Welcome map posted outside of Walker’s Country Market
Niagara-on-the-Lake. It isn’t an exaggeration to refer it it as “The Prettiest Town In Canada”. I may have taken its beauty for granted as my grandmother lives in Niagara and I’ve always visited the area regularly. Wineries and fancy inns aside, there is much to marvel at in this tiny picturesque village with a population of just over 15,000.
While many of my summer visits are normally consumed with stops at various fruit stands selecting the freshest peaches and concord grapes, late fall is a time when produce stands pack it in for the season. Fruitless, I start my afternoon in Niagara-on-the-Lake with a mandatory stop at The Living Water Wayside Chapel.
Living Water Wayside Chapel
Measuring just about 10×10 feet this chapel is the smallest (and most adorable) in the world. There are often line ups of tourists waiting to snap a shot of themselves in front of the tiny church (or inside, if they can fit). The Living Water Wayside Chapel has recently been relocated from it’s original spot on the Niagara Parkway to a neighbouring location just next to Walker’s Food Market.
A particularly windy afternoon on Queen Street in Niagara-on-the-Lake
Without a plan for the afternoon, I decide to consult some shop owners for tips on their “essential” Niagara-on-the-Lake. A sucker for amber stones and buddha statues, I begin my search at new age shop The Shiny Company located on Queen Street (the main drag). Stuart, proprietor of The Shiny Shop, is looking at me kinda funny. For good reason – he’s recovering from retina reattachment surgery. While selling spiritual stones at his booth in the CNE, his retinas detached. Recovery time is longer than you might expect as it’s been about 8 weeks already. At least he can finally see. A great conversationalist and story teller, Stuart makes some interesting recommendations for touring the town.
What is essential Niagara on The Lake visiting according to Stuart? Why the lake itself, of course. Sounds like an obvious starting point, but you’d be amazed at how many visitors never actually make it to the water.
On this gusty and grey day, waves crash into gigantic granite rocks along the shore. The rocks themselves are impressive. Large enough to stand on and tall enough that you’ve gotta watch your balance while stepping (jumping) from rock to rock.
A short ways down Lakeshore brings me to another sweet spot along the waterfront. This area used to be a beach. My mother tells me she swam and picnicked here as a girl. Increasing water quality issues render this beach less desirable for swimming and more of a viewpoint across the river to Youngstown, New York.
A group of French couples sit and converse on a nearby bench. The smell of one of their pipes fills the humid air as I envision the historic battle of 1812 which took place along these very shores.
River watching induces a craving for sweets and I opt for a carriage ride to the homey Niagara Bake Shop.
Shopkeeper Erin lets me take her photo as she sweeps the pesky autumn leaves from the entrance of the shop. She has already been photographed twice today by paparazzi like me.
What’s their specialty? Cinnamon Buns (after devouring, I concur). They’ve been baking ’em for 80 years.
Do I want to take a photo of the old soda machine? Yes, Erin, thank you for the suggestion. Although the soda fountain isn’t in operation, some of the more mature ladies who work at the bake shop can recall sipping sodas when they were young gals. I envision a scene from Grease or Pleasantville. I wonder if their favourite flavours were Sasparilla and Nectar.
With sticky cinnamon bun frosted hands I visit the Angel Inn. This inn is of particular interest because it’s rumoured to be haunted.
The Angel Inn was established in 1789 and rebuilt in 1815 after the war of 1812.
When spooked out guests hear noises in the middle of the night they call down to the front desk. The concierge assures them “Oh not to worry, Mrs. Brown, it’s only the resident ghost”. Charmed and armed with a ghost story, they enjoy the remainder of their stay. How would this same response go over at a Best Western?
While sitting in the pub I overhear a grandfather asking a wee one whether she’d like to leave her leftover chips for the ghost. The fabled ghost is thought to be Canadian soldier Swayze, killed at the Inn in 1813. Instead of joining his fellow soldiers in battle the story goes that romantic Swayze stayed behind to meet his beloved for a tryst at the inn. If his first name was Patrick and he communicates with his lover through a psychic and/or assists her in pottery making then we know where the screenplay for Ghost originated.
Over in the captain’s room I lie in wait for a spooky visit. Is this the room where Swayze and his lover had their pre-murder rendezvous? If it is, they aren’t ready to chat about it just yet. Disappointed the ghosts haven’t communicated with me, I fall into a dreamless slumber.