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Jun. 16, 2019 | Sunday
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Niagara's History Unveiled: The churches and graveyards of Queenston
The Queenston Library was once the Baptist Church. (Brittany Carter/Niagara Now)

The small village of Queenston, with a population that never exceeded 400, had three churches during the 19th and 20th centuries. Today, only one remains as a religious institution.

The congregation of St. Saviour, The Brock Memorial Church, was originally formed by a group of United Empire Loyalists sometime before 1788. They came from a variety of denominations, so the church didn’t become officially Anglican until 1820. Although a historical plaque at the church says the present church was begun in 1877 and completed two years later, Harold Usher, a former treasurer and historian of the church, claimed that the present church was in fact started in 1873.

The church is dedicated to the memory of Maj.-Gen. Sir Isaac Brock. It is believed to be the only Anglican church known to honour a layman. In an interview with newspaperman Jimmy Simpson, Usher is quoted as saying, “Before 1849, Ontario Anglican Churches were administered under the Diocese of Quebec. The Diocese of Niagara, of which we are a part, was formed in that year. We have been unable to trace records past Nov. 2, 1879, when Brock’s Memorial Church of St. Saviour was dedicated with the completion of the present building.”

Simpson also wrote that when the present building was planned, members of the congregation contacted the Brock family in the United Kingdom and were able to obtain plans for a small church designed by Sir Christopher Wren. While the proportions of the church have been praised in relation to its size, a Wren characteristic, present day historians are unable to connect the church to any of his designs.

In 2012, the retired Bailiff of Guernsey, Sir Geoffrey Rowland and the Constable of St. Peter Port, Dennis Le Moignan, from the island of Guernsey,  Brock’s birthplace, presented a commemorative plaque to the church. The service took place on Oct. 12, the day before the bicentennial of Brock’s death.

The Queenston Library is housed in what was once a Baptist church.

It was built by, among others, Solomon Vrooman, a descendant of William Vrooman, the slave owner who was responsible for sending Chloe Cooley back to the United States. The outcome of that incident was Lt.-Gov. John Graves Simcoe’s 1793 law banning slavery in Upper Canada. The church was built between 1841 and 1845. It never had a large congregation. When it closed in 1916, there were only six, some of whom were Vroomans.

There has been a suggestion that the Baptist church had a black congregation. Ransom Goring, who came to the Niagara area as a clerk in the fur trade and later settled here, kept a record of all of the families in the Queenston/St. Davids area in the 19th century. He does not mention any black families. While some freed slaves served as Butler’s Rangers, they tended to settle closer to Niagara-on-the-Lake. Transportation to Queenston, over 10 kilometres away, would have been difficult at the time.

After the church closed, it was sold to the Women’s Institute. The institute originally had a meeting room in the Laura Secord School. In 1924, the school trustees no longer wanted them in the building and sent a letter demanding that they remove their belongings. The institute sued to get back the money it had spent on the room, and, in 1928, bought the old church building.

In 1967, an entrepreneur from Niagara Falls named Djamal Afrukhteh bought the building. In 1971, he donated it to the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake. It was to be the community centre for Queenston. Afrukhteh, however, specified that it should contain a library, which it does to this day.

The final church in the village is described as the little white church. It began as a Weslyan Methodist chapel, at the corner of Queenston and Dumfries Streets. The church, built in 1862, became the Queenston United Church in 1939. Since the Methodist ministers and leaders served for only two years, it has been recorded that some 132 people led the church.

The building was moved to a location on the Niagara River Parkway in 1958 and rededicated. In 1997, attendance had dwindled so the parishioners decided to join with St. Davids United Church. They donated the building to the Niagara Parks Commission. In 2011, it was moved a second time, to the Laura Secord homestead site where it is now used for events such as weddings and book readings.

It is interesting to note that while Queenston had three churches, none of them had graveyards. St. Saviour’s is built on the riverbank on limestone and shale. It was considered far too dangerous to dig in the area. As a result, the Anglican community shares the graveyard with the United and Presbyterian churches in St. Davids.

However, there are cemeteries in Queenston, including the Brock Monument.

The largest is the Willowbank graveyard, one of the most interesting parts of the Willowbank property. It is on a small plot of land located northwest of the mansion itself and is surrounded by a low stone wall and trees. It is accessible through a discrete gate off the Niagara River Parkway.

The only people buried at the Willowbank graveyard who were not a part of the extended Hamilton family are Brock and his adjutant John Macdonell. These two were buried four times, first at Fort George where the bodies laid for 12 years. They were then moved to Queenston Heights and buried under the first Brock’s monument.

When the monument was destroyed by rebels in 1840, the bodies were taken to Queenston and placed in the Hamilton burial grounds. Later, they were returned to Queenston Heights when the new monument was built in 1853. The Willowbank graveyard is still being used for Hamilton descendants.

The last grave site in Queenston can be found at RiverBrink Art Museum. RiverBrink’s builder, Samuel Weir died in 1981. He received permission to be buried on the property. Weir said that “the house was designed to be a library and a museum for all time.”

His grave is near the entrance to the house he considered to be his home for many years. He arranged that his estate be left in trust to the people of Niagara. Today, his art collection and library is open to the public year-round.

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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.

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