W-MCP7-1.154 THE WORK OF THE NIAGARA PARKS COMMISSION--ANNUAL REPORT by T.B. McQuesten
Nov 10 1943 year determined by context--see FN 3.
To: Copy addressed toThomas Baker McQuesten
The Work of the Niagara Parks Commission
I Ontario's Niagara Parks
Just over half a century ago, the foresight of Ontario's Government gave birth to the Niagara Parks. Located in the famous Niagara Peninsula of the province of Ontario, they border the Canadian bank of the Niagara its full length from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario. Thirty-five miles of magnificent parklands include internationally famed gardens, rare floral displays, ancient fortifications, old battlefields and historic sites interest and significance to the whole world. Sentiment and history all here combined with the handiwork of nature and man at their best. The places for viewing the full majesty of the Niagara River, above and beyond the mighty cataract, are preserved in a state of natural beauty for the pleasure and advantage of countless visitors from every part of Canada the United States and the world.
Before the establishment of the Niagara parks, the Falls had been the lair of rapacious cab-men and unscrupulous concessionaires located on both the Canadian and American shores for the ruthless exploitation of visitors. To the late Lord Dufferin, Governor General of Canada from 1872 to 1878, belongs the credit for the first official action toward betterment of conditions, so that he has been called by many "The father of the international parks at Niagara Falls." It was in 1878 that His Excellency made his appeal, but not until 1885 was an act finally passed by the Ontario legislature creating the Queen Victoria Niagara Falls Parks Commission with wide powers over the Canadian bank of the river.
The original Queen Victoria Park contained only one hundred and fifty-four acres and was one of the earliest experiments in self-supporting public ownership. Today, the area under the control of the commissioners is more than sixteen times that of the first park property and represents assists in lands and buildings in excess of $6,000,000.00. Their jurisdiction now extends over an aggregate of some 2,600 acres, comprising Queen Victoria at the Falls, Queenston Heights Park, Niagara Glen, the Old Fort grounds at Fort Erie, the historic Fort George area and Butler's Burial Ground at Niagara-on-the-Lake, Lundy's Lane Burial Ground, The Chain Reserve2 along the Niagara River from Queen Victoria Park to Niagara-on-the-lake together with the talus lying between the Reserve and the water's edge, and finally, The Chain Reserve along the river, including the lands purchased for boulevard purposes between Queen Victoria Park and Fort Erie.
II Policy of the Niagara Parks Commission
In the improvement and development of the Niagara Parks the general policy of the Commissioners has been determined by three distinct characteristics of the district committed to their special care. As the location of the Falls proper, the area has a scenic character known throughout the civilized world as the meeting-place of the First Legislature of Upper Canada and the theatre of some of the most stirring scenes and heroic fighting of the war of 1812, it has memories for Canadians that will never die; and, as the scene of one of most wonderful hydro-electric developments in the world, it has special attraction for those interested in the mechanical arts.
The physical aspect has been concerned with such matters as landscaping, gardening and the location and design of necessary structures. While the original conception of the Government and the Commission was no more than the acquirement and preservation of lands immediately surrounding the Falls, that initial scheme broadened and widened to practically embrace the whole territory along the shoe of the Niagara River. Because of this extensive topography, it was realized that a variety of decorative treatment was essential. Each park in the system as well as the various sections of the boulevard, required distinctive designs in order to produce the best scenic effects, not only in each individual park but throughout the whole area. During the work of improvement in the vicinity of the Falls, only the desirable features of the existing landscape were preserved and, wherever possible, the utilitarian and the ornamental were combined. The unification of the existing features with those introduced to enhance the aesthetic qualities of the scheme, and the proportion in which other features would be employed, were carefully planned so that each would contribute to the harmony of the whole. At the Niagara Glen, on the other hand, every consideration has given way to that of preserving the wild and rugged qualities of the natural scenery, with the sole exception of providing in an inconspicuous manner facilities for making this spot accessible to the public. In the ornamentation of the Niagara river Boulevard, the sections were not considered individually, but as a whole, each being so proportionally and relatively adapted as to form units of a harmonious design and to create when fitted together, a normal state of completeness.
With respect to gardening, the early policy of the commission was to secure, as far as was possible, specimens of all the desirable trees, shrubs and flowers which might reasonably be expected to thrive within the Park. Through the continuation of this policy there gradually developed a comprehensive botanical garden, the object of which has been together with the collection and preservation of flora indigenous to the country, together with the introduction of useful and ornamental exotic subjects, so that Horticultural and Botanical Science might benefit materially. Marked advances have lately been made through the extension of the flower the planting of the talus to make the banks of the Niagara gorge more attractive, the beginning of an arboretum along the Niagara Glen and liberal planting of flowering trees along the full length of the Niagara River Boulevard, and indirectly by planting out extensive nurseries with seeds, cuttings and nursery tree and shrub stock to provide for future plantings.
In the location and design of necessary buildings and structures the advice of eminent landscape architects has usually been sought. Whether for public convenience, the requirements of the power companies or for the purposes of Park administration, the primary thought in planning all artificial constructions has been the achievement of complete harmony with the scenic surroundings. Generally speaking, they are unobtrusive but handsome structures simple in treatment, with proportions that appeal to the eye yet balance and blend with the environment. The aim of the Commission has been to make buildings and structures noteworthy not in themselves, but only in what they are able to add to the park in the way of accessibility, safety and convenience.
The educational policy of the Niagara Parks Commissioners has been threefold. First, through the preservation of scenic beauty and the creation of aesthetic values, they have cultivated a public appreciation of the beautiful. Second, through the application of scientific gardening they have created opportunities for the study of Horticulture and Botany notably in the establishment of a school for apprentice gardeners. And third, through the preservation of historic memories they have contributed in no small measure to the development of patriotism and the highest qualities of Canadian citizenship. The latter aspect is a somewhat unorthodox departure form the usual conception of park planning and requires an explanation. Throughout Ontario's Niagara Parks is perhaps concentrated more vital history than in any similar area of North America. Every mile or so along the Parkway from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario the traveller reaches the scene of some past event which has influenced the destiny of this country. To mark these sites, the Commissioners have encouraged, or themselves undertaken, the erection of monuments and commemorative tablets. Furthermore they have embarked recently upon a programme of historical restorations. The policy of rebuilding important structures such as Fort George, Navy Hall, Fort Erie and the William Lyon Mackenzie home, instead of merely preserving the unintelligible ruins both contributed to the teaching of Canadian history and the development of patriotism and high ideals.
On the purely financial side, the work of the Niagara Parks Commission ranks with any similar achievement in modern times. Apart from guaranteeing the various bond issues, the Provincial Legislature has not been called upon for assistance. Throughout the almost three score years of the Park's history, the various members of the Commission--almost without exception men of extensive affairs and pressing responsibilities in other directions--have given gratuitously time and attention, which otherwise might have been employed to their personal advantage, in order to plan and execute every financial measure necessary for the creation and preservation of the Niagara Parks. To start with nothing but good will in the form of the guarantee of debentures, to meet all interest charges, pay off every bond issue as it became due and at the same time constantly improve and adequately maintain the expanding park system is an accomplishment in which the people of Ontario may well take pride.Oakes Garden Theatre
III Recent Achievements
Brief descriptions of some of the latest achievements of the Commission may be of interest.
A comparatively recent addition to the beauties of the Niagara Parks is the Oakes Garden Theatre, located a mere stones' throw to the north of Queen Victoria Park on the former site of the world-famous Clifton Hotel, which was swept by fire in December 1932. This garden project, begun in 1935, was named in honour of the late Sir Harry Oakes who donated the land, and it was decided to devise the landscaping so as to take advantage of the difference in levels on the side of the Clifton Hill. The architectural design chosen by the Commissioners was that of a unique amphitheatre which in some respects suggests the theatres of the ancient Greeks, although with many radical departures as to detail. It is fan-shaped, with the stage so placed that the panorama of the Falls forms a natural backdrop, while at the rear there is a curved pergola connecting two open pavilions, one oriented on the axis of the Horseshoe Falls, the other on that of the American Falls. Sloping Terraces, rock gardens, lily ponds, shrubbery and wide promenades adjoin the amphitheatre, the whole being surrounded by an ornamental stone wall. In conjunction with the unrivalled location, no place could be more lovely in architecture, landscaping and appeal. The formal opening of the Oakes Garden Theatre took place on September 18, 1937 and since then the fame of this garden development has spread far and wide until it is today one of the chief attractions of the Niagara Parks. Within its amphitheatre, choral programmes, band concerts and exhibitions of folk dancing have been presented from time to time under the auspices of the Commissioners, proving that in addition to being superbly beautiful the Oakes Garden Theatre can also be utilitarian.Rainbow Gardens
When the present Rainbow Bridge was constructed to replace the former Falls View Bridge, destroyed by an ice-jam on January 27, 1938, the bridge authorities and the Niagara Parks Commission co-operated to make the Canadian terminal an outstanding example of beauty and utility. In 1941, the Commissioners undertook the landscaping of an area in the vicinity of the bridge to harmonize with the formal style of the neighbouring Oakes Garden Theatre, the latter being extended to form a direct connecting link with the bridge plaza. This new development, known as the "Rainbow Gardens" has followed the same levels as the Oakes Garden Theatre and shares the general theme of broad lawns with gardens of intricate design.
Adjacent to the Oakes Garden Theatre and constructed at the same time, is the impressive "Clifton Memorial Arch", which has been erected to the memory of early pioneers of Canada. Symbolic historical figures in bold relief are carved upon its limestone faces, together with appropriate inscriptions and names of persons who lost their lives during the struggle for responsible government. The principal inscription is as follows:
River Road Reconstruction
"This memorial was erected to Honour the Memory of the Men and Women in this land, throughout their generations who braved the wilderness, maintained the settlement, performed the common task without praise or glory and were the pioneers of political freedom and a system of responsible government which became the cornerstone of the British Commonwealth of Nations"
The River Road which follows the edge of the gorge within the municipality of Niagara Falls has been under the control of the Commissioners since 1888. When, in 1932, the International Railway Company abandoned its right of way upon this section of the Parkway, it became possible to transform a narrow and dangerous roadway into a widened moderate highway. During 1935 and 1936, great improvements were made in this connecting link between Queen Victoria Park and the Parkway area north of the Whirlpool Rapids. The tracks and ties of the electric railroad were sold and taken up, a stone parapet wall paralleled by a sidewalk with a two-step curb was erected for the safety of both motorists and pedestrian and the entire roadway was widened and repaired, alterations were also carried out in the vicinity of the Lower Arch Bridge, where unsightly buildings which disfigured the bride approaches were removed, while further north a new garden of early roses was set out near the Whirlpool Rapids. At a ceremony that took place on October 10, 1936, the vastly improved River Road, now a credit to the Park and the municipality was officially opened to the public.
New Restaurant at Queenston Heights Park
The original restaurant at Queenston Heights, constructed in 1900, had been poorly placed and after many years' service was considered both obsolete and out of keeping with its surroundings. The Commissioners, therefore, undertook the erection of a handsome modern restaurant of Queenston limestone, roofed in red tile, and more in harmony with the general style of architecture throughout the Park system. Work was commenced in November, 1939 and completed by June, 1940, the old structure being removed at the same time and the site graded and planted. The former building had been located without regard to possible vistas, but the new Queenston Heights Restaurant occupies a delightful spot on the brink of the escarpment where diners may enjoy a magnificent view extending to Lake Ontario.
The School for Apprentice Gardeners
The Apprentice Gardeners School of the Niagara Parks Commission, founded on July 26, 1936, is the only institution of its kind in North America. Courses in Horticulture are available at many colleges, but a boarding school with full-time employment in practical work, and theory only as a side-line, was a new idea in Canada or the United States. In establishing the School, the Commissioners had realized that most of the small and ever-dwindling supply of expert gardeners available in the country were elderly men who had come out originally from Great Britain and, since such emigration had practically ceased there was an urgent need for the training of Canadian boys in this work.
Organized upon British lines, the Training School offers a comprehensive three-year course in an institution that has eighty acres of fertile soil for its principal class-room and the entire area of the Niagara Parks for the execution of project work. The curriculum includes botany, chemistry, soil and fertilization courses, surveying, landscape gardening, flower cultivation, vegetable gardening, tree surgery, fruit growing and management. When weather permits, the emphasis is upon practical work, but in winter open-air work is generally impossible and more time is devoted to lectures.
The young men live at the Training School in an attractive stone residence known as "The Bothy", of which the nucleus is an old Colonial farm-house to which additions have been made so as to provide accommodation for twenty-four students. The boys care for their own quarters and all vegetables consumed at the School are grown on the property.
The seven years that have elapsed3 since the founding of the School have shown the project to both practical and workable and its radically different methods of instruction have won favourable comments from educationalists everywhere. Graduates have fitted excellently into the permanent staff of the Niagara Parks Commission, while those who have entered into private enterprises have been uniformly successful. The site of what was once a rough farm with Coarse undrained soil, not too high in nutritive qualities, contrasted with the level area now visible with its iris, rose and perennial gardens, the excellent vegetable garden and the nursery section and other developments which have been brought into being by the students themselves, never fails to win commendation from all who visit the School and its grounds.
Mather Park at Fort Erie is a new addition to the Niagara Parks System and has been named in honour of the late Alonzo C Mather, a wealthy inventor and manufacturer of Chicago, whose generous gift of land and money contributed greatly to park establishment at this location. Almost half a century ago, Mather had planned to finance the cost of a bridge between Buffalo and Fort Erie on site close to the location of the present Peace Bridge. Although successful in acquiring considerable acreage on the Canadian side for a terminus, he failed to secure the complementary terminus on the American shore.
Several years before his death, this visionary, who was also a philanthropist, gave to the Niagara Parks Commission seventy-five acres of land, fronting on the Niagara River immediately south of the Canadian approach to the Peace Bridge, together with the sum of $35,000 towards the development of a park and the erection of a memorial gateway on the site. The project was undertaken without delay and an outstanding event of 1940 was the official opening of Mather Park on August 31st, when a service of dedication was carried out within the completed Memorial Gateway, which is an impressive arch in modern monumental design, located at the important junction of the Peace Bridge outlet from Buffalo, the Niagara River Boulevard, the Garrison Road, and the provincial highway leading to points in Western Ontario.
In January of the following year, the death of Alonzo C. Mather occurred at the extreme age of ninety-two. That his affection for Canada and especially for the Niagara district was unusually deep was still further revealed in his will, by which he left the sum of $250,000 jointly to the Peace Bridge authorities and to the Niagara Parks Commission, to be spent for the erection of suitable memorials to the memory of Canadians and Americans who have contributed to the building up of friendly relations between their two countries and in maintaining and beautifying Mather Park. By an agreement arrived at during the probate of the will, the general terms of the bequest have been translated into a number of specific projects such as a modern lighting system of the Peace Bridge, the erection of memorial plaques on the bridge, and the landscaping and improving of the Mather Park lands, together with the construction of a memorial building at the Canadian entrance to the bridge.
Although Mather Park is still in a state of development, a great deal has already been accomplished. By means of a recently completed sea wall, lands have been reclaimed from Lake and the Park now extends from the Peace Bridge to the grounds of the Old Fort--a distance of half a mile. With its beautiful arch; attractive gardens, bold sweep of traffic circles and promise of arboricultural developments, Mather Park is destined to be a place of rare beauty and a fitting entrance to the Niagara Parks.
Projects for the restoration of historic sites have occupied an important place in the work of the Niagara Parks Commission for almost a decade.
Old Fort Erie Restoration
On the brow of a slight promontory overlooking the point where the Niagara River disgorges from Lake Erie, is the Old Fort from which the town of Fort Erie, Ontario, derives its name. The present Fort Erie, the third fort to occupy the site, was erected just prior to and during the troubled days of 1812 to 1814 when the United States and Canada were at war. Captured by the Americans, in turn besieged by the British, the Old Fort was the scene of one of the most desperate struggles along the Niagara Frontier. Construction of the fort was authorized on January 9, 1804 and the intention was that it should consist of four bastions connected with curtains in the form of a simple square with all works and buildings constructed of solid masonry. The work was proceeded with intermittently, and when war broke out in 1812 the fort was not nearly completed. On July 3, 1814, Fort Erie was attacked by 4,500 Americans under General Brown. In the British garrison were only 170 men and after a few shots Major Buch, the British commander surrendered. The Americans strengthened the fort and under the direction of their engineers prepared an extensive enclosed camp. On august 14, 1814, the British under Lieutenant-Colonel Drummond made a valiant but futile assault on the fort. In November the Americans recrossed the river and abandoned the fort. Before leaving, however, the buildings were extensively mined and the fort was almost completely blown up. In 1825 a commission sent out by Lord Wellington reported "the remains of an old fort, and a range of barracks perfectly in ruins and abandoned."
The work of restoration was begun in the spring of 1937 under a joint scheme sponsored by the Ontario and Dominion governments, and was completed July 1, 1939, when the fort was officially opened. The objective was the reconstruction of the third Fort Erie exactly as it stood in its most famous hour--on the night of the British assault August 14, 1814. Although it has not been possible to reconstruct either the American or British entrenchments, outside the fort, the restoration of the fort proper has been founded upon careful research and painstaking workmanship. Some of the barrack rooms are now refurnished as they were when occupied by soldiers of more than a century ago; others display separate and specialized collections including some three thousand buttons, regimental badges, and buckles, and even the leather of shoes that the soldiers wore- all excavated from the ruins during the restoration. Among grim mementoes of the siege are bayonets bent in fantastic shapes by the explosion of the northeast bastion. In addition, there has been assembled martial equipment of the period and a superb collection of military prints.
William Lyon Mackenzie Home Restoration
At Queenston, the Commissioners have rebuilt from its ruins the building once occupied by the celebrated William Lyon Mackenzie. Formerly a successful merchant at Dundas, he came here to live in the autumn 1824 and opened a general store although he stayed at Queenston only a year it was there that he decided to abandon commerce for politics and as a journalist took the first step in his subsequently eventful career. It may almost be said that the great struggle against the Family Compact and the agitation for political reform began at Queenston when Mackenzie published the first number of the Colonial Advocate on May 18, 1824.
On June 18, 1938, the present Prime Minister of Canada formally opened the reconstructed building, reproduction of the handsome limestone structure in which his grandfather William Lyon Mackenzie had once resided. The distinguished visitor read a letter written by Mackenzie wherein the latter referred to the planting of locust trees in front of his hoe, following which the Prime minister noted the trees were today mature and sheltered the replica of that home. In connection with the restoration, the Commissioners were fortunate in securing an historic piece of printing machinery--no less than the original hand press which was once contained in the building. There is ample evidence to support the authenticity of this relic which now occupies a prominent place in the reconstructed Mackenzie house at Queenston.
Restoration of Fort George at Niagara-on-the-Lake
The original fort was constructed by the Lieutenant-Governor Simcoe between 1796 and 1799 to replace Fort Niagara which was transferred to the United States after the American Revolution. It occupied a height close to the river's bank nearly a mile above the town of Niagara and was the principal British post on the Niagara Frontier until 1813. Fort George fell to the Americans after a brave resistance on May 27, 1813, but, before withdrawing, the British Garrison set fire to the buildings and blew up its earthworks. Between 1799 and 1813 there were no important alterations in the structure of the fort. An official military report of the spring of 1812 described Fort George as an irregular field work, consisting of six small bastions faced with framed timber and plank and connected with a loop holed stockade twelve feet high, outside which there was a shallow dry ditch. The solid earth bastions were floored with plank to form platforms for cannon and the parapets pierced with numerous gun embrasures. Within the fort were five defensible barrack buildings or blockhouses, separate officers' quarters, a guardhouse, storehouses, a kitchen, and a powder magazine. There was also a small octagonal blockhouse in the redan on the southeast front. All of the blockhouses were constructed of squared logs that were two stories in height and had splinter-proof roofs. The powder magazines, built of solid masonry with bomb-proof arches, were enclosed by a thick high embankment of earth to protect it from gun-fire.
On the margin of the river and immediately in advance of Fort George were four clapboarded buildings known collectively as "Navy Hall" which had been constructed during the American Revolution to serve as winter quarters for the officers and seamen of the provincial Marine on Lake Ontario. Nearby was a good sized wharf, and at this period, these buildings were utilized for military stores. The largest, frequently referred to as the "Red Barracks," is in existence today and has been preserved by the Niagara Parks Commission.
Perhaps the most important decision connected with the restoration of Fort George was choice of the period in its history to be represented by its construction. The first fort had opposed the Americans in the war of 1812. There General Brock, the hero of Upper Canada, had his head-quarters and there he was buried after the Battle of Queenston Heights in 1812. The second Fort George, constructed by the Americans and afterwards garrisoned by the British for only a short time, was never attacked and has had few historical associations for Canadians. For these reasons, it was decided that Fort George might be best restored to its original state as built by the orders of Lieutenant-Governor Simcoe in 1796.
The work of restoration was commenced by the Niagara Parks Commission in the spring of 1937 and was completed during the summer of 1940. The bastions, stockades, and other defences have all been carefully rebuilt according to the original plans of the Royal Engineers. Eleven of the fourteen initial buildings have also been restored. The officers' quarters, some of the soldiers' barrack rooms, the guard room, the kitchen and the artificers' shop are refurnished as they were when occupied by British troops from 1797 to 1813.
The Niagara Parks Commissioners have recently defined their work [as] preservation, restoration, commemoration, beautification and attraction,4 a programme to which, since the inception of the Park, they have assiduously applied themselves to the limit of their finances. While a great deal has been accomplished within these classifications and Ontario's Niagara Parks constitute an unrivalled achievement it must not be supposed that the work is now complete. Throughout the Commission's history, many plans and projects, the need of which was always apparent, have had to be postponed time and time after because the financial situation would not permit of more active growth. In every field of endeavour much remains to be done before the work will even approach completion, and beyond that the task of preservation and maintenance must always continue.
1 This is a copy of an article that was to be published in the Architects' Review in T. B. McQuesten's name. It is not known if it was published. See W-MCP7-1.152.
2 THE MILITARY RESERVE IS A reservation of government land sixty-feet in width which extended along the top of the Niagara's bank and was originally intended for military purposes.
3 The date of this report coincides with this figure in the document: 7 years after 1936 = 1943. It also coincides with Gray's letter to T.B. McQ. dated Nov 10, 1943, W_MCP7-1.152, which states that the article will be submitted under T.B.'s name
4 53rd Annual Report of the Niagara Parks Commission 1938-39.