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Niagara District Court House

26, Queen Street, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, L0S, Canada

Formally Recognized: 1988/01/19

Front view of the Niagara District Courthouse showing the frontispiece – 2002; OHT, 2002
View of the Niagara District Courthouse – 2002
Interior of the Lord Mayor's chambers in the Niagara District Courthouse – 2002; OHT, 2002
Interior of the Niagara District Courthouse – 2002
Artist's rendering of the front (north) view of the Niagara District Courthouse – ca. 1876; Niagara Falls (Ontario) Public Library
Niagara District Courthouse – ca. 1876

Other Name(s)

Niagara District Court House
Old Niagara Town Hall
Lincoln County Court House

Links and documents

Construction Date(s)

1846/01/01 to 1848/01/01

Listed on the Canadian Register: 2007/11/06

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place

The building at 26 Queen Street, commonly known as the Niagara District Court House, is situated on the south side of Queen Street between King and Regent Streets in the Town of Niagara-on-the Lake. The three-storey stone building was designed in the Neoclassical style by architect William Thomas and was constructed from 1846-48.

The exterior of the courthouse and select interior elements are protected by an Ontario Heritage Trust conservation easement. The Niagara District Court House was declared a National Historic Site in 1980. The property is also designated by the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act (By-law 813 77).

Heritage Value

Located at 26 Queen Street, the Niagara District Court House is encompassed by the Queen/Picton Heritage Conservation District. Also included in this district are: the historic cenotaph, Prince of Wales Hotel and the Ontario Heritage Trust's Niagara Apothecary. The courthouse is also included in the four-acre-block grid commemorated by Parks Canada as a National historic district.

The Niagara District Court House is significant for its association with the development of the judicial system and the evolution in the functioning of courthouses and local governments in the Province of Ontario. This courthouse is the third and only surviving courthouse erected in the former District of Niagara. When Upper and Lower Canada were established in 1791, courthouses became centres for judicial and civil administration. Courthouses were an embodiment of moral, social and economic values of middle-class Upper Canadians. The courthouse symbolized the authority of the district or county, and the functions that the courthouse served were indicative of the increased responsibility of local governments. As professional architects started to design courthouses, the buildings became more sophisticated and often had classically-inspired ornamentation. Courthouses, like the Niagara District Court House, were examples of monumental public architecture and were representative of the bureaucratic structure of districts and counties. The Niagara District Court House had a courtroom, offices, a jail, and space for a town hall and market area. Courthouses were community buildings that often housed other government or private offices, thus increasing their public accessibility. The Niagara District Court House marked the beginning of the dominance of metropolitan architects in courthouse design in Ontario. Architect William Thomas's design for this building began a trend in courthouse architecture all over the province. The courthouse also served as the Town Hall after the county seat moved from Niagara to St. Catharine's in 1865. The building has also served as a public library. In 1962 The Shaw Festival Theatre started performing in the courthouse and converted the courtroom to a 327-seat auditorium.

The Niagara District Court House is significant for its association with architect William Thomas (1799-1860) and it is an important example of public architecture. William Thomas was one of the founders of the Canadian architectural profession. During Thomas' 17 year career in Canada, over 100 of his building designs were constructed across the country. This three-storey structure was built by Garvie and Co. from 1846-48. The courthouse is distinguished by the projecting frontispiece and a heavily bracketed cornice and pediment. The main entrance is framed by Doric columns that support a portico with a stone balustrade. The front of the courthouse is enhanced by rectangular windows in the second storey with pedimented hoods, and arched windows on the third storey. The courthouse is at the front of the property and the market hall is at the back of the property and is accessed via a service corridor.

Source: OHT Easement Files.

Character-Defining Elements

Character defining elements that contribute to the heritage value of the Niagara District Court House include its:
- association with the development of the judicial system in Ontario
- reflection of the values of middle-class Upper Canadians
- relationship with the development of Canadian courthouse architecture
- association with architect William Thomas
- uneven coursed squared rubble on the sides and rear of the building
- coursed ashlar on the main facade
- decorative quoins on the corners
- second-storey windows with pedimented hoods
- arched windows on the third storey
- heavily bracketed cornice and pediment
- tower
- octagonal cupola
- bricked entrance way
- fanlight above the door on the north side
- frontispiece with Doric columns
- Corinthian columns on the east side entrance
- crown mouldings
- tall baseboards
- wainscoting
- heavy mouldings around the doors
- teal-coloured paint in the Lord Mayor's Office
- location in the Queen/Picton Heritage Conservation District
- proximity to other heritage resources in Niagara-on-the-Lake
- central location on Queen Street
- inclusion in a National historic district




Recognition Authority

Ontario Heritage Trust

Recognition Statute

Ontario Heritage Act

Recognition Type

Ontario Heritage Foundation Easement

Recognition Date


Historical Information

Significant Date(s)

1981/01/01 to 1981/01/01
1977/01/01 to 1977/01/01
1865/01/01 to 1865/01/01
1962/01/01 to 1962/01/01

Theme - Category and Type

Governing Canada
Government and Institutions

Function - Category and Type


Auditorium, Cinema or Nightclub


Courthouse and/or Registry Office

Architect / Designer

William Thomas


Garvie and Co.

Additional Information

Location of Supporting Documentation

Ontario Heritage Trust Easement Files Ontario Heritage Trust 10 Adelaide Street East Toronto, Ontario

Cross-Reference to Collection

Fed/Prov/Terr Identifier




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