There’s a place in Toronto that’s now quite inconspicuous and easy to miss from the street, yet it’s where the city of Toronto began in the year 1793. This place is Fort York and it’s situated just west of downtown Toronto, beneath the elevated Gardiner Expressway, in a location that was once, believe it or not, the lakefront! Today several hundred metres separate Fort York from Lake Ontario thanks to land reclamation, and that’s why this important historic site seems to be in such an odd location!
History of Fort York
The famous Lieutenant Governor, John Graves Simcoe, gave the go-ahead for a garrison to be built at this site in 1793. He’d chosen this site because it was at one of the furthest points away from the United States, across Lake Ontario, so it was a good decision defensively. Of course, back then, the British Army and the United States weren’t the best of friends, so maintaining a good defence system to protect Canada from invasion was very important. The fort was to protect the entrance to the bay and the harbour of this newly developing town which Simcoe had decided would take over as the capital of Upper Canada from the town of Newark (now named Niagara-on-the-Lake).
He called the new capital York and the fort served as a garrison without really seeing any fighting action for some years. All that changed in 1813 when the original fort was pretty much destroyed during the Battle of York; part of the War of 1812 between the British and the United States. When the battle was over the Royal Engineers quickly rebuilt Fort York and today its buildings stand as some of the oldest in Toronto.
Visiting Fort York
A number of those re-constructed buildings can still be seen here today, including several barracks, magazines, blockhouses and the officer’s quarters. Fort York is open almost all year round for visits, but in the summer the fort comes alive with the sound of re-enactments and demonstrations of battles and period life, making this a great time to visit.
Article copyright Claire Bolgil. Claire is a freelance travel writer based in Beautiful BC. Find out more about her at www.clairebolgil.com