Actually, save the old Town Hall…
Of my many interests I’ve had over the years, local history was an early one. I remember in grade 6 geography class–as taught by New Zealander, Mr. Smith, at James Morden School–I would gaze at the senior kids’ 1812 class-project posters displayed on the wall. I was fascinated by it. I literally couldn’t wait to take grade 7 history and so I ‘borrowed’ a copy of the Early Canada text book the older kids had the privilege of taking home. I still have it somewhere.
I read that text book from cover to cover many times and begged my mom to take me to the public library for more like it. I was particularly enamoured by the war of 1812 and the rest of the 19th century. I became a fan of authors like Pierre Burton et al. I collected any historical works I could get my hands on and was an avid reader of Official Historian, Sherman Zavitz’s Niagara Falls Review column, Niagara Then and Now. I even have a cloth-bound 1967 Centennial Edition (perhaps also the first edition) of Niagara Falls, Canada – a history; a book I refer to quite often while researching for my adventure series and even consulted it to pen this blog post.
I won’t bore you with my period cane and hat collections, but it’s safe to say I have a deep-rooted love of history–especially local history. That’s why I was shocked when I found out that Niagara Falls City Council voted to tear down the old City Hall building. It was erected on Queen Street as a town hall in 1866, back when the area was known as the town of Clifton. Local lore hints that the workers building it threw down their tools to defend it’s walls during the Fenian Raids. The builders had looked to the future, though, as the building was capable of accommodating business for a population of 20,000 when there were only over 2000 people living in Clifton at the time. The building was the home of butcher shops, a Mechanics Institute (library), and more, before serving as City Hall. It predates the amalgamation of Clifton into the city of Niagara Falls and is even older than Canada itself (Confederation was in 1867). That’s enough for me, but have a look at the original building (pictured below). Can you see what it could be again?
Now here’s the thing: in 1954, the building had an ugly facelift under then-mayor E. M. Hawkins. This new façade was placed over the existing building and modernized it in a way that only the 1950’s can. It was abandoned almost three decades ago now and left to rot. The cost to demolish it is estimated at $260,000 and the cost to restore it would soar into the millions, according to the current mayor. But far more cash has been spent on far less in Niagara Falls, as most know. And underneath that façade lies the potential for restored greatness. Perhaps with a little ingenuity, some funds, and a lot of respect for our history, we can preserve this remarkable structure and use it as a beacon of hope for the rest of the historical buildings on Queen Street. As a former small business owner on Queen Street, I know how amazing it could be with the right leadership.
A petition was started on change.org by Alex Colangelo, a professor at Humber College. Mr. Colangelo hopes to halt the destruction of this treasured building. I signed and I hope you’ll sign, too. (Click anywhere on this paragraph to go to the petition).
There is something magical about old buildings in Niagara Falls, but you have to look past some of the disrepair to see it. Many other less-famous towns across the planet have preserved or restored architecture for thousands of years. Even our neighbouring city, Niagara on the Lake (formerly Newark–the capital of Upper Canada), has done a wonderful job preserving and maintaining old buildings just 16 KM away from the Honeymoon City. What is the deal? On the surface, it looks very much like the council is far more interested in funnelling money into the cheesy tourist district owned by the people with a lot of money already, than preserving our structural heritage. So much has already been lost due to profit. It is heartbreaking.
John Law, a reporter for the Niagara Falls Review, wrote an article about this plight and petition. You can check to out here. I was quoted in the article because I was one of the first people to sign the petition.
We absolutely must do everything we can to preserve these relics of our past. Once we tear it down, we cannot put it back up. It will be gone forever.
While the old City Hall isn’t a clock tower and this isn’t the film, Back to the Future, it sure feels similar to me. Maybe we need to start printing off handouts with the old photo as pictured here to pass around to local residents just like in the film. I mean, all anyone really needs to do is see how it was, in order to see what it could be again.
Please take a moment to sign the petition here. Let’s show the stiffs running the show in Niagara Falls that we will not stand for the destruction of a once-prominent building in the storied past of a beloved city.