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Fort George National Historic Site of Canada


Niagara (Butlersburg/West Niagara/Lennox/Newark/Niagara-on-the-Lake)

To distinguish Niagara-on-the-Lake from the British holdings on today's American side [also originally known as Niagara] - many different names were considered, -West Niagara, Lenox, Butlersburg, Newark and finally in the 20th century, postal services referred to it as Niagara on the Lake to differentiate it from the Niagara Falls area.)

Due to its geographic location, the Niagara region was critical for the transhipment of goods between Lakes Ontario and Erie. Shipping to Queenston eight kilometres up river and unloading there, accessed the easiest and shortest land route up, and over the escarpment. The mouth of the Niagara River was, as a result, the lynch pin for protecting access to this valuable portage route. When the Americans took over Fort Niagara in 1796, it was of paramount importance that the British build another garrison at the mouth of the river to allow for equal access. Eventually the entire length of the river would be protected by artillery batteries (placed at intervals) on both sides.

The first buildings constructed by Europeans in the Niagara-on-the-Lake area were the wharf and naval stores buildings (known as Navy Hall) constructed by the British in 1765, six years after the capture of Fort Niagara. The area saw limited development until 1778, when members of Butler's Rangers crossed and built a barracks near the mouth of the Niagara River. In 1779, to provide food for the garrison and the growing refugee population at Fort Niagara, Loyalists began a farming community (in Niagara-on-the Lake) to serve the needs of the British garrison at Fort Niagara. This represented the first permanent Anglophone settlement in present day Ontario.

After the American Revolution many of the disbanded Butler's Rangers joined the settlement (1784). The area came to be known as Butlersburg or West Niagara. Colonel John Butler himself was the region's most prominent citizen. He was district court judge, Colonel of Militia as well as the Deputy-Superintendent of the Indian Department.

By 1789 the population of Niagara was estimated at 3,100. Despite this growth, the development of Niagara was very difficult. The establishment of proper surveying and land grant designation and the issuing of property deeds took a long time. As Niagara had a pre-established Loyalist farming community, the usual system of land plot distribution by drawing lots was not easily implemented [ see original document - number 2 ]. Much of the land had been cleared and houses had been built throughout the area before it was surveyed. The commons area (west of Fort George) had been used as a grazing area and was vigorously protected for that purpose. For that and other reasons, the placement of the town was not decided until 1790.

When Simcoe arrived on July 26th 1792, he changed the name to Newark and established the capital of the new colony of Upper Canada there. The name Newark was unpopular with the locals and did not survive after Simcoe's departure. The years Niagara spent as (Newark) the capital saw tremendous growth. Newark was the District centre for law and courts. (The District included the areas currently known as Niagara, Hamilton, Wentworth and Dundas.) The government officials who came to live in the capital established many fine homes and properties. Merchants thrived from the commerce the new capital and the local Indian Department generated. Coaches ran from Newark to Chippawa and inns, taverns and other drinking establishments as well as places of accommodation abounded. The prosperity of some of the local merchants (most notably Robert Hamilton) gave them political influence and Loyalist military officials like Butler and his officers lost much of their power to an emerging merchant elite. Butler died in 1796, the year the Capital was officially shifted to York.

Town of Niagara Town of Niagara
© Archives of Ontario / C 279-0-0-0-34; AO 492