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Jun. 15, 2019 | Saturday
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Niagara History Unveiled: Navy Hall Part 2 of 2
The Navy Hall. (Brittany Carter/Niagara Now)

Not thinking of preservation of history, Navy Hall was unceremoniously moved across the road closer to the ruins of Fort George.

By the turn of the 20th century, Navy Hall was on the verge of collapse. It was now being used as a cow barn and stables.

We can be thankful though, that through some misguided belief, Navy Hall was thought to be one building that survived the War of 1812, was historic because of its association with the Simcoes and as well was the seat of Ontario’s first government. With this in mind, in the early part of the 20th Century, local residents interested in history petitioned the federal government for funds to restore Navy Hall. The Army responded by stabilizing the building.

During World War One, when NOTL was a massive training camp, Navy Hall was used as a medical facility with six dental chairs, an inoculation area and storage for medical supplies. After the war, Navy Hall was once again left to deteriorate.

The Great Depression of the 1930s hit Canada very hard; men were out of work and families were homeless. It was during this time that Fort George, Fort Mississauga and Navy Hall were rescued from total rot and ruin.

In 1934 the Niagara Parks Commission, for the grand price of $1.00 per year for 99 years would lease these three historical properties from the Federal Government. Part of the agreement would be to restore the buildings, using federal funds, for “make work” projects during the depression and restore these three properties.

Navy Hall was to finally be restored properly and the first action, in 1934 was to move the building back to the river, close to its original site. The railroad spur was no longer in operation.

A cursory archeological assessment was done prior to moving Navy Hall but only in areas that were excavated for the new foundations and for the trench that would bring services to the building. It is unfortunate to say that between moving Navy Hall the first time, digging up the area for the railway line, digging the trench for services to be brought into the area and general commerce over the years pretty much destroyed any significant finds.

Shards of earthenware, stoneware and ceramics were found. Fragments of glass bottles, some even dating into the 20th century, as well as metals, the most common being nails from three different eras. A metal strap of a wagon wheel was found near an electrician’s wire. The dig was a disappointment for all.

There were no conclusive finds at this time that dated before the War of 1812, not even the foundations of the first buildings were found. The restoration of Navy Hall could continue.

A basement was dug and a new stone foundation was built. The wooden building was then moved back across the road onto its new foundation to once again sit beside Niagara River.

The final reconstruction of Navy Hall did not get started again until 1937 when the wooden walls were clad in stone on the outside to save the wood from the elements.

Many of the wooden walls and beams inside Navy Hall were from the original construction of 1814. However many had deteriorated beyond saving, so beams from an old barn in Niagara Falls were used to replace them. New windows were added where there had never been windows and a fireplace built where there had been no fireplace in the original. However a great deal of the original fabric of the 1814 Navy Hall was preserved.

The reconstruction of Navy Hall was completed in 1937.

Navy Hall is not open to the public but can be rented for functions through Parks Canada.

One small building of interest across the street from Navy Hall is the “Stone Cottage”. This was the old customs house when the King’s Wharf was in full use during the 1830s. At the same time that Navy Hall was being restored, this Stone Cottage was restored and also clad in stone.

Over the years the Stone Cottage has had many uses other than a customs house. In 1936/37 it was the office of Ronald Way who was the historian for the reconstruction of Fort George. In the 1970s it was the office of Dan Glenney who was the Manager of Interpretation in Niagara along with his assistant Vera Demetre.

At one time the Stone Cottage was the location of the library for Fort George before the library was moved into Block 3 inside the fort in the 1990s.

Then from 2007 to 2013 it was the offices of Ron Dale (historian) who was the project officer for the federal government’s initiative to recognize the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812.

The Stone Cottage is now used for storage by Parks Canada but will likely be used again as a pleasant office space in the future.

Today you can stroll along the river’s edge by Navy Hall and imagine tall ships mooring there.

Or stop and listen for the bustle of the crowds around the steam train as it sat by the wharf waiting to return to Buffalo.

Walk around a lovely stone monument in honour of Lt. Gov. John Graves Simcoe and his wife Elizabeth. You will soon come to understand why the Simcoe family preferred living under canvas in such a lovely setting.

Ref: Parks Canada – manuscript report 386, On Common Ground – Merrick, Niagara Historical Society and Museum – archives, Ron Dale – Niagara Historian.

Part 1 was published March 21 here.

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To learn more about the topic of this story you can visit the Niagara Historical Society & Museum website at, www.niagarahistorical.museum, or visit the museum for yourself.

The Niagara Historical Museum is located at 43 Castlereagh St. in Old Town, in Memorial Hall. Visit, or give them a call at 905-468-3912.

Ascenzo is a regular Niagara Now contributor. Her full profile can be found here.

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