Niagara-on-the-Lake is a little town at the mouth of the Niagara River. It is only twelve
miles north of Niagara Falls. It used to be true that very few tourists would bother to
travel from the Falls down to Niagara-on-the-Lake. Nowadays, however, the little town
itself is a major tourist attraction.
The town has a remarkable history. The area played an important role in both the
American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. As a result, the little town has two forts,
Fort George and Fort Mississauga. When Fort George was reconstructed for the public in
the 1930s, Niagara-on-the-Lake got its first big tourist attraction.
Because Niagara-on-the-Lake was the first capital of Ontario, it has many significant
“firsts.” There was the first parliament in the province, the first legal society, the first
library, the first newspaper, the first museum building, and many more “firsts.”
Besides its history, the town, which is bordered by Lake Ontario and the Niagara River,
has beautiful scenery. On a summer’s day, visitors can watch the sailboats going out the
river to the lake. On the landside, Niagara is part of the fruit belt of Ontario. Peaches,
pears, apples, cherries and strawberries grow here in abundance. There are also long
rows of vines, and winemaking has recently become a major industry.
The mild humid climate allows plants to flourish. The trees, especially the oaks, grow to
remarkable heights. Flowering trees and shrubs perfume the air in the spring. Gardens
are often spectacular for much of the year. Because of this, Niagara-on-the-Lake attracts
many painters and photographers. Many of the private homes also have a long history,
and great care is taken to keep them looking their best.
The biggest single attraction is the Shaw Festival Theatre. The Festival was founded in
1962 by a group of Shaw enthusiasts. Early productions were often held in the historic
Court House on the main street, and plays still take place there. In 1973, however, a new
861 seat Shaw Theatre was built at the south end of town. Since then, traffic to Niagaraon-the-Lake has been steady all through the long summer season.
In 1996, Niagara-on-the-Lake was voted “the prettiest town in Canada.” Partly, it is the
scale of things that makes the old town so attractive. The old town is only about eight
blocks long by eight blocks wide. It has a population of little more than 1,000 people.
Nonetheless, there is a lot for people to do and see. There are many interesting shops,
old hotels, bookstores, art galleries, museums, a golf course, a marina, historic churches
and cemeteries, several parks, three theatres and lots of restaurants.
Because it is small, Niagara-on-the-Lake is a good place to walk around or bicycle
around. There are also horse and wagon rides. Although the main street can be hectic in
tourist season, one doesn’t have to go far off the main street to get in touch with an older
slower time. Most of the downtown buildings haven’t changed much since the days of
Queen Victoria, and tourists can still imagine that they are back in the days before
computers and television