Thanks to author Cathy Marie Buchanan for appearing in this episode. You can find more on her below.
Loretto Academy was a girls boarding and day school which operated from a prime spot atop the bluff overlooking the Horseshoe Falls. The institution was run by the Ireland-based Institute Of The Blessed Virgin Mary, better known as the Loretto Sisters.
The sisters established themselves in Toronto in the 1840s and 50s, emerging from a tumultuous and storied start with a network of schools across Ontario. Sites operated for varying spans in communities such as Brantford, London, Guelph and Belleville. Niagara, given the real estate, was their crown jewel.
The school primarily offered education and boarding to women between the ages of 5 to 18. It opened on June 6th of 1861 in an abandoned and derelict wayfarer’s tavern and inn known as Canada House. The tavern sat in front of the currently standing Loretto complex, close to the corner of Stanley Avenue and Livingston St.
The same year that Loretto opened the sisters sold a section of the property on the Falls-facing eastern side to Canadian Southern rail road. The money raised in the transaction went towards their own building, replacing Canada House (which no longer stands today).
The new building was constructed in the 1870s and 80s and remains to this day. The southern wing and much of the structure’s roof was destroyed in a massive fire in June of 1938, the cause of which was up for debate even at that time. Loretto’s north wing remained relatively untouched and survives to this day.
Given the well manicured grounds and the view from the original rotunda (which was later lost in the fire) Loretto became a community hub and an attractive destination for visiting dignitaries. It played host to King George and Queen Mary, and the Prince of Wales among others.
Loretto ceased to be a boarding school in 1969, transitioning into a coeducational high school by 75. That role was short lived however, with the school population outgrowing the property by 1981. From 82 through 2005 the Loretto Christian Life Centre operated out of the building, offering retreats and recreational programs to graduation Catholic grade school students in Niagara. In 2005 the Loretto community, after many years in the Niagara, departed the region.
The Loretto property is currently owned by one of Niagara’s major hotel concerns, and as such is private property and off limits to visitors. The City has approved plans to build a three tower high-rise complex on the site, featuring a 57 story hotel, a 42 story tower and a 32 story tower. Models unveiled with the proposal have shown that the centre of these three buildings will incorporate the existing Loretto complex into it’s river-facing facade. Given how dramatic a change these towers would be to the area there has been vocal local opposition to their construction.
One passionate advocate for Loretto is Cathy Marie Buchanan, author of the 2009 HarperCollins published New York Times Bestselling novel The Day The Falls Stood Still. Cathy’s story is set in Niagara circa 1915. Her narrative open with her protagonist sitting in one of Loretto’s stone windowsills looking over the Falls.
Cathy’s become a passionate advocate for Loretto and an opponent of the tower development. You can find further details on the opposition to the development at FriendsOfNiagaraFalls.org. Some of the predictions and arguments Cathy makes in today’s video can be found illustrated there.
The Day The Falls Stood Still is currently on CBC Radio’s long list of 40 candidates for their top 10 Canadian novels of the decade. You can vote for it at the Canada Reads website. Congratulations and best of luck Cathy!