Situated on the south shore of Lake Ontario, and at the mouth of the Niagara River, sits what is claimed to be the Canadian province of Ontario’s prettiest town: Niagara-on-the-Lake. Within easy reach of both Toronto and Niagara Falls, this quaint, picture-perfect town makes for an ideal day trip or morning/afternoon excursion. I spent a morning here before travelling south alongside the Niagara River (the picturesque drive down the Niagara Parkway is the best route to take) to Niagara Falls.
Niagara-on-the-Lake was briefly the capital of Ontario (then called Upper Canada) in the 1790s, when the town was known as Newark. However, due to the proximity of the American border (the state of New York, USA is merely across the Niagara River), the capital was moved to York (now called Toronto) in 1797. The Americans then razed and burnt the town to the ground during the War of 1812. The subsequent rebuild of the town is what visitors see today, with perfect examples of a Regency and Classical Revival architecture.
The town has a very laid-back, easygoing feel and is the perfect antidote to the more hectic nearby cities and attractions. The main street, Queen Street, is lined with old-style shop fronts, cafes, hotels and historic buildings. The shops tend to cater more for tourists than locals, with many knick-knacks being sold along with traditional, and often fancy-looking, food and drink. Greaves Jams & Marmalades is a good example (pictured above) with its perfect window dressing and wonderful old billboard painted on the bricks above.
At the east end of Queen Street, turn left onto King Street with pretty Simcoe Park on the right. King Street leads downhill to the lake edge and Queen’s Royal Park. In early November, the colours of the leaves here were wonderful, and there was even a light covering of snow on the morning I arrived, adding to the scene. There’s a pretty bandstand from where Old Fort Niagara, in Youngstown, New York, is easily seen across the mouth of the river. Also, on a clear day, you can just make out the skyscrapers and CN Tower of Toronto across the lake’s waters.
Once you’ve seen enough of the town centre but still have a thirst for even more history, there are two forts to explore. Fort Mississauga is situated on the lakeside just west of the town centre in the Golf Club grounds. The fort consists of a central brick tower, surrounded by star-shaped earthworks and is freely open to walk in and explore (just don’t wander off the path to and from it if you don’t want to upset the local golfers!). On the opposite side of town, and on the banks of the Niagara River, is the much more expansive Fort George National Historic Site.
Niagara-on-the-Lake certainly is pretty, and I did take a lot of photos of the buildings and parks, but I don’t think I should agree yet with the claim of ‘prettiest town in Ontario’ without seeing more than 5 towns in the province, but it’s definitely the prettiest I’ve seen so far so would like to think it lives up to its title.