Fort Erie, if you’ve wondered where the Ontario border town got its name, you just have to take a wander just south of old Highway Three along Lakeshore Road. Standing near the edge of the Niagara River, in the shadow of Buffalo, New York stands a small stone fort. Fort Erie was the only pre-Jay Treaty Fort that the British operated out of during the Anglo-American War of 1812, but it was also the fort that changed hands the most and only saw completion while under American occupation at the end of the war. Today it stands as one of the bloodiest battlefields on Canadian Soil.
Fort Erie as is stands today, from 1937 to 1939, Niagara Parks worked to restore the fort to how it would have looked in 1813/14
Hasselblad 500c – Carl Zeiss Distagon 50mm 1:4 – Rollei RPX 25 @ ASA-25 – Blazinal (1+50) 11:00 @ 20C
Construction of the first Fort Erie started in 1764 soon after completion a deadly winter storm swept over Lake Erie destroying the British fort. Undaunted the engineers constructed a second fort on the ruins of the first in 1779, it to was destroyed by a winter storm. It was only then that the Royal Engineers realized that the proximity to the lake’s edge put the fort at risk of destruction, so they decided to move it further inland by fifty yards. Construction began in 1803 but moved at a slow pace, and even by 1812 the masonry fort was far from completion and had only a small garrison.
One of my favourite times of year to visit Fort Erie is in the winter. While closed to the public, the fort is viewable and looks pretty in the snow.
Rolleiflex 2.8F – Carl Zeiss Planar 80mm 1:2.8 – Kodak Plus-X Pan (PXP) @ ASA-125 – PMK Pyro (1+2+100) 14:00 @ 21C
Most of the action along the Niagara region took place below Niagara Falls, saving the small incomplete fort from attack. The garrison did participate in the aborted American invasion in November of 1812 engaging troops at two outposts connected to the garrison at the Red House Battery and French Creek. While just a probing and securing operation by the Americans, the British believed they had again stopped a major invasion attempt. And still, the fort would remain incomplete despite these attempts.
The memorial marking the action at French Creek alongside the Niagara Parkway just outside of Fort Erie, Ontario.
Pentax 645 – SMC Pentax A 645 75mm 1:2.8 – Ilford HP5+ – Processing By: Old School Photo Lab
The trouble would start for the Fort Erie Garrison in May of 1813, the invasion and occupation of Fort George and Niagara-On-The-Lake forced the destruction and retreat of the garrison stationed there to Burlington Heights. Construction of Fort Erie would again begin when the area fell under British control at the end of the same year. But again construction would languish, much to the delight of the Americans. In July 1814 and American army under the command of General Winfield Scott landed and marched on Fort Erie. The garrison, commanded by Major Buck and elements of the 8th (King’s) Regiment of Foot would put up a fight and eventually surrendered the garrison and fort to the American army.
During the 2014 Season, Fort Erie would fly the Stars and Strips over the fort rather than the traditional Union Flag.
Rolleiflex 2.8F – Carl Zeiss Planar 80mm 1:1.8 – Ilford Pan F+ @ ASA-50 – Kodak Xtol (1+1) 7:45 @ 20C
Under American occupation, Fort Erie would be fully realized. The defenses of the original British plan would be expanded to include a series of earthworks and a pair of exterior batteries known as Snake Hill and Douglass. The fort became the American beachhead that served as their headquarters through the summer and into the Fall of 1814. By August of 1814, the fort became the focal point of a massive siege. An infantry night assault against the fort would result in one of the deadliest actions of the whole war and lead to a series of tactical raids and eventual stalemate ended in November of 1814. The American garrison, deciding against staying on the Canadian side of the river destroyed the fort and retreated to Buffalo. A small force, lead by Captain James FitzGibbon would occupy the ruins until word of the war’s end would reach them in early 1815.
The British army would maintain a small garrison within the ruins of the fort through the decades after the war, but it was never more than a militia training base for rifle practice. The garrison would eventually be removed. In the years preceding the American Civil War it would become one of the Canadian Stations along the Underground Railroad and serve as a base of operations by the Fenian Brotherhood during the Fenians Raids of the late 1860s. By the later half of the 19th-Century, the ruins became a popular picnic grounds for the residents and visitors to the town of Fort Erie. Even Mark Twain and the future Edward VII, then the Prince of Wales visited the grounds.
One of the largest and oldest War of 1812 reenactment takes place every August at Old Fort Erie. The event recreates the surrender, night assault and tactical raids during the bloody seiege.
Nikon D300 – AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm 1:2.8G
Restoration efforts began in 1937 to rebuild the fort to the configuration it was in during 1812 to 1814, it was reopened to the public as a museum and historic site on July 1st, 1939. During the restoration, a mass grave was discovered by both American and British soldiers. In 2011 major renovations in and around the fort made it more accessible to the public and a new visitors centre was completed for the Bicentennial years. During the second weekend in August the Fort hosts reenactors from both Canada and the United States who recreate the bloody siege of 1814.
With Files from:
Guidebook to the Historic Sites of the War of 1812 Second Edition by Gilbert Collins – 2006 The Dundurn Group Publishers
Hickey, Donald R. Don’t Give up the Ship!: Myths of the War of 1812. Urbana: U of Illinois, 2006. Print.
Hickey, Donald R. The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict. Urbana: U of Illinois, 1989. Print.
Lossing, Benson John. The Pictorial Field-book of the War of 1812. Gretna, LA: Pelican Pub., 2003. Print.
Berton, Pierre. Flames across the Border, 1813-1814. Markham, Ont.: Penguin, 1988. Print.