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Plaques

There are three provincial plaques located at this site, commemorating – the Court House and Gaol 1817-1866, The First Provincial Parliament 1792 and The Niagara Library.

On Sunday, September 21, 1958, a provincial plaque was unveiled to commemorate the court house and gaol of the old Niagara administrative district.

Further, on September 17, 1967, another provincial plaque was unveiled in front of the court house building to commemorate the first provincial parliament, located at Newark (now known as Niagara-on-the-Lake).

In addition, on Saturday, November 19, 1977, a third provincial plaque commemorating the Niagara Library – the first circulating library in the province – was unveiled at the court house building at 26 Queen Street in Niagara-on-the-Lake. This unveiling ceremony formed part of the 75th Conference of the Ontario Library Association.

The three respective plaque texts read as follows:

COURT-HOUSE AND GAOL 1817-1866

Here stood the court-house and gaol of the Niagara district. Erected in 1817, they were considered to be among the finest public buildings in the province. Robert Gourlay, the radical reformer, was imprisoned and tried for sedition here in 1819. In 1837, an escaped American slave, Moseby, threatened with return to his master, was forcibly rescued here by local Negroes abetted by other residents of Niagara. The courts moved elsewhere in 1847, and the gaol closed in 1866.

THE FIRST PROVINCIAL PARLIAMENT 1792

On September 17, 1792, Colonel John Graves Simcoe, Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada, opened in this community, then the capital, the first provincial parliament. The legislature consisted of an appointed Legislative Council and an elected Legislative Assembly. Its opening marked the introduction of a form of representative government into this province. Previously, both the French and British regimes had been directed by a royal governor advised by an appointed council of officials and prominent citizens. This first parliament held all its sittings in "Newark", as Simcoe re-named Niagara, but the second was summoned to meet in 1797 at York (Toronto), the new seat of government.

THE NIAGARA LIBRARY

On June 8, 1800, the Niagara Library, the first circulating library in Upper Canada, was established "to diffuse knowledge" among area subscribers. Financed by this group, library services were begun in 1801 with some 80 works for circulation, many on religion and history. Under the management of Andrew Heron, a merchant, the collection was steadily enlarged, and in 1805 the books of the Niagara Agricultural Society were added. The library operated successfully until the occupation of Newark (Niagara-on-the-Lake) by American forces in 1813, when numerous volumes were lost. By 1818, financial support for the library had seriously declined and in 1820, the holdings were incorporated in a new subscription library, begun two years earlier by Heron, then a publisher and book-seller.
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