About Us

History & Heritage of the Inn

The Story of Our Time-Honored History

The grounds and property in the heart of Niagara-on-the-Lake that became the Riverbend Inn & Vineyard has a fascinating, two-centuries-old history that you feel from the moment you arrive and around every corner.

Riverbend’s Heritage

This historic property which sits on the banks of the Niagara River at the nexus of the Commons, the Parkway, and old town Niagara-On-The-Lake, dates back to 1809. The property was originally deeded to William McClellan, a fruit farmer who built a modest stone farmhouse on the land.

In 1860, the farm was purchased by Dr. Thomas Halliday Watt, a consulting surgeon who was born in the United Kingdom. Dr. Watt and his wife Emily had nine children, farmed the fruit trees on the property, and built a large 6500 square foot red brick Georgian mansion. After his first wife died in 1880, Dr. Watt married Millicent Wright and had three more children. Dr. Watt continued to practice medicine until his death in 1902 and is buried in St. Mark’s cemetery.

 After remaining in the Watt family until 1908, the property was sold several times until Brigadier-General Charles Nelles purchased it. In 1920, General Nelles, a distinguished Canadian veteran who served with the Royal Canadian Dragoons, planted the majestic oak trees that still grace the property and hence named the land “Oaklands”. He served as mayor of Niagara-On-The-Lake from 1929-1930 and became the first president of the N-O-T-L Legion, Branch 124. His son, Admiral Percy W. Nelles, was a flag officer in the Royal Canadian Navy and had an illustrious naval career.

In 1927, General Nelles sold the land to the six Ansley sisters, Kate, Gladys, Del, Nora, Olga, and Elizabeth. These sisters had four brothers, two of whom served in WWI. Sadly, Alfred was killed in action in France, and Russell was taken as a Prisoner of War in Germany. At the same time, Nora and Gladys served as nurses in Italy. After the war, when the sisters returned to Canada, they made plans to start a business that would serve the needs of helping disabled children with severe Down Syndrome.

With Del and Kate on board as teachers and Olga who was trained in music, dance, and calisthenics, the sisters were excited about their compassionate venture to serve the needs of these often neglected children. Gladys and Kate took a course in psychiatry at the Clarke Institute in Toronto (now CAMH) and opened a school in St. Catharine’s in 1920. In 1927, the Ansleys moved the school to this current site. There was a barn for the cows and pony, a garden shed, a greenhouse, flower and vegetable gardens, a cottage, and a cherry orchard, in addition to the large home which housed the students and staff. The setting was nurturing as the sisters and staff taught and cared for the students in a warm and welcoming environment. The school operated for 52 years. The sisters closed the school in 1972 after living their motto, “Every child has the right to receive education suited to their needs and capacity in a home-like situation.” The compassionate Ansley sisters were ahead of their time, providing support, education, and care for many children in need.

The sisters sold the property to Dr. Djamal Afrukhteh of Niagara Falls in 1972, who divided the home into apartments. Peggy Anderson, one of the tenants, set up Newark Neighbours on-site and still operates it today. The charity provides food and clothing for local residents who demonstrate financial need.

 In 1984, Dr. Afrukhteh, who had a passion for the appreciation and collection of art, opened a private gallery on site. In 1988, he built a 12,000-square-foot addition to the original building to accommodate the gallery. Unfortunately, the gallery closed a few years later, leaving the building vacant for many years, until the Weins family of Niagara-on-the-Lake purchased the property and turned the home into a classic 21-room Georgian style Inn. They opened its doors to the public in 2004. The old cherry and peach orchards were replaced with 12 acres of Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, and Vidal vines.

Recent History

The Riverbend Inn was acquired by Andrew Peller Limited in 2021, adding this property to their family of wineries in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Adjoining the Peller Estates winery property, the 57 contiguous acres of vineyards produce award-winning wines. Oaklands, the Riverbend restaurant, offers quality fine dining with a stunning sunset view over the vineyards. We are pleased to welcome you to the Riverbend Inn and hope you enjoy your time in Wine Country!

The Vineyards

Established in 2002. Riverbend is surrounded by its own 12-acre vineyard. Preparation of these vineyards began in 2002 and consisted of blocks of Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc and Vidal.

In 2023, the Peller Estates winemaking team removed the Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon vines, and replanted the vineyard with Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. These blocks will live alongside the existing Chardonnay vines, and will be made into sparkling wines in the future.

In the vineyard, no two years are the same. Part of the charm of wine is its unpredictability and seeming unwillingness to cooperate. Stand behind Riverbend and survey the area, then you can see how one side of the vineyard could produce a completely different result than the others. The exposure to the sun, the way the water pools or drains or the way the air flows around the vines all alter the brilliant character of each vintage.

Riverbend’s vineyard sits within the sub-appellation called The Niagara River, one of ten sub-appellations that make up Niagara’s wine region. Identified for its greater heat units in a season and incredibly rich sandy soils, this microregion translates into fantastic wines.

Partnering Wineries