The Niagara Falls Museum

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Corporate body

Authorized form of name

The Niagara Falls Museum

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Dates of existence



Thomas Barnett (1799-1890) emigrated to Canada from Birmingham, England in 1824, residing first in Kingston and then in Niagara Falls. Barnett was the founder and proprietor of Canada’s oldest museum, which first opened in 1827. The museum began with a modest collection, composed chiefly of Barnett’s main hobby, taxidermy. The close proximity to the falls, and Barnett’s tour down the staircase at Table Rock and behind the falls, which was included with the price of admission, brought tourists to the museum. The collection grew from 10,000 specimens to over 100,000 between 1850 and 1867, primarily due to Thomas’ son, Sydney (1836-1925). Sydney collected oddities and anthropological collections, including traveling to Egypt to bring back mummies in 1854 and 1857, as well as introducing a specimen exchange program with other museums and collections. In 1858, the Barnetts designed and built a new stone building for the museum, which opened in 1860. After a series of bad business decisions, Barnett filed for bankruptcy on 1 May 1878 and the museum and its collections were sold at auction for $48,000. The museum was purchased by local businessmen and rival of the Barnetts, Saul Davis (1807-1899). In 1888, Davis moved the museum collection to Niagara Falls, New York. The Sherman family purchased the museum in 1942 and returned it to Canada, where they moved the museum in a converted five story corset factory with a view of Niagara Falls. The Sherman family sold the collections to Golden Chariot Productions in 1999.


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Authority record identifier

MS Coll 00403A

Institution identifier

Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto

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