The root word of “tourist” may be “tour,” but one doesn’t need to be a tourist to enjoy the Parks Canada History Tour offered by eSkoot Niagara.
My wife and I decided to take part in the tour on Canada Day weekend. We were to be accompanied by another local, Perry Johnson, and a St. Catharines couple, Konhee Lee and Sarah Chun.
The five of us were met at eSkoot by owner Colin Telfer, who took us through a brief hands-on tutorial on how to safely ride the e-scooters. This took place behind the eSkoot’s Mississauga Street building, on a smooth, looped pathway cutting through the yard.
In just a few moments, we were comfortable on the scooters and ready to take off with our Parks Canada tour guide, Peter Mitchell.
Mitchell’s affiliation with Fort George began in 1980 as a 13-year-old volunteer. He became an employee, then left to work at a Niagara radio station, but came back to work at the Fort in the early 90s. His enthusiasm for portraying a War of 1812 soldier led Mitchell to become an actor. He has appeared in many Firehall Theatre, Garden City Productions and Something-Something plays. In addition, he is also a drummer, having spent some time playing in local cover bands.
His enthusiasm is obvious, and it’s clear his background on stage and behind the microphone has resulted in an engaging presence. And one of the unique things of this tour is that Mitchell is flexible, ready to take suggestions as to what we might like to learn about the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Our tour began at the William and Susannah Steward House on John Street, where we learned about the first black settlers in town. On our way to our next stop, at Ryerson Park, we had a chance to open the throttle on our scooters. Mine took me to a top speed of 35 kilometres an hour, while my wife was obviously riding a faster scooter. She was able to slowly pull away, arriving at our destination a few moments ahead of me.
Once we were at Ryerson Park, Mitchell vividly described the American invasion that began on that site in May, 1813. For the three locals on the tour, all of whom have enjoyed the stunning sunsets from that vantage point, this was historical information of which we were unaware.
Our next stop was Fort Mississauga. Here, Mitchell described the building of the fort as a phoenix, rising from the ashes of the burning of the town by the Americans. We then climbed by foot up to a lookout, where the history of the American Fort Niagara was explained.
From Fort Mississauga, we were again able to feel the wind in our hair before stopping at St. Mark’s Church, the only building left unscathed by the burning of Newark.
Finally, we ended up at Fort George. Here, Mitchell briefly described life in the Fort for the soldiers and their families. We were then handed entry passes, just in time to enjoy the morning opening ceremonies.
At this point, Mitchell parted ways with us. The participants in the tour have the freedom to decide what to do next. A deeper dive into the history of Fort George may be the way to go. But with another hour and a half left on our e-scooter rental, a visit to local wineries or craft breweries, a survey of the town’s many historical houses, or a trip through the countryside are among the many things a participant might decide to do.
The St. Catharines couple, Lee and Chun, enjoyed the tour. It was the lure of riding the e-scooters that interested them, but they felt the chance to learn a bit about the history of the town next door was a bonus. Lee, a civil engineer with Ontario Power Generation in Niagara Falls, was fascinated by the politics and military history behind the land and the river. His partner, however, said she was enjoying the scooters so much, she really had a hard time focusing on what Mitchell was saying.
After their brief visit inside Fort George, Lee and Chun were hoping to drop in on some wineries. My wife and I stepped up and acted as their tour guides, leading them to Peller Estates, before we rode off down East and West Line, then on to the Niagara River Parkway to enjoy the great weekend weather from the comfort of our e-scooters.
Tours run from 9 a.m. until noon on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays through June, July and August, and Saturdays only during the months of May and September. The cost is $39 for three hours, and pre-booking is suggested.
For information about the tour or to book online, visit eskoot.com.