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?