Boasting elegant clapboard houses and verdant, mature gardens, all spread along tree-lined streets, NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, 26km downstream from the falls, is one of Ontario’s most charming little towns, much of it dating from the early nineteenth century. The town was originally known as Newark and became the first capital of Upper Canada in 1792, but four years later it lost this distinction to York (Toronto) because it was deemed too close to the American frontier, and therefore vulnerable to attack. The US army did, in fact, cross the river in 1813, destroying the town, but it was quickly rebuilt and renamed. Since then, it has managed to avoid all but the most sympathetic of modifications, except just away from the centre down on Melville Street, where a rash of new development and a marina add nothing to the appeal of the place.
Niagara-on-the-Lake attracts too many day-trippers for its own good, but the crowds stick religiously to the souvenir and knick-knack shops that line up on the main street and mostly melt away by 5 or 6pm. The town is also popular as the location of one of Canada’s most acclaimed theatre festivals, the Shaw Festival, which celebrates the works of George Bernard Shaw with performances from April to late October, and it is also surrounded by wineries, many of which welcome visitors.