From the Niagara Falls (Ontario) Public Library, Advertisment from an unknown publication for the Lafayette Hotel Niagara Falls
Visitors arriving in Niagara Falls a century ago had a number of hotels from which to choose, although, as would be expected, in 1902 the choice was not nearly as great as it is now.
One of the popular hotels here at that time was the Lafayette, which was located on River Road at what is now the north end of Oakes Garden Theatre. Owned by local entrepreneur Harry Williams, the Lafayette opened in June of 1896. It was named in honour of the famous French general and statesman the Marquis de Lafayette, who fought alongside the Americans during their War of Independence. Lafayette visited Niagara Falls in 1825, following the opening of the Erie Canal. He was particularly delighted with Goat Island, feeling it would make a wonderful location for a summer home.
Constructed of red brick, the hotel was four storeys high. A special feature was the roof garden and observatory. Reached by elevator, this was a very popular spot, especially for the spectacular view of the Falls it provided.
The Lafayette, which had 50 guest rooms, was considered to be a very up-to-date hotel for the time. Advertising in the Niagara Falls Daily Record in 1907 noted how it was "fitted with every modern convenience, electric lights, bells, elevator service, hot and cold water, phone service and private or public baths."
It also boasted an excellent dining room with a "buffet in connection where the choicest of imported wines and liquors, the popular brews of ales, beers and malted goods and the favourite brands of cigars and cigarettes" were available.
There were also parlours, a writing room and even a darkroom where guests could develop their photos of the Falls.
As an added attraction, the Lafayette had its own museum featuring interesting exhibits relating to Niagara Falls as well as other items. Harry Williams was a keen hunter so some of his museum displays were birds and animals that he had shot and had then stuffed.
In 1907, the hotel's rates were one dollar a day on the European plan or $2.50 per day if you used the American plan, which included your meals. As an added service to Niagara tourists, the Lafayette was open all year. Its next-door neighbour, the famous Clifton Hotel, which was at the corner of River Road and Clifton Hill, was open only during the summer months.
On the last day of December 1932, the Clifton Hotel caught fire and 24 hours later virtually the entire building was in ruins. (An earlier Clifton Hotel on the same site had also been destroyed by fire on June 28, 1898.) Although the Lafayette had been in great danger, it was saved thanks to the heroic efforts of the Niagara Falls fire fighters.
With the Great Depression then ravaging the world's economy, the United Hotel Company, which owned the Clifton, decided not to rebuild and offered the property for sale. It was purchased by Harry (later Sir Harry) Oakes in 1933. Oakes, a mining multi-millionaire who had moved to Niagara Falls from northern Ontario in the late 1920s, then bought the Lafayette from Harry Williams and had it demolished.
In 1934, Oakes, a member of the Niagara Parks Commission, gave the Commission the Clifton and Lafayette sites in exchange for a small piece of land above the high bank at the rear of Queen Victoria Park, adjacent to Clifton Hill.
The Commission was very pleased with Oakes' generous gift and developed what was named Oakes Garden Theatre on the property. A stunning blend of architectural and horticultural skills, Oakes Garden Theatre was formally opened on September 18, 1937.
It continues to delight countless visitors every year.
By Sherman Zavitz
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