A Scattering of Niagara-on-the-Lake History


     Fun Fact: Niagara-on-the-Lake was first called Butlersburg! The British government send a surveyor to lay out a military grid for a town in 1781 at the mouth of the Niagara River. (Surprisingly, the first Europeans to document the area already visited a century earlier

By 1792 Butlersburg became the capital of Upper Canada. * It was then renamed Newark, which is widely considered the first capital of Canada. This name again did not last long, it was changed in 1798 to Niagara, which comes from an indigenous word, Ongiara, meaning thundering waters.

In 1797 the Capital city of Canada was moved to what was then called York, now Toronto. This was because Niagara was found to be too close to the border of the United States. This was a smart move considering that war broke out 14 years later, Niagara was attacked by the Americans, York was not.

Upper Canada did not have a prime minister, instead it had family compact oligarchy. Meaning that a small group of men had all the power over the economy, politics, and judicial proceedings. The man with the most power was the lieutenant governor and his name was John Graves Simcoe. Simcoe was born in England, was well educated, and had 11 children. He founded York (Toronto) and was instrumental in ending slavery in Canada. His statue stands near the current Prince of Wales hotel in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Upper and Lower Canada became one Canada in 1841. (We did not have our first Prime Minister, John A MacDonald, until 1867.)

In 1970 the town was renamed yet again to it's current title; Niagara-on-the-Lake. It is still a very historic village and a few of the original buildings are still being used including St. Andrew's church. This church is actually visible at the end of the Niagara Falls Bike Tour from the top of the escarpment at Queenston Heights.

Interestingly, in 1870 there was a courthouse, town hall, fire brigade, post office, a hook and ladder company, wagon makers, two weekly newspapers, 12 stores, lawyers, physicians, surgeons, and more even though the population was only 1,600. The current population is almost 20,000 there are nowhere near as many facilities. The largest company from about 1830-1860 was the Niagara Harbour and Dock Company which operated steamboats between Niagara and Toronto. During the peak season, in summer, up to 350 employees worked for them. This company brought immense prosperity to the Niagara region.

Finally, to end with another fun fact, the currency used in Upper and Lower Canada was called the Halifax pound (used until 1860).

*Upper Canada was in Southern Ontario because it was up river from Northern Ontario and Quebec, while Lower Canada was down river further North