Known for the acclaimed drama festival, rustic splendor, and world-famous wine, Niagara-on-the-Lake’s charming small town atmosphere is an open secret for tourists and residents alike. Its reputation brings tourists and residents to enjoy tranquil relaxation without having to go too far from the big city.
Whether it’s for a weekend getaway, a summer property, or your next primary residence, living in Niagara-on-the-Lake has just the combination of privacy and activity to encourage anyone to call this town home.
Read on to learn about Niagara-on-the-Lake’s history, culture, and everything you should know about this Southern Ontario town.
Incorporated in 1970, Niagara-on-the-Lake is located where Lake Ontario and the Niagara River meet and has a population of just under 20,000 permanent residents. Its location at the juncture of two historically critical waterways gives a hint to the rich and storied history of the settlement.
This old town is packed with vegetation and features splendid 19th-century buildings near the river, also where the British built Fort George to defend against American aggression from the south.
Read on to discover more of what Niagara-on-the-Lake has to offer, and if you’re considering real estate in the area don’t hesitate to reach out to one of our experienced associates to help you along your real estate journey.
The History of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario
Like most Canadian cities, human settlement in Niagara-on-the-Lake began with Indigenous peoples making use of the land. The Iroquoian Netural people occupied this particular part of the Niagara Peninsula, specifically between the Grand and Niagara Rivers. Their name was curiously applied by the French in the area, calling them neutral because they seemed to remain neutral in Western conflicts in the area.
The word Niagara itself is thought to derive from Iroquoian. Although the exact history is unknown, it’s thought to mean “thundering waters” or “neck,” referring to both the meeting of waterways and the monumental Niagara Falls just a short trip away.
Similar to most other Ontario towns, the first European settlers in the area were refugees fleeing conflict during the American Revolution. After the war, Britain provided land grants to Loyalist settlers, and the town of Niagara was laid out on the Niagara River.
The first lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada, John Graves Simcoe, later chose Niagara as the temporary capital of the Province. Parliament was held there until 1796 when it moved to what we call Toronto today. Curiously, he also changed the town’s name to Newark, but citizens later petitioned it to be changed to Niagara. It wouldn’t be until a century later that the “on-the-lake” suffix was added to distinguish it from Niagara Falls, which lies 20km. to the south.
Like mainly lakeside towns, Niagara gained a growing reputation for ship building throughout the early 19th century. The industry declined following economic downturn and the completion of the Welland Canal.
This critical development also meant Niagara was no longer the important port town it once was, although the railway had a revitalizing effect towards the turn of the century. Foreshadowing its future as a tourist destination, Niagara-on-the-Lake became one of Canada’s early tourist destinations.
The influx of visitors caused amenities like hotels and restaurants to appear, with both steamers and trains bringing visitors from locations as far as New York. Taking advantage of revitalized transportation, people began shipping agricultural products to larger towns using the same vessels.
The wars and depression largely came and went in the area, marked mostly by difficult times economically. Conditions worsened after the Second World War, especially with how that great conflict stalled tourism. We have these tough economic conditions to thank for the historical buildings which remain in Niagara-on-the-Lake to this day. With little money for new buildings, residents made do with the structures that were already standing. They still bring tourists to appreciate them to this day.
Throughout the 60’s small groups of private citizens began purchasing and restoring these older buildings, and the Shaw Festival was devised to help tourism flourish.
Following the trend of the last half century, the primary driving force behind Niagara-on-the-Lake’s economy are agriculture and tourism. While agriculture itself isn’t practiced in the town proper, the surrounding landscape allows for the growing of fruit, and more importantly, grapes. The wineries which have developed to cultivate these grapes specialize in various types of wines, elevating Niagara into an internationally-acclaimed wine region. Both the tourism associated with visiting the wineries and the wines they produce are popular the world over. Ice wine specifically is especially well known because Canada’s climate provides the specific conditions that vineyards need to produce high quality ice wines.
On the cultural side, the Shaw Festival has grown in popularity since its inception over 50 years ago. Today it encompasses 3 theatres and attracts theatre enthusiasts from far and wide each early spring and late autumn. Many visitors stay to take in the local history, buildings, and all the other amenities Niagara-on-the-Lake has to offer.
Recreation in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario
Most of Niagara-on-the-Lake’s recreation takes place outdoors. While the town has a local recreation centre, golf club, tennis club, and more, many residents and visitors love taking advantage of the Lake and surrounding natural beauty.
Although much of the Niagara peninsula near Niagara-on-the-Lake is taken up by wineries and agriculture, the town still has some gorgeous greenspaces to enjoy year-round. A waterfront walk along the Niagara River is a particular highlight.
Aside from physical recreation, residents can enjoy getting involved with local clubs and organizations or volunteering for the festivals which put this town on the map.
With historic roots and a small population, much of the real estate making up Niagara-on-the-Lake consists of single-family detached homes. Well over half of homes in the town fall into this category. That’s welcome news to prospective homebuyers looking for a bit more space and privacy than you might find in larger neighbouring cities. The low population density ensures a quiet atmosphere in this tightly-knit community.
The second most prominent real estate category is semi-detached housing, while high-density accommodations make up a fraction of the total housing pool.
Residents here love the temperate weather, proximity to the lake, and historic city centre. Interested in buying real estate in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario? Now that you’ve learned a bit about what life is like in this charming Ontario town, let us know if you have any questions about real estate in the area.
Getting to and from the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake by car is typically achieved by taking a short drive down Highway 55 before merging with the QEW. Driving is the most convenient means of transportation, since there are no direct routes to this small community by bus or train.
Travelers going by bus or train must stop at one of the cities along the QEW and take alternate transportation options from there, most commonly a taxi.
If you’re taken with the urge to explore real estate in Niagara-on-the-Lake, let us know if you have any questions. With 30 years of experience helping 1,000’s of GTA residents buy and sell property, we can address any pressing questions you may have.
Contact us to get started on your real estate journey in Niagara-on-the-Lake or call us at (416) 917-5466. One of our representatives would be happy to assist.