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the niagara-on-the-lake courthouse

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Exploring Niagara-on-the-Lake

The Court House

In 1792 the first session of parliament called for a court house and gaol to serve the "home district". The court house was to be the seat for the united counties of Lincoln, Welland and Haldimand. The very first Jail (Gaol) and Court House stood on the corner of Prideaux and King Street. Built in 1795 it was burned by the enemy in 1813.

The town, realizing the vulnerability of a public building within easy range of the canons at Fort Niagara decided to build the new Jail and Court House much further west on King Street. Now, although the building has long since been demolished the location seems far removed from the hub of the city centre. It should be noted however, that Butler's Barracks was located only a short distance away.

old gaol
The Old Gaol and Courthouse eventually became Maria
Rye's "Our Western Home"

In 1817 the second Court House was built at the west end of King Street. The structure was a stately red brick building, described as one of the finest buildings in Upper Canada. It was here that the very first representatives of Upper Canada gathered to conduct the business of the four ridings. It was at this court house that the Scottish reformer Robert Fleming Gourlay, faced charges of sedition in 1819 and also the site where William Hamilton Merritt brought legal action against William Lyon Mackenzie after Mackenzie, through his newspapers editorial accused Merritt of misusing funds for the Welland Canal.

The first recorded hangings at the jail were George Newnes and Mary Lowdon, for the murder by poisoning of Barth Lowdon. In 1826 Adam Grass and W. Corbin were sentenced to be hanged but received a suspended sentence at the last moment much to the dismay of the crowds that had assembled to witness the public hanging. In 1825 John Hight was condemned to death for robbery, robert Anderson was banished for seven years for passing a counterfeit cheque and Jason Flemming was sentenced to be publicly whipped and two months imprisonment for stealing food.

By the mid 1800's many people in the region felt that St. Catharines would be a better choice for a seat of government. Niagara-on-the-Lake was not about to relinquish the title and in 1845 both the newly amalgamated towns of St. Catharines and Niagara-on-the-Lake began construction on new court houses. The new three storey Niagara Court house was built on a section of the market square, in the centre of the commercial district at a cost of $30,000.00. The then Deputy Reeve William Kirby petitioned for the the county seat to remain in Niagara however in 1861 the question was put to voters and the more heavily populated town of St. Catharines swung the vote.

The town of Niagara-on-the-Lake petitioned parliament to reject the bill unless it contained a compensation clause for the newly constructed Court House. On January 28th, 1862 the St. Catharines town hall officially became the county seat for Lincoln and the county was ordered to pay $8,000.00.

The town fathers then took the $8,000.00 and raised an additional $12,000.00 and put it towards the building of a luxurious hotel. In 1866, the hotel, located on Front Street overlooking the mouth of the Niagara River opened for business and proved to be a popular tourist destination to guests from Toronto and Buffalo.

In 1868 the hotel was purchased by Captain Thomas Dick and the name was changed to the Queen's Royal Hotel. The hotel was eventually demolished in 1931 and is presently the site of the Queen's Royal Park.