Butler's Barracks National Historic Site© Parks Canada / Credit photo Christina Chubb
The Plains above Navy Hall also known as The Commons were reserved for the military, and in 1796, construction began on Fort George. West of the fort, buildings were built along a creek to serve the British Indian Department. A branch of the British Crown, it functioned much like an embassy to the Aboriginal people in the region. Treaties and military alliances were negotiated, concerns raised and issues resolved. The department strove to maintain good relations with, and support of, Aboriginal people in the event of war. A Council House, residences and storage facilities stood here until they were destroyed during the War of 1812. They were rebuilt and used until 1822, when the department ended its activities in Niagara.
In May, 1813, Fort George was destroyed by cannon fire from Fort Niagara and supporting cannon batteries from the American shore of the Niagara River. When the British returned to the Niagara frontier in December, they decided that the exposed position at Fort George, while necessary, would no longer be the key fortification. Following the War of 1812, work began on a new range of barracks and storehouses on the south-western edge of the military lands, or Commons, out of reach of the American guns. By 1854, the site was known as Butler's Barracks, named in honour of John Butler and his Butler's Rangers, Loyalist soldiers who had founded the town of Niagara towards the end of the American Revolution. By 1854, there were 20 buildings on the 6 acre site, surrounded by an extensive log palisade. Other buildings were located on the Commons outside the palisade, including the Commissariat Officer's Quarters, the Commandant's Quarters, the Hospital (formerly the Indian Council House) a fuel yard, and storehouses. This became the headquarters of British and Canadian defensive efforts in the Niagara Peninsula.
The site was transferred to the new Dominion of Canada in 1871, and it was used as a summer training camp for both regular and militia units. With the start of the Great War in 1914, it became a training camp for the 14,000 soldiers of the 2nd Division of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Thousands of soldiers who fought and died at Vimy Ridge, Passcendaele, and the many terrible battles of the Great War, trained here. In 1917, Butler's Barracks became Camp Kosciuszko the winterized training camp for the Polish Army. In a multinational scheme, American and Canadians of Polish descent volunteered for this force, initially attached to the French Army. They were trained at Niagara by Canadians, and they would ultimately help re-establish an independent Poland following the war. When the influenza epidemic struck the camp in 1918, some of the young men died here. Their well tended graves can be seen in a local churchyard today.
Butlers Barracks, known as Camp Niagara in the 20th century, reached its greatest development during World War II, when buildings, tents, parade grounds, streets, and other necessary facilities covered much of the Commons. Camp Niagara was active until the 1960s. Soldiers who trained here served in the Boer War, World War I and World War II, in the Korean Conflict, and in peacekeeping efforts of the 20th century.
Butler's Barracks Today
Butlers Barracks © Parks Canada
Today, Butler's Barracks National Historic Site of Canada commemorates over 150 years of military activity as Canada evolved from a colony to a nation. Four original British colonial buildings and one Canadian built structure remain on the site:
The Soldier's Two Storey Barracks:
Built in 1817/1818, this large two storey building served at a men's barracks in the 19th century. Known at the new barrack, it could house 100 soldiers. Built of log and brick, it was defensible, with musket loopholes instead of windows. It saw many uses during the 20th century training camps. Today it is home to the Lincoln and Welland Regimental Museum, open during the summer months, daily from May 18, until Labour Day, 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. For information contact: Lincoln and Welland Regiment Museum website.
The Commissariat Store and Office
Built in 1839, this two-and-a-half storey building housed stores for the British Commissariat Department, who were headquartered at Niagara. The Commissariat acquired most items for the military, and regulated military contracts. A massive wooden wheel, once used to haul bulky goods to the top floor of the building, sits idle inside. After an attempted theft of a garrison payroll, a sturdy safe was constructed in the building to protect military funds. In the 20th century this building was usually used for the Quartermaster Stores.
The Junior Commissariat Officer's Quarters.
This cottage was built by 1817. It had initially been planned as stables, but was converted into an officer's residence and office. It had four rooms on the main floor, plus a kitchen, larder, and servants room at the rear of the structure. Stables and an outhouse were also built. During the 20th century, it was used by Headquarters Staff, at times as a mess or dining facility for officers, and a residence.
This building was constructed in 1821, to house 3 brass 6 pounder field guns, a 5 ½ inch howitzer, and their side arms and equipment. Horse drawn field guns could accompany marching troops and quickly move to support them in battle.
During the 1837 Rebellion, field guns were used by Canadian militia to fire on Navy Island, occupied by supporters of William Lyon Mackenzie. During the 20th century, this building was used for Quartermaster Stores, as tent storage for the Canadian militia summer training camps, and for artillery supplies.
The Korean War Building
Though this building was built after the Korean War, it is typical of the many WW 11 and post war barracks buildings that once stood at Camp Niagara. Deemed surplus to military needs, most of these structures were demolished. A few were sold to the public and removed.
The Parade Square:
Traces of an asphalt parade square remind us of the military nature of the Commons. It is from the World War 11 era.
Seen here, is The Otter Trail, named after Sir William Otter, one of the most significant officers of the early Canadian Army. He commanded Canadian troops in the 1885 Rebellion, and he led the first Canadian Contingent in the Boer War. He was responsible for training for training in Militia District Number 2, during the early Camp Niagara era. During World War One, he was in charge of the Canadian government's alien internment camps.
Today this trail links Fort George and Butler's Barracks. It also connects with the Niagara River Recreational Trail, (which runs from Niagara-on-the-Lake to Fort Erie) and the Waterfront Trail.
Formal tree plantings mark the other roadways that served Camp Niagara.
Indian Department Council House Marker
This marker is located near the complex of buildings that were used by the British Indian Department in this area, prior to the War of 1812, until 1822, when the buildings were converted into a garrison hospital.
The Engineer's Bridge:
One of the few remaining structures of the Canadian Militia Camp Niagara, this bridge was built by the Royal Canadian Engineers. It is marked R.C.E. 1914 on the sides of the bridge. Some of the soldiers, who helped build it, were no doubt killed or wounded serving in the Canadian Expeditionary Force during the horrific fighting of the Great War, (1914-1918). This bridge stands as a memorial to them.
How to get to Butler's Barracks:
Butler's Barracks is located in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, west of Fort George and the Niagara Parkway/Queen's Parade. It is bounded by John Street and King Street, with parking available on John Street.