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Through The Eyes Of A Stranger

Niagara On The Lake, Ontario is a favourite weekend destination for locals and visitors from around the world, sitting upstream from the famous and busy Niagara Falls. Its main streets are lined with shops, restaurants, theatres, inns, and even boasts a fort from the War of 1812 for history lovers. I’ve been there so many times that I’ve lost count, and I discovered in painting it recently, I knew very little about it.

I’ve written before about the phenomenon of seeing one’s hometown or region strictly as “home”, and how it’s a fun and enlightening practice to look at it through the eyes of a tourist or stranger – this always yields new learning and insights. I decided to do this for my latest miniature, “Downtown Niagara On The Lake”.

#142 – Downtown Niagara On The Lake – sold

Having selected from our family’s vast number of Niagara On The Lake photos as inspiration for this new piece, I became curious about the iconic clock tower on its main street since I knew nothing about this central landmark. What did I learn?

It is:

  • a 1921 cenotaph (meaning “empty tomb”) or memorial for local soldiers who died in WWI, WWII and the Korean War
  • etched with the names of all these soldiers
  • the only cenotaph standing in the middle of a community’s main street in Canada
  • also an emergency alarm station for the town
  • designed after the bell tower in Venice’s Piazza San Marco (no wonder it called to me!)

I also discovered that over the years it has undergone some decorative transformations. It initially did not have any landscaping, flowers or median around it – it was literally plunked starkly in the centre of the street. I wonder how many people ran into it! (Photos courtesy of the Niagara Falls Public Library archives)

Memorial Clock Tower 1920s

Twenty years (and likely more cars) later, there was a median and too much greenery around and on it – covered entirely in ivy was not a great look, in my opinion, because the brickwork is so lovely. Today’s presentation of flowers and small shrubs is just enough so the tower’s beauty can take centre stage.

Memorial Clock Tower 1940s

When I can remember to take a few minutes… it’s always a rewarding voyage of discovery to look around home through the eyes of a first-time, curious visitor. It makes my appreciation of where I live grow stronger, and more of my heart goes into my painting of it when I know its stories.

What have you discovered about your home when you’ve become Tourist instead of Citizen?

2.5″ x 3.5″ ink and watercolour

(Original sold)

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