-1.3 C
Sunday, January 29, 2023
Niagara’s History Unveiled: Mural Project

In 2012, Niagara-on-the-Lake was busy commemorating the War of 1812 and how it shaped the future of Upper Canada.  Projects were abounding with special walking tours provided by the Niagara Historical Society and Museum, re-enactments at Fort George were staged for all to enjoy and a huge mural was installed in the Community Centre depicting 200 years of history in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

The development of this mural had many historians of the town digging through hundreds of photos in the museum archives, making decisions of what was interesting and important.  As well many images were provided by private citizens and other sources which also had to be considered.

Once the selection of images was made, a brief explanation of each had to be written.  Some well known historians/writers in NOTL were asked to provide a small description. A daunting task when one considers that each author was requested to keep the story under 250 words.

With approximately 100 pictures and descriptions ready, the mural was completed.  It now hangs in the Community Centre in NOTL, where one can enjoy the interesting pictures while sipping a coffee.

The mural itself is 32’ long and 6’ high.  At one end is a touch screen monitor where people can access a picture and read its story.

In 2015 the Niagara Historical Society printed a book version of the mural, “Niagara-on-the-Lake A History in Images”.  This book is available at the museum.

Along with the pictures and stories also included in this book is a short list of firsts for NOTL.  According to the book, here are a few;  first Provincial Parliament – 1792; first Agricultural Society – 1792; the first newspaper – Upper Canada Gazette – 1793; Law Society of Upper Canada founded – 1797; first circulating library – 1800;

Another first not listed, but equally important, is the first purpose-built museum in Ontario.  The Memorial Hall on Castlereagh was built in 1906, ten years ahead of the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.

The Niagara Historical Society was founded in 1895 (not the first in Ontario) with Janet Carnochan being declared its first president in 1896.  The Society recognized the need to preserve the history of the town and worked to support the museum.

Note: The Niagara Historical Society is a separate organization from the museum.  Its prime purpose is to advance appreciation of the history of the NOTL area through publications, research, collections, to provide programs for the public and to assist in supporting the museum.

The Museum’s prime purpose is to maintain one of Ontario’s most important historical collections. “It houses artifacts from native settlements to the present day.  The museum is home to over 8,000 artifacts, 40,000 documents, 2,500 photographs and 600 books.”  (Direct quote from the museum’s website)

The mural in the Community Centre is just a small snippet of this community’s history.  Here are some images from the mural that are also “firsts” for Niagara-on-the-Lake.

The Mississauga
Point Lighthouse

The lighthouse is the first one to have been built on the Great Lakes.  Retired Sergeant Dominic Henry was the first lighthouse keeper.  He and his wife, Mary Madden Henry, with their children, lived in a home built beside the lighthouse.  When the American forces invaded, from Lake Ontario, in the spring of 1813, it was reported that Mary Madden Henry, ran out onto the battle field around the lighthouse, tending to the wounded and comforting the dying.

In 1814, when the War of 1812 had moved away from NOTL, the British forces decided that a fort should be built at Mississauga Point where the Niagara River flows into Lake Ontario.  The lighthouse was torn down.  Using stone and brick from the lighthouse and homes that had been destroyed by American forces on their retreat from NOTL, Fort Mississauga was built.

8th World
Boy Scout Jamboree

The first Boy Scout Jamboree held in North America and the first held outside of Europe was in August of 1955.

Over 11,000 scouts from 71 countries converged on Niagara-on-the-Lake, camping on the commons that town volunteers had spent weeks preparing. Three scouts traveled from Brazil by jeep, while one scout rode his bike from Columbia, South America to NOTL.  That bike is on display in the museum.

During the jamboree a bus trip was organized to take all the scouts to Toronto so that they could participate in the opening day parade into the Canadian National Exhibition.

During the time that the Boy Scout Jamboree was in NOTL, more than 130,000 visitors came to visit.

“Old Town”
Fire Department

In 1816, the volunteer firefighters built the first firehouse, located in the market square, which is now the parking lot behind the Court House.

Through an Act of Parliament in 1826, the Fire Department became incorporated, a first for Upper Canada.  This ensured that all buildings would be protected by the Fire Department.

A second firehouse was located in the Court House and a hose drying tower was built onto the courthouse.  A small piece of irony, this tower was destroyed by a fire in 1953.

The fire department moved three more times, until in 2000 it was located in a very modern firehouse beside the Community Centre.

There are many more wonderful stories behind the pictures in the mural.  So break up a gloomy winter day and go view the sites and history of Niagara-on-the-Lake at the Community Centre.

Information provided by:  “Niagara-on-the-Lake A History in Images” Niagara Historical Society.



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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