Discover a unique historic site just across the border
QueenstonHeightsPark is an often overlooked destination when visitor’s cross the border into Canada for a day trip. In their hurry to get to either Niagara-on-the-Lake or Niagara Falls, most people barely notice the park, which is located right by the Lewiston-QueenstonBridge. I’ve always been intrigued by the park, as well as curious about Brock’s Monument, which towers over the park.
Last summer, when my husband and I were making plans to spend a few days in Niagara-on-the-lake to celebrate our anniversary, we decided to add a stop at QueenstonHeightsPark to our itinerary.
After crossing the RainbowBridge and enjoying a leisurely drive from Niagara Falls along the scenic
Niagara Parkway, we arrived in Queenston about mid-morning. Feeling energetic, we decided to pay the nominal fee to climb Brock’s Monument, the park’s centerpiece. This Canadian National Historic Site was constructed between 1853 and 1856. The monument stands 185 feet tall, with 235 winding cement steps to the top. It is actually the second monument built on this site; an earlier monument built between 1824 and 1826 was destroyed by bombs in 1840. Be warned, it is a very strenuous climb in an extremely narrow space. Do not attempt this if you have any health issues or are claustrophobic! Only two, maybe three, people can climb the tower at a time. After what seemed like an endless climb, we finally reached the top, a tiny cement platform that barely fits two, and our reward was a spectacular view of the lower Niagara River Gorge and the surrounding countryside.
After taking in the view, we slowly made our way back down; my legs felt like noodles once we got back to terra firma. However, we still had enough energy to explore the rest of the park.
A historic battlefield
Be sure to take the time to look at the small museum in the base of the monument, which has information about Major General Isaac Brock, who is actually buried beneath the monument. Brock was born in 1769 to a military family on the Isle of Guernsey, an island in the English Channel. He joined the British army at age 16 and later came to Canada in 1802. He quickly advanced in rank, becoming the Major General commanding the British forces in Upper Canada (Ontario) in 1811. He personally led the attack during the October 1812 Battle of Queenston Heights, a fatal decision for him. The British won the battle, but lost their commander. Pick up a copy of the walking tour of the battlefield at the museum, which has a full description of the battle. The self-guided tour will take about 45 minutes.
The village of Queenston was a very strategic location, as it was the beginning of the portage road that went around Niagara Falls. All people and goods traveling from the upper Great Lakes and the rest of the colonies had to pass through this area.
At the beginning of the 19th Century there were growing tensions between the United States and Great Britain. The United States Congress was calling for an invasion of Canada, which was a British colony. On June 1812, U.S. President James Madison declared war on Great Britain. The plan was for the United States to take over Ontario and Quebec in one large attack from four strategic locations. The War of 1812 actually lasted three years, from 1812 to 1815.
The birthplace of Niagara Falls
After walking part of the tour, we stopped at the entrance to the park and read the plaque that was on a large boulder. According to the sign, that spot marked Roy Terrance; across the gorge on the U.S. side you’ll see Eldridge Terrace, a niche visible at the same height. These formations mark the level of glacial LakeIroquois (now LakeOntario). When the glacier that covered this area began receding about 12,000 years ago, Niagara Falls was born here when water began falling over the Escarpment from Lake Erie to Lake Iroquois.
More to explore in the park
Another notable, although much smaller, monument in QueenstonHeightsPark is the Laura Secord Memorial. Laura Secord is considered a Canadian heroine of the War of 1812. Laura journeyed 20 miles through the wilderness and American lines to warn her husband and the British forces of an impending attack.
After working up an appetite walking in the park, we had lunch at the Queenston Heights Restaurant, an elegant restaurant located right in the park which has a great view of the Niagara River Gorge. I enjoyed a sirloin burger, which came with a salad, while my husband opted for the daily soup, salad, and sandwich special. It was a warm day, so we stayed indoors in the air-conditioning; an outdoor patio is another dining option.
QueenstonHeightsPark is also the southern terminus of the BruceTrail, a 500 mile long hiking trail that goes to Tobermory by Georgian Bay.
Brock’s Monument is open daily 10am-5pm, May until Labor Day. 905-262-4759
Queenston Heights Restaurant is open May-December, 905-262-4274
Other attractions in Queenston
There are several other historic attractions in the Village of Queenston you may want to explore. Some of them are open seasonally, so be sure to call ahead.
Laura Secord Homestead. 29 Queenston Street, Queenston, 905-262-5676, www.niagaraparks.com. This restored homestead was the home of War of 1812 heroine, Laura Secord.
Mackenzie Heritage Printery Museum, 1 Queenston Street, Queenston, 905-262-3676, www.niagaraparks.com. This museum is located in the restored home of William Lyons Mackenzie, who published the Colonial Advocate.
Riverbrink,116 Queenston Street, Queenston, 905-262-4477, www.riverbrink.org. The art collection of late Canadian art collector, Samuel Weir is housed in this gallery. Weir was interested in Canadian art and the history of the Niagara region.
Willowbank Heritage Estates, 14487 Niagara Parkway, Queenston, 905-262-1239, www.willowbank.ca
On our way to Niagara-on-the-Lake we also stopped for a tour of Willowbank, which is a Canadian National Historic site. Constructed in 1834, it is one of the finest examples of Greek Revival architecture in North America. It was saved from demolition in 2001 and is currently undergoing restoration. It is home to the School of Restoration Art, which prepares students for careers in the field of heritage conservation and cultural resource management.