In the 1860s, the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake suffered an economic blow when the county decided to relocate all legal proceedings to the Courthouse in St. Catharines. The new courthouse laid empty, jobs were lost, shops closed and people moved away looking for better opportunities for their families.
However, with money from the county as compensation for the loss of the courthouse business, town council built a world class hotel — The Royal Niagara which opened in 1869 — at King and Front Streets on the shore of the Niagara River. It was recognized as one of the finest hotels in North America and later changed its name to The Queen’s Royal Hotel.
The hotel was first-class, becoming the destination of the very wealthy seeking the peace and tranquility of life in a small town. With it came the jobs the town’s people desperately needed. Young men were hired as bell boys, waiters, gardeners, dock workers, and kitchen workers, while young women became parlour maids, ladies maids and housekeepers.
The hotel also brought other work with it. The hotel’s laundry was sent out to Irish Town (near King and Pafford Streets) to the laundry maids, farmers were kept busy with supplying fresh produce, livery stables were bustling and small businesses in town once again flourished.
An advertisement from 1893 for the hotel stated, “The rooms of the Queen’s Royal Hotel are high and well ventilated, the corridors, parlours and drawing-rooms are spacious (and) handsomely furnished. In the evening the whole is lit up by electricity.”
A flight of steps off the main veranda of the hotel lead down to the private dock, where one could find little pleasure steamers for hire. Also located just a short walk from the hotel was the anchorage of the Royal Canadian Yacht club, the largest on fresh waters.
After 1900, visitors arriving by boat would have been very impressed when the hotel came into sight — a magnificent four-storey building, white with green shutters and trim, dominating the Niagara River bank.
Wide verandas afforded the hotel guests with a lovely breezy afternoon as they sat in rocking chairs gazing upon the Niagara River flowing out into Lake Ontario.
The hotel was also host to the World Tennis Tournament. In 1907, the Toronto “Saturday Night” wrote, “The tennis prospects of 1907 look exceedingly bright. The year 1906 was one of the best Canada has ever enjoyed and has paved the way for a still brighter year to follow.” (Hmmm sounds like the same words we use each year for the Toronto Maple Leafs)
Later the tournament became the “Championship of Canada” with players coming from Europe and the United States to play on the courts of the Queen’s Royal Hotel at the end of August each year. The tennis courts were located parallel to Front St., between Regent and King Streets. Today it is a parking lot for tourists.
The hotel also boasted a lawn bowling club, a casino and a pathway along the river to the Mississauga Links, now the Niagara Golf Club, which has the distinction of being the oldest operating golf course in North America.
A most notable guest of the Queen’s Royal Hotel was the Duke of York, later King George the V, who decided to spend some quiet time while on a tour of Canada in 1901. The royal entourage arrived by private yacht from Toronto to the docks right in front of the hotel.
There is a picture of the Royal Party, taken on the veranda of the hotel, hanging in the NOTL museum. Not a cheerful looking group as it is rumoured that upon their arrival, they had to wait outside for some time due to a gas leak. As one can imagine, they were not impressed.
While the royal entourage was in town, they used the livery service of Mike Greene, whose business was located on King St. (now the Grill on King). Green provided a carriage and four white horses for the royal guests. Years later the carriage was purchased by the Niagara Foundation, carefully restored and is only used for special occasions.
In later years, the hotel was also the place to be for social gatherings. In 1910, when the annual military encampment of over 10,000 soldiers was in full swing, the hotel hosted a succession of dances and balls in the casino. The presence of Sir John French, who was commander of the British forces in France during the first years of World War One and who later became the Earl of Ypres, was a great draw for the very affluent of society.
The Toronto “Mail and Empire” wrote in their social column, of the guests from the United States, England and the Continent in attendance at some of the military balls. They wrote glowing descriptions of the women in their lovely ball gowns as well as the young ladies dressed in pale blue satin gowns, white princess gowns and dainty white frocks.
These were the most glorious days of the hotel when three daily trains arrived at the docks to pick up the passengers from the four daily steamers that crossed Lake Ontario.
Unfortunately, after the First World War, the economy shifted and the importance of the hotel diminished. The private automobile became more fashionable and people were now able to travel to other destinations for their holidays.
In 1927, the Queen's Royal Hotel was slowly closed down with the dismantling of many of the room’s furnishings. The last of the items from the hotel were auctioned off in 1935. All manner of items from outside shutters, window frames, doors, tables, chairs right down to the dishes were sold. Many a home in NOTL today might have remnants or furnishings from this magnificent hotel.
Years later town council decided this site should become a place for all people to enjoy. Today we have the lovely Queen’s Royal Park at King and Front Streets. The gazebo is a major draw for tourists and the views from it include Fort Niagara across the river in the United States and on a clear day, Toronto across Lake Ontario.
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.
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