In modern terms, Navy Island feels practically forgotten. It’s currently uninhabited, has no permanent structures and public access is currently prohibited.
But Navy Island has a long and quirky history. Native Americans inhabited the islands for thousands of years before British colonists established a shipyard there and used the natural forestland on the island to fashion the first major vessels in the Great Lakes. It was the site of the ill-fated ‘Republic of Canada’, a rebel state founded by William Lyon Mackenzie, a figurehead of the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837-8. (Mackenzie and his supporters only lasted for about a month on the island before the Royal Navy forced them out.)
And yet, beyond its 19th century history of rebels and naval shipyards, Navy Island in the 20th century has almost the opposite sentimentality – like almost being the site of the World Peace Capital and meeting point of the United Nations.
Back in late 1945 and 1946, an international committee considered the island as a site for the United Nations to convene. Drawings of possible building designs still exist today. Apart from being a picturesque island, its placement on the Niagara River – essentially straddling the line between two great New World nations both devoted to peace – had an international appeal. The proposed design, with bridges linking to both the United States and Canada, would have made the island the private property of the UN, almost like an independent state in itself.
Of course, Navy Island’s pitch eventually lost to the chosen location in Manhattan, New York City. These days, Navy Island is protected by the Niagara Parks Commission and allowed to regrow its forests and natural flora without interference. The only regular traffic comes in the form of officers from the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. As a protected preserve, it’s currently guaranteed to have no new settlements. But it’s easy to wonder what the Niagara River might have looked like with an island devoted to the United Nations, bridging between the US and Canada. But in the meantime, the island is at least allowed to maintain its natural dignity.
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