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Fort Erie

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Fort Erie was the first British fort to be constructed as part of a network developed after the Seven Years War (or in North America the French and Indian War) was concluded by the Treaty of Paris (1763) at which time all of New France had been ceded to Great Britain. It is located on the southern edge of the Town of Fort Erie

Early History

The British established control by occupying the French forts and by constructing a line of communications along the Niagara River and Upper Great Lakes. The original fort, built in 1764, was located on the Niagara River’s edge below the present fort. For the following 50 years, Fort Erie served as a supply depot and a port for ships transporting merchandise, troops and passengers via Lake Erie to the Upper Great Lakes.

Development

The fort first saw action as a supply base for British troops, Loyalist Rangers and Iroquois Warriors during the American Revolution. The little fort at the water’s edge suffered considerable damage due to continuous winter storms. In 1803, planning was authorized for a new Fort Erie on the heights behind the original post. The new fort was made more formidable being constructed of the Onondaga Flintstone that was readily available in the area.

War of 1812

This new fort was unfinished when the United States declared war on June 18, 1812. The garrison of Fort Erie fought at the Battle of Frenchman’s Creek against American attacks in November 1812. In 1813, the fort was held for a period by U.S. forces. The fort had been partially dismantled by the small garrison of British troops and Canadian militia as they withdrew. British reoccupation followed American withdrawal from the area in December 1813. The British attempted to rebuild the fort. On July 3, 1814 another American force landed nearby and again captured Fort Erie.. The U.S. Army used the fort as a supply base and expanded its size. At the end of July, after the Battles of Chippawa and Lundy’s Lane, the American army withdrew to Fort Erie. In the early hours of August 15,1814 the British launched a four pronged attack against the fortifications. A well-prepared American defence and an explosion in the North East Bastion destroyed the British chance for success with the loss over 1,000 men. A full scale siege set in and was only broken on September 17 when American troops sortied out of the fort and were able to capture or wreck the British siege batteries. Shortly after the American sortie, the British lifted the siege lines and retired to positions to the north at Chippawa. After unsuccessful attacks at Cook’s Mills, west of Chippawa, news reached the American forces that the eastern seaboard of the U.S. was under attack. On the 5th of November 1814, with winter approaching, the Americans destroyed the fort and withdrew to Buffalo. Fort Erie is the site of the bloodiest battlefield in the history of Canada.

Aftermath of War

The Treaty of Ghent was signed December 24, 1814, ending the War of 1812-1814. Suspecting further attacks, the British continued to occupy the ruined fort until 1823. Some of the stones from the fort were then incorporated into the construction of St. Paul’s Anglican Church, which stands today on the Niagara Parkway 3 km (2 miles) north of the fort. The Fort Erie area became significant as the major terminus in Canada for slaves using the Underground Railroad in the middle of the 1800's. The town of Fort Erie began to grow north of the fortifications when a rail terminus and station were constructed. In 1866, a Brigade of Fenians (Irish Republicans) used the ruins of the Old Fort as a base for their raid into Ontario. Around the same time visitors to the ruins included the Prince of Wales and Mark Twain. As the 20th century approached, the Old Fort was used as a park and picnic area by local families.

Redevelopment of the Fort

In 1937 reconstruction was of the fort was begun. This was a joint sponsorship by the Provincial and Federal governments and The Niagara Parks Commission. The fort was restored to the 1812-1814 period and officially reopened July 1, 1939. The fort and surrounding battlefield are owned and operated by The Niagara Parks Commission, a self-funding agency of the Ontario Provincial Government. The Parkway starts at Fort Erie and continues 56 km (35 miles) north to Lake Ontario. Sir Winston Churchill said it was, ‘the prettiest Sunday drive in the world’. Each year, on the second weekend of August, there is a re-enactment of the siege of Fort Erie involving hundreds of historical re-enactment enthusiasts.

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