Highlights of the Great Trail: Niagara River Part 2

Go back to Niagara River Part 1

Part 2: Between Niagara-on-the-Lake and Queenston

13. This granite boulder memorializes Irish poet Thomas Moore (1779-1852) (left). Born in Dublin, he was one of the first Catholics to be allowed to study at Trinity College in that city. Often considered the National Bard of Ireland, he’s now remembered for lyrics such as “Oft in the Stilly Night,” “The Last Rose of Summer,” and “The Minstrel Boy.” In 1804 he made a trip to North America, during which he visited Niagara Falls and spent some time with (then) Colonel Isaac Brock, the commander of Fort George. The plaque notes that Moore “frequently found rest and inspiration under a large Oak tree here in the McFarland farm.” The farm is now a public park, the oak is gone, and Moore found Niagara Falls too awesome to versify. His poem most redolent of his three months in Canada is “Canadian Boat Song,” which begins, “Faintly as tolls the evening chime/Our voices keep tune and our oars keep time.” It was inspired by a voyageurs’ song, “Dans mon chemin j’ai rencontré,” which he heard while being rowed down the St. Lawrence River to Montréal.

Portrait of Moore After Thomas Lawrence – Christie’s, Public Domain.

14. This tiny chapel stands on the west side of the Parkway. Built in 1964, its 7.25 sq. m. interior offers spiritual refreshment to a maximum of six people at a time (though not in these pandemic times, of course). The locals claim it’s the world’s smallest church.

15. This plaque recalls a quirky episode in Canadian history. Joseph-Geneviève, Comte de Puisaye, Marquis de Brécourt et Marquis de Ménilles (1755-1827) (left) was a French nobleman who believed in constitional monarchy and was thus on the wrong side during the French Revolution. In 1798, with financial assistance from the British government, he led 41 aristocratic French Royalists to Upper Canada (that is, Ontario). At first, this colony of upper-class emigrés favoured the area around what is now Hamilton, but most settled at Windham, near present Richmond Hill. In 1799 de Puisaye alone bought land here on the Niagara River. His household consisted of his housekeeper/mistress Susanne Smithers, her brother, one soldier, one servant, and himself. Needless to say, the whole enterprise was a fiasco, as these deracinated French nobles expected their servants to do the hard work of frontier settlement for them, but couldn’t afford to hire enough of them. In May 1802 de Puisaye returned to England to publish his memoirs, and died at Hammersmith, outside London, a perpetual exile.

De Puisaye image courtesy of French wikipedia.

16. The Halfway House, built about 1800, is one of the oldest surviving buildings on the Parkway, and one of only a handful of houses to survive the burning of the Newark area. It was formerly a coach stop on the journey between Newark and Queenston, and was until recently a bed-and-breakfast establishment.

17. This magnificent willow tree retains green leaves as late as now, the first week of December.

18. Perhaps the finest house on the Parkway to survive the War of 1812 is the Field House. George Field (ca. 1721-85) was born in White Plains, NY and fled to Upper Canada in about 1782 as one of Butler’s Rangers, the American Loyalist militia led by John Butler that with their First Nations allies had resisted the American Revolution in vain. George’s son Gilbert (1765-1814), also born in New York State and one of Butler’s Rangers, built this Georgian-style two-storey brick farmhouse ca. 1800 on land the family had received from the British Crown to reward them for their loyalty and compensate for their losses during the American Revolution. The Field House was hit by cannonballs and was briefly occupied by American forces in 1813. It is now privately owned.

19. This marker made from Queenston limestone lies beside the Trail here at Brown’s Point, where the Niagara River bends to the west. Such stone is all too easily eroded, and one struggles a little to decipher the inscription from 1915: “BROWN’S POINT. HERE GEN. SIR. ISAAC BROCK CALLED OUT ON HIS WAY TO QUEENSTON HEIGHTS 13TH OCT. 1812 PUSH ON YORK VOLUNTEERS.” Isaac Brock (1769-1812), now a Major-General, was Commander-in-Chief of military forces in Upper Canada when the War of 1812 broke out. The final phrase refers to his journey from Fort George to the fateful battle about 3.5 km upstream from here at Queenston Heights, where the British repelled an American invasion from Lewiston across the river, but not before Brock lost his own life. The York Volunteers, namely the Second Regiment of York Militia under Captain George Chisholm, were camped here at Brown’s Point, and would play a large role in the battle. It’s sometimes believed that “Push on, York Volunteers!” were Brock’s last words on the battlefield, but this is unlikely, as reports indicate that he was killed instantly by a bullet to the chest. A more modern plaque nearby reads: “Brown’s Inn was located here. Both the Canadian York Militia and the American army bivouacked near here on separate occasions during the War of 1812. Adam Brown later added a store to his inn and built a wharf on the river shore below where sailing ships loaded settlers’ produced potash and lime destined for Montreal and overseas.”

20. The view upstream from south of Brown’s Point, the Trail here clinging close to the riverbank. In the distance is the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge, the first road crossing of the Niagara River as one goes south. This international bridge intended chiefly for commercial traffic was built in 1962. In non-pandemic times it’s the fourth busiest crossing anywhere between Canada and the United States, linking Ontario Highway 405 with US Interstate I-190, and thus connecting the Greater Toronto Area with the cities of the northeastern USA.

21. A plaque marks another little-known but significant event in pre-Confederation Canadian history. Chloe Cooley was a slave owned by Adam Vrooman, an American Loyalist and Butler’s Ranger who had fled to Queenston after the American Revolution. Cooley was one of an estimated 500-700 slaves in the Province of Upper Canada in the 1790s. Fearing that the Province was tending towards abolition, Vrooman decided to sell Cooley to a purchaser in New York State. Reports of her violent resistance to being shipped across the Niagara River reached abolitionist Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe, who pressured his legislature to pass an Act to Limit Slavery in Upper Canada on 9 July 1793. This Act banned the importation of slaves into the Province, decreeing that the children of slaves already in Upper Canada would be freed at the age of 25, and that their children would be born free. The Act was a compromise, as several members of the legislature owned slaves, but it was also a landmark, Upper Canada being the first British colonial possession to pass legislation limiting slavery. New York State passed a similar law, The Gradual Emancipation Act, in 1799. Slavery was finally abolished in (almost) all the British Empire by an Act of 1833. Chloe Cooley’s fate remains unknown.

22. The bronze statue of an anonymous infantryman atop the Niagara Township War Memorial, a.k.a. the Queenston Cenotaph, on the northern edge of Queenston village. First dedicated in 1926, it commemorates those from the Township who lost their lives in World War I, World War II, and the Korean War. On the base of the plinth are inscribed lines from John McCrae’s 1915 poem “In Flanders Fields”: “To you from failing hands we throw / The torch; be yours to hold it high.”

Go to Part 3: Queenston and the Heights