Top Five: Architectural Masterpieces
Buildings are works of art…
Niagara Parks is home to many incredible buildings. Most recently, the Butterfly Conservatory was selected by the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada and the National Trust for Canada Prix du XXe Siècle jury to receive the 2020 Prix du XXe Siècle Award of Excellence. It is an example of structural beauty, creativity and efficiency. The Butterfly Conservatory is the largest of its kind in North America. The glass-enclosed conservatory houses over 2,000 free-flying butterflies, many of which are imported from tropical regions, with the remainder being raised in-house.
Travel across our 56-KM Niagara River Parkway and you’ll discover many of our historic and magnificent structures. Here are our top five Architectural Masterpieces.
5. Oakes Garden Theatre
Our first stop is Oakes Garden Theatre. It was designed as the gateway to Queen Victoria Park and opened to the public in 1937. Created by architect William Somerville and landscape artists Dunnington-Grubb, it provided an amphitheatre, a peaceful place to walk and spectacular views of the Falls. When you visit Oakes Garden Theatre, you will find two impressive pavilions at each end of the pergola wall. They were positioned to offer spectacular views of the American Falls and the Canadian Falls. Every corner you turn, you’ll discover artwork in the form of sculpted reliefs, ornamental ironwork and the beautifully maintained garden features. This incredible entrance to Niagara Parks at the base of Clifton Hill is named in honour of local philanthropist Sir Harry Oakes. He was a Parks Commissioner, he owned the land before it was transferred to Niagara Parks and he was the inspiration for this place of peaceful reflection.
4. Toronto Power Generating Station
The Toronto Power Generating Station is a stunning Beaux Arts style building just above the Horseshoe Falls. It was designed by E.J. Lennox who also planned Old City Hall and Casa Loma in Toronto. The plant opened in 1906 and became fully operational by 1913. Water from the river rushed through the plant and down almost 16 stories to the tail race tunnel where the water flowed back into the river behind the Horseshoe waterfall. The powerplant eventually had the capacity to produce 100 million watts of electricity for the people of Toronto and operated until 1974. The roof of the Toronto Power building was used in 1918 to fire a rescue line to trapped crewman on a scow in the rapids of the river. The two men were rescued and the remains of the scow are still lodged on the rocks. Each year during Winter Festival of Lights this historic structure is transformed by a mesmerizing sound and light show with dancing colours moving in rhythm with holiday themed music.
Today, the Toronto Power Generating Station is one of Canada’s National Historic Sites.
3. Mather Arch
Our next stop is Mather Arch. Built by Niagara Parks in 1939 in the historic town of Fort Erie, Mather Arch is a beautiful monument surrounded by manicured gardens; it is a symbol of peace and friendship between Canada and the United States. The story of how Mather Arch came to be begins with Alonzo C. Mather, an inventor and successful businessman from Chicago. He made plans to build a combined bridge and power plant connecting Buffalo, New York and Fort Erie, Ontario. Mather purchased land for his elaborate building but it never came to fruition. Later in his life, as an act of friendship, Mather donated the land from his bridge plan, about 75 acres and $35,000 (or $700,000 in today’s dollars), to build this masterpiece to friendly relations along our shared border. On August 31st 1940, when the World desperately needed a glimmer of hope, this striking emblem of peace was unveiled. When Mather died in 1941, a further $250,000 or about $4.5 million was given to the Niagara Parks Commission and the Peace Bridge Commission to care for parklands along the river.
2. Oak Hall
One of the most spectacular homes in Niagara Falls has stood on a hill overlooking the Niagara River for over 200 years. Oak Hall was built by the Clark family and expanded by a series of owners. One of those owners was Sir Harry Oakes. The Canadian tycoon bought the home in 1924 from the Schoelkopf family of Western New York. It was during this period, the home was given the name “Oak Hall”. The architectural firm of Findlay and Foulis redesigned this architectural masterpiece to meet the needs of the 20th century. The home was clad in Queenston limestone with gargoyles to greet visitors. To complete the impressive Tudor style, a grand hall was created in the interior by removing two bedrooms and this left the estate with only 37 rooms. Other features of this spectacular home include an indoor swimming pool, central air conditioning and an elevator that is still in use today. During the Second World War, the striking mansion was used as a convalescent hospital for allied air crew. The Oakes family turned the home over to Niagara Parks in 1959. A tearoom and tours of the home were provided to visitors and a golf course opened in 1966, then in 1982, Oak Hall became the headquarters of the Niagara Parks Commission.
1. Niagara Parks Power Station
One of the most impressive buildings along the Niagara River Parkway is the Niagara Parks Power Station. The Romanesque style masterpiece with its green tile roof and arch bridge, located just steps from the Horseshoe Falls was the result of a collaboration between Canadians and Americans. Designed by architect Algernon S. Bell, the Niagara Parks Power Station was intended to mimic the Niagara Falls Power Company on the U.S. side of the Niagara River. It started generating power in 1905 and was the first major power plant on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. A marvel of engineering and architecture, the station’s generators were the largest of their kind, followed shortly after by those at the Toronto Power Generating Station, a short distance south. Built by horses and mules, the power plant provided 75 million watts of energy or 100,000 horsepower to people along the Niagara. The tail race tunnel sends river water from the plant back into the Niagara gorge just below Table Rock. This architectural marvel was the longest operating power plant along the Niagara River, providing electricity to people on both sides of the border from 1905 until 2006 and stands entirely intact. Today, visitors can explore inside the restored station to experience interactive exhibits, kids workshops, guided tours and a STEM-themed gift shop. At night, Currents: Niagara’s Power Transformed, an immersive sound and light reawakens the machinery of this iconic power plant through imagery, colour, lights, sound, and a breathtaking musical score.