Sensing the Past

Canada #23 Fort York

When we first saw the historic buildings of Fort York surrounded by the skyscrapers of downtown Toronto, the early 19th century defenses seemed out of place. It made more sense when we discovered that the city, originally named York, was founded here.

The first garrison was built on this site in 1793 by the British Army, in response to border hostilities with American forces. In 1811 it was fortified with the addition of the defensive wall and circular gun battery.

In 1812, the United States declared war on Canada and in 1813 the American Army and Navy attacked York. Much of the fort was destroyed at this time, but it was soon rebuilt by the British. In August 1814, a second American attack was unsuccessful. The war between Canada and the United States finally ended in December 1814 but Fort York remained an active military site until the 1930s.

Today the fort is a living history museum, with displays, exhibitions and re-enactments which heightened all of our senses.

We saw both the officers’ quarters and the enlisted men’s barracks. In the barracks soldiers, who were often accompanied by their families, lived side by side, eating and sleeping together.

In contrast, the officers dined in luxury with fine china, silverware and crystal. Probably even more precious in this building was the luxury of space.

Like the soldiers of the Guard’s Artillery Detachment, we covered our ears with our hands as the Cohorn mortar field gun was fired at midday.

We heeded the call of the Fort York Drums as they marched onto the parade ground. Wearing the uniform of the Canadian Regiment of Fencible Infantry, the fifers and drummers played military tunes which would have been both familiar and comforting to 19th century soldiers.

We followed the scent of baking to the kitchen of the Officers’ Mess, where freshly baked gingerbread was cooling on the table.

While she shared the biscuits, the cook explained how these traditional treats are as popular now as they would have been in the early 1800s – there are never any left at the end of the day!

As we rested our hands on the kitchen table, we wondered about those who lived and worked here 200 years ago; who lifted the latch on the fortified gate, watched over the cooking in the open fireplace or dipped rainwater from the barrel with a bucket.

While we had time to wander in contemplation, we sensed we were surrounded by more than just those modern buildings outside the wall. The spirits of people from times long past were all around us.

Join Jo for more Monday Walks.


42 thoughts on “Sensing the Past

  1. I didn’t know America had declared war on Canada too! I’m not a fan of war memorabilia on the whole – but anything that causes us to be curious about the past and the lives that were lived is a good thing. The juxtaposition of old and modern is startling isn’t it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Neither did we! It was more a case of America declaring war on the British who were colonising after defeating the French, who colonised before them. This place wasn’t really about war memorabilia. It was more about telling the stories of the site and the people who lived and worked there. It’s important to remember them.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Love it, Carol! Beautifully portrayed πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ I had no idea that this place even existed, so thanks a lot for sharing. It looks like fun playing at being soldiers these days but you can sense the atmosphere.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Fabulous post and photos. We spent a few weeks in Toronto and had no clue that Fort York was there, such a shame as would have loved to have visited. Looks so interesting especially in the middle of the new skyscraper city.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s great that they have preserved this historic site right down to tiny details. Its close proximity to downtown reminds me of when we visited the Alamo in Texas, and it was next to a department store. Too bad they couldn’t retain a couple more acres where they could have planted a green barrier. But, we have to be grateful for what they have been able to preserve.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Jo’s Monday walk : Chocolate time in LoulΓ© | restlessjo

  6. Lovely photos and historic visit.

    What is most interesting to me is the flashback to a time when it would have been impossible to project the phenomenal growth of York until this day with its skyscrapers, busy population and all that make it modern day Toronto. This contrast, significantly, with so many places we visit here in Asia, from the same time period, when, to be sure there has been some development but todays life, but in most part is not that different from what it was 300 years ago.

    Looking at the gingerbread cookies, it is clear that they were a long way from triple chocolate chip macadamia nut marshmallow ones that one can get today. A simple life indeed! And yet, all the cookies go….


    Liked by 1 person

    • Two good points, Ben. The occupants of 1812 would have had no idea that a city would build up outside the fort. It was actually built on the shore of Lake Ontario, which is now several hundred metres away due to landfill and reclamation for the railways. The contrast inside the wall to outside is amazing.
      And those cookies may have been simple but they were amazing straight out of the oven.


  7. I have been to Fort York but unfortuantely not at a time when re-enactments and demonstrations were going on. I think it is wonderful that the bustling and super modern city of Toronto keeps this history lesson alive.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I like the photo through the window and the one showing the TO skyscrapers in the background. Actually I like all the photos! You timed your visit well if those gingerbread cookies were just coming out of the oven! Yum!

    Liked by 1 person

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