Three remaining historic forts in Niagara are well preserved and open to the public. Fort Erie is located in Fort Erie, Ontario, across from Buffalo, USA where Lake Erie flows into the Niagara River. Fort Erie is the oldest fort and was also the scene of the bloodiest battle of the War of 1812.
Fort George and Fort Mississauga are both located in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. Fort George was built in 1802 when the British surrendered Fort Niagara after the Jay's Treaty of 1796. During the summer months students are hired to dress in period costumes and re-enact what life was like at Fort George in the early 1800's.
Fort Mississauga was built with the bricks from the ruins of the town of Newark (Niagara-on-the-Lake), after the town was burned down by American forces. The fort is located at the confluence of the Niagara River and Lake Ontario. Fort Niagara sits directly opposite from Fort Mississauga on the American side. All three forts are designated as National Historic Sites of Canada.
A Plaque inside Fort Erie reads:
Three fortifications occupied this site. The first (1764-1779) and second (c. 1783-1803), located at lower levels, were abandoned when ice and water inundated the works. The third Fort Erie, built between 1805 and 1808, was repaired in January 1814 but was captured by an invading American army in July of that same year. The Americans used it as a base for subsequent operations, retreated here after their defeat at Lundy's Lane, survived a siege by the British in August and September, and destroyed the fort on November 5, 1814. It was rebuilt by the Niagara Parks Commission in 1937-1939.
The Pictorial Guide to the Falls of Niagara, 1840, Manual for Visitors states the following:
"....at the efflux of the river, and on the Canada side, stand the ruins of Fort Erie. This fortification, originally built by the French about a century ago, was a small but extremely well planned and constructed post, and must have been considered of no little importance by those who were at the trouble of its erection.
All its defences were laid out and arranged in the exactest style of art ; and the masonry bears witness, even at this distant date, to the solidity with which it was put together The curtains and other walls were grouted with a cement of water-lime, evincing the greatest care for durability, and none for expense. The bastions were all flanked with this admirable stone work, and the whole surrounded by a deep ditch, further strengthened by pointed stakes, firmly and thickly planted in the fosse, inclining outward, and rising just above the water, with which it was nearly filled.
The fort was evidently designed by an able engineer, and might have been regarded as a miniature model of military architecture. Every avenue of approach, was enfiladed or exposed to a cross fire, and nothing seems to have been omitted that could contribute to the annoyance of a besieging foe, or the protection of its little garrison. By the Indians, it must have been deemed impregnable.
Fort Erie was, during the late war, the scene of some of the most memorable exploits of the Republican army. It was surrendered on the third of July, at the first summons, to General Brown who, with a force of five thousand men, invaded Canada in 1814, by Major Buck, the officer in command ; and the British garrison, consisting of one hundred and thirty-seven men of the Eighth, or King's Regiment, became prisoners of war.
The troops under General Brown, advancing upon Fort George, and fighting the celebrated battles of Chippewa and Niagara, fell back upon this point, and sustained a siege, remarkable for the gallantry with which it was pressed and repelled. Subsequently, the British forces having retired to winter quarters, the fort was abandoned and demolished, the campaign ended, and the American army having gained nothing but glory by the invasion, returned to their own country.
The fortification is now entirely in ruins, deserted and desolate ; but its ancient defences may still be traced out, and the little hillocks that dot the plain below, each marking a soldier's grave, -attest the obstinacy with which the attack was urged, and the assault repulsed. "
Fort George, located in Niagara-on-the-Lake was built in 1798 - 1799. After the signing of Jay's Treaty on November 19, 1794 the British were forced to relinquish possession of Fort Niagara to the Americans. Fort George was built across the Niagara River on the west side slightly north of Fort Niagara.
Prior to the War of 1812 Fort George was the headquarters of the British Indian Department in which John Butler played an instrumental role. Alongside Col. Butler was General Isaac Brock, who commanded the Right Division of the British Army and was stationed at Fort George.
On May 27, 1813 the Americans managed to overtake the fort however by the following winter the fort was taken back by the British. The British realizing the vulnerability of the fort decided Fort Mississauga, directly across from Fort Niagara, was strategically a better location. The British also built Butler's Barracks inland from the Niagara River and out of reach of American cannons.
After the War of 1812 and the establishing of territorories between the British and the Americans life in Upper Canada returned to normal. Fort George was no longer needed and was left abandoned. For nearly 100 years the fort was left to decay until 1926 when it was declared a National Historic Site. Between 1937 - 1941 the Fort underwent a total reconstuction. The work was commissioned by the government as a make work project for dozens of unemployed tradesmen during the Great Depression.
Fort Mississauga is located at the mouth of the Niagara River. Today Fort Mississauga is located on the grounds of the Niagara-on-the-Lake Golf Club. A pedestrian trail starts at the corner of Simcoe and Front streets and leads to the fort.
The fort consists of a box–shaped brick tower and historic star–shaped earthworks—the only one of its kind in Canada. The fort was built by the British with bricks from the buildings that had been destroyed by American troops.
When the British first arrived on the west bank of the Niagara River they were met with a tribe of Indians that had a head camp at this location. These Indians, although seeming to be a faction of the Neutrals were called the Mississaugas. In 1804, a lighthouse was erected at the site, which had become known as Mississauga Point. This was the first lighthouse on the Great Lakes, but was dismantled in 1814 to make way for Fort Mississauga, which incorporated stone from the lighthouse.
There are no visitor facilities or services at Fort Mississauga, and for safety reasons the public must remain on the marked trail at all times until inside the fort. The public must allow golfers to complete their shots before proceeding, and look carefully to ensure that the way is clear. No bicycles, scooters, roller blades, skateboards, or other vehicles are allowed.
A sign at the gate to the fort states there is "no trespassing from 9:00 p.m. - 6 a.m."
Fort Mississauga is a National Historic Site of Canada. Admission to the site is free.
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