Brock's Monument, Queenston Heights

The monument to Sir Isaac Brock stands sentinel-like atop the Niagara Escarpment at Queenston Heights, overlooking the lower Niagara River. It is the second monument to the fallen hero of the Battle of Queenston Heights.

The First Monument to Sir Isaac Brock

The Parliament of Upper Canada passed the Act to "provide for the erection of a monument to the memory of the late President, Major-General Sir Isaac Brock" on 14 March 1815. The Legislature approved the sum of £500 for the construction of a monument on the "Heights of Queenston near the spot where he fell." In its enthusiasm, the government granted a further sum of £1000 to complete the monument on a scale worthy of the subject. (A public monument to Brock had been erected in 1814 in St. Paul's Cathedral, London, the last resting place also of Nelson and Wellington. The memorial was executed by Sir Richard Westmacott, a renowned British sculptor.)

After rejecting the Brock family's recommendation that the Queenston monument also be sculpted by Westmacott, the monument committee selected a design by an engineer named Francis Hall. His design was for a Tuscan column of cut stone, 38 metres in height, with a winding stone staircase inside.

Work was started on the monument in the spring of 1823. There was an observation deck at the top of the stairs, with impressive views of the Niagara River and Lake Ontario. The remains of General Brock and his aide-de-camp, John Macdonell, were removed from Fort George and re-interred with solemn ceremony under the new monument on 13 October 1824. (At the base of the monument, there was a lobby with a bar.) This first monument to Brock on Queenston Heights was regarded by Upper Canadians with great reverence and pride, not only as a tribute to personal heroism but as a symbol of British power.

On 17 April 1840 the monument was badly damaged by an explosion of gunpowder. Among those involved Benjamin Lett, a man with republican and Fenian sympathies, has been held primarily responsible for this vandalism. Lett fled to the United States, where he was arrested for an attempt to burn the steamship Great Britain at Oswego, NY. The enterprising Lett escaped from the train conveying him to prison at Auburn, NY. He was later pardoned and died mysteriously of strychnine poisoning in Milwaukee.

The tower, meantime, was in ruin, cracked on one side and shattered above the gallery.

Isaac Brock's Second Monument

At an emotional meeting of some 8000 people on Queenston Heights on 30 July 1840, it was resolved to create a new monument committee of 20 citizens, headed by wealthy businessman Sir Allan MacNab. The bodies of Brock and Macdonell were disinterred and reburied in the Hamilton family cemetery in Queenston.

The initial enthusiasm faded until interest was revived in 1852. By this time the commissioners were having second thoughts about the original proposal they had approved for an Egyptian obelisk, as they had heard that the Americans were erecting an obelisk as their national monument to George Washington.

A new architectural competition resulted in the selection of architect William Thomas, who had arrived in Toronto in April 1843. Thomas had gained much acclaim for the design of a number of handsome churches, notably St Michael's Cathedral (1845-48) in Toronto. (He had rather hopefully submitted drawings for the Nelson monument in London, England, in 1852.) His striking monument on Queenston Heights (1853-56) was made of local Queenston limestone. Its fluted column, containing 235 steps, rises 56 metres to the capital. On each face is a winged Victory with extended arms over shields. At the summit is an impressive 4.9-metre stone-carved statue of Sir Isaac Brock, designed by Thomas himself. Brock stands in a heroic pose, one arm holding a baton and the other resting on the hilt of his sword.

The cornerstone of the new monument was laid on the anniversary of Brock's death, 13 October 1853. The restless remains of Brock and Macdonell were laid to their final rest in new caskets, guarded by lions rampant with shields and placed in their separate vaults, Brock's to the north.

The official inauguration of the monument occurred on 13 October 1859. Thousands of people from around the province gathered on the heights to admire the wonder of the age. (The monument is 4 metres taller than the Nelson column in Trafalgar Square, London. The only column, ancient or modern, that exceeds Brock's in height is Christopher Wren's monument to the Great Fire of London.) The monument gave a great sense of pride to the citizenry of Upper Canada as well as to the architect, and a model of his column was chosen to represent Canada at the 1855 Paris Exhibition.

Access to the small platform at the top of the column, where one can view the heights and the Niagara River through portholes, was closed for several years and reopened in 2010 after a $1-million refurbishing.

Author: James Marsh

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