Clark Hill was the original name of the beautiful estate situated on the high ground just north-west of Dufferin Islands. It is today known as Oak Hall and is the current administration offices of the Niagara Parks Commission.
It was once the home of Colonel John Clark, who commanded the 2nd Lincoln Militia for the British during the War of 1812. The original house disappeared many years ago, but it stood well back from Portage Road amongst the many trees on the site near the present structure of Oak Hall. Colonel Clark occupied the home until his death in 1837.
Following his death, the home was purchased by Samuel Street Junior. Mr. Street operated a mill along the banks below the moraine. This property formerly included Dufferin Islands as well.
During his ownership, Mr. Street rebuilt the house and made many improvements to the property.
The next owner, Mr. Sutherland Macklem, inherited a considerable portion of the Mr. Street property. Mr. Macklem made many more improvements to the grounds surrounding the islands. Macklem opened Dufferin Islands (formerly Cynthia Islands) to members of the general public. Dufferin Islands were later designated parklands under the fledgling Queen Victoria Niagara Falls Parks Commission.
Soon after the death of Sutherland Macklem, his property was sold to James R. Smith on August 5th 1898. Mr. Smith was a wealthy lumber merchant from Tonawanda, New York. In 1904, Grace Grant inherited the property from her father James Smith. Grace was married to Doctor Harry Grant, a successful Buffalo oculist. Grace and her husband took up residence in the existing house.
In 1916, the Grants sold the house and adjoining property to Mr. Paul A. Schoellkopf, president of the Niagara Falls Power Company.
On July 15th 1924, mining millionaire, Harry Oakes purchased the property from Mr. Schoellkopf.
Harry Oakes hired the architectural firm of Findlay and Foulis to design and build the Tudor style mansion. This is the same firm which designed and built the Table Rock House. This project took four years to complete.
In 1928, Harry Oakes and his family moved into their rebuilt mansion which was situated on top of Clark Hill overlooking Dufferin Islands. The cost of this home exceeded $500,000. Mr. Oakes rebuilt this estate house to include 35 rooms, 17 bathrooms and air conditioning throughout. It also included a swimming pool and a five hole golf course. Harry Oakes named his estate Oak Hall.
In 1935, Harry Oakes and his family moved to Nassau in the Bahamas in order to avoid taxes.
In 1943, Lady Eunice Oakes, deeded Oak Hall to the Government of Canada so that it be used as a convalescent hospital for the Royal Canadian Air Force. When there was no longer a need for the convalescent hospital, the Canadian Government deeded the property back to Lady Oakes.
Sir Sydney Oakes, the eldest son moved back to Oak Hall with his wife, Lady Greta. They lived here for several years before returning back to the Bahamas.
On May 25th 1959, the Niagara Parks Commission purchased the Oak Hall estate.
The Niagara Falls Queen Victoria Park Commission upon taking over the assets of the International Railway Company’s in 1932, included two incline railways built to transport tourists up and down the gorge wall to provide access to the Niagara River below.
The incline railways were as a result of a December 1891 agreement with the Parks Commission, that allowed the International Railway Company to build and operate incline railways and elevators and where necessary to acquire those which already existed through terms fixed by an arbitrator.
The first incline to be built was the Whirlpool Rapids Incline. The incline had a building for offices and a store at the top of the gorge along with a drive shed. At the bottom of the gorge was a wooden promenade which paralleled the Whirlpool Rapids. At each end of this boardwalk was a framed building. This incline predated the creation of Queen Victoria Park.
The second incline railway was built in 1894 at the bottom of Clifton Hill. The International Railway Company had negotiated to build this incline with the Parks Commission in 1891. The incline was built to the north of the Maid of the Mist Boat landing.
The International Railway Company (IRC) operated and maintained both incline railways until 1932, when property rights to both were assumed by the Niagara Parks Commission. On May 5th 1934, the Whirlpool Rapids Incline was destroyed by fire. In 1935, a lease was granted to Robertson Engineering & Construction Company for the building and operation of an elevator at the site of the former Whirlpool Rapids Incline. The new elevator began operation in 1937.
In 1947, the 18 hole Whirlpool Golf Course began operation. This public golf course owned and operated by the Niagara Parks is 150 acres in size.