Drink planning is key for enjoying this winery and craft brewery-rich heritage town

Historians will tell you the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake takes root in 1781. It was first named Butlersburg in honour of the celebrated Colonel John Butler, the commander of Butler’s Rangers. Today, the population base is listed at approximately 15,400, but that doesn’t tell the whole story of what it’s like during the summer. As the weather turns to sunny days, tourists flood Queen Street, visiting the shops, taking in a play at the annual Shaw Festival or watching gun smoke light up the fields outside Fort George, all while staying at some of Canada’s finest hotels and Inns.

Fort George2

You might think there is nothing new to discover in one of our province’s oldest towns, but in fact, just the opposite is true. As someone who has lived in the area all my life, I am still finding new places to explore in Niagara-on-the-Lake and until last year, had no idea that the town’s best hotel is probably one of its biggest secrets.

Leaving the Queen Elizabeth Highway, I point the 2016 Jaguar XF-S in the direction of Airport Road before intersecting with Highway 55, which leads directly into Niagara-on-the-Lake (N.O.T.L.). Speed limits along this stretch of two-lane highway are tenaciously enforced and while I am tempted to push it, I resist, which turns out to be a wise decision, as I pass not one but two speed traps.

Approaching the small town of Virgil, it’s worth making a quick stop at The Pie Plate bakery for a few homemade snacks to take along. Across the street, Silversmith Brewery and Beer Hall resides in what was once the town’s central church. Pews have been replaced with tables for four, and benches along the peaked windows now host the raising of pints by the customers rather than parishioners holding hymnals.

Silversmith Brewery Beer Hall Interior

Not to be forgotten on the trail of craft breweries, Niagara Oast House Brewers stands out from the farming countryside with its bright red and white livery. A former craft store, large tanks filled with craft beer stand where antiques used to occupy space. With a new event space on the loft floor overlooking one of many vineyards in Niagara, Oast House will soon feature one of the area’s most sizable and uniquely designed outdoor patios, with beer on tap and plenty of sunshine.  

The town of Niagara-on-the-Lake sneaks up on you as you continue down Highway 55 and come to a sudden T-stop at the corner of what is now Mississauga Road and Queen Street. Ahead is the Niagara-on-the-Lake Golf Club, which bills itself as North America’s oldest course; flying the flags on its perfectly manicured 9-hole layout as far back as 1875 (though Google and Wikipedia both suggest that this ‘first in North America’ distinction belongs to another Canadian course, the Royal Montreal Golf Club, established in 1873). On site is old Fort Mississauga, a shell of its former self, but a historically significant landmark poised to overlook the Niagara River and once rival to Old Fort Niagara on the U.S. side.

A right turn on Queen Street is a step back to a simpler time. There are still a few palatial homes dotting the street, but for the most part shops and restaurants have replaced the personal residences of the previous era, including the town’s one-and-only Starbucks.

The Charles Inn 1

Passing the historic Charles Inn on the riverside, it is easy to miss the gated entrance for what is by all accounts the finest hotel in Niagara. Located off the main street behind the aforementioned Starbucks and local artist shops, 124 on Queen Hotel & Spa is a true hidden gem. A series of classic buildings designed to blend in perfectly with the centuries-old landscape, the amenities and room options are completely modern and first-class.

Décor is warm and inviting, with several of the suites offering exceptional views of bustling Queen Street. Strict sound-deadening keeps everything quite as you relax in the living room with fireplace, or for a special treat, opt for the chef’s in-room dining experience hosted on your full-size island in the kitchen. Walk down to the spa for relaxation, or go for a stroll in town: the icon of romance in Niagara, the famed Gazebo at Queen’s Royal Park overlooking the Niagara River, is about a ten-minute walk.

Staying at the hotel, it is easy to get out and experience several of the best wineries in Niagara. A shuttle ride is available and takes guest on a short drive to the famous Jackson-Triggs Winery located back on Highway 55 just outside of Virgil, ON. But my penchant on this day is a visit to several of the lesser known, but no less celebrated vineyards, the area has to offer.


A little further down the road, Trius Winery at Hillebrand has quickly become a favourite of the locals and Ontario wine lovers in general. Under the watchful eye and nose of winemaker Craig McDonald, he crafts small-batch showcase wines including Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Single Barrel Chardonnay’s that delight and inspire a new generation of wine aficionados. Plus electric vehicle drivers can recharge their vehicles at one of several charging stations on the property.

Continuing down Highway 55, we visit the modern confines of Southbrook Vineyards. From the highway, it looks as if the building is more than a kilometre long, when in fact the glass and steel confines are intimate and inviting. From the tasting bar you have excellent views of the vines and blue skies for which the Niagara fruit belt is justly renown. A biodynamic organic vineyard, Poetica is their limited edition wine selection, while Connect may be some of the easiest drinking white wines you will experience while in Niagara.        

Before heading back to the hotel, we make one more stop to sample several of the award-winning reds at Two Sisters Vineyards and in particular their 2010 Merlot. Proprietors Angela Marotta and Melissa Marotta-Paolichelli have designed a winery right out of a Napa Valley brochure, with new releases and perfectly manicured vineyards on John Street West in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Avid art lovers may recognize the residence next door as the celebrated home of Trisha Romance.

Two Sisters Winery Kitchen 76

A right turn out of the tree-lined driveway at Two Sisters Vineyards leads to the famed River Road and quick passage back to the centre of Niagara-on-the-Lake. Passing the Prince of Wales hotel, horse-drawn carriages mix with exotic cars as the true eclectic nature of this quaint centuries-old town is revealed on a typical summer day.

A pub crawl to the Olde Angel Inn and then a quick walk around the block to Treadwell Farm to Table Cuisine restaurant offers the perfect end to this busy day. This is what makes Niagara-on-the-Lake so compelling. Walking or driving, local or tourist, you never run out of things to do and you can always count on great food and drink for the perfect finish to an extraordinary day.