Time for a change. Time to move on. Our new Niagara-on-the-Lake home beckons.
We’ve given up four flights of stairs and endless construction and traffic in Toronto for the bucolic lifestyle and one-floor living in this historic Ontario town.
It was called Newark in 1792 and was the capital of Upper Canada until 1797. Then the Americans burnt it down during the War of 1812, Major General Sir Isaac Brock was killed at the Battle of Queenston Heights and his younger brother became an ancestor to my children and grandchildren, courtesy of their Brock great granny. Sir Isaac is now buried in a mausoleum at the base of Brock’s Monument on the edge of the Niagara Escarpment. Little Canada, Toronto, has a nice little model. There’s more history here than in most Canadian places outside Quebec and the East Coast and that’s alright with me, because I’m a big history buff.
One of my actor pals has graduated to dressing as General Brock at the reconstructed Fort George. The original was also burnt by the Americans during their invasion. Occasionally he lends me a costume for re-enactments. There’s lots more to see and do in and around the town and I am determined to revisit all these locations as time permits. Butler’s Barracks, Fort Mississauga, Navy Hall and the Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum all tell various elements of the story.
All this history is hungry work and we’re working our way through the town’s best restaurants, not including those in hotels. I’ve eaten in enough hotel restaurants to last a lifetime, including all the big ones in NOTL.
Treadwell Cuisine: I’ve barely made a visit to NOTL without having lunch at this great resto, where they also make a jolly good martini. Nice outdoor patio in summer. Reservations suggested.
The Olde Angel Inn: I wasn’t around when this pub opened in 1789, but it still reeks of history. This is a good honest pub and much favoured by the cast from the Shaw Festival. Two bad actors once got me so drunk in here after a show that I had to be carried back to my hotel bed. Those were the days. Now I just enjoy good pub food – bangers and mash, fish and chips and sticky toffee pudding. In summer, the garden at the back is large and a delight, where I first encountered CHICKEN AND PEACH PIE.
The Irish Harp Pub: if you’re looking for plain pub grub and authentic night-time Irish music, then this is a fun place. Guinness of course and Dublin steak and Guinness pie with a side of authentic champ – mashed potatoes and green onions to the uninitiated, a bit like BUBBLE AND SQUEAK.
Kitchen 76 at the Two Sisters Vineyards: their Italian flavoured menu had me at ARANCINI and EGGPLANT PARMIGIANA. The wines are pretty good too.
Masaki Sushi: if you’re in the mood for sushi, this is the place to go in NOTL.
Niagara’s Finest Thai: about once a month I yearn for Pad Thai and this is as good as it gets. Everything else Thai as well.
Queenston Heights Restaurant: I’ve been twice – once after visiting Brock’s Monument and once just to enjoy the spectacular view from Queenston Heights. I’ll be going again soon.
Cows Ice Cream: soon after the original Cows opened in Cavendish, PEI, in the early 80s, I stumbled across it while filming at Anne of Green Gables house nearby. I fell in love with their ‘udderly fantastic ice cream’ and their whimsical clothing with cow themed parodies. This is the only store in Ontario. No wonder it’s popular.
Close by our new home is The Garrison House, a popular gastro pub which doesn’t take reservations, my only gripe as I hate waiting for a table. My wife, whose last name is Watts, wanted to ask Chef David Watts if they were related, but he was off at the time of our visit. That didn’t detract from the food, which was outstanding.
I can’t go much further without mentioning that there’s a very nice little yacht club on the river. I’ve sailed into the Niagara-on-the-Lake Sailing Club many times and always enjoyed their hospitality. Although I’ve now sold my 27-foot yacht, I’m still keenly interested in all things nautical, and hope they will soon welcome me as a social member so I can once more mingle with the sailors. Two sailing friends, who were once members of the Harbour City Yacht Club, where I had the honour of twice being Commodore, live here and I hope to see them soon.
The big attraction in town during their long season is the Shaw Festival, which operates from February to Christmas Eve, with a wide variety of shows at the main Festival Theatre, the Royal George Theatre, the Jackie Maxwell Studio Theatre, named after a past artistic director, and outdoors at the Festival Theatre Gardens. Plays were originally always by George Bernard Shaw, then the Festival branched out to plays by his contemporaries as well and now in their 60th year they have those and much more. This season the holidays will be enhanced by Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and Irving Berlin’s White Christmas. I hope to take in both as well as much more, since the more you see the bigger the discount. I’ve known many actors who’ve graced the stages here and expect to bump into some old friends over time.
If you like wine, and who doesn’t, rejoice in the fact that there are 39 wineries in the Niagara on the Lake area, with a further 53 wineries on the Niagara Escarpment area and the neighbouring Bench. It is a Herculean challenge to visit them all, but over the next few years we will give it a go.
I know there’s something else I’m missing. Oh yes, Niagara Falls. It’s upstream from our new home a couple of dozen miles. Visitors always want to see it and we take them of course, as it is one of the great wonders of the world. Park your car and walk to the Falls, lean over the edge and wonder at the millions of gallons a minute hurtling over and be awed by the roar. Just don’t fall in. Some have, and survived, but most don’t. The Maid of the Mist Boat Tour is probably the best way to see the Falls from below. Princess Di once took her two little Princes on the trip. Kids love getting wet and I shall take my grandchildren for a ride one day. For an even wetter close-up view of the water, try the Journey Behind the Falls. To me, Clifton Hill is a honkytonk hell, but if Ripley’s Believe It or Not and the Movieland Wax Museum are your sort of thing, then this is the sort of thing you’ll like.
Running through NOTL is One Mile Creek, which wanders in every direction before spilling into the lake about one mile west of the Niagara River, hardly a competitor. We shall have to join the Friends of One Mile Creek to ensure the tiny rill remains in its natural state. Two Mile Creek deserves a mention and is currently being restored by the Niagara Peninsular Conservation Authority, who planted 4,800 native trees in the spring of this year, to restore the effects of erosion. It runs somewhere behind our new house, so I shall be watching their efforts with interest.
After living in and around Toronto for many decades after I emigrated from England, there’s one thing I’m really having trouble with. In Toronto, Lake Ontario is due south and everything is oriented exactly north and south or east and west. In NOTL, it’s the other way round. The Niagara River flows almost exactly due north and the town is south of the lake. However, to confuse visitors more, the main Mississauga Street into town runs northeast and the main Queen Street runs northwest and southeast. I shall just have to get used to living upside down.
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This is Nigel’s 355th blog on Gentleman’s Portion. The SEARCH function at the top works really well if you want to look back and see some of his previous stories.
Welcome to Niagara! If there was ever a town suited to you both, this is it. Looking forward to crossing paths soon.