Exploring The Loretto Academy in Niagara Falls | The Loretto Convent
In March of 2016 I was given a very rare opportunity to explore and photograph the Loretto Academy or the Loretto Convent in Niagara Falls, Ontario.
In the 1820s, a young Irish boy by the name of John Joseph Lynch saw a picture of the Horseshoe Falls and decided that it was a natural place for people to worship God. The boy became a priest in the Congregation of the Missions, and came to Texas in 1846. In 1856, he founded a Seminary near Lewiston, New York, which is now Niagara University. As Archbishop of Toronto, he obtained six acres of land overlooking the Falls on the Canadian side in 1861, and deeded it to the Loretto nuns, who had established themselves in Toronto since their arrival from Ireland in 1847. On this land was a tavern known as The Canada House, which was renovated and converted into a convent and school by the nuns.
The school opened in September of 1861, under the guidance of the first Superior of Loretto Academy, Mother Joachim Murray. This school attracted day students from Chippawa, Clifton, Drummondville, and Niagara Falls New York, and boarders from Toronto, Guelph, Buffalo, Rochester and Lockport. The yearly tuition at Loretto was $80-$100, a significant amount in those days. In 1864, Mother Regis Harris took over as Superior of the Academy. In 1869, a sturdy stone structure known as the North Wing was built, and plans for a new main building were drawn up in 1879-1880. The new building was completed by the beginning of the 1900s, and was called the Loretto Convent of the Blessed Sacrament.
On January 19, 1938, a disastrous fire destroyed the interior of the South Wing. Fortunately, none of the sisters or boarders were injured, and the stone walls of the building remained intact, allowing for reconstruction. In the interim, boarders were sent to Loretto’s sister school, Loretto Abbey in Toronto, and day students resumed classes in the undamaged North Wing. The reconstruction was completed by September of 1938, and the school reopened. The Loretto Academy celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1961. In 1970, the boarding school was closed and Loretto became the Catholic High School of Niagara Falls, until 1982 when St. Paul High School was converted from a senior school. The building operated as The Loretto Convent and Christian Life Centre as a site for religious retreats for many students within the (Catholic) Separate Board until its closure in 2006.
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.