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Jun. 15, 2019 | Saturday
Entertainment News
Niagara History Unveiled: Niagara-on-the-Lake Golf Club
The Niagara-on-the-Lake Golf Club. (Brittany Carter/Niagara Now)

It is a beautiful morning, a bit of a breeze but nothing too chilling as you approach the T-box for the first swing of the day. Taking the swing, you hear the perfect “ping” as your driver connects with the ball exactly like you always pray for. You lift your gaze up to watch where your ball goes when you notice a mist coming in over the course from Lake Ontario.

In that moment your breath is caught as you see a wounded soldier, in a red coat, lying on the ground, being tended to by a woman. Then the image just disappears and you locate your ball.

You are playing on the oldest continuously operating golf course in North America, the Niagara-on-the-Lake Golf Course, founded in 1875, located at 143 Front Street in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

It is a small course, just nine holes with some unique challenges such as huge doglegs that go around century-old trees and greens that are tucked away.

Interesting though is the history of the land, once referred to as Fort Mississauga Commons.

Prior to the War of 1812 the land, at the point where the Niagara River flows into Lake Ontario, was home to the very first lighthouse on the Great Lakes. Built in 1804 the tower was 45 feet in height. The first lighthouse keeper was Dominic Henry, a retired soldier from the British garrison posted at Fort George.

Dominic Henry was the only lighthouse keeper. He along with his wife, Mary Madden Henry and their children lived in a small log cabin beside the lighthouse.

In May of 1813 (during the War of 1812) the American forces from Fort Niagara and from ships on Lake Ontario, bombarded the town of Newark (NOTL). Then the American forces landed from Lake Ontario just north of the town near the lighthouse.

During this battle, Mary Madden Henry was seen by many soldiers to be scrabbling over the grounds around the lighthouse, tending to any wounded soldier she came upon. Many soldiers later related how she seemed to appear through the smoke like an angel with wings. 

It was after the War of 1812 that the lighthouse was torn down to be replaced by a military base, Fort Mississauga. 

Fort Mississauga was built in 1814 using bricks from the lighthouse and salvaged bricks from the town after it had been razed by fire from the retreating American forces (December 1813) The fort was built on Point Mississauga, across from the American Fort Niagara. It was to replace Fort George that had been destroyed.

Fort Mississauga saw very limited use and by 1858 the British had abandoned it completely. Later during the American Civil War (1861-65) and the Finnian Raids (1866-71) the fort was occupied by the Volunteer Canadian Militia. 

Once again Fort Mississauga was abandoned until it was put to use during training camps of World War 1 (1914-18) and World War 11 (1939-45).

Today, only the central tower, the star-shaped earthworks and sally ports remain of the fort. Sally ports were ingenious entrances into a stronghold that had either a wall to move around to gain entrance or two doors that had to be opened. Sally ports are used even in modern times; entrances where one door must be closed before the second one opens. They are used in prisons and even some jewellery stores.

It was in 1875, when Fort Mississauga was abandoned that the golf course was constructed. When you play on the course today, the eighth hole is the only hole untouched from the first original course.

In 1895, the Niagara Golf Club hosted the first International Golf Tournament in North America (Sept. 5 to 7, 1895). However to host the tournament, you had to have an 18 hole golf course. There were but nine on the original course, however a gentleman by the name of John G. Dickson had started a small course of three holes across the street from his home, on the Fort George Commons. This course was expanded to nine holes and the tournament was held.

Players played nine holes on the Fort George Commons course and then were shuttled to the Fort Mississauga Commons to play the second nine holes. The winner of the tournament was Charles B. MacDonald of the Chicago Golf Club. He also won the longest drive in the tournament.

After the tournament, the Fort George Commons course was expanded to 18 holes. Several of the holes actually were played through the ruins of Fort George itself. The golf course on the Fort Mississauga commons became the ladies course.

After World War 1, the Fort George golf course was not reopened. The Fort Mississauga course was however opened, and under the control of the Queens Royal Hotel. But as tourism waned in the 1920s the hotel went bankrupt. Not to lose such a wonderful golf course close to the town, the National Golf Course was incorporated in 1926. The Mississauga Commons, in the 1960s was declared a National Historic Park and the golf course continues to operate to this day. 

The Niagara-on-the-Lake Golf Course has been ranked in the top ten, nine hole golf courses in the world. The restaurant is the only one in town with a view of Lake Ontario. It is a public course, open for all to enjoy the history of the land as you play. Water hazards are amazing!

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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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