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Tuesday, May 21, 2024
Niagara’s History Unveiled: Exploring the history and people of 244 King St.

As Niagara-on-the-Lake rebuilt after the destruction it suffered during the burning in December of 1813, more land was surveyed to accommodate the influx of new residents.

The military, always wary of another invasion from the United States, decided to tear down the lighthouse (the first one built on the Great Lakes) to build Fort Mississauga, using materials from the lighthouse.

The new fort was built on the foundation walls of the old lighthouse, which is located within the Niagara-on-the-Lake Golf Club today.

Around that time other properties in the town were also taken over by the military, with compensation being given to the land owners in the form of land grants (or property trades).

One such grant was offered to a man named James Crooks, who traded his first parcel of land near the lighthouse for a new property at 244 King St. in 1822.

In 1828, the property was sold to a farmer and private in the 68th Regiment named Francis Moore. He also purchased an adjoining quarter-acre and built the first home on the property.

Moore had the house built close to the front of the property so that the remainder could be used to grow kitchen gardens, a style typical of the times. (After the 1830s, homes were built further off the street as a sign of prosperity, showing that the homeowners had enough money to purchase their food from local markets.)

Moore owned the property until 1848 when his heir, William D. Moore sold it to Thomas Dorrity, who used it as a boarding school and later as a lodging house.

Dorrity built an addition on the rear of the house and his signature can still be found on a pane of glass in one of its sash windows.

Eventually the property passed to his son John Dorrity, who was a painter. During that period (1860s) the home was one of many that gave lodging to Confederate refugees.

At that time, during the end of the Civil War, many Confederate officers were fleeing the U.S.

Fearing that if caught they would be hung for treason, they sot refuge in Canada, Mexico and the far western areas of the continent not yet claimed by the United States.

One of those fleeing men, the Reverend, Doctor William T. Leacock, ended up in the house at 244 King St. He arrived in NOTL in December of 1864.

Leacock was a friend of Jefferson Davis, who was president of the Confederate States, and although Davis resided in Montreal, he would often visit NOTL to meet up with many of his Confederate officers and politicians.   

Leacock was quite the staunch supporter of the South. He was the rector for Christ Episcopal Church in New Orleans until 1863, though after a refusal to pray for President Lincoln, he was arrested and incarcerate in Lafayette Prison Camp in Upper New York State.

He was released from the prison in December of 1864 and decided to live in Upper Canada to wait out the remainder of the war.

During his time in NOTL, Leacock took over as rector at St. Mark’s Anglican Church for one year while Rev. Dr. McMurray was away in England.

Although the American Civil War was over by May of 1865, Leacock did not leave Canada until December, when he returned to New Orleans and was granted his post at his old church.

The next owner of 244 King St. was Jack Bishop, who purchased the property in 1892, and though he died ten years later, his family continued to own the home for another sixty years.  There is still the silver maple tree in the back yard that was planted by the Bishop family in the 1890s.

In the mid 1960’s, 244 King St. was purchased by the famous Dr. Peter Stokes, a renowned restoration architect.

Stokes was born in England and had many adventures as a child, often rambling about old abandoned abbeys and castles. He claimed those abbeys and castles gave him a true love of old structures.

His father was a salesman for IBM and during the Second World War, Stokes was one of many children that IBM sponsored to move to Canada for safety.

Stokes became a ward of Jacobine Jones, who was one of Canada’s leading stone sculpture artists — she has seven of her stone carvings on the facade of the Bank of Canada building in Ottawa and a marble-bas relief on Toronto’s Bank of Nova Scotia building.

Jones herself had quite the life story. She was born and raised in England and during the First World War volunteered with the British Land Army.

After the war, she went to Denmark to further her sculpting studies and eventually moved to Toronto, where she set up a studio in York Mills.

During the Second World War, Jones also volunteered with the Canadian Women’s Motor Core. It was during this period that she took in Stokes — or her “war guest,” as she used to say.

It was with her support that Stokes developed a love of art and eventually studied architecture at the University of Toronto.

In later years, when Jones was living in a desperate state, Stokes took her into his home in NOTL, built her an art studio and supported her until her death.

She is buried in St. Mark’s Anglican Church graveyard with Stokes.

Stokes’ career took a turn from modern architecture when he was asked to work on the development of Upper Canada Village in Eastern Ontario.

Upper Canada Village opened in 1961, and this is when Stokes decided to start his own business in Ottawa, consulting on historical restoration projects. A few years later he moved to NOTL after being asked to consult on the historic buildings there.

It was through Stokes’ persistence and great ability of persuasion that many of the beautiful buildings we enjoy today are still with us.

Stokes was also a staunch supporter of the School of Restoration Arts at Willowbank in Queenstone.

In 2003, he helped to launch the project with the Friends of Willowbank.

In 2004, the school was opened and Stokes was often invited to give lectures on architectural restoration.

Dr. Peter Stokes died on July 29, 2013 at the age of 87. He is also buried in St. Mark’s Anglican Church.

Of his many legacies, one that notably impacted the town of NOTL was the Queen-Picton Heritage District designation – completed in 1986. It was the first Heritage District of its kind in Canada and included a method for assessment of heritage buildings which saved the beautiful town of Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Today 244 King St. (the Moore-Bishop-Stokes House) is back to being a private home. Its interior is now being modernized while its exterior shell remains a reflection of its wonderful history.


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 Street, Niagara-on-the-Lake in Memorial Hall.

Visit, or give them a call at 905-468-3912.

Denise's full profile can be found here, niagaranow.com/profile.phtml/13.

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