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Dec. 6, 2021 | Monday
Local News
Exploring Queenston on a rainy fall day
Sean Blank with his great dane mastiff Cas. (Gail Kendall)

Gail Kendall
Special to Niagara Now/The Lake Report

The usually quiet, quaint and historical village of Queenston in Niagara-on-the-Lake was buzzing with activity Saturday for "Explore Queenston."

Doors were open at Riverbrink Art Museum, Willowbank Estate and the new Willowbank Studio, allowing visitors to view the properties and to talk with the curators, directors, students and instructors. 

In addition, some members of the Queenston Residents Association took the opportunity to hold lawn sales. 

Riverbrink sits at the top of Queenston Street and offers a spectacular view of the Niagara River below. 

Open to the public since 1983, its exhibitions change often and events include opportunities to engage in open conversations, seminars, on-site art workshops and tours of the historical Queenston Village. 

Speaking with the director and curator Debra Antoncic, along with volunteer Deborah Paine, they were both surprised at how busy they had been with visitors arriving to view the museum as well as shop for some previously loved treasures.

The day began with a forecast of rain, which fell off and on throughout the day, but that did not keep visitors away. 

There was a mix of local residents as well as out-of-town guests wanting to take the opportunity to visit not only the historical buildings but Queenston itself. 

Down the street and up the hill, is the magnificent Willowbank Estate, which serves as the School of Restoration Arts. It is dedicated to teaching all arts and skills related to restoration of building heritage, and uses historic buildings in need of restoration as its teaching venues.

The Prince of Wales is the royal patron of Willowbank in recognition of the property and schools. The facility was buzzing with activity Saturday.  

Caitlin Wooll, director of the School of Restoration Art, greeted guests and invited people to wander throughout the main and lower floors of the mansion and encouraged visitors to speak to students along the way. 

“We have had a really good turnout that’s been kind of awesome,” Wooll said excitedly, adding the facility has just partnered with 124 Queen, a boutique hotel and spa located on Queen Street in Old Town, as well as Treadwell Cuisine.

Amanda Hansen, director of sales for 124 Queen, set up on the upper balcony of the mansion and explained the hotel has partnered with Willowbank to take care of planning and catering all its events.

“Every time there is a venue fee posted for an event on-site, that fee is donated" to Willowbank and the hotel handles all the culinary fare, said Hansen.

“They can do anything from small intimate dinners in the bright parlour to luncheons and bridal showers on the terrace to about 250 to 300 tented.”

An event can run from Thursday right through to Sunday. Small events will be taking place this winter indoors and the facility is now booking for next year’s weddings and other outdoor events. 

Sean Blank is a second-year student at Willowbank with a master's in historic preservation from an American school. He felt the need to complement the academic and theory side of his education with a hands-on approach, so he enrolled at Willowbank.

“I think the beauty of the program is that it certainly challenged me to think differently about what I’m capable of and what I want,” said Blank. “I never thought I would be interested in the hands-on aspect, but I am increasingly drawn to that.” 

Blank and his great dane mastiff Cas are often seen wandering the village. 

Carmen Attard of Queenston and Bill Cutler of Crystal Beach saw the invitation in the paper and thought it would be an interesting way to spend a Saturday. 

Cutler owned an almost 200-year-old home in Port Colborne and is interested in historical buildings. 

“We are excited to be able to see the inside of the buildings that we often walk by,” said Attard. 

Steps from the bottom of Willowbank Estate is the former Laura Secord school now renamed the Willowbank Studio and occupied by artists Sharon Okun and Adam Markovic. 

Inside they have respectfully kept the essence of the space intact while utilizing the former classrooms and offices. Okun was busy with a wandering crowd of people in her studio classroom, which displays her own art, and explaining how her classes and workshops are evolving. 

Markovic was busy with a group in the main room. It has an old apothecary feel to it, complete with authentic old bottles filled with paint-making ingredients. 

That afternoon, Markovic had captivated his audience while explaining the process of making his own paint. He spoke about the oils and colour pigments he chooses and why he selects those specific ingredients. At the same time, he prepared a sample to show to his guests with many questions and answers along the way. 

Markovic also offers workshops on preparing your own paint. 

In addition, walking tours of the village were taking place with many people intrigued with all the village has to offer. 

Joseph and Sandra from St. Catharines were spending the day wandering the village's buildings. They had never been to Queenston and loved what they saw. “The quaintness of the village and the opportunity to see inside the buildings made for a nice day out,” Joseph said.