Niagara-on-the-Lake Heritage: Colonel John Butler and Butler’s Barracks

John Butler was born in Connecticut, and was the son of an officer in the British Army. His father and brothers were involved in the British Indian Department, so John followed suit. He soon became friends with William Johnson, a man who forged alliances between the British and the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy.

He was married in 1752 to Catherine Bradt, and they had five children. By the year 1755, John Butler was a Captain in the British Indian Department and was adept at speaking several Indian languages. When the American Revolution broke out, he was sent to Quebec, but was soon dispatched to Niagara so he could manage the department there. Butler was instrumental in forming the alliance between the Natives and the British. During the Battle of Oriskany, which took place in August of 1777, he led a troop of Indians and Loyalists in an ambush. He was successful in this battle, was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, and was permitted to raise a Corps of Rangers to serve alongside the Indians on the battle frontlines. The name Butler’s Rangers (or Butlers Corps) was soon established, and the corps continued to grow in numbers. They fought in all major battles that took place on the Northern Front, and they were stationed at Fort Niagara. The Corps was in existence for six years and had over 600 men serve in its ranks. The Corps was disbanded in July of 1784.

When the Revolutionary War was over, Colonel John Butler settled in Niagara, where he began farming. He also served as the Deputy Superintendent of the Indian Department, a Justice of the Peace, a member of the Land Board of Niagara, Lieutenant of the County of Lincoln, Commanding Officer of the Nassau and Lincoln militias, a leader of the Church of England in the Niagara Community and a member of the Masonic Order. He was one of the founding fathers of Upper Canada, and an important figure in the history of the Niagara area. He died in 1796.

Visitors to Niagara-on-the-Lake can visit Butlers Burial Ground, located at the end of Butler Street in Niagara-on-the-Lake. It is a small green space containing the graves of Colonel John Butler and some of his family members, along with historical plaques providing details on his life.

You can also visit the monument marking the spot of the Butler Homestead as well as view the remains of the house foundation. It is located in the Colonel John Butler Homestead Park in St. Andrews Glen on Balmoral Drive.

Butler’s Barracks

Sitting on a large span of land just outside the Heritage District of Niagara-on-the-Lake, is a cluster of historical buildings known as Butlers Barracks. The parcel of land sits just West of Fort George and the buildings that were originally there served as the British Indian Department and essentially functioned like an embassy to the Aboriginal people in the Region. This group of buildings was eventually destroyed during the War of 1812.

When the War of 1812 ended, new barracks and buildings were constructed further away from the water, putting them in a less vulnerable position, away from the barrels of American cannons and guns. By 1854, the area was known as Butler’s Barracks, named so in tribute to the man who helped found Niagara.

In 1864, Butler’s Barracks consisted of 20 buildings that were surrounded by a barrier made of logs. Some buildings were located outside the barrier, and they include structures such as the Commissariat Officers Quarters, the Commandants’s Quarters, the Hospital, a fuel yard, and some storehouses. The site was soon the headquarters for the defense efforts in Niagara.

As time went on, the site was used as a summer training camp for military units, and upon the outbreak of World War One in 1914, it was used as a training ground for over 14,000 soldiers from the 2nd Division of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. By 1917, Butler’s Barracks became the winter training camp for the Polish army. It continued to serve as a training camp right through to the 1960s. Soldiers that trained there served in the Second World War, the Boer War and the Korean War, as well as trained for numerous peacekeeping missions.

These days, the spot is a national historic site and stands as a tribute to a great man in Niagara’s history and also as a commemoration of over 150 years of military activity. The site currently has four of the original British Colonial buildings and one Canadian built structure.

Visitors to Niagara-on-the-Lake are free to walk through the existing military complex, and take a self-guided tour as laid out by the informational plaques sprinkled around the site.

Site Highlights:

The Soldier’s Two Story Barracks

• Built in 1817/1818.
• Two story buildings that could house up to 100 soldiers.
• Built of log and brick, with musket loopholes instead of windows.
• Today is home to the Lincoln and Welland Regimented Museum.

The Commissariat Store and Office

• Built in 1839.
• 2-½ story building, which had stores serving the British Commissariat Department.

The Junior Commissariat Officer’s Quarters

• Built in 1817
• Originally meant to be stables, but was turned into a residence and office.

The Gunshed

• Built in 1821
• Was used to store guns and artillery supplies

The Korean War Building
• Built after the Korean War, though typical of many of the buildings that once stood in this spot.

Military Roads
The trail you will find is called The Otter Trail (named after Sir William Otter, Canada’s first Canadian born General that served the Canadian Army). The trail links Fort George and Butler’s Barracks, and also connects to two recreational trails: the Waterfront Trail and the Niagara River Recreational Trail. You’ll also notice other marked trees planted around the site that indicate where other roadways once existed.

The Engineer’s Bridge
This structure was built by the Royal Canadian Engineers, many of who went on to fight and perish in the First World War.

Butler’s Barracks is an extremely interesting place to visit, especially when the weather gets a little bit warmer, as only one of the buildings is open for public viewing. Strolling through the complex, it’s easy to picture lines of soldiers marching solemnly and practicing their drills, preparing to defend the country.

Niagara-on-the-Lake is an area rife with history, and spring is the perfect time for exploring these fascinating structures that serve as reminders of Niagara’s sometimes bloody, though always compelling past.

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