The Niagara Parks Commission
In 1878 Governor General Lord Dufferin, during a meeting with Governor Robinson of New York State put forth the suggestion that action be taken by the New York State government and the Province of Ontario to jointly preserve one of the most magnificent wonders of the world for all the public, from all corners of the globe to enjoy, for an eternity.
Although initially viewed as being an unrealistic undertaking, Lord Dufferin's vision soon caught on. The general public was tired of seeing the falls taking on a carnival atmosphere with hackers and unscrupulous vendors sullying the areas reputation.
In 1883 a bill was passed at Albany, and endorsed by Governor Cleveland would see 107 acres preserved consisting of Goat and Bath Islands and an area known as Prospect Point.
On July 15th, 1885 at a cost of 1.5 million dollars the park opened to the public.
Progress on the Canadian Park did not fare as well. The Dominion government (federal government today) was not taking action on the matter. They did however possess ownership of a sixty six foot strip of land bordering the entire length of the Niagara River known as the Chain Reserve.
The Provincial government, failing to see any initiative on the federal level decided to appoint a commission to look into the matter of securing land for the purpose of a park. On March 30th, 1885 the Provincial House passed an act authorizing the appointment of a Board of Commissioners to perpetuate Lord Dufferin's vision and "for the preservation of the Niagara scenery about Niagara Falls.' The first chairman of the Niagara Parks Commission was Sir Casimer Gzowski, an engineer by trade, who held the post from 1885 - 1893.
Initially the park consisted of 154 acres extending from Clifton House to Dufferin Islands in the south. The cost of the park was $436.000.00 and the Government of Ontario, the parks benefactor stipulated two things. The first was that the park would not become a financial burden to the Province. The second stipulation was that the park, like its American counterpart was to be free to the public.
The next forty years were a busy time for The Niagara Parks Commission as they acquired more and more land along the Niagara River from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario. By this time the number of acres owned by the Park had increased from the initial 157 acres to 1,700 acres.
They initiated the construction of parks at Fort Erie, Niagara Falls, Niagara Glen and Queenston Heights. A parkway that would become known as the Niagara River Parkway would connect all the parks making accessibility from one park to the next possible.
The break down of land owned or leased by the Niagara Parks Commssion at this time is as follows: Butler's Burying Ground 2 acres, Niagara-on-the-Lake to Queenston Parkway, 105 acres, Queenston Heights Park, 110 acres, Queenston to Fort Erie Parkway, 350 acres, Niagara Glen 105 acres, the Chain Reserve from Niagara-on-the-Lake to Queen Victoria Park, 116 acres, Lundy's Lane Burial Ground, 4 acres, Queen Victoria Park (land) 104 acres, Queen Victoria Park (land under water) 167 acres, Queen Victoria Park - Fort Erie Village (Parkway) 166 acres, Fort Erie Village - Fort Erie Park, 14 acres, Mather Park, 8 acres, Fort Erie Park, 17 acres.
The Commission had made revenue estimates that far exceeded the actual revenues collected. The Commission estimated that if roughly 40% of patrons visiting the Falls paid 30 cents each the sum would be able to pay the interest of $10,000.00.
Factoring in the costs of labour to maintain the park, the interest on the loan and maintenance costs totalled $40,000 per annum. By the year 1893 the Niagara Parks Commission was in the red $35,700.00 and it became necessary for the Province of Ontario to step in and guarantee an additional sum of money. The newly formed Niagara Parks Commission was now indebted to the provincial government for $600,000.00.
When the Province of Ontario put up the bonds for the project it was agreed by the commission that the Niagara Parks would not be a burden to the taxpayers. It became necessary for the Commission to look beyond charging tolls as a major source of revenue and in 1889 negotiations began to take place regarding the transportation of electricity in the Niagara Falls Parks to generate much needed revenue.
The Commission was then able to secure an investment by several area businessmen to build an electric railway from Chippawa to Queenston. The railway car company would pay an annual fee of $10,000.00 to the Niagara Parks Commission. Once established, revenue from this business venture was able to pay one half of the interest on the loan.
After the First World War a new era of tourism would be ushered in with the invention of the automobile. Better roads and transportation networks would allow people from all over Canada and the United States to visit places that once seemed impossible.
By the year 1928 approximately 40,000 people had paid an admission to climb the steps of Brock's Monument, while over 230,000 tourists had patronized the electric railway, enjoying a scenic trip along the base of the niagara gorge in what was termed The Great Gorge Trip.
What began over 100 years ago with a little more than 100 acres has grown to now consist of aproximately 3,000 acres, all maintained by Niagara Parks. The attractiveness of this 35 mile swath of green from Fort Erie to Niagara-on-the-Lake has not only enhanced the appearance of the area but has become a signature feature of Niagara Falls. The beauty of the Niagara Parks is unsurpassed anywhere in North America with over 11 million people visiting every year.