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Sep. 21, 2019 | Saturday
Local News
Great NOTL Summer Walkabout: A tour of Old Town
Steve Steele leads the Old Town Walking Tour hosted by the Niagara Historical Society and Museum. (Brittany Carter/Niagara Now)

This town’s history is much more intricate and detailed than many know, like Dave and Doris Kent who were just a few of about 20 locals and tourists who joined the Niagara Historical Society and Museum’s guided walking tour of Old Town on Saturday morning.

The one-and-a-half-hour casual stroll through some of the defining landmarks and important moments of NOTL’s history taught walkers some obscure and unknown facts about the historic village, while also providing a behind the scenes look into the crowded core of town.

Kent said it was one of the best guided tours he had been on, and he’s attended many, both with his wife and on his own, he added. He travels to Europe often and makes it a habit to jump on tours and learn a little bit of the history of each place he stays, at home and abroad.

Though he says he considers himself fairly well-versed in NOTL’s past, there were several things he said he was surprised to learn.

“I think probably how many times they moved Brock’s body once he was dead, the poor guy,” Kent said.

Sir Isaac Brock was exhumed and reburied four times, the group learned during the walk.

He says he was also pleasantly surprised to see Steve Steele guiding the tour. The two flew together as pilots for nearly 40 years with Air Canada and haven’t seen each other in several years.

“He and I flew together years and years ago. It was great seeing him after all that time … I haven’t talked to him for probably 20 years or more,” Kent said.

The group met at the gazebo at Queen’s Royal Park to begin their journey. Steele corralled the group to introduce himself as one of about eight guides who perform variations of the tour. Each guide has their own highlights and flair, he said, so you could have a very different experience coming back again. Guides follow a loose guideline and must be able to verify information if they want to add their own historical facts.

Steele said as each guide creates their own experience, he doesn’t have a set route exactly, though he said the museum supplied about 17 pages of notes when it started with the War of 1812 Tours, which were the start of the walking tours, and he has about 60 pages of personal research that he uses to develop his own tours. The route may change based on the amount of people in attendance, he said.

Saturday morning’s excursion was one of the biggest groups the museum has seen. Usually tours see about six to eight participants.

New residents of NOTL Bill and Wendi Barber said they wanted to experience the tour because they have lived in town for about three years but haven’t seen a lot of what the town has to offer.

“We haven’t even done a wine tour yet!” she said.

She thanked the Lake Report’s printing of the event calendar each week for learning about the tours at all.

“I usually hear about things after they happen, it’s nice to find out about something before it’s been and gone,” Barber said.

From the gazebo, where Steele talked about the town’s war background and the relations and conflicts between the US and Canadian troops, the group learned about the town’s beginnings.

“The information regarding Fort Niagara and how it led to the growth of the town with United Empire Loyalists coming across,” Steele said that is one of the highlights of the tour for him. The cemetery at St. Mark’s United Church also holds a lot of interesting history, he said.

“There’s a lot of people in the cemetery that have done a lot of good things for Niagara-on-the-Lake. I think those are the highlights,” Steele said.

The group walks up King Street for a brief stop at the plaque marking Ontario’s first newspaper, the Upper Canada Gazette, or American Oracle.

From there, the tour is brought down Ricardo Street to arrive at the St. Mark’s United Church cemetery. Stopping at several iconic graves and remnants of war throughout the old graveyard, the group continues to the corner of King and Queen streets before meandering through the streets, stopping at interesting landmarks before finally ending at the Niagara Historical Society and Museum on Castleragh Street.

Steele guides the large group seamlessly throughout town, making quick remarks while passing historic landmarks and stopping to answer any and all questions tour-goers may have. If an answer isn’t readily available in his knowledge base, he takes the time to quickly look it up to provide an answer.

The leisurely stroll is both relaxing and informative, bringing new residents of town, born and raised locals and tourists from around the world to embark on a morning journey through NOTL’s historic Old Town.

The group is invited to peruse the museum at their leisure after the tour, the yellow sticker worn throughout serves as entrance to the museum and can be used immediately or at a later date.

Steele encourages the group to check out his favourite exhibition piece, Sir Isaac Brock’s hat, with its own intriguing history.

The museum’s Walking Tours of Old Town take place on Saturday’s and Sunday’s at 11 a.m. from June to September. The museum also hosts a variety of other tours and events, which can be found on the website at nhsm.ca.

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