Inaugural fundraiser for museum could become an annual event
More than 700 homes in Niagara-on-the-Lake are over a century old and Catherine Novick sees this as a great, untapped historical legacy that deserves to be celebrated and explored.
With that in mind, she and a team of volunteers been working with the NOTL Museum on a plan to showcase one of these spectacular homes this year, featuring it in a new, and possibly annual, community fundraiser for the museum.
The Heritage Garden Party aims to not only to raise some money for the museum but also to highlight some of the lost, forgotten or unknown history and heritage that permeates the town.
“While history might be considered the investigation of the past, heritage refers to artifacts and traits from earlier generations, both buildings and customs,” said Novick, a resident of Old Town.
“With support from residents, businesses and visitors alike, we have an opportunity to join together to showcase and celebrate our rich heritage in so many ways,” she said.
This year’s garden party will be at the former home of NOTL’s first mayor, Alexander Davidson, a remarkable man whose story is one of the best-kept secrets in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
With almost no promotion or publicity, this year’s inaugural gathering is already almost sold out.
Novick noted that in addition, “Donations are gratefully appreciated to continue programs to preserve the heritage in NOTL.”
The soiree will be hosted at the home of Patty and Bill Garriock, at 164 Johnson St., on the property where Davidson built the original house around 1840.
The Garriocks have lovingly cared for and renovated the gardens and home, which they have named “Charlou.”
With the help of NOTL architect Victor Tarnoy, who has special skills in historical renovations, they just finished restoring the home’s original front porch, which had been lost to age.
Research at the NOTL Museum provides an interesting profile of Davidson, who was born in Ireland in 1794 and immigrated to Canada in the early 1800s.
He was a teacher and a writer as well as postmaster, storekeeper and served as the town’s first mayor. He and his wife Mary had three sons and two daughters.
Around 1840, Davidson had an elegant home constructed on an acre lot at the corner of what is now Johnson and Gate streets. The house has been added on to over the years but has maintained much of its original and special charm.
As a teacher, in June 1828, Davidson noted to George Hillier, the civil secretary at York (Toronto), that nine out of 10 books in use in schools were from the United States.
“Unless some proper elementary books be got into general circulation, common school education will continue to be little better than a mere farce, and a useless expenditure of public money,” he wrote.
To correct this, Davidson completed “The Upper Canadian Spelling Book” in 1829. And in 1840 he succeeded in getting the manuscript published as “The Canada Spelling Book,” the first copyrighted book in Upper Canada.
A prominent layman in the Wesleyan Methodist Church, Davidson also compiled a tune book entitled “Sacred Harmony.” Published in 1838, it became one of the most influential and comprehensive of the pre-Confederation tune books in Canada.
Davidson settled in 1837 in Niagara-on-the-Lake as postmaster. From the post office he ran a bookshop where he sold a wide assortment of books, including his own, as well as stationery, hardware and garden supplies.
His career included seven years on town council, frequent re-election as a trustee of the grammar and common schools, and several terms on the board of health.
In 1849, he served as president of the Niagara Board of Police and in January 1850 was named the town’s first mayor, serving a one-year term.
Davidson was also involved in the newspaper business, becoming publisher and editor of the Niagara Mail in April 1846. A reform paper, the Mail was in those years “marked by wit, vivacity, originality, (and) literary ability.”
After securing three mortgages for the property 164 Johnson St., Davidson built a quality two-storey home influenced by the Greek Revival style, with a centre hall plan and large living and dining rooms.
Davidson’s wife Mary died in June 1855 and he died in February 1856 at the American Hotel in St. Catharines.
For this year’s inaugural garden party, Niagara’s Finest Hotels is donating the food and tea, while Konzelmann Estate Winery is contributing the wine. Other sponsors and volunteers are assisting as well.
Novick noted it is rumoured that Alexander Davidson himself might attend.
Tickets are selling quickly ($75 per person, including a partial charitable donation receipt) and are available on the museum’s website notlmuseum.ca.