Niagara on the Lake – A Brief History
Visit one of Canada’s most beautiful towns – Niagara on the Lake! This quaint village is south of Toronto in the province of Ontario. The town measures 51 square miles and sits on an idyllic spot where the Niagara River joins Lake Ontario. The town’s population is just over 16,000, but there are a large number of tourists that visit it every year – particularly in the summer months.
Niagara on the Lake is renowned for its charm, but it also has a rich history. The settlement, originally known as Butlersburg, received town status in 1781, when its name changed to Newark. It served as a safe haven for British loyalists fleeing the U.S. after the American Revolution.
In 1792, it became the first capital of Upper Canada, with another name change – this time to Niagara. Upper Canada later became the province of Ontario. The capital was moved from Niagara to York (now known as Toronto) during the war of 1812, to be further away from the fighting. The town of Niagara was captured by American forces during a bloody battle. It was later razed and burnt to the ground as the American forces withdrew.
After the war, town citizens rebuilt the area around Queen and King Streets, as homage to the British rulers. They made sure the Court House was built outside of firing range from Fort Niagara, since it had previously been destroyed by cannon fire. That center area is now referred to as Old Niagara. The town was renamed Niagara –on-the-Lake in the 1880’s, to distinguish it from Niagara Falls.
Niagara on the Lake -Present Day
Today, Niagara-on-the-Lake is one of Canada’s prettiest towns and the center of Niagara tourism. It still retains its Victorian 19th century village charm with historical sites, forts and grand mansions. View some of the most impressive Regency and Classical Revival buildings in Canada. Niagara on the Lake’s historic district was approved as a National Historic Site of Canada in 2003 and was considered for nomination as a World Heritage Site. You will see historic plaques throughout the town , boasting the first lending library, first apothecary in Canada, first historical museum and newspaper.
Many of the former military sites have been fully restored and are open to view. There is Navy Hall, Butler’s Barracks and Fort George. Fort George was built in 1802 for the British Army. It was the setting for many military battles in the war of 1812. In the Battle of Fort George in 1813, it was captured by US forces. The British retook the fort in December of 1813. It also served as a military training base for Canadian armed forces during the first and second world wars. It is now a National Historic Site of Canada and is maintained by Parks Canada.
Niagara on the Lake is the only city in Canada that has a Lord Mayor, a throwback to its British roots. Its picturesque with on setting on the lake is dotted with English gardens and nature parks. Enjoy the acclaimed cuisine, excellent wines, art and festivals. The Court House is both headquarters of Parks Canada Niagara National Historic Sites and a Shaw Festival Theatre. St. Mark’s Church is the oldest Anglican Church in Canada, dating back to 1791. You will also find the oldest Canadian Catholic church here, St. Vincent de Paul, which dates back to 1826.