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Niagara History

Like a hand on your shoulder or the capacity of a single scent or sight to tug powerfully at human memory, the past is a palpable presence in Niagara. Hidden just below the surface of daily life is a richly layered history complete with battle scenes, heroic acts and a myriad of fascinating details about how people once lived and why.


History_1The Niagara Heritage Trail, which meanders southward along the Niagara River from Niagara-on-the-Lake to Old Fort Erie, offers a wealth of opportunities for history fans—more than 100 homesteads, monuments, plaques and battle sites in total.

McFarland House in Niagara-on-the-Lake, for example, is a circa-1800 Georgian home billed as Upper Canada’s finest tea garden. Here, you can take a guided tour, explore the period herb garden, learn about early Canadian settlers and enjoy afternoon tea or sip a glass of Niagara wine.

For a little less tranquility, a little more spark and fire, visit Old Fort Erie at the far southern end of the Niagara Heritage Trail. The restored fort holds tours and explosions on the hour throughout the summer months; and, on the second weekend of August each year, a spectacular reenactment of a siege that once made this Canada’s bloodiest battlefield. Relive the triumphs and tragedies of the War of 1812 through day and night battle scenes simulating the British-American conflict that erupted here in 1814.

History_2If the War of 1812 was the bloodiest, most tumultuous event in Niagara history, our proudest achievement was arguably the instrumental role we played in the freeing of American slaves. Niagara offered safe haven for 19th-century blacks crossing the Niagara River via the Underground Railway and St. Catharines was a centre of abolitionist activities.

Niagara’s Underground Railroad, which commemorates the courage of the slaves and those who assisted them, features 15 monuments throughout Niagara. Among them are the St. Catharines B.M.E. Church, which Harriet Tubman attended, now a national historic site.

Other sneak peeks

•    In Jordan ~ Jordan Historical Museum, a celebration of early Loyalist and Pennsylvania German Mennonite culture, complete with historic farmhouse and one-room schoolhouse
•    In St. Catharines ~ St. Catharines Museum, a tribute to Niagara’s social, cultural and industrial past including the development of the Welland Canal and the role Niagara played in the Underground Railway
•    In Niagara-on-the-Lake ~ Fort George, a family-oriented Parks Canada destination that recreates garrison life during the War of 1812, when the fort served as headquarters for the Centre Division of the British Army
•    In Niagara-on-the-Lake ~ Laura Secord House, home of Canada’s most famous heroine who risked her life to deliver intelligence that would play a key role in the defeat of American troops at the Battle of Beaverdams during the War of 1812

Also noteworthy

•    In Niagara Falls ~ Battle Ground Hotel Museum; Lundy’s Lane Historical Museum; Willoughby Historical Museum; and, for insights into Canadian black history, the Nathaniel Dett Chapel
•    In Niagara-on-the-Lake ~ Mackenzie Heritage Printery and Newspaper Museum; Niagara Apothecary; Niagara Historical Society and Museum; RiverBrink Art Museum; Sir Isaac Brock monument at Queenston Heights Park
•    In St. Catharines ~ Morningstar Mill
•    In Grimsby ~ Grimsby Museum
•    In Welland ~ Welland Historical Museum
•    In Port Colborne ~ Port Colborne Historical & Marine Museum
•    In Fort Erie ~ Fort Erie Historical Museum; Fort Erie Railroad Museum;  Ridgeway Battlefield Site

Special events sampling

•    August ~ Siege of Fort Erie, Old Fort Erie
•    August ~ Black Heritage Day, Fort Erie
•    September ~ Marshville Heritage Festival, Wainfleet
•    October ~ Pioneer Day, Jordan Historical Museum, Jordan

Websites to assist you further

•    Niagara Parks Commission at http://www.niagaraparks.com/heritage-trail/ for information on Niagara Heritage Trail sites.
•    Niagara Freedom Trail at www.freedomtrail.ca for moving personal biographies as well as monuments and plaques that relate to the Underground Railroad and the role Niagara played in the freeing of American slaves.
•    Parks Canada http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/lhn-nhs/on/fortgeorge/index.aspx for information on Fort George.
•    The Official War of 1812 Bicentennial Site at www.discover1812.com for information on special events celebrating 200 years of peace.

 

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