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Niagara Falls
Tuesday, March 28, 2023
Opinion: 1916 photos are elegant depictions of historicimportance of Randwood

John Sayers
Special to The Lake Report

Three large 1916 garden party photographs offered to the Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum epitomize why Randwood is so important to the fabric of our town’s history, and why Randwood must be protected.

The estate and the current gyrations with its present owner appear regularly in the media. These photographs suggest that it deserves a better fate.

All three large 10- by 14-inch photographs picture aspects of a garden party held at Randwood on Aug. 12, 1916.

No amount of Google searching has found anything special about that date. It could have been a prelude – or a follow-up – to a recruiting drive for the military. However, if you were invited to this elegant affair, you were clearly part of the upper echelon of Niagara-on-the-Lake society of the era.

Romance novelists salivate over period photographs such as these, with women in their finest dresses and millinery, men in their best summer outfits, and military officers in their full-dress uniforms.

Imagine a string quartet playing softly in the background as the groups carry on the buzz of their conversations.

What did they discuss? We can only guess whether they assessed the Canadian Expeditionary Force activities on the Western Front, the beautiful weather of the warm summer’s day or – perhaps more likely – the array of prominent figures visiting at the Queen’s Royal Hotel.

These photographs tell us that Randwood was not just a private realm for wealthy, reclusive American industrialists. It was a focal point for the sophisticated, educated, discerning and active residents in town, and their military neighbours in Niagara Camp.

Was it elitist and snobby? Perhaps. But they had the sensitivities and resources to support quality architectural and interior design, and the arts.

These images remind us of our local heritage, of a quality and style of life. It is now threatened with the prospect of potentially schlocky development.

No design sensitivity. No apparent design link to any elements of local historical architecture. And the complete loss of any reminder of our town’s elegant history.

Some call it progress. I call it a violation. Many thanks to our museum for preserving these reminders of a glamorous past, and a hope for a civilized future.

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