The Niagara Region has been witness to some wonderful and horrible events in the history of Canada. On Ferry Street, Niagara Falls now stands a building dedicated to one of the bloodiest, yet most important, events in the founding of Canada as a Nation.
During the War of 1812, the United States military forces intended to push the British into Burlington Heights (located in modern-day Hamilton), starting from Fort Erie. Many British forces retreated to Fort George, but Lieutenant Drummond arrived in Niagara Falls and met U.S. forces in what is now called the Battle of Lundy’s Lane.
Commemorating this battle is a building now called the Niagara Falls Historical Museum.
“Stamford Township Hall was commissioned by the Stamford Township Council in 1873,” explained Suzanne Moase, curator of the museum.
Since its construction, the building has seen many changes, including its 2012 ultra-modern addition and the assimilation of Drummondville into the city of Niagara Falls. Moase continues by saying that over the years “the building has served many purposes including fire station, jail and City Engineering department. The [Lundy’s Lane Historical Museum] took over occupancy in 1971.”
The building has been renovated many times, most recently in 2012 when it officially became Niagara Falls Historical Museum. Now, the museum is the primary installment in a union called the City of Niagara Falls Museums.
Inside, the first permanent exhibit visitors encounter is the War of 1812 exhibit. In this exhibit there lies uniforms, weapons, documents, maps etc., all telling the story of the War of 1812 and its connection to Niagara. It even includes some coats, hats and muskets for visitors to try on. Visitors will learn some things they didn’t know, including the role of some amazing women involved.
Lydia Pee ran one of the most prosperous farms in the region while raising a family after her husband died and her father was taken prisoner, and Deborah Wilson ran a tavern that was taken over by the Americans (not to mention Laura Secord: see page 11).
Upstairs holds the permanent exhibit of Niagara Falls as it establishes itself as a city. By 1900, Niagara had become an epicentre of industry and commerce, with its abundance of natural resources and traffic from travelers and settlers.
Did you know that in 1887, the residents of Niagara Falls ventured from village to village by way of horse-drawn streetcar? Or that the firefighters’ water pump took four men to operate? As Moase explains the museum’s “collection relates to various aspects of the City’s past with a specific focus on topics that include the War of 1812, United Empire Loyalists, Tourism, Souvenirs, Funambulists and Daredevils.”
Speaking of United Empire Loyalists, an enormous part of the Niagara region was Americans opposing their country’s independence and settling in the area. Over 50,000 came to Canada with names familiar to people who live in Niagara: Whitmore, Merritt, Willoughby; all families with streets, municipalities and businesses named after them.
Of course, no museum would be historically complete without paying tribute and educating the public on the First Nations people who inhabited the land before European settlement. This region was inhabited by the Mississauga and Chippawa peoples, but previously who the French called the “Neutral” nation because they were situated between the rivalry of the Iroquois and Huron people.
Today, this building stands for something important: historical literacy and public education. Without establishments like these, people wouldn’t know, recognize or celebrate the history of the land. We’re lucky that we have an institution solely devoted to teaching us these things.
“This building acts as the perfect backdrop for the Museum to interpret and share all of Niagara’s rich history, including the War of 1812. One of the fiercest battles of the War, the battle of Lundy’s Lane, took place on this very site. As museum professionals we are fortunate to occupy a setting that is so closely tied to a pivotal moment in Canadian history. Many would argue that the War of 1812 signifies a time when Canada began to form its national identity,” Moane explains.
Overall, this building represents values that Canada holds dear: pride in our nation and knowledge in our history. Museums like the Niagara Falls Historical Museum should be celebrated. It’s our civic duty.
-Luke Webster, Assistant Arts & Culture Editor