Under direction of the Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe a new capital for Upper Canada was established. The Town of York would replace Newark (today known as Niagara-On-The-Lake) as the capital for the British Colony. The new capital was not as close to the still young United States of America and could be more easily defended. Under the direction of Simcoe, the Queen’s Rangers established Fort York, named after the second son of King George III, Price Frederick, the Duke of York and Albany. The fort was constructed on the ruins of an older French fort, Fort Toronto.
In 1807, General Issac Brock, recognizing the importance of York as the capital of Upper Canada would make a prime target for invading American forces, should war break out between the United States and the British Empire, he ordered the fortifications at York be improved.
But they were not enough, although York remained untouched through the first year of the war, on April 27th, 1813, American forces under General Zebulon Pike landed and began the invasion of York. The fort’s defenders were unable to hold their ground and rather be killed or captured they retreated further into the town but not before setting fire to the grand magazine. The resulting explosion was heard at Fort George in Niagara-On-The-Lake and killed many American solders including General Pike.
When the American’s left York in May 2nd 1813 and a second occupation by the Americans in July saw the remaining fortifications at Fort York, and Gibraltar Point (Now on the Toronto Islands) destroyed. By the fall of 1813 British forces under Major General Baron de Rottenburg returned to re-occupy and re-build York. New barracks, blockhouses, magazines, and earthworks were established. A third invasion of York occurred in 1814, but the new fortifications and troops were sufficient to drive off the American’s this time around. The third time really is a charm.
The British Army transferred control of the fort over the Canadian Militia in 1850, and the fort was purchased by the city of Toronto (York was renamed the City of Toronto in 1834) in 1903, the fort again saw use as a military base through World War One. The military formally left Fort York in 1933 when the new Fort York Armoury was constructed. Although the fort again played host to the Military through the Second World War.
Like many period forts, Fort York was armed with several cannons, although you may today think today that the fort is too far back from the lake, through the 18th and 19th century the fort sat right on the lake shore. Through the late 19th and early 20th century, the city reclaimed much of the land south of the fort to continue to grow.
Today Fort York serves as a museum and national historic site. It also is home to the largest collection of War of 1812 buildings in Canada, many structures that are at the fort date the reconstruction in 1814 and 1815. Although open year round the best time to visit the fort is in the summer when the guard, representing the Canadian Regiment of Fensible Infantry are on site to provide musket demonstration along with fife and drum performances. There is also staff on site in period dress to provide tours and interpretation of the fort’s exhibits.
Written with files from:
Guidebook to the Historic Sites of the War of 1812 Second Edition by Gilbert Collins – 2006 The Dundurn Group Publishers
Shot on: Pentax 645 – SMC Pentax A 645 35mm 1:3.5 – Kodak Portra 400