In 1792 the village was incorporated as the Town of Newark and was named the capital of the Province of Upper Canada. The town lost that distinction to York (now Toronto) in 1797, as Newark's proximity to the United States presented a danger. The town was renamed Niagara in 1798. During the War of 1812, American forces invaded Canada, and captured (and later destroyed) the town before they withdrew following their abandonment of captured Fort George. The British rebuilt, however, and today it has retained much of its historical charm. The present name was adopted around 1880 as a Postal Address to distinguish the town from Niagara Falls. The name was not officially adopted until 1970, when the Town of Niagara and the Township of Niagara were merged.
Niagara-on-the-Lake ("N-O-T-L" in local shorthand) teems with historical plaques, many national and provincial, reflecting its significance in the establishment of many of the province's institutions. Among these were its first newspaper, lending library, parliament, historical museum, and governing body for the legal profession. Critical battles in the defence of Upper Canada took place here, at Queenston, including one in which heroine Laura Secord gained her fame. The town gave many black Americans their first taste of freedom, both as a stop on the Underground Railroad for those travelling further into Upper Canada, and as a refuge in its own right. Its stock of Regency and Classical Revival buildings, considered the best in the country from the post–War of 1812 period, led the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada to designate parts of the town centre a National Historic District in 2004, the only one in Ontario. And, although it did not make the final list, the Historic District was considered for nomination as a World Heritage Site.
Other significant sites in NOTL:
The surrounding region enjoys a comparatively mild climate thanks to the adjoining lakes, and excellent soil for fruit production, for which it has become one of Canada's centres. In particular, NOTL has grown into a major viticultural region. Visitors flock to dozens of nearby wineries, including those making the world's largest volumes of ice wine. The town is also known for its gardens, art galleries, antique shops, and golf courses.
The town accentuates its British heritage, and features the only Lord Mayor in Canada. Prior to 1970, the town was simply the Town of Niagara, and the title was Mayor. In 1970, the Town of Niagara, and the Township of Niagara were merged to create the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake. The title of "Lord Mayor" was to be given to all Mayors from that time forward. Many people incorrectly refer to the Mayor of Niagara prior to that time as having the title of "Lord". The First Lord Mayor was Frederick S. Goring, and other former Lord Mayors include Jake Frose, Wilbert Dick, Jim Marino, Stan Ignatczyk, Art Viola, and Mike Dietsch. The current Lord Mayor is Gary Burroughs.
The Town of Niagara was the site of the 8th World Scout Jamboree in 1955. Over 11,000 Scouts from 71 countries attended the Jamboree. It was the first to be held outside Europe and had the theme "Jamboree of New Horizons."
Niagara-on-the-Lake was named the Prettiest Town in Canada in 1996 by Communities in Bloom, a nationwide beautification program . The town is now a tourist magnet, located at the northern terminus of the Niagara Parkway, a scenic drive and biking/walking path.
Virgil is located just south-west of old town Niagara-on-the-Lake, where most of the tourism takes place, and has a large Mennonite community as well, who originally settled the area in the earlier part of the 20th-century. While once a small village, there have been many changes to the town itself over the past decade, such as fast food restaurants, subdivisions, and retail chains. Virgil also houses two different banks, a few antique stores, a small number of gyms, as well as a large GM dealership.
Virgil has a large sports park, serving as the centre of Niagara-on-the-Lake's bustling hockey, softball, lacrosse and soccer leagues, two arenas, three baseball diamonds, a skate park. Once a year Virgil holds Canada's second largest annual 'Stampede' (after the Calgary Stampede), as far as is known. This festival includes various rides and attractions, many snacks and other amusing events, such as pig races.
Virgil's educational institutions are St. Michael's Elementary School, Virgil Public School, Colonel John Butler Public School and Niagara District Secondary School. Eden High School used to be in the Virgil region until the school moved to St. Catharines.