Elizabeth Simcoe and 18th century Niagara Region in focus

Elizabeth Simcoe will be the subject of a virtual Women's History Month event by Old Fort Niagara. Photo from Library and Archives of Canada, painted by Mary Anne Burges.

YOUNGSTOWN — In honor of Women’s History Month, Old Fort Niagara will host a Zoom lecture, “A Colorful Life: Elizabeth Simcoe's Niagara Experience” from 7 to 7:45 p.m. Wednesday.

Hanae Weber, a civilian interpreter and sewing assistant at Old Fort Niagara, will be leading the event. She said she wanted to focus on a notable woman of the Niagara region. Elizabeth Simcoe was born Elizabeth Posthuma Gwillimis, marrying John Graves Simcoe in 1782, the first lieutenant governor of Upper Canada, now called lieutenant governor of Ontario. Posthumously, Simcoe has become known for her unique watercolor paintings and her extensive diary, which documents her life in the Niagara and Ontario regions during the late-18th and early 19th centuries. Weber spoke about some of the things people will learn and see during the lecture.

“… We’re going to be mostly looking at some of Elizabeth Simcoe’s watercolors,” Weber said. “There are over 200 surviving watercolors of hers. We’re not going to be looking at all of them, but we are going to look at some of the prettier ones. And specifically some of the ones she did while living in the Niagara Region. There will definitely be some familiar sites to anyone who is local to this region, you’ll be able to see what our home looked like in the 1790s, through the eyes of a British woman who was traveling through here.”

One of the reasons Simcoe stands out from other women of the time goes beyond her adventurous spirit. Weber found, through her research, Simcoe was a wealthy woman with an amount that would be in the multi-millions today. She threw away a luxurious life to come to the then-underdeveloped Niagara Region, camping in the American wilderness. Simcoe was known for seeing the world as a place filled with experiences and as a work of art waiting to be put on the canvas.

Along with learning about Simcoe, Weber is hoping people will also understand what the Niagara Region was like in the 1790s. During the lecture, there will be paintings of Niagara Falls and the area known as Whirlpool State Park. One of Weber’s favorite Simcoe paintings is called “A Bend in the St. Lawrence”, which details a sunrise on the St. Lawrence River, using rich colors. While the research was interesting to uncover, there were some challenges in putting this lecture together.

“It’s always difficult with finding information sometimes. It was the 1790s which is when Elizabeth Simcoe was at Fort Niagara, quite a long time ago. Sometimes it can be challenging to find documentation or letters. In her case, we’re very lucky that her diary was preserved, so there are a couple different published copies of that. But, I think finding the things that I wanted to use, and certainly with COVID-19, it might have been a little easier to get my hands on things, if I could go places. The Archives of Ontario was very helpful to me with this process by allowing me to use several of Elizabeth Simcoe’s watercolors.”

Because the pandemic shut down the U.S.-Canada border, Weber wasn’t able to physically go to the archives, she would have been able to see more of Simcoe’s paintings to possibly use in the lecture. Last March, there were plans to do a women’s history event about four women living in Niagara, through the lens of fashion, Weber said, though it was cancelled due to the pandemic shutdown. Weber hopes that event can be done later in 2021 or in spring 2022.

Spots for Wednesday's talk are limited and can be reserved by emailing Erika Schrader at eschrader@oldfortniagara.org.

Trending Video

Recommended for you