Built on a 92-acre lot on the northwest end of Niagara-on-the-Lake, the Niagara Assembly established a summer resort built upon the ideas of the Chautauqua movement. Even though the summer resort has long since closed, the imprint that this organization has left behind has resulted in the development of a unique community in the heart of Niagara.
This area of Niagara-on-the-Lake hasn’t always been known as Chautauqua. Around 1795, James Crooks purchased a 90-acre property at Mississauga Point, which included the land at the mouth of One Mile Creek and built a brick home on an estate he called “Crookston”.
The American Invasion on Niagara--May 27, 1813 by Source: On Common Ground: The Ongoing Story of the Commons in Niagara-on-the-Lake, by Richard D. Merritt, p. 86. Image courtesy of Library and Archives Canada.Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum
On May 27, 1813, Crookston was the site of the initial bombardment for the American invasion on Niagara during the War of 1812. Crooks' home and estate were destroyed.
Photo of James Crooks' House near Flamborough, OntarioNiagara-on-the-Lake Museum
James never rebuilt his estate. He resettled to the Hamilton area to the home pictured here, but the 90-acre Niagara property would remain in the family until 1886.
The Niagara Assembly
In the early 1880s, Robert Warren, postmaster for Niagara, and others from Toronto wanted to establish a summer camp based on the ideas of the Chautauqua movement. They founded The Niagara Assembly (formerly the Fort George Assembly) and purchased the Crooks property in 1886 so they could build the Canadian Chautauqua.
What is Chautauqua?
Chautauqua is an adult education movement that gained popularity during the late-19th and early-20th Centuries. Independent Chautauqua’s, or Assemblies, spread throughout the United States and eventually this movement made its way to Niagara-on-the-Lake. To this day the Chautauqua Institute still operates a summer education program in Chautauqua, New York.
Map of the Canadian ChautauquaNiagara-on-the-Lake Museum
The Canadian Chautauqua was designed as a spoke and wheel pattern with the streets radiating from a central point. The Assembly constructed a wharf and carefully laid out the property with ~500 building lots and a section of the property (bordering the lake) was reserved and named Ryerson Park.
The Chautauqua AmphitheatreNiagara-on-the-Lake Museum
This is the only known photograph of the amphitheater which was the hub of the property. It could seat 4,000 people.
The Canadian Chautauqua
The first season of the Canadian Chautauqua was in the summer of 1887, and it lasted for 11 days. While the attendance was moderate, and the accommodations limited, guests expressed great satisfaction with the program.
By the start of the second season (1888) the Hotel Chautauqua was built, and it had all the conveniences of the time: electricity, a telegraph and telephone, baths and a barbershop, and a beautiful dining room.
View of the Assembly GroundsNiagara-on-the-Lake Museum
A second hotel, the Lakeside House (pictured), was also built. Tents were also a very popular and inexpensive means of accommodation. Guests could bring their own tents, or they could be acquired on site.
There were a variety of activities available including a lawn bowling, tennis and croquet, baseball, and golf. Local resident, John Readhead, also opened the Chautauqua Boat and Bath Houses at the Niagara Assembly's Beach. Boats could be rented for boating or fishing, and he supplied both ladies and men’s bathing costumes.
Group of Unknown Individuals at Ryerson Park, c. 1890Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum
Pamphlet for the Canadian Chautauqua Season of 1888 Pamphlet for the Canadian Chautauqua Season of 1888, page 35Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum
Educational classes were also available (for a fee), which encompassed the subjects of physical training, kindergarten work, music, historical and political science, English and botany.
Routes & Rates
Participants could get to here via the Toronto and Niagara Navigation Company steamers, the Cibola and Chicora, which made daily round trips to Niagara, and via the Railroad.
Pamphlet for the Canadian Chautauqua Season of 1891 Pamphlet for the Canadian Chautauqua Season of 1891, page 33Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum
Admission varied depending on the season and length of stay. Seasonal, weekly and daily passes were available, but accommodations were extra.
The Downfall of the Canadian Chautauqua
Despite the initial interest, the enterprise was doomed to fail. A lack of accommodations, limited property sales and financial reversals lead to the Assembly’s dissolution in 1894. A new company called the Niagara Syndicate purchased the resort and ran the hotel, which was renamed to Hotel Strathcona.
International Student Y.M.C.A. Conference, June 1908Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum
Hotel Strathcona, 1908
Picture Postcard of the Hotel Strathcona, formerly the Chautauqua HotelNiagara-on-the-Lake Museum
On August 27, 1909, the Hotel Strathcona was destroyed by fire. The damages were so significant that the Syndicate decided not to rebuild.
The Mississauga Land Beach Association
Eventually, The Mississauga Land Beach Company purchased the remaining land in 1922, laid out a subdivision, and sold the remaining available lots. The company fell into some financial hardships, loosing most of the unsold land to the Town who ended up selling the remaining lots for the unpaid taxes.
Eventually the lots were purchased, and homes were built. Because of the Niagara Assembly and their summer resort, a unique and lively community known as “Chautauqua” has developed in Niagara-on-the-Lake!