Sunday 6 May 2012

Jane's Walk - Fort York and 200 Years of Development

Gord and I did the Fort York and 200 Years of Development Jane's Walk this afternoon.

This tour explores the evolution and history of Fort York, the Garrison Common and the Battle of York during the War of 1812 and the general development of the area. 

Starting at the canteen at Fort York National Historic Site, this special walking tour explores the evolution and history of Fort York, the Garrison Common and the nearby Lake Ontario shoreline. The tour highlights The Battle of York and its impact on the town of York (Toronto) as well as the subsequent fortification of the harbour, local railway & road building, and the eventual industrial, recreational and residential development of this vital area. 

You may discover a surprising blend of past and present in the historic landscapes surrounding the Fort. The walk centers on historic events, the war of 1812, and its connections to modern urban development. Free admission to Fort York following the walk. 

This is as we headed towards Fort York, from Strachan Avenue.  Five years ago the CN Tower was all alone!

Quite a contrast from the world of the early 1800s and today.

Our guide was René Malagón.

He has lived and worked in Toronto for the past 20 years. During most of that time he has worked as a Museum Programme Officer at Historic Fort York and other city run museums (E.D.C.). He has led walking tours in and around Fort York for several years and is still amazed at the dramatic changes that have evolved in the urban landscape of this historic section of the city.

René started by telling us what Fort York would have looked liked back in its day along with the surrounding area.

The fort was built by the British Army and Canadian militia troops in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, to defend the settlement and the new capital of the Upper Canada region from the threat of a military attack, principally from the newly independent United States.

During the War of 1812, on April 27, 1813 combined U.S. army and naval forces attacked York (Toronto)  from Lake Ontario, overrunning Fort York. As the British abandoned the fort, they set the powder magazine to blow up, killing or wounding several hundred U.S. soldiers.  The U.S. destroyed what was left of Fort York and burned much of the settlement of York, including the Parliament Buildings during their five–day occupation. 

Following several more U.S. raids over the summer, the British garrison returned to York and rebuilt the fortifications, most of which are still standing today. The rebuilt fort was sufficient to repel a further attempted invasion in 1814. The British Army occupied Fort York from 1793 to the 1850s and transferred it to Canada, which used it until 1932. The City of Toronto owned the Fort from 1903 onwards

René led us south, up and over the wall.  The original waterline used to be where the fence is at the bottom of the picture.  With all the landfill over the years, the lake is now a distance away, on the other side of the condos and through the trees.

This is looking northwest.

This is following the ten foot high wall, looking east.  Originally there was a 20 foot drop to the water on the south side of the wall.

Looking northeast ...

These pickets were supposed to impede the enemy.

Over the years, there hasn't been a lot of respect for Fort York.  At one point, there was a suggestion of putting streetcar tracks through the Fort so people could get to the Ex conveniently!!  They ended up being put through the north side of the Fort and are now gone.  In the 1950s, Fort York was almost torn down to make way for the Gardiner Expressway but highway planners eventually rerouted the elevated highway to the south of the grounds.

In the summer of 2006, while digging the base of one of the condo projects down by the water, construction crews discovered the remnants of Queen's Wharf which was buried for many years.  Pieces have been moved to Fort York.  The trees used for the wharf would be about 300 years ago.

René talked some more about Canada's part in the War of 1812.

Toronto has changed significantly since the early 1800s!

Over the years, industry moved in around Fort York ... and now condos are taking over the land the industries were on.

Contrasting old and new Toronto ...

Though the walk was scheduled for 1.5 hours, René invited anyone who was interested back to look at some old pictures.

It was a great walk!  René was very passionate and knowledgeable about Fort York and our involvement in the War of 1812.

One last note ... the military had owned about 1000 acres of land around Fort York, most of which west of the Fort.  This land was clear and flat so soldiers would be able to protect from attacks from the Americans from the opening of the Toronto Harbour, which at this time was west.  This is looking west now ... soldiers from that time would be amazed at the same view with all the condos and trees now in the way.  No sign of water at all


Anonymous said...

Nice write up Teena, thanks so much for coming out! We posted this on our Fort York facebook page for others to enjoy.
Regards, the Fort York team.

Teresa said...

Thanks for sharing, very interest. What a lovely day for you walking tour.

Anonymous said...

I remember fort york! I was there a zillion years ago, and this brought back memories!!!
Nice pictures, and interesting write up!