Historic Niagara will captivate any visitor who loves history or a good story. This Niagara for History Lovers guide exposes the best places to get your history-geek on. Heroines, a dashing general who died valiantly in battle, warring factions – the stories are all here. It is a place steeped in circumstance and colour.
Niagara sits at a location on the map that controls traffic between The Great Lakes. The area occupies some of the earliest parts of Canada to be settled. This gave it great military and trade value, making it worth fighting for by many sides. The British, the Americans, the French, and of course the Canadians, have all at one time struggled to control this pivotal piece of land. The stories and events that rolled out over the early years are fascinating. They give a layered depth to visiting the area. A visit to the many historic trails, monuments and museums is one way to really absorb the character of Niagara.
An ideal place to start your time travel is at the Niagara Falls History Museum, The museum recently renovated and enlarged its collection. It is dedicated to preserving and showcasing the historic events of the area. A visit to the Chipewa Battlefield Park tells the story of the bloody battles of the War of 1812. And if you trek up to the top of Queenston Heights you’ll find the impressive Brock’s Monument, marking the spot where the heroic general was mortally wounded.
When you get hungry, the Queenston Heights Restaurant , at the foot of Brock’s Monument, offers a good lunch stop; there’s a casual outdoor patio and a more formal dining room, with lovely views of the Niagara River. The restaurant serves dishes made from local fresh products, as well as the excellent local wines.
Just a stone’s throw from Queenston lie a cluster of fine historical museums and monuments. One of my favourites is the Laura Secord Homestead The site has a well-preserved early farmhouse that was home to one of our national heroines, Laura Secord. Costumed interpreters will tell her story. There is a good souvenir shop and an historic chapel, one of the oldest churches in Canada, on the site.
Close by is MacFarland House, a nice place to enjoy afternoon tea in a greenhouse, and to learn about family life in Colonial Niagara. The Mackenzie Printery is interesting for anyone with a penchant for newspapers. It displays printing presses and publications from the past.
Old Fort George is just on the outskirts of Niagara on the Lake and a brilliant place to spend an afternoon. Visitors can tour the restored fort, try out firing an old musket, and learn what part the fort played in the War of 1812.
For some live re-creations of the past, visit Old Fort Erie, where there are re-enactments, fireworks and activities that bring the past to life. And Fort Niagara, on the American side of the border, is an excellent place to tour and learn.
For a more artistic look at the past, visit Riverbrink, probably my favourite museum in Niagara. It is an intimate museum, with its own interesting history. It displays some historic paintings that depict the early years of Niagara, the battles, the generals, and the people. There are also some Group of Seven paintings worth seeing.
Then, for a more casual historical encounter, walk the pretty streets of Niagara-on-the-Lake, to see elegant old homes and gardens. It is a town that feels as if its long history is being kept alive.
To complete your immersion in the past, consider dinner at The Charles Inn, a restaurant and inn in a restored home, with excellent cuisine. Later, you can book a room at the Inn, and sleep in the middle of history.