Manuscript Collection MS Coll. 00403A - The Niagara Falls Museum Papers

Identity area

Reference code

CA OTUTF MS Coll. 00403A


The Niagara Falls Museum Papers


  • 1832 - 2004 (Creation)

Level of description

Manuscript Collection

Extent and medium

14 boxes, 4 books (1.95 metres)

Context area

Name of creator


Administrative history

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.

Name of creator


Biographical history

Name of creator


Biographical history

Archival history

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

Purchase, 2018.

Content and structure area

Scope and content

Collection consists of archival material related to the museum and its proprietors, including correspondence and promotional material, as well as items documenting Sidney Barnett’s involvement in the militia and Fenian Raids (1866). The collection also includes books and ephemera pertaining to the Niagara Falls tourist industry, such as guidebooks, broadsides, flyers, tickets and certificates. The collection also contains 124 photographs, including glass stereoviews, card stereoviews, ambrotypes, cabinet cards, and albumen photographs, dating from 1850s to the 1890s, with 18 produced by the museum itself.

Appraisal, destruction and scheduling


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Conditions of access and use area

Conditions governing access

Material may be requested in person at the Fisher Library Reference Desk, or in advance using our online stack retrieval request form:

Conditions governing reproduction

Language of material

  • English

Script of material

Language and script notes

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Finding aids

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Notes area

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Description identifier


Institution identifier

Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto

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