The History of Old Fort Erie
For thousands of years this area was very important as a source of Onondaga Flintstone. This stone was used by the Iroquoian people for tools and weapons. The French came into the Great Lakes region in the 1600's and built Fort Niagara on Lake Ontario as their primary post along the Niagara River.
At the end of the Seven Years War (or French and Indian War) in 1763, all of New France was ceded to Great Britain. The British established control by occupying the French forts and constructing a line of communications along the Niagara River and Upper Great Lakes. Fort Erie was the first British fort to be constructed as part of this network. The original fort, built in 1764, was located on the river's edge below the present fort. For the next 50 years, Fort Erie served as a supply depot and a port for ships transporting merchandise, troops and passengers to the Upper Great Lakes.
The fort first saw action as a supply base for British troops, Loyalist Rangers and Iroquois Warriors during the American Revolution. Continuous winter storms caused considerable damage to the little fort at the water's edge. In 1803, planning was authorized for a new Fort Erie on the heights behind the original post. The new fort was to be more formidable and constructed of the stone that was readily available in the area, Onondaga Flintstone.
The War of 1812
This 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 after being partially dismantled by the small garrison of British troops and Canadian militia as they withdrew from the fort. British reoccupation followed the American withdrawal from the area in December 1813 and attempts to rebuild the fort were begun.
On July 3,1814 another American force landed nearby and captured Fort Erie again. 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 it was broken on September 17 when American troops sortied out of the fort to capture and 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, leaving Fort Erie the bloodiest battlefield in the history of Canada. 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 2 miles (3 km) north of the fort on the Niagara Parkway. 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. With the arrival of trains a town began to grow north of the fort. In 1866, a Brigade of Fenians (Irish Republicans) used the ruins of the Old Fort as a base for their raid into Ontario. These raids hastened the move toward Confederation and Canada became a nation in 1867. 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.
In 1937 reconstruction was begun, jointly sponsored 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-funded agency of the Ontario Provincial Government. After your visit, you can enjoy a delightful drive along the Niagara Parkway. The Parkway starts at Fort Erie and continues 56 km or 35 miles north to Lake Ontario; Sir Winston Churchill said it was "the prettiest Sunday drive in the world". Today, step inside Old Fort Erie as the Garrison of British, Canadian and Iroquois forces prepare to defend this outpost in Upper Canada during the War of 1812.