Stories of The War of 1812 come alive at Fort York Special
Almost 200 years ago a young boy witnessed a blast that looked like a giant balloon cloud raising above Toronto's Fort York. Patrick Finan, had defied his mother and raced towards his home at the fort.
Young Patrick made it in time to see the fort explode during one of the key battles of the War of 1812.
In the Battle of Fort York when it was apparent that the Americans were going to win the decision to explode the fort's artillery was made. As the Canadian troops fled Sergeant Marshall lit the fuse and took off. The resulting blast took the lives of 38 Americans and wounded 222 more.
Most people don't know that the wives and children of foot soldiers lived at Toronto's oldest fort before the Battle of York. With notice that a surprise attack by the Americans was about to take place, women and children escaped the fort just a day before the Americans landed. Young Patrick was part of that group going into the town of York (the name of Toronto at the time) with his mother and siblings. He was just 10 or 12, too young for battle, but not too young to fight back his own want of being at the fort. Heading back towards the fort young Patrick was close enough to witness the explosion. As the smoke cleared the boy saw a British flag still standing and scores of wounded. He turned quickly racing back to his mother and siblings. Patrick's account is recorded in the book Capital in Flames, on sale at Fort York's canteen.
Today children are often at Fort York enjoying the green grounds while learning about Toronto's early history. Ewan, one of the staff at Fort York, said that Patrick was the only recorded child to be at the fort during the battle but it was likely there would have been a few others. Another staffer, Cary, said that the day before the battle all of the women and children were sent towards the city of York. At that time they would have had to cross the bridge over Garrison Creek while hurrying to the town centre about 3 km away. The process would have taken less than an hour for the families who then would have had to seek shelter among the town's residents.
After the battle of Fort York it would be another year before anyone resided within its exploded walls.
On Sunday an 1812-era Gig replica will be on display. Peter Code, Program Officer of Cultural Services and Arts Services Toronto, said that the Gig was a common boat used during the War of 1812. It was used by all major nations allowing for troops to leave the large ships and make their way to land. During the battle at Fort York Americans sailed on a Gig from their boats on Lake Ontario to reach the battle field.
One of the most interesting pieces of history is below the officers' mess hall where the oldest surviving kitchen of Toronto lays. A working kitchen from 1815 until 1826 the kitchen was lit by a passageway on the outside walls. Archaeologists explored the cellar kitchen between 1987 and 1990 finding 12,475 articles which helped tell the tales of those who worked underground to cook for the troops.
The kitchen was turned into a wine cellar when a newer kitchen was built upstairs to make the building more comfortable for the officers. The cellar also was where one of two money vaults were installed in 1838. The government built these vaults to secure funds from guerrilla raids during the Rebellion Crisis of 1837-1841.
In a letter to his wife in 1838 Thomas Ridout wrote, "I wish that we had a less quantity of gold and Silver in the vault at the bank in Toronto. It gives us so much anxiety and is such an inducement to the rebels. I must try and get it removed to the garrison as soon as the vault is ready."
Fort York is a wonderful historic site in Toronto to learn about the city's early history. Much of the information is of the military of course but there are pieces of everyday live of the earliest days in abundance.
At the canteen you can purchase toys, Aboriginal pieces and more. You can also buy gingerbread cooked on the grounds using recipes from the late 17th century.
On Sunday Fort York will commemorate the 199th anniversary of the Battle of York. Regular admission fees apply for Sunday’s event. The fees (before tax) are adults $7.96; seniors (65+) $3.81, youth (13 to 18 years) $4.87 and children (6 to 12 years) $3.76. Admission is free for children age 5 and younger.