Library District and Fort York – A History:1814-1870

26 October 2012,   By ,  

Every month we take a look at the history of Library District‘s most famous neighbour; Fort York. This month in an interview with the foremost expert regarding the fort, Dr. Carl Benn, Dean of History at Ryerson University, our discussion will focus around the years immediately after the war and leading up to Canada’s independence.These years were influential in the development of Toronto and Canada as we know it exists today.

So what happened after the magazine had blown up?

The explosion inflicted heavy casualties on both sides. In total, 157 British, and 329 American. This includes Brigadier – General Zebulon Pike, who was mortally wounded after a piece of exploded debris landed on him.

In the aftermath of the magazine being detonated, those surviving American Infantrymen secured the remnants of the fort and continued to loot and pillage the town of York for 6 days. Native soldiers retreated into the woods and British soldiers fell back to Kingston On, to regroup. When the British returned to the town of York, they immediately began to rebuild the fort in the location on the western bank of the Garrison Creek where it stands today.

If you look at the first image up top,  the area just south of the fort is the crater left behind by the magazine explosion.


Once the fort was rebuilt, was that the last of the action it would see?

Not at all, In 1814 – Fort York successfully repeled another US squad trying to get into Toronto Bay. Fron that point on, the fort would remain heavily reinforced until Feb of 1815 when word had finally reached Fort York that the war of 1812 had ended. The British and Native American forces had successfully fended off an American invasion.



How did the fort fare after the war?

In the years immediately after the war, the British continued to man the fort. However, it fell into disrepair during peacetime due to no need for constant reinforcements. The fort would see action again in 1837 as a rebellion in Upper Canada had started against the British monarchy. It’s leader – William Lyon Mackenzie, was the grandfather of Canada’s 10th Prime Minister.

After the rebellion seceded, there became less of a need to have all of the buildings occupied and as a result, several of them fell into extreme disrepair. The troops moved off the fort and to the new barracks a KM west of the fort. Newly built Osgoode Hall, was rented out to soliders to use as temporary barracks to the fort as well.

Since this was peacetime and no one was occupying the fort, it fell into a state of disrepair and was not to be refurbished until 1860 when rumbles of war in the south caused fears of another US invasion. Turns out they just wanted to fight other Americans.

About the birth of Toronto…

In 1845, British Ordinance leases 287 acres of Garrison Common to the City for 999 years. This would become to be known as Liberty Village and the present day exhibition grounds. Many old iconic Toronto landmarks would begin to rise out of the town of York at this time, including the aforementioned Osgoode Hall. The Provincial Insane Asylum, now better known as CAMH on Queen Street, was beginning to be built as well.As the years went by, more and more land was cleared and released to the City to be sold to settlers.

When did the backfill of the lake begin to have an immediate impact?

Backfill had an immediate impact on the lake,  and it all started with the placement of the first wharf. The first wharf  in the town of York was placed at the mouth of the Garrison river, where the foot of Bathurst St. is today. It would be known as the Queens Wharf. You can see it in the image below as the backfill begins to shape the Lakeshore.

Notice how the fort becomes further and further back from the shoreline? This is the result of the backfill required to bury the Creek due to sanitary concerns (northern residents were using the creek as a waste depository) and expand the shoreline of Lake Ontario to support rail yards.

Toronto would become a hub for Rail transportation in Upper and Lower Canada as our nation continued to grow. In 1953, Toronto’s first rail station opened at the corner of Front and Bay, where Union station now stands in Toronto. The second station would be located much closer to the fort, at the foot of Bathurst and Front.

In 1870, 3 years after Canada had established itself as it’s own country loyal to the British empire, and safe from the United States, British troops withdrew and turned control of the fort over to Canadian soldiers.

To learn more about Fort York, pay a visit! And don’t forget to say ” Hello” to Library District across the street 🙂

You can find more about the history of Fort York by reading the works of Carl Benn on Amazon or at your local library.

Library District is home to the City of Toronto’s 100th library and will be accessible to the Public as well as occupants of Library District.

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