Remembering Fort York’s Beginnings: July 30: Snapshots in History

July 30, 2016 | John P.

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Fort York looking east

(Fort York, looking east - March 1952 - Credit: James Victor Salmon Collection, Baldwin Room, Toronto Reference Library – Accession Number S 1-829B)

Fort York barracks looking w

(Fort York, barracks, looking w[est]., 1934 – Credit: Margaret Maud (Hicks) Howard Collection, Baldwin Room, Toronto Reference Library - Accession Number E 1-10n)


Looking w. to Queen's Rangers camp, foot of Bathurst St. Elizabeth P Simcoe July 30 1793

(Looking w. to Queen's Rangers camp, foot of Bathurst St. – Credit: Elizabeth P. Simcoe, July 30, 1793. Baldwin Room, Toronto Reference Library. Accession number 934-1-1.)

Residents of the City of Toronto as well as visitors to the city may have the opportunity to visit Fort York National Historic Site in downtown Toronto. On July 30 and beyond, take a moment to remember Fort York’s beginnings on July 30, 1793 as Upper Canada’s Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe acted upon the survey conducted of the harbor area by Joseph Bouchette and made the decision to establish a military garrison (complete with arsenal), accompanied by a town named York which became the capital of Upper Canada, was captured on April 27, 1813 by American forces during the War of 1812 (after the decision of Major-General Isaac Brock in 1811 to strengthen the garrison in anticipation of war), and eventually was renamed Toronto in 1834.

The British blew up Fort York’s gunpowder magazine in April 1813, killing 250 American invaders including Brigadier-General Zebulon Pike. The Americans had occupied York for six days, looting houses, destroying provisions, and burning Government House and the Parliament Buildings. The Americans returned briefly in July 1813 to burn barracks and other buildings that they had missed in April 1813. Afterwards, the British rebuilt Fort York that was sufficiently strong to repel another attempted American invasion in August 1814. The British continued to station troops in Fort York following the War of 1812, although most troops were re-located to a new barracks one kilometre to the west of Fort York in 1841. The Dominion of Canada assumed most of the responsibility for Canadian defense in 1870, including Fort York. After the weaponry became obsolete, the Army continued to use Fort York and its facilities for administrative, storage, and training purposes up to the 1930s. A military presence continued at Fort York even during World War Two.

Fort York was opened as a historic site museum on Victoria Day 1934 and operates in a similar capacity today with support from the Friends of Fort York as well as interested community members.

Consider the following titles for borrowing from Toronto Public Library collections:

Setting a fine table historical desserts and drinks from the officers' kitchens at Fort York  

The military does not function with discipline, strategy, tactics, and weapons alone. Soldiers need to be fed. This book includes 30 selected recipes taken from the officers’ kitchen in Fort York, from the historic, inaugural recipe to its modern equivalent. The recipes are placed into context with explanations on choice and use of local food sources.


Historic Fort York 1793-1993 

The book was published in Fort York’s bicentennial year. Carl Benn looks back at the important role that Fort York played in the 1790s, the War of 1812, the 1837 Rebellion, the defense of Canada during the American Civil War, and more recently, as a national historic site commemorating the past. 

Also available in eBook format.


Consider watching the following DVD:

Structures. Fort York, Show #7, 2006 [1 videodisc] / Structures (Television Program); Rogers Television, 2006. DVD. Documentary. 

This documentary explores the historic buildings on the Fort York National Historic Site.


If you are interested in exploring more digitized historical pictures of Fort York from Toronto Public Library collections, please click here.


See also: Remembering the Battle of York: April 27: Snapshots in History