Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Niagara Apothecary National Historic Site

I chose this painting of it as it was done
by local artist, Trisha Romance.
Her gallery is about a 15-step walk from the Apothecary. 

At the corner of Queen and King Streets in Niagara-on-the-Lake sits a little old building from 1820. Many people walk right past it, not even knowing what it is. It’s called the Niagara Apothecary. The website, which can be found here, describes it as “an authentic museum restoration of a 1869 pharmacy as part of a practice that operated in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, from 1820 to 1964.”

It was owned by six different men until 1964 when the owner at that time fell ill and had to close. It was then acquired by the Ontario Heritage Foundation, who restored it and reopened it as a museum in 1971.

A plaque for the Apothecary that was unveiled
by the Queen Mother in 1981
For free, or a donation in the amount of your choice, you can enter the museum and step back in time to the early 1800s. The shelves are still full of potions, blends and ailment cures from the 1800s. The website describes that “the hub of the Apothecary was the ornately carved dispensary, which dominates the rear of the main room. With the exception of certain proprietary or patent and non-prescription remedies, even pills and other compounded medications were made in the dispensary during the 19th and early 20th century.” Visitors can ask questions and snoop around as they please.

It’s a great place to visit, even if you only drop by for a few minutes, as it is the only museum of its kind in Ontario. Step through the doors of the Niagara Apothecary and see how pharmacists practised their profession over 100 years ago. When you walk in you’ll notice liquor by the barrel or the bottle, flavourings, paints, dyes, leeches, tobacco and snuff – these were the stock-in-trade of a 19th-century pharmacy. You'll see rows of patent medicines, "miracle cure-alls" for everything from hair loss to tuberculosis.

It makes you wonder where we would be without modern medicine…

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Niagara-on-the-Lake Historical Society Museum

In a couple weeks I will be starting my internship, which I will be completing at the Niagara Historical Society & Museum. It’s a small museum tucked behind the main strip of the historic old town. It was founded in 1895 by the Niagara Historical Society, who quickly realized the importance of saving artefacts for future generations. The collection of historical records and artefacts was started in 1896 in hopes that it would promote the study of Canadian history and literature in the years to come. The idea was to build Canadian loyalty and patriotism such as that in the United States.

In 1906, Janet Carnochan, President of the Society, took on the committed leadership of the project and gathered sufficient funds to start the construction of Memorial Hall. It was originally just next to the 1875 school house, however in the 1970s the society purchase the school house, connected the two buildings and moved exhibits into it as well. Memorial Hall was built to commemorate the United Empire Loyalists of the 1780s who founded Niagara and was the first building in Ontario designed only for the use of a museum.
Sir Isaac Brock's hat
The museum plays host to the ongoing War of 1812 exhibit. It holds artefacts, records, books and other materials dating back to the early 1800s. The most prized possession of the museum in Sir Isaac Brock’s hat from the War of 1812. This exhibit is the museum’s main focus right now, as the town is preparing to celebrate the War of 1812 Bicentennial.

Another permanent exhibit is called “Our Story”. This holds the history of Canada’s native peoples and Niagara’s history from the start. Artefacts and records in this exhibit date back to 10,000 years ago.
The upper level of Memorial Hall is called the “Janet Carnochan Gallery”. This showcase is changed on a regular basis. It holds a variety of artefacts such as early Canadianna furniture to Native paintings. Other exhibits come and go twice a year in the back section of Memorial Hall.

There are also two virtual exhibits on the museum website; “Sweet Memories: A photo essay of Niagara-on-the-Lake's marine heritage” and “1812 History”. They can be seen here.

The museum in 1927
In the spring of 2011 there will be a new exhibit called “50 Years of Shaw” to commemorate the Shaw Festival Theatre. This will be a great showcase for theatre lovers.

I strongly recommend you check out some of the exhibits, and if you’re not interested in the artefacts then just got to see the buildings. Or come visit me in April!

Museum Hours
May - October 10 - 5 daily
November - April 1 - 5 daily

The museum is closed on the following holidays: New Year’s Day, Good Friday, Easter Monday, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

Admission costs
Adults $5
Seniors $3
Students $2
Children $1

43 Castlereagh Street
Niagara-on-the-Lake Ontario, Canada

Friday, March 4, 2011

Queenston Heights National Historic Site

With spring coming, many people are heading outside more and more. If you’re looking for something to do on a beautiful day, you might enjoy the Queenston Heights walking tour. It is probably my favourite place to be in the spring months. The walking paths are lined with apple and cherry blossom trees in bloom, tulips are budding all around the grounds and of course Brock’s Monument opens for climbing. 

Queenston Heights today is a beautiful National Historical site with pavilions, a wading pool, picnic tables and a restaurant – but almost 200 years ago it was a bloody, deadly battlefield. The Battle of Queenston Heights is one of the most famous battles in Canadian history.
Today the park is owned and taken care of by Parks Canada. The site includes a self guided walking tour of the historic sites associated with this important battleground and two monuments: Laura Secord’s Monument and the much more noticeable Brock’s Monument. At the base of Brock’s Monument you can look through a small collection of pictures and artefacts from the battle for a small fee of $1-$3 a person. This also includes climbing the monument and any of your questions answered by the costumed staff.
The monument is Sir Isaac Brock’s gravesite, and has his remains built into the walls along with one of his Canadian aides-de-camp, Lieutenant-Colonel John Macdonell. However, it was built in the 1800s, so it was also built to be a lookout over the border and the Niagara River in case of an attack or invasion. As you climb the old monument you can stop and look through porthole windows that would have been used to shoot at the enemy if approached. After climbing the very steep 235 steps you reach a very small indoor platform at the top, just beneath Brock’s statue. You can look through larger portholes to view the border, the Niagara Region and the river.
Also, a lot of people don’t know that this is the second Brock’s Monument. The first one was destroyed by a terrorist attack in 1840, and the one that is there now was opened in 1859.  
It is a lot of fun and a great educational experience for any age. However, I do not recommend climbing the monument or the walking tour if you have asthma, heart conditions, claustrophobia, a fear of heights or a fear of very narrow spiralling staircases without railings. But aside from that, it’s great!
For more information on the monument or Brock himself, go to
For fees and hours of operation see

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Fort George National Historic Site

Sadly, while living in Niagara for 5 years now, I have come across numerous locals who have never heard of Niagara-on-the-Lake or the historic sites and attractions it offers. However, when someone does recognize the name it’s usually because they had once been on a field trip to Fort George.
Fort George National Historic Site is one of the sixteen forts in Ontario, and one of two in Niagara-on-the-Lake (NOTL in local shorthand). During the War of 1812 it was the site of the Battle of Fort George in May 1813, which we lost, and the fort was taken by the Americans until we recaptured it in December of the same year.

Since then, the fort has been burned down by the American Forces, used has a training ground by the Canadian Army in both world wars, rebuilt has a “make work” project during the Great Depression and eventually was abandoned in 1965. In the early 1970s Parks Canada took it over and turned it into a National Historic Site. It is open seasonally with 41st Regiment costumed staff portraying how it would have been in the 19th century, with everything from a fully trained 41st Regiment Fife and Drums Corps and musket firing demonstrations.
When it is open the general public is welcome to tour the grounds for a small fee and ask any questions they may have. People have even been known to get married or have their engagement pictures taken in the fort.
Although it is really interesting to see what military life was like in the 19th century, it’s not my favourite thing about the fort. One of the many reasons why I love NOTL is because it has been named the most haunted town in Canada, some even say in North America, as it has “one dead person walking for every 50 living per capita”. Fort George is the most haunted place within the town.
In the summer and fall months The Friends of Fort George Foundation hosts ghost tours of the fort. They take place at night, after dark, and are about 2 ½ hours long, lead by a cloaked story telling guide carrying a candle lit lantern as there is no electricity in the fort. As corny as that may sound, they can be terrifying and entertaining to even the most sceptical people. There is no one jumping out at you, touching you, making noises from behind a tree… it is strictly the tour guide and group you’re in. I highly recommend you give it a try next time you’re looking for something different to do. People on 65% of their tours over the last 15+ years have claimed to have an experience. Maybe you’ll be next?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Mackenzie Heritage Printery and Newspaper Museum

Did you know that Ontario’s first newspaper was published in the little village of Queenston in Niagara-on-the-Lake? That is one of the many things you will learn at the Mackenzie Heritage Printery and Newspaper Museum.

Tucked away at the bottom of Queenston Heights sits the beautiful 200+ year old house in the village with a population of approximately 1500. Originally it was the home of William Lyon Mackenzie in the 1820s. He and his family opened a country store and worked day after day to get by like everyone else. He had a strong dislike for the malpractice of the Family Compact and decided something had to be done.

In May of 1824 this house became the home of Upper Canada’s first Newspaper – "The Colonial Advocate and Journal of Agriculture, Manufacture and Commerce". Although Mackenzie has come and gone, the house has been party destroyed and rebuilt and the original equipment has been relocated many times, the house is still a historical landmark.

Today visitors can have a guided tour, for a small fee, of the museum and get to use a couple of the printing presses hands on. The guide explains to you the history of the museum, the history of the presses, Mackenzie’s role in Canadian history and how each printing press works. Also, the museum holds “The Roy Press” – one of the oldest printing presses in history, which there is only 2 of left in the world.

As a guest you even get to use the type to place your name in the printing press and run a piece of paper through it. The first time I visited my brother and I did this we were surprised to discover that as we put our names in the type, we were actually “signing” a contract saying we would work at the museum unpaid for 3 years. The next two times it didn’t come as such a surprise, but makes for a cute souvenir.

If you get some spare time and you’re in the area, I suggest you stop by and take a quick tour. It’s educational, hands on and can be fun. But beware; there is a wax figure of William Lyon Mackenzie at the front door that is extremely creepy. And the basement of the museum is said to be haunted; maybe that’s why those quarters are closed off to the public? 

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Olde Angel Inn

One of my favourite things about the Niagara Region is the amount of ghosts. It is said that Niagara-on-the-Lake is the most haunted town in Canada, due to the fact that thousands of soldiers died in the forts and barracks in town. However, the forts aren’t the only haunted places. The Olde Angel Inn is the oldest running pub in “Upper Canada” and also very haunted.

Since it was established in 1789 there are many stories involving the Angel Inn and its history. It was once one of the many British pubs in town, and now it is the only one. It has 3 fireplaces, a snug room and a dining room and 5 guest rooms upstairs. It’s a lovely old building that makes you feel as though you’ve stepped back in time and into London when you walk through the door onto the original 1815 hardwood floors.

Many historical figures have been hosted by the Inn such as Prince Edward and John Graves Simcoe. However, the most famous historic visitor is named General Swayze, and he is still there today. In the War of 1812 General Swayze was an officer of the regiment stationed at Fort George. He blossomed a romance with a local bar maiden at the Olde Angel Inn and would sneak out to see her during their free time. American troops wandered into the pub one night and caught word that a British officer was hiding in the wine cellar downstairs. Instead of searching for Swayze, the Americans just burned the inside of the pub down, killing Swayze at the same time.

Today the wine cellar is the women’s washroom, and can be quite eerie to use. Things such as doors opening on their own, a thick warm feeling in the air and the sense that you’re being watched makes it adventurous. Upstairs in the bar drinks are known to move by themselves, and every night a bottle of the General’s favourite Rye is moved and drank from. Those who are able to stay the night in one of the guest rooms without screaming, crying or leaving receive a “certificate of survival”, which makes for a fun night.

I suggest if you’re ever looking for somewhere new to eat, or just want to grab a few drinks with friends, to check out this historical gem in Niagara-on-the-Lake. 

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Fort Mississauga

The first historical site I am going to write about is Fort Mississauga – the “unknown” fort. I chose this site to write about first in hopes that readers won’t assume I will cover all of the over-advertised tourist traps.

Fort Mississauga is tucked away on the shore of Lake Ontario in Niagara-on-the-Lake. It is very unnoticeable as an 18-hole golf course has been situated around it (the golf course being the oldest in Canada). It was built between the years of 1814-1816 to replace Fort George after it was burned in the War of 1812 along with the rest of the town. However, by the time it was finished being built the war was long over.  

The British Army was stationed at the fort from 1816 to 1855, followed by the Canadian Army in the 1870s. It was then used again by the Canadian Army during both world wars and the Korean War. The brick blockhouse is all that remains of the fort, along with the star-shaped earthworks surrounding it (the only star-shaped earthworks in the country). The public are able to walk through the fort, but there is no access into the blockhouse.

I would recommend making a visit to the fort as it is not locked or guarded by anyone, which can make for an eerie exploration. There are historical plaques inside the fort to inform the public and tunnels in the ground where prisoners would have been held. To get to the fort it is required that you walk a path that goes through the golf course, so be careful as golfers have the right of way.

It is a beautiful site, with an amazing few of the Toronto skyline and Fort Niagara in Lewiston, NY and just steps to the lake. It has become a popular site for wedding photos, so you may even see a blushing bride! And of course, like the rest of Niagara-on-the-Lake, it is haunted; so watch out for ghosts too!


Monday, January 31, 2011

My History...

Miriam Webster defines history as “a chronological record of significant events (as affecting a nation or institution) often including an explanation of their causes.”

Sounds boring right? If so, you haven’t truly experienced Niagara’s history.

Now, yes, this may be biased as I have a strong love for the study of history. However, I have been known to convince even the most sceptical people that it can be somewhat interesting - with the help of Niagara and the War of 1812, of course.

While growing up, I was frequently brought to Niagara to visit my grandparents and the rest of my mom’s family. My grandfather has always enjoyed imparting his knowledge of the history in the area as his fourth grandfather was the first Quaker to settle in the area. I spent many summers exploring the first schoolhouse in the Village of Jordan, learning how to use a rare wooden printing press at the William Lyon Mackenzie Printery, and racing my cousins up Brock’s Monument at the annual family reunion at Queenston Heights.

I quickly became determined to soak up any historical facts I could about the Niagara Region. I managed to find a way to incorporate the history of Niagara into every assignment and project I did, right up until university and college. I’ve “dragged” many friends on personal guided tours of historical areas such as Fort George, the Laura Secord Homestead, Queenston Heights Battlefield and many others. Each time I was told I should make a career of passing on my knowledge of the subject. Since those careers are few and far between, I am writing this blog instead.

Follow along as I explore the many different historical (and haunted) sites within the Niagara Region and explain their importance to the area’s heritage and why history CAN be exciting.