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1. Where do I do genealogy research?

Both the Niagara Historical Society Museum and the Niagara-on-the-Lake Public Library can assist you with your genealogical research. We advise you to contact or visit the Library first ( as they have a substantial collection of microfilm and other materials that are related to family research. The Museum can then be utilized for other information and filling in holes in the research as we have a large collection of archival materials, research files and books on the history of the community that will aid in your understanding of your family history.

2. How did the War of 1812 start?

The War of 1812 was part of a global conflict. Britain and her allies were in a death-struggle with the French under Napoleon Bonaparte, trying to prevent the French from dominating Europe and the far-flung European colonies throughout the world.

Britain's army and navy were fully committed to stopping Napoleon's ambitions for a worldwide French empire when the United States declared war. Canada would be the battleground.

To prevent supplies from reaching Napoleon, the Royal Navy maintained a blockade of French ports and patrolled the high seas, stopping merchant vessels in international waters, including those of the neutral United States. Before 1812, more than 5000 sailors were seized from American ships and forced to serve in the Royal Navy. This threat to American sovereignty was one of the causes of the War of 1812.

Following the American Revolution, the settlements of the United States were pushed westward. The rights of Aboriginal peoples were ignored. Their land was seized by land speculators. Under leaders like Tecumseh, many of the Aboriginal people resisted. In the skirmishes and battles that resulted, the Americans suspected the British of aiding the Aboriginal people. This perceived violation of American sovereignty was another cause of the War of 1812.

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3. Do you have history related to the Underground Railroad?

Yes and no. Niagara-on-the-Lake is not considered a destination on the Underground Railroad. We are still conducting research to determine the role of the residents of Niagara on this important North American network. Research has determined that a safe house was located in Lewiston, New York, which is across from the village of Queenston. We have no evidence of a relationship between the Lewiston House and Queenston; however, it is logical that there is a connection. Niagara’s black history dates back to the settlement of the community in the 1780s. Some of Niagara’s first settlers brought slaves with them, but, it was in Niagara-on-the-Lake that slavery was abolished in Upper Canada during the second session of parliament. This is the first colony in the British Empire to enact such legislation.

The black community of Niagara played a crucial role in the development of the town and township. The Museum has strived to tell their story alongside of the other stories of our history. Visitors will see many biographies and connections between the black community and other citizens of Niagara. A black history guide to the Museum is available and those interested may wish to purchase a copy of “Slavery and Freedom”. Published by the Niagara Historical Society, “Slavery and Freedom” is a very thorough look at the history of Niagara’s black community.

4. How do I donate to the collection

The Niagara Historical Society Museum continues to collect material related to the history of Niagara-on-the-Lake. Our policy states that artefacts coming into the collection must have a direct connection to the town and former township of Niagara-on-the-Lake. All artefacts are examined by the Museum’s Collection Management Committee. This committee consists of volunteers and community members who determine the relevance and importance of the material and the suitability to our collection. For more information please contact the Managing Director.

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5. What is Upper Canada?

At the time of the American Revolution, Niagara was part of the colony of Quebec and very unpopulated. Quebec had retained French law, language and culture. All of this was unfamiliar to the Loyalists. Many Loyalists left the American colonies after the Revolution in search of a new home. These new arrivals had fought, suffered, given up home and money to retain their culture, their way of life; they were not about to give it up again.

In 1791, the Constitution Act passed in London, creating the two Canadas, Upper and Lower. These later became the provinces of Ontario and Quebec.

Upper Canada refers to the geographical elevation of the province that is upstream (mostly of the St. Lawrence River, the main transportation route at the time) from Lower Canada.

6. Why was Niagara-on-the-Lake once called Newark?

Niagara-on-the-Lake has changed names numerous times. The following have been used to identify the area now known as Niagara-on-the-Lake: Ounagara, Ongiara (both Native origins), Butlersburg, Nassau, Lennox, West Niagara, Niagara, Newark, Niagara and finally Niagara-on-the-Lake. The term Newark started in the 1790s when the capital of Upper Canada was in the town. The most common local reference was Niagara; however, for a British colonial capital this was seen as too native a term. Officially Newark was taken, but locals continued to use Niagara on a regular basis. It wasn’t until the late 1890s that Niagara-on-the-Lake was added to avoid confusion with the popular Niagara Falls, 20 kilometers upstream.

7. What is a UEL?

In the main, the United Empire Loyalists were those who had been settled in the thirteen colonies at the outbreak of the American Revolution, who remained loyal to and took up the Royal Standard, and who settled in what is now Canada at the end of the war.

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® Image: View of Fort George, Oil on canvass, C. Kreighoff 1823