Willowbank is located in the village of Queenston, halfway between Niagara Falls and Niagara-On-The-Lake. This region has been a place of human habitation for millennia and the natural and cultural history of this area is incredibly rich and interwoven.

First Nations peoples identified the Queenston waterfront and the Willowbank ravine specifically as an important terminus on the river. The mouth of the ravine was the logical starting point for a portage route that would bypass the falls, a route that to this day is known as Portage Road. Archaeological remnants on the Willowbank site have been found dating to the Archaic period, over 9000 years ago.

European settler society has also defined this area for its proximity to the Niagara River, with Queenston once existing as a bustling merchant town.

A chronology of Willowbank, the site and the estate:

8,000 BCE

Nomadic hunter-gatherers start making camps at Willowbank suggesting regular use of it’s ravine to make the portage around the falls

1785 CE

Scottish-Canadian trader Robert Hamilton establishes Hamilton Wharf on the Niagara River and creates a rail system pulled by horses which runs up the ravine past Willowbank


Son Alexander Hamilton fights under T.W. Merritt in the British, against the American army


Alexander Hamilton and wife Hannah Jarvis commission master builder John Latshaw to build a Greek Revival stone mansion which they named Willowbank


John Bright, descended from pioneers in Niagara’s fruit and wine industry, and his wife Dorothy, buy and reorient the estate toward the new Niagara Parkway.


Willowbank is bought by the Congregation of Missionary Sisters of Christian Charity and the Holy Trinity Monastery


Willowbank becomes the Appleton Boys School


Tony Doyle begins to restore the house to a 19th century state, notably with interior carpentry using pine, and pursues a number of uses for the property


Doyle applies for a demolition permit in part to force a decision on rezoning


Willowbank is saved from the wrecking ball by local residents, headed up by Laura Dodson. This group becomes Friends of Willowbank. Laura Dodson, CM, founds the School of Restoration Arts as a not-for-profit corporation. Willowbank is declared a National Historic Site. 

Bright descendent, Mary Urban, and her husband Tom are key in funding the purchase and start-up of the school. Victor Tarnoy, Architect, is the first director. Willowbank is also placed under easement protection with the Ontario Heritage Trust.


Willowbank opens the School of Restoration Arts as a registered career college offering a three-year diploma program


Renowned Ottawa-based Architect, teacher and scholar Julian Smith, CM, infuses Willowbank with new vision, blending cultural heritage, sustainability and design


HRH The Prince of Wales becomes Royal Patron to Willowbank

2016 - 2017

Willowbank celebrates its tenth anniversary as an internationally respected and unique school of heritage conservation