DOORS OPEN NIAGARA

By Ilona Kauremszky

Special to Niagara Life magazine

NIAGARA FALLS, On. - Who would have thought? I recently looked back at my high school days and remembered how I made the daily trek up Drummond Road to my old alma mater, Stamford CVI, through rain, snow, sleet and sunshine.

Footsteps from the historic battlefield of Lundy’s Lane, it never occurred to me then that there was a building that almost didn’t survive had it not been for the vision of one high school history teacher. Stamford CVI’s Miss Ruth Redmond (now deceased) was said to have saved all her hard earned teacher’s salary. But rather than splurge on fancy vacations or new cars, she purchased a collection of homes along Lundy’s Lane near my old school. While some of them have been torn down, one remains and only recently did the historic place open to the public.

Today, the one-story wooden dwelling is known as the Battle Ground Hotel Museum. Opened in 2003, the interpretive centre is part of a collection of historic sites that will be open free during the annual Doors Open Niagara. Over 110 sites, 50 alone on the Canadian side are being honored in part of the ever-growing Doors Open program which debuted in Scotland 15 years ago.

Considered the only binational Doors Open program, the weekend long event scheduled October 15 and 16 is part of the Doors Open Ontario program and will showcase buildings on both sides of the Niagara River. Participating communities include Jordan, St. Catharines, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Niagara Falls, Fort Erie, Welland, Wainfleet and others.

This rare opportunity will give thousands a unique chance to glance inside some of these rare buildings, many never before opened to the public.


Niagara Favorites:

Jordan Museum: Fry House and Old School House
3800 Main Street, Jordan
Meshed with the days of yesteryear and modernity, tree-lined streets around Jordan reminds one of a quieter simpler day. In the 1840s, Jordan became a key stop along the thriving artery of Regional Road 81 (Highway 8) and was busier than its neighboring town St. Catharines. If you visit the Jordan Museum, home of the Fry House and Old School House prepare to turn back the clock 150 years. That’s when the first settlers arrived tugging their belongings in rickety wooden wagons with wheels removed and strapped atop the carriage, crossing the mighty Niagara River for a place to call home. Mostly Pennsylvania Mennonites, these sprite farmers cleared thick walnut forests and sowed the seeds to what would become Niagara’s Fruit belt.

In this Garden of Eden families like the Fry’s prospered. When I arrived to the Medieval German style home built by Jacob Fry in 1815, a costumed guide ushered me through the simple family dwelling. The stone schoolhouse, first opened in 1859 on Main Street was moved to its current site and has been restored as it would have appeared in 1908. Inside the one-room Edwardian country school, portraits of Queen Victoria, the British flag, wooden desks and old slate boards are on display.

St. John’s Anglican Church
3694 McKenzie Drive, Jordan
Amid the meadows and fruit trees, in the land that was formerly home to the Iroquois, the rich valley is crowned by a hill overlooking the oasis. When St. John’s Anglican Church first opened in 1842, the bustling community of Loyalists arrived in a sea of carriages where children after the service traipsed in the fields enjoying a sunny afternoon. Today, the “friendly little church on the hill” as it’s known here was recently designated a historical landmark. It remains open for worshippers and is even greeted by dignitaries. In early March, Governor General Adrienne Clarkson and husband John Raulston Saul made their entrance in the Gothic Revival church. The church designed by John Howard was the first Tractarian church in Canada West.

Morningstar Mill and Miller’s House
www.morningstarmill.ca
Glimpse into the pioneer spirit of 19th century St. Catharines at this limestone gristmill, one of the best-kept secrets around Niagara. Constructed in 1872, the Morningstar Mill is considered one of the first milling operations powered by a water-powered turbine instead of a traditional water wheel. Morningstar had an apple cider press, gristmill, saw mill, pattern shop and blacksmith shop. When he found out about this place in 1883 he brought his wife down from Humberstone Township by horse and buggy down Cataract Road turned the corner and asked if she would like to live here. She said she would. “As long as I get a new house out of it,” she remarked. Lively volunteers from Friends of the Morningstar are ready to show you around and give you a fascinating story of the original family builders Robert Chappel and owner Wilson Morningstar who rebuilt the mill after a fire in 1895. The working mill now refurbished still grinds flour as in early days. Buy Old timey whole-wheat flour and cornmeal ($1 pound).

Christ Church, Anglican
4750 Zimmerman Ave
Niagara Falls
Not many people know that this one story gabled rooftop church that sits on “the prettiest Sunday drive in the world” as Sir Winston Churchill once described of the Niagara Parkway holds a handful of amazing stories. For starters, Christ Church is the designated church of the Queen of England and when she visits (her first and only trip was in 1951 when she held the title Princess), the first two pews are reserved for her and bear a polished plaque with her name. The royal blue velvet seats with its oak are neatly cordoned off and continue to serve as a symbol for this historic church. Built in 1865, two years before Canada became a nation, the limestone structure saw a surge of congregants. When the church’s first rector, Rev. E.J. Fessenden took on the role, buggy rides and pedestrians were the norm to get to this jewel in the former town of Clifton.

If you tour the church, you might hear about some of the interesting church members. Lining the walls, the names of those who died in both world wars are displayed on commemorative plaques. Miss Jean Jiddens, the church’s longest standing member (85 years) who still lives blocks from Christ Church just as she did when a little girl, points to a name, “he was my classmate,” she remarks and stands silent for a moment remembering him. The city’s early mayors, and even Reverend Fessenden himself hold a notable distinction. He was the father of Reginald Fessenden who invented AM radio. Other interesting notes on this must-see site include the bell tower. Christ Church is the only church in Niagara Falls to have a full 10-bell carillon. Installed in 1912, all the bells have names like Love, Faith, Hope, Charity and Truth.

Battle Ground Hotel Museum
6151 Lundy's Lane, Niagara Falls
In the heart of historic Drummondville, this once popular tavern was a frequent resting spot for tourists and served as “the watering” hole for thirsty types during the 1800’s. The worn footprints by the former kitchen sink carve a deep groove in the floorboards where the kitchen staff once stood. The makeshift bed in the closet-sized room would serve for one, two or even three overnight visitors often times complete strangers. Former Stamford CVI teacher, Miss Ruth Redmond known as the “angel of Lundy’s Lane,” believed not enough was being done to preserve local history and the battle of Lundy’s Lane so she scraped her savings together to purchase the 19th century building along with a bunch of other nearby dwellings. The historic building stands as a testament to the once mighty laneway that saw much of Canada’s early history unfold before its very doorsteps.

Today, the Battle Ground Hotel Museum sits on the last untouched field that saw the bloody battle of Lundy’s Lane. Visitors can watch costumed interpreters take you back to 1850 to the tavern. It’s a part of early Ontario tourism’s not-to-be-missed sights. The curator Kathleen Powell’s enthusiasm toward the museum is contagious as she packs in a delightful account of the era.

Maplehurst Mansion
14 St. David’s St. West, Thorold
The former Maplehurst Hospital almost didn’t survive the 21st century. The local fixture where hundreds of locals were born, had their tonsils out among other ailments was under review for demolition until the Thorold mayor decided to step in and buy it recently. Today, a local developer is putting final touches to the newly refurbished Maplehurst Inn. The 11-room heritage boutique inn boasts its own chef, spa facility and possesses grand rooms with state-of-the-art amenities.

When Thorold’s founding family, the Keefer’s first built the regal mansion 118 years ago, the red stone house stood high up on a hill overlooking the busy Welland Canal. Reported as one of the most amazing houses from Rochester to Toronto on the day it was built, the historic grand mansion almost bankrupted Hugh Keefer who was a noted engineering tycoon of the day.

Interesting architectural features of this Richardsonian Romanesque style house include a grand staircase, eight fireplaces, 12-foot ceilings, stained glass and Italian tile. As a strong canal family, they put their best face facing the boats cruising down the Welland Canal and it is believed to be the most important residence connected to the development of the Welland Canal.

The building is scheduled to open in this fall and is located 10 minutes from Niagara Falls and near the wine route.

-30-

photos: Stephen Smith


To Know:

Doors Open Niagara is taking place on October 15 & 16, 2005 and for more information visit www.doorsopenniagara.com or by call 1-888-333-1987.


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