Queenston circa 1790 Courtesy of Niagara Historical Museum
This year marks the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812-14 between Canada and the United States. Much of that war took place along the Niagara border with the first major battle happening at
Queenston. I decided to take a walk through history with a visit to this small hamlet tucked away 5 kilometres north of Niagara Falls at the foot of the Niagara Escarpment on the edge of the Niagara River. I arrived on a deliciously quiet weekday morning with the sky as clear as a pane of glass. I parked my car beside the Mackenzie Heritage Printery Museum, the restored home of rebel publisher and political reformer
William Lyon Mackenzie. The museum, a lovely vine-covered stone building is closed during the winter months.
I crossed the road from the museum where a large stone monument marked where
Major General Sir Isaac Brock, Governor of
Upper Canada was mortally wounded on October 13, 1812 while repelling an American invasion force from across the Niagara River. The battle resulted in a British victory.
Queenston, a charming, mellow village was first settled in the 1770's by
United Empire Loyalists. Today's residents practice an easy-as-you-go lifestyle. There are no traffic lights, no coffee shops and no downtown. It boasts tree-lined streets and elegant, historical homes and buildings which stand today as fine examples of early 19th century architecture.
Walking down Queenston Street, the main street, I stumble upon the village post office. Lorrie Dickson, the postmaster (her preference of title) tells me, "I've been living here since 1978 and I just love it. It's tiny, quiet, and quaint and everybody is very friendly. But don't tell too many people about us; we like it this way."
There are several historic sites that I found on my two hour walk.
The Queenston Library and Community Centre is housed in a circa 1842 rough-cut limestone building on Front Street that once was the Queenston Baptist Church. A plaque out front explains the history of the village and credits the prominent merchant,
Robert Hamilton as its founder.
During the war of 1812,
Laura Secord set out on a treacherous journey of 32 kilometres (20 miles) through American lines and over wild unsettled country to warn British forces of an impending attack. During the summer months guides in period costumes take visitors through her lovely restored homestead.
Nearby on a cliff overlooking the river, is the majestic St. Savior - The Brock Memorial Church
built in 1879. This Anglican Church has regular Sunday morning services at 10:30 a.m. year-round.
Near the end of Front Street, you can see the opulent Classical Revival 1830's mansion called Willowbank, which overlooks the village. The home was built by Alexander and Hannah Hamilton. Alexander was the son of Robert Hamilton. Today, it's a National Historic Site and the site of the School of Restoration Arts.
Not far from Willowbank, and hard to find, is the small Hamilton Cemetery where Robert Hamilton, the founder of Queenston was buried in 1856. Many relatives and prominent Queenston residents have made this their final residence.
The Riverbrink Art Museum on the northern edge of the community was built by Samuel E. Weir, and it houses a unique Canadian art collection specializing in the history of the Niagara Region and the War of 1812. It's surrounded by beautiful gardens and overlooks the battlegrounds of the War of 1812. One other interesting note is that Samuel Weir is buried not far from the entrance. A flat tombstone pays tribute to his life.
On my way to the Queenston waterfront, I visit the villages' only inn, South Landing, built in the early 1800's. Innkeepers Kathy and Tony Szabo in 1982 lovingly renovated this six-room inn and in 1987 an annex of 16 rooms was added. Sitting in the comfortable lobby, Kathy Szabo tells me, "This was the original home of one of the founders of Queenston; Colonel Thomas Dickson built it just prior to the War of 1812." The inn remains open year-round with room rates for two between November and April $75.00 per night. Other times the rates are $95.00 to $125.00.You can get a full breakfast for $5.00.
At the Queenston waterfront, wear shoes that you don'queenston ontario canadat mind getting dirty. My shoes became covered with the heavy red Queenston shale. Today, as you did 200 years ago, you find people fishing at just about any time of the year along the public dock.
Walking in Queenston is to walk back into history. I was left with a deep sense of timelessness and heritage. When time to leave, I drive my car up the Niagara Escarpment to Queenston Heights Park that overlooks the village. Here is a 50 m (150 foot)
monument that pays tribute to Sir Isaac Brock. This beautiful park is maintained by The Niagara Parks Commission. Be sure to mark October 12th and 13th on your calendar. As part of the bicentennial cerebrations, there will be a reenactment of the Battle of Queenston Heights.
George Bailey contributes to Sun Media's 43 paid-circulation newspapers across Canada as well as numerous magazines. George has appeared on CNN, Good Morning America, Canada AM, The Discovery Channel, and Live with Regis and Cathy Lee. He has published five books on Niagara Falls.