Rumour has it that you won’t find anything on the War of 1812 in any American textbooks. But this seemingly forgotten war that established the 49th Parallel and provided the inspiration for The Star Spangled Banner, had a major battle on the shores of Lake Ontario, when American army and naval troops attacked York, Upper Canada, which is now known as Toronto.
The buildings and military fortifications known as Fort York were burned to the ground, but the now-designated historic site was re-built by the British Royal Engineers in 1813, and now hosts some of Toronto’s oldest buildings.
From Military Facility to Museum
Utilized as a working military facility until 1880, and again during the first and second World Wars, Fort York now serves its city as a museum, and offers visitors and tour groups the chance to experience a hands-on history lesson, with cooking, period music and dance, musket drills, barracks tours and examination of the weaponry used in 1837.
In the summer months, students representing the Canadian Fencible Regiment (garrisoned at the fort at the end of the War of 1812) perform hourly demonstrations of military music, drill, musketry, and artillery. Don’t miss the cannon firing at 12:30pm and the music of the Fort York Drums (a fife and drum corps) during the afternoons.
Spend an Evening with Ghostly Residents
With so much history, and being the site of so much destruction, rumours of paranormal activity abounds. Enticing to those to whom the paranormal appeals, Fort York occasionally offers a “Ghosts of the Garrison” evening, where human visitors can hear the chilling tales of all the Fort’s ghostly visitors. Fort York also offers a number of Remembrance Day programs during the month of November.
Beautiful Grounds Filled with Canadian History
I grew up with yearly field trips to Fort York, but probably my best memory of the site is having my wedding reception there. The expanse of green lawn peppered with ancient stone walls and charming old buildings is a beautiful contrast to the urban sights and lights that are all around. Fort York is a great place to sneak a little history into your city sightseeing, and is far more interesting than a textbook anyway.
Photos by jofo2005 and Robert Taylor