Welcome to the latest episode of the Great NOTL Summer Walkabout, a summer-long series of stories that will take you to all corners of Niagara-on-the-Lake. Our reporters will trek around the community to meet residents and visitors, attend events, visit area landmarks and tell stories about what they find. Enjoy the Walkabout.
Queenston is a village steeped in history and the Heritage Walking Tours conducted by the RiverBrink Art Museum are an opportunity for visitors to step back in time.
Our walk kicks off at RiverBrink, a former country home of Samuel Weir, who collected up to 1,000 art works during his life. Guide Sarah Cecchini notes Weir is buried on the property and, since his death in 1981, the museum has acquired more than 400 art works – and the collections and exhibitions change annually.
Across the museum is a First World War memorial monument. Some of the families named on the monument still live in Niagara-on-the-Lake and every Remembrance Day a service is held here.
Walking down Queenston Street toward to the next stop, Cecchini, a third-year visual art student at Brock University, talks about the area’s history.
The village, first settled by loyalist refugees and American immigrants, was founded by Robert Hamilton in the late 1770s and is more than 200 years old. There are several bed and breakfast places and small-home businesses in town.
Willowbank School of Restoration Arts, a national historic site located atop a hill, was originally built by Alexander Hamilton in 1834-36. Willowbank was a social hub for the upper-class in Upper Canada.
When the Bright family bought the property in 1934, they reoriented the house, lining the driveway with trees and adding double staircases. Fun fact: the front facing Queenston Street is known as the “Hamilton front” and the other side is the “Brights’ front.”
Crossing the street, we approach Laura Secord Memorial School, also known as Willowbank’s lower campus. Opened in 1914, the school was funded by the Women’s Institute, a community-based organization for women. With two large school rooms, a library and a kitchen, the school was closed in 2010 as it was “no longer the modern model of an educational building.”
Down Maple Street and on to Princess Street, Cecchini points to a majestic Greystone house with exterior stone made from limestone from the Queenston quarry. The original home was damaged during the War of 1812 but the current owners restored it.
Next stop is the Stone Cottage, constructed in 1810, and originally built for Robert Hamilton’s mother who refused to live there as it reminded her of the house she used to live in. The stone building was part of the Hamilton’s family old estate. It was believed that the back room of the building was used to hide illegal liquor, says Cecchini.
Nearby, two cyclists stop by to ask about a “a gorgeous mansion” and who owned the Greystone home.
Celia Kope and Joanne Berdall, visiting from Virginia, say they stayed at a residence in Niagara on the Green and they love biking here.
“The trails are gorgeous,” said Berdall. “This is a sweet, sweet town.”
Kope adds the town is also “very bike-friendly.”
Along Maple Street, a gorgeous view of the Niagara River opens before us. On the other side of the river is Artpark, a centre for the visual and performing arts, and the remaining structure of the original Queenston-Lewiston bridge can be seen.
The controversial jet boats, which have caused noise complaints for years, rumble past. The jet boats launch off the Queenston docks area, which is also a popular fishing spot for locals and tourists.
As the road turns right, we see St. Saviour, The Brock Memorial Church. Commemorating the Battle of Queenston Heights, the church was built thanks to fundraising donations and was named in recognition of Sir Isaac Brock’s efforts during the battle.
Back to Princess Street, we see the Wray-Goring Robinson House, where three Robinson sisters used to live. The sisters and their families look after the property now but no one has lived there for a while, Cecchini says.
Making our way back toward Queenston Street, the next major stop is the Mackenzie Printery and Newspaper Museum, Canada’s largest working printing museum. With more than 500 years of printing history, the site also features the oldest printing press, which was used to print the Act Against Slavery in 1793.
Around the printery, are three monuments: Alfred the Horse dedicated to Sir Isaac Brock, an obelisk commemorating the approximate location of Brock’s death and a stone marker recognizing the First Nations and Metis people’s contributions during the War of 1812.
Towering over Queenston Heights, Brock’s Monument is easily visible from here.
Not many people are out on this humid Tuesday afternoon but several cyclists ride by.
Back on Queenston Street, we come to the historic Laura Secord Homestead, which commemorates the Canadian heroine’s 32-kilometre trek to warn the British of an impending American attack during the War of 1812.
Farther along is the Queenston Public Library and Community Centre, in what used to be a Baptist church. Known for its large arched windows and its acoustics, it opened as a library and community hub in 1972.
Next up is Old Georgian Pub, a heritage building and one of the oldest homes in Queenston. It was a pub in the 1790s.
Near the Paul Safari Land Rover repair shop, we spot a green-eyed cat that seems to belong to a nearby resident. We greet the feline and after a short uphill trek, we’re back where it all began. It’s remarkable how much history and heritage is quietly tucked away along two main streets in the village of Queenston. It’s a walk worth taking.
* Tours run from Tuesday to Friday hourly between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Led by summer students, each tour takes 45 to 60 minutes. Tours run from May to the end of August, and cost $10 for adults and $8 for seniors. The price also includes admission to the museum.