississauga Today
Fort Mississauga is located on the grounds of the Niagara-on-the-Lake Golf Club. A pedestrian trail starts at the corner of Simcoe and Front streets and leads to the fort. This trail was established by the Friends of Fort George, [text link] with support from The Millennium Fund.
There are no visitor facilities or services at Fort Mississauga, and for safety reasons the public must remain on the marked trail at all times until inside the fort. The public must allow golfers to complete their shots before proceeding, and look carefully to ensure that the way is clear. Children should be attended at all times. No bicycles, scooters, roller blades, skateboards, or other vehicles are allowed.
Butler’s Barracks: A Brief History
The Plains above Navy Hall also known as The Commons were reserved for the military, and in 1796, construction began on Fort George. West of the fort, buildings were built along a creek to serve the British Indian Department. A branch of the British Crown, it functioned much like an embassy to the Aboriginal people in the region. Treaties and military alliances were negotiated, concerns raised and issues resolved. The department strove to maintain good relations with, and support of, Aboriginal people in the event of war. A Council House, residences and storage facilities stood here until they were destroyed during the War of 1812. They were rebuilt and used until 1822, when the department ended its activities in Niagara.
In May, 1813, Fort George was destroyed by cannon fire from Fort Niagara and supporting cannon batteries from the American shore of the Niagara River. When the British returned to the Niagara frontier in December, they decided that the exposed position at Fort George, while necessary, would no longer be the key fortification. Following the War of 1812, work began on a new range of barracks and storehouses on the south-western edge of the military lands, or Commons, out of reach of the American guns. By 1854, the site was known as Butler’s Barracks, named in honour of John Butler and his Butler’s Rangers, Loyalist soldiers who had founded the town of Niagara towards the end of the American Revolution. By 1854, there were 20 buildings on the 6 acre site, surrounded by an extensive log palisade. Other buildings were located on the Commons outside the palisade, including the Commissariat Officer’s Quarters, the Commandant’s Quarters, the Hospital (formerly the Indian Council House) a fuel yard, and storehouses. This became the headquarters of British and Canadian defensive efforts in the Niagara Peninsula.
The site was transferred to the new Dominion of Canada in 1871, and it was used as a summer training camp for both regular and militia units. With the start of the Great War in 1914, it became a training camp for the 14,000 soldiers of the 2nd Division of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Thousands of soldiers who fought and died at Vimy Ridge, Passcendaele, and the many terrible battles of the Great War, trained here. In 1917, Butler’s Barracks became Camp Kosciuszko the winterized training camp for the Polish Army. In a multinational scheme, American and Canadians of Polish descent volunteered for this force, initially attached to the French Army. They were trained at Niagara by Canadians, and they would ultimately help re-establish an independent Poland following the war. When the influenza epidemic struck the camp in 1918, some of the young men died here. Their well tended graves can be seen in a local churchyard today.
Butlers Barracks, known as Camp Niagara in the 20th century, reached its greatest development during World War 11, when buildings, tents, parade grounds, streets, and other necessary facilities covered much of the Commons. Camp Niagara was active until the 1960s. Soldiers who trained here served in the Boer War, World War 1 and World War 2, in the Korean Conflict, and in peacekeeping efforts of the 20th century.
Butler’s Barracks Today
Today, Butler’s Barracks National Historic Site of Canada commemorates over 150 years of military activity as Canada evolved from a colony to a nation. Four original British colonial buildings and one Canadian built structure remain on the site:
The Soldier’s Two Story Barracks:
Built in 1817/1818 , this large two story building served at a men’s barracks in the 19th century. Known at the new barrack, it could house 100 soldiers. Built of log and brick, it was defensible, with musket loopholes instead of windows. It saw many uses during the 20th century training camps. Today it is home to the Lincoln and Welland Regimental Museum, open during the summer months, daily from May 18, until Labour Day, 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. For information contact: [Text link with Lincoln and Welland Regiment website]
The Commissariat Store and Office
Built in 1839, this two-and-a-half story building housed stores for the British Commissariat Department, who were headquartered at Niagara. The Commissariat acquired most items for the military, and regulated military contracts. A massive wooden wheel, once used to haul bulky goods to the top floor of the building, sits idle inside. After an attempted theft of a garrison payroll, a sturdy safe was constructed in the building to protect military funds. In the 20th century this building was usually used for the Quartermaster Stores.
The Junior Commissariat Officer’s Quarters
This cottage was built by 1817. It had initially been planned as stables, but was converted into an officer’s residence and office. It had four rooms on the main floor, plus a kitchen, larder, and servants room at the rear of the structure. Stables and an outhouse were also built. During the 20th century, it was used by Headquarters Staff, at times as a mess or dining facility for officers, and a residence.
This building was constructed in 1821, to house 3 brass 6 pounder field guns, a 5 ½ inch howitzer, and their side arms and equipment. Horse drawn field guns could accompany marching troops and quickly move to support them in battle.
During the 1837 Rebellion, field guns were used by Canadian militia to fire on Navy Island, occupied by supporters of William Lyon Mackenzie. During the 20th century, this building was used for Quartermaster Stores, as tent storage for the Canadian militia summer training camps, and for artillery supplies.
The Korean War Building
Though this building was built after the Korean War, it is typical of the many WW 11 and post war barracks buildings that once stood at Camp Niagara. Deemed surplus to military needs, most of these structures were demolished. A few were sold to the public and removed.
The Parade Square:
Traces of an asphalt parade square remind us of the military nature of the Commons. It is from the World War 11 era.
Seen here, is The Otter Trail, named after Sir William Otter, one of the most significant officers of the early Canadian Army. He commanded Canadian troops in the 1885 Rebellion, and he led the first Canadian Contingent in the Boer War. He was responsible for training for training in Militia District Number 2, during the early Camp Niagara era. During World War One, he was in charge of the Canadian government’s alien internment camps.
Today this trail links Fort George and Butler’s Barracks. It also connects with the Niagara River Recreational Trail, (which runs from Niagara-on-the-Lake to Fort Erie) and the Waterfront Trail. Formal tree plantings mark the other roadways that served Camp Niagara.
Indian Department Council House Marker
This marker is located near the complex of buildings that were used by the British Indian Department in this area, prior to the War of 1812, until 1822, when the buildings were converted into a garrison hospital.
The Engineer’s Bridge:
One of the few remaining structures of the Canadian Militia Camp Niagara, this bridge was built by the Royal Canadian Engineers. It is marked R.C.E. 1914 on the sides of the bridge. Some of the soldiers, who helped build it, were no doubt killed or wounded serving in the Canadian Expeditionary Force during the horrific fighting of the Great War, (1914-1918). This bridge stands as a memorial to them.
How to get to Butler’s Barracks:
Butler’s Barracks is located in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, west of Fort George and the Niagara Parkway/Queen’s Parade. It is bounded by John Street and King Street, with parking available on John Street.
Visit Brock�s Monument, located in picturesque Queenston Heights. Explore the historic battlefield where British and American soldiers struggled for the destiny of two nations. Although this was a decisive victory for the British, it had been won at great cost � Major-General Sir Isaac Brock�s death. Brock’s death became a unifying factor for many Upper Canadians. From the top of his 56-metre column, Major-General Sir Isaac Brock looks out over the territory his troops defended. The builders of the monument made it so impressive because the Battle of Queenston Heights and Brock himself symbolized the continuation of their strong ties with Great Britain.
Climb the monument, or tour the battlefield with costumed staff and enjoy a spectacular view of the Niagara Frontier. The Friends of Fort George operate a shop at Fort George, Niagara-on-the-Lake, where books and gifts are offered, reflecting the early 19th century history of Fort George and Brock�s Monument.
In 1765, British naval craftsmen from Fort Niagara erected a barracks on the opposite side of the Niagara River. Over the years, several buildings, known collectively as Navy Hall, evolved into a key military supply facility for British forts on the upper Great Lakes.
During the American Revolution, the Provincial Marine wintered at Navy Hall and, in 1792; Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe converted one of the buildings into his residence. The Lieutenant-Governor’s home in the first capital of the Province of Upper Canada, later served as a dining hall for the officers at Fort George. Navy Hall was destroyed by American forces during the War of 1812. After the war, the British rebuilt some of the buildings, of which one still survives today.
Today the landscaped grounds of Navy Hall encourage wayfarers to linger. The site of the historic King’s Wharf provides a quiet place for relaxing and enjoying the view of Fort Niagara and the river where many of the events of the history of Niagara began.
The building is not open to the public but is available for rental for special events.
Navy Hall Rental:
Navy Hall is available for rental and makes the perfect location for your wedding, special event, or meeting. The hall is located on the scenic Niagara River and seats 80 comfortably for dinner. Tents may also be erected on the grounds provided location and size are discussed prior to set up.
Rental fees include the use of the building, parking lot and grounds. The dock is leased to a commercial steamboat operation and is not part of the Navy Hall rental agreement.
There are 30 tables (8 round, 14 six foot rectangular and 8 five foot rectangular) and 120 chairs available for use. Groups are responsible for set-up and take down of furnishings.
Lessee must provide own caterer and liquor license.
Navy Hall Address is 305 Ricardo St., Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, LOS 1JO. Please call ahead if you wish to view Navy Hall prior to making a booking.
Mackenzie Printery & Newspaper Museum
The Best Hands-on Museum in Upper Canada
The restored home of rebel publisher William Lyon Mackenzie reveals 500 years of printing technology, amid the authentic ambiance of a period print shop. Rarest in the museum’s collection is the Louis Roy Press, oldest in Canada and one of the few original wooden presses remaining in the world! A hands-on experience is encouraged with a working linotype and 8 operating heritage presses.
A joint venture was established in 1990 between The Niagara Parks Commission and a volunteer non-profit Printery Committee concerned with the preservation of printing equipment. To learn more about the Printery and upcoming events, visit Mackenzie Printery & Newspaper Museum
Admission Prices are shown in Canadian dollars and do not include taxes. $4.50 Adults (13+ years), $3.50 Children (6 to 12 years) Children 5 and under are FREE!
Dates of Operation: Open seasonally approximately May 6 to September 2.
Hours of Operation: All times subject to change. May 6 to June 30: Weekdays 9:30am to 3:30pm, Weekends 11:00am to 5:00pm July 1 to September 4: 11:00am to 5:00pm