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Sunday, February 5, 2023
Ross’s Ramblings: Come along on my new free walking tours of NOTL
Ross Robinson invites you to join him on his free walking tours of NOTL. Molly Bowron

Free walking tours are popular around the world. Jerusalem, Boston, Sydney, Vancouver, Paris, Auschwitz, Nashville, Athens. And yes, Lunenburg.

Niagara-on-the-Lake stands ready. Aye, ready!

Last Saturday afternoon, a hardy group of locals got together for a promotional photo on the top steps of the old Court House on Queen Street.

Why on Dec. 10? Simply because that is a significant date in our town’s history and the story should be told to more people. And it was cold, just like it was cold on Dec. 10, 1813. We had warmer clothes and warm boots.

This was the 209th anniversary, to the day, of the torching of Newark, by Americans led by Brig.-Gen. George McClure and his sleazebag traitor buddy Joseph Willcocks.

The conflagration left women and children on the cold and snowy streets, desperate to find shelter and warmth and food. Only four buildings were left standing.

There was no Red Cross or temporary shelter to provide care. No shuttle bus to shelters in St. Catharines. The newly homeless had to walk west to save themselves. Just imagine.

I am an amateur scribbler and I really enjoy meeting people. My children have done plenty of free walking tours and they tell me it is time I tell some of Niagara’s stories to many people.

The research has been completed, a fascinating 1.5-hour free walking tour has been mapped out and the marketing is in place.

It’s history, presented in an entertaining way. A historical and fairly hysterical script has been written.

We all know there is no free lunch. So how can there be a free walking tour? Simple. It is a well-known fact that these tours are tip-based and many tourists start their visits to new places with this type of tour.

If the tour guide and tour are great, tip generously. If not, don’t tip. (But at least say thank you.)

Back in 2015, I enjoyed the most meaningful vacation or business trip of my life.

My goal was to be singing “Oh Little: Town of Bethlehem” at midnight on Christmas Eve. In Bethlehem. With new friends, in the midst of stern and observing Arab soldiers, many of them armed with loaded rifles.

That day had started with a free walking tour of the Old City of Jerusalem. The guide met us at 10 a.m. at the historic Jaffa Gate.

Was he a local? No. He was from Kansas City and was a student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. This was his side hustle to help pay the bills.

He did a great job, so we all tipped him generously as the tour ended. And we met some new and interesting friends.

What a concept.

I returned home after this incredible trip with more understanding the Middle East, in tears about the Holocaust and man’s inhumanity to man. I was a more complete person. Yad Vashem changed my life forever.

So here we are. This free walking tour of Niagara-on-the-Lake will provide visitors with knowledge, presented by a local who loves his hometown, including some lesser known stories.

Such as the tragic story of the Foam, when seven young sailors from the Royal Canadian Yacht Club in Toronto drowned when their yacht sank at the mouth of the Niagara River, They were heading to a dance at the Queen’s Royal Hotel.

Why were they all buried in NOTL and not back in their family plots in Toronto? There is a story there and it should be told. (Lake Report colleague Tim Taylor delved into it last year in a series of articles.)

And are there really ghosts in the Angel Inn and the St. Mark’s Church rectory? Those stories are already being told.

The Polish Soldier’s Cemetery on Byron Street, behind St. Vincent de Paul Church, tells such a brave and emotional story.

Lots more interesting NOTL and Newark stories will be shared, starting very soon.

Every day at 10 a.m., starting from the top step of the old Court House on Queen Street.

Visit notlfreewalkingtours.com for more details.

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