Queenston Heights Park is an often-overlooked attraction when visitors cross the border into Canada for a day trip. In their hurry to get to either Niagara-on-the-Lake or Niagara Falls, most people barely notice the park, which sits right by the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge. I have been intrigued by the park, as well as curious about Brock's Monument, which towers over the landscape.
When my husband and I were making plans to spend a few days in Niagara-on-the-Lake to celebrate our anniversary, we decided to add a stop at the park to our itinerary.
After crossing the Rainbow Bridge and enjoying a leisurely drive from Niagara Falls along the scenic Niagara Parkway, we arrived in Queenston about midmorning. Feeling energetic, we decided to pay the nominal fee to climb Brock's Monument (905-262-4759), the park's centerpiece. This Canadian National Historic Site was constructed between 1853 and 1856. The monument stands 185 feet tall, with 235 winding cement steps to the top. It is actually the second monument built on this site; an earlier monument, built between 1824 and 1826, was destroyed by a terrorist bomb in 1840.
Be warned, it is a very strenuous climb in an extremely narrow space. Do not attempt this if you have any health issues or are claustrophobic! Only two, maybe three, people can climb the tower at a time. After what seemed like an endless spiral, we finally reached the top, a tiny cement platform that barely fits two. Our reward was a spectacular view of the lower Niagara River Gorge and the surrounding countryside. The monument is open daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., from May through Labor Day.
After taking in the view, we slowly made our way back down; my legs felt like noodles once we got back to terra firma. However, we still had enough energy to explore the rest of the park.
>A historic battlefield
Be sure to take the time to look at the small museum in the base of the monument, which has information about Major Gen. Isaac Brock, who is buried beneath the monument. Brock was born in 1769 to a military family on the Isle of Guernsey, an island in the English Channel. He joined the British army at age 16 and later came to Canada in 1802. He quickly advanced in rank, becoming the major general commanding the British forces in Upper Canada (Ontario) in 1811. He personally led the attack during the October 1812 Battle of Queenston Heights, a fatal decision for him. The British won the battle, but lost their commander. Pick up a copy of the walking tour of the battlefield at the museum, which has a full description of the battle. The self-guided tour will take about 45 minutes.
The village of Queenston was a very strategic location, as it was the beginning of the portage road that went around Niagara Falls. All people and goods traveling from the upper Great Lakes and the rest of the colonies had to pass through this area.
At the beginning of the 19th century there were growing tensions between the United States and Great Britain. The U.S. Congress was calling for an invasion of Canada, which was a British colony. In June 1812, U.S. President James Madison declared war on Great Britain. The plan was for the United States to take over Ontario and Quebec in one large attack from four strategic locations. The War of 1812 actually lasted three years, from 1812 to 1815.
>Birthplace of Niagara Falls
After walking part of the tour, we stopped at the entrance to the park and read the plaque that was on a large boulder. According to the sign, that spot marked Roy Terrace; across the gorge on the U.S. side you'll see Eldridge Terrace, a niche visible at the same height. These formations mark the level of glacial Lake Iroquois (now Lake Ontario). When the glacier that covered this area began receding about 12,000 years ago, Niagara Falls was born here when water began falling over the Escarpment from Lake Erie to Lake Iroquois.
Another notable, although much smaller, monument in Queenston Heights Park is the Laura Secord Memorial. Laura Secord is considered a Canadian heroine of the War of 1812. Secord journeyed 20 miles through the wilderness and American lines to warn her husband and the British forces of an impending attack.
After working up an appetite walking in the park, we had lunch at the Queenston Heights Restaurant (905-262-4274), an elegant restaurant located right in the park, and which has a great view of the Niagara River Gorge. I enjoyed a sirloin burger, which came with a salad, while my husband opted for the daily soup, salad and sandwich special. It was a warm day, so we stayed indoors in the air-conditioning; there also is an outdoor patio.
Queenston Heights Park is also the southern terminus of the Bruce Trail, a 500-mile hiking trail that goes to Tobermory by Georgian Bay.
The Village of Queenston has other attractions, some of them seasonal.
Laura Secord Homestead, 29 Queenston St., Queenston (905-262-5676; www.niagaraparks.com). This restored homestead was the home of War of 1812 heroine, Laura Secord.
Mackenzie Heritage Printery Museum, 1 Queenston St., Queenston (905-262-3676;www.niagaraparks.com). This is the restored home of William Lyons Mackenzie, who published the Colonial Advocate.
Riverbrink, 116 Queenston St., Queenston (905-262-4477; www.riverbrink.org). The art collection of late Canadian art collector Samuel Weir, who was interested in Canadian art and the history of the Niagara region.
Willowbank Heritage Estates, 14487 Niagara Parkway, Queenston (905-262-1239;www.willowbank.ca). Willowbank is a Canadian National Historic site. Constructed in 1834 in Greek Revival style, it was saved from demolition in 2001 and is undergoing restoration. It is home to the School of Restoration Art, which prepares students for careers in the field of heritage conservation and cultural resource management.