Description of Historic Place
Niagara-On-The-Lake National Historic Site of Canada is an early-19th century Loyalist town located on the southern shore of Lake Ontario, near the United States border. The historic district covers 25 city blocks and includes more than 90 residential, commercial, ecclesiastical and institutional buildings constructed between 1815 and 1859. The majority of the buildings are constructed in the British Classical Tradition, producing similarities in design, materials and scale. The wide, tree-lined streets within the district follow a late-18th century grid plan. The district also includes a city park and two early-19th-century cemeteries. The landscape is gently rolling in places, with a creek running through part of the district. The official recognition refers to the approximately 41 hectares of related buildings and landscapes within the district boundaries.
Niagara-on-the-Lake was designated a national historic site of Canada because:
- it possesses the best collection of buildings in Canada from the period following the War of 1812, that is from 1815 to 1859, especially houses, designed in the British Classical tradition as well as vernacular buildings with features derived from this tradition;
- as a whole, the buildings and landscape components, including the placement of houses close to the streets that define the four-acre-block grid, speak to the era when Niagara-on-the-Lake was a prominent and prosperous Loyalist colonial town; and,
- the buildings within the historic district speak to the conservation movement in Canada, as many citizens have taken the initiative to have these buildings rehabilitated, renovated and/or restored to highlight their heritage character, expressing an exceptional commitment to the preservation of their town’s heritage.
Niagara-on-the-Lake was established in 1779 as a supply depot for British Loyalist forces. By the end of the 18th century it had developed into a major military and cultural centre and served briefly as the capital of Upper Canada. The town’s grid plan, laid out in 1794, was based on the Imperial model plan for new colonial towns. Niagara-on-the-Lake was destroyed by fire in 1813, and then rebuilt by Loyalist settlers. The streets retain their original arrangement, proportions and edge treatments. Between 1831 and 1859, the town prospered as a major shipping and shipbuilding port, and residents built or enlarged their houses and commercial buildings.
The district is dominated by the classically-designed buildings erected during the period from1815 to 1859. Most buildings retain their original siting close to the road and are of similar design, materials and scale, and the majority of buildings have been restored to resemble their original appearance. The commercial section of Queen Street, largely built between 1813 and 1840, illustrates the informal features of commercial streets characteristic of that period. The historic district is distinguished from later 19th-century streetscapes by the individualized façades and the clear differentiation between buildings.
The residents of Niagara-on-the-Lake were among the earliest citizen’s groups in Canada to make a strong commitment to the restoration of their built heritage. The Niagara Historical Society, established by residents in 1896, collected artifacts and documents relating to local history and published local histories. Beginning in the mid-1950s, individuals began to restore private properties to their 19th-century appearance and to promote conservation. In 1962 they formed the Niagara Foundation, a local advocacy and fundraising group dedicated to preserving the town’s landmarks. The Niagara Foundation was instrumental in restoring several major buildings in the town. Niagara-on-the-Lake was one of the first Ontario municipalities to appoint a Local Architectural Conservation Advisory Committee to advise on local heritage. The town was designated as a provincial Heritage Conservation District in 1986.
Sources: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, July 2003, April 2004.
Key elements that relate to the heritage value of the collection of buildings built between 1815 and 1859 include:
- their location in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario;
- their composition on a slight ascent, beginning close to the Niagara River on Front Street and extending approximately four blocks north to Castlereagh Street;
- their mixed use character, including residential, commercial, ecclesiastical and institutional buildings;
- the elements contributing to the coherence and harmony of the buildings in the British Classical tradition, notably the buildings’ common scale, one- to two-story rectangular massings, the overall symmetrical composition of the three- to five-bay façades, the central entrances, and the relationship of the buildings close to the street;
- the Palladian, Neoclassical and vernacular buildings which incorporate classical features such as façades on a single plane and limited decoration around the main entrance or ground floor windows;
- the limited range of construction materials in keeping with early-19th-century construction methods including frame buildings clad in clapboard (a few clad in shingles or vinyl siding), brick buildings, and roughcast-covered buildings;
- the two principal roof forms used among the buildings, including gabled roofs sloped to the front and rear and in some cases with side walls built up to meet the roof end chimneys, and hipped or cottage roofs with chimneys placed within the body of the house;
- the position of the openings and their design including those that consist of multi-light, casement and sash windows;
- viewscapes between the buildings, including views up and down Queen Street and other residential streets.
Key elements that relate to the era of Niagara-on-the-Lake as a Loyalist town include:
- its location north of the Niagara River near the Canada-United States border;
- its setting on an ascending piece of land between the Niagara River and Lake Ontario;
- the clear distinction between public and private spaces;
- the rectilinear grid plan of the district that features uniform four-acre blocks, generous street proportions (30 metres for the two main commercial streets and 20 metres for other residential streets), soft shoulders, and tree-lined streets;
- the concentration of commercial buildings along Queen Street and their features reflecting pre-1840 design including their separate façades, distinguished by design, materials, and physical separation of buildings;
- the landscape features, such as sections of One Mile Creek, that are still evident in several blocks of the district;
- the cemeteries associated with St. Mark’s Anglican Church, St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, and St. Vincent de Paul Roman Catholic Church;
- Simcoe Park, including its one-block scale, gently rolling terrain and open, park-like spaces;
- viewscapes from within the district to the Niagara River to the south and Lake Ontario to the north.
Key elements that relate to the conservation movement in Canada include:
- restoration work that is sympathetic to the original appearance and character of buildings built during the 1815 to 1859 period;
- restoration work that respects the evolution of buildings over the 19th century;
- infill buildings that harmonize with the early buildings of the city in scale and materials.