The Walrus

Shooting Gallery

Expanded coverage of the War of 1812’s bicentennial

by The Walrus
Online Exclusive · From the March 2012 magazine
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Evidence of the War of 1812 is all around us — place names, forgotten plaques and memorials, and abandoned fortifications. To coincide with The Walrus’s March 2012 cover story, Stephen Marche’s “That Time We Beat the Americans: A Citizens’ Guide to the War of 1812,” and the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, we have set out to document contemporary battlefields, artifacts, and ephemera from Canada’s defining moment.

As celebrations unfold over the next two years, this gallery will grow with additional content from historic sites, museums, and anniversary events throughout the country.

Be sure to come back from time to time, and also check out our War of 1812 documentary at walrustv.ca.




The Treasures of Fort York

Photography by Bryan Dickie


Photograph by Bryan DickieClose-up of a reproduction drummer’s coat for the 8th (King’s) Regiment of Foot, two companies of which fought at the Battle of York, on April 27, 1813. The regiment used royal blue as the complementary colour on cuffs, collars, and shoulder straps. Drummers’ uniforms were often more elaborate than regular soldiers’ uniforms, but, unlike with other line regiments, drummers in royal regiments did not wear reversed colours to make them stand out. The braided lace on this uniform, with its double-thick weave and repeating fleur-de-lys motif, adds further distinction.

Photograph by Bryan DickieReproduction of an active service uniform of a private in the 8th (King’s) Regiment, Grenadier Company. In the age of black powder, when dense smoke from smoothbore muskets often obscured battlefields, brightly coloured uniforms were the norm for most Western armies. British line regiments adopted different combinations of decorative lace patterns, facing colours, and button designs, so their uniforms would be visible amid the haze.

Photograph by Bryan DickieThis original uniform tunic and epaulette is a rare survivor from the War of 1812. It once belonged to Lieutenant Levi Soper of the rifle company, 2nd Regiment of Leeds Militia, Upper Canada, which we know because he wrote his name, rank, and unit in the armpit. The styling and cloth suggest it is likely of American origin, possibly captured from a New York–area militia unit during the war and tailored for its new owner across the border.

Photograph by Bryan DickieThe recreated Officers’ Mess Dining Room. British officers of the garrison used the Officers’ Brick Barracks and Mess Establishment from 1815 until 1870. Today the Mess Room has been restored to its 1834–37 appearance, when the 15th Regiment of Foot garrisoned the fort. The table is set for a multi-course meal for officers and local guests. On most days, officers dined simply, with more opulent meals reserved for special occasions, such as monarchs’ birthdays or victory celebrations.

Photograph by Bryan DickieThe oldest surviving kitchen in Toronto, the cellar kitchen below Fort York’s 1815 Officers’ Brick Barracks, was excavated and studied between 1987 and 1990. Archaeologists discovered more than 12,000 artifacts and unearthed the rudimentary but effective drainage system.

Photograph by Bryan DickieAn officer’s apartment converted to a sitting room. By the 1830s, fewer officers resided within the walls of Fort York, and some of the bedrooms were adapted as sitting rooms and offices. Furnishings for officers in the period remained elegantly simple and portable, for when they were eventually transferred to another post.

Photograph by Bryan DickieOriginal medical chest from the 1820s–30s. Each battalion typically had two medical practitioners attached to it, the surgeon and his mate, who examined recruits for fitness, cared for the sick and wounded, monitored the after-effects of punishments, inspected barracks, and performed autopsies. Surgeons’ chests such as this one were common in the early nineteenth century. Because they accompanied the doctors on campaign, they were compact and organized to carry an assortment of remedies, among them laxatives, diuretics, and emetics.

Photograph by Bryan DickieReproduction of the mess hall uniform, consisting of a jacket and a peaked pillbox cap, worn by an officer of the Royal Engineers from the 1860s. The Royal Engineers bolstered Fort York’s defences when the Fenian Raids increased the likelihood of renewed conflict with the US. Nineteenth-century officers typically had more than one style of uniform, used for different purposes. Unlike enlisted soldiers, officers had to purchase all of their uniforms. They wore this short jacket for special meals and events in the officers’ mess, as an “undress” uniform or with other accoutrements.

Photograph by Bryan DickieClose-up of service ammunition for the Snider-Enfield, a breech-loading rifle (original and reproduction). By the late 1860s, infantry long arms began to evolve from muzzleloaders to breech-loaders, and ammunition changed with them. Soldiers adopted complete cartridges containing powder, a conical bullet, and a percussion cap igniter. The result was a substantial increase in the infantry’s rate of fire from that of the 1812 period.

Photograph by Bryan DickieScale model of the schooner HMS Nancy, built by Toronto marine historian and journalist C. H. J. Snider. He constructed it using remnant timbers from the original vessel, which were discovered in 1911 at the mouth of the Nottawasaga River on Georgian Bay, near Wasaga Beach, Ontario. Built in 1789 as a fur trade schooner, the Nancy served during the War of 1812 as a Provincial Marine and Royal Navy supply vessel to posts on the Upper Great Lakes. In 1814, the ship’s crew set it ablaze, to prevent it from falling into American hands.


Battlegrounds of the War of 1812

Photography by Bryan Dickie


Battlefield02Brock’s Monument, Queenston Heights, Ontario
The first monument on this site, which stood forty metres tall, was damaged on April 17, 1840, reportedly by rebels associated with William Lyon Mackenzie. The current monument, completed in 1856, stands fifty-eight metres. Sir Isaac Brock and his aide-de-camp, Lieutenant Colonel John MacDonnell, are interred below.

Battlefield03Brock’s Cenotaph, Queenston, Ontario
Major General Sir Isaac Brock died near here on October 13, 1812, while leading grenadiers of the Forty-Ninth Regiment and members of the Third York Militia, during the Battle of Queenston Heights. Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, dedicated this stone cenotaph on September 18, 1860. William Lyon Mackenzie’s print shop and the Laura Secord Homestead are nearby.

Battlefield04Fort York National Historic Site, Toronto, Ontario
Fort York houses Canada’s largest collection of War of 1812 buildings. Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe established a garrison here in 1793, two kilometres west of York (now Toronto), and Major General Sir Isaac Brock reinforced it prior to the War of 1812. On April 27, 1813, retreating British forces ignited the magazine; the massive explosion rocked the area, killing and wounding hundreds of American soldiers and York townspeople.

Battlefield05Fort York National Historic Site, Toronto, Ontario
Occupying American forces left York on May 2, 1813, burning the fort in the process. Major General Francis de Rottenburg had it rebuilt in the fall of 1813. Today visitors can tour the barracks, blockhouses, and earthworks constructed under his command.

Battlefield06Victoria Memorial Park, Toronto, Ontario
A cemetery associated with Fort York was established on this site in 1793; today it is a public park near King and Bathurst Streets. A monument commemorating those who died during the War of 1812 was dedicated on Canada Day 1902. Five years later, the sculpture by Walter Seymour Allward was added on top.

Battlefield07Fort George National Historic Site, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario

Battlefield08Fort George National Historic Site, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario

Battlefield09Fort George National Historic Site, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario

Battlefield10Fort George National Historic Site, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario
Fort George was built between 1796 and 1799, after the signing of Jay’s Treaty in 1796. Major General Isaac Brock selected the fort as his headquarters at the beginning of the War of 1812, but it was lost to the Americans on May 27, 1813. The American army abandoned the fort seven months later, after setting it ablaze, along with neighbouring Newark (now Niagara-on-the-Lake). Historic Fort George was reconstructed between 1937 and 1940.

Battlefield11Burlington Heights, Hamilton, Ontario
After retreating from Fort George, British soldiers arrived at Burlington Heights on the evening of May 29, 1813. Under the command of Brigadier General John Vincent, they constructed a depot and three fortified earthworks, including this one in Hamilton Cemetery.

Battlefield12Stoney Creek Battlefield Monument, Stoney Creek, Ontario
On the evening of June 5, 1813, Lieutenant Colonel John Harvey marched 700 British regulars of the Eighth and Forty-Ninth Regiments from Burlington Heights to Stoney Creek, where they engaged an American force of 3,500. The surprise attack resulted in heavy losses for both sides, but the decisive British victory turned the tide of American invasion.

Battlefield13Stoney Creek Battlefield Monument, Stoney Creek, Ontario
On June 6, 1913, Queen Mary inaugurated this thirty-metre monument, via transatlantic cable from London, to commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Stoney Creek.

Battlefield14Stoney Creek Battlefield, Stoney Creek, Ontario
Much of the Stoney Creek battlefield has been lost to development. Both British and American soldiers are interred near these gates, where American cannons were positioned during the battle.

Battlefield15Fort Mississauga National Historic Site, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario
Following the destruction of Fort George in December 1813, British forces constructed this fort on the site of a former lighthouse. Unlike Fort George, its replacement was located on the water, and afforded the British control of the Niagara River. Today Fort Mississauga is surrounded by the nine-hole Niagara-on-the-Lake Golf Club.

Battlefield16Old Fort Niagara, Youngstown, New York
A series of French, British, and American fortifications has stood on this site since 1679, and many of the structures that existed during the War of 1812 were built by the French in 1726. Following the burning of Fort George, American forces retreated to Fort Niagara. In a surprise attack, British infantrymen commanded by Lieutenant Colonel John Murray took the fort on December 19, 1813, and held it for the remainder of the war.

Battlefield17Chippawa Battlefield, Niagara Parkway, Ontario
One of the war’s major battles was fought on this site, roughly nine kilometres south of Niagara Falls, on July 5, 1814. Under the command of Major General Jacob Brown, outnumbered American soldiers managed to outmanoeuvre and defeat Major General Phineas Riall and the Right Division of the British Army.

Battlefield18Drummond Hill Cemetery, Niagara Falls, Ontario
The Battle of Lundy’s Lane, fought on July 25, 1814, was a tactical stalemate between Major General Jacob Brown’s American army and Lieutenant General Gordon Drummond’s British forces. Yet it proved to be the last American offensive on the Niagara frontier. Once a popular tourist destination, most of the original battlefield has been lost to nineteenth- and twentieth-century development, as the lights of Clifton Hill testify (background).

Battlefield19Lundy’s Lane and Main Street, Niagara Falls, Ontario


Recommended Links


Battlegrounds & Museums
Battlefield House Museum and Park
Canadian War Museum: 1812 (exhibit opens June 15, 2012)
City of Hamilton: Dundurn National Historic Site
City of Hamilton: Hamilton Military Museum
City of Niagara Falls Museum: The War of 1812 Collection
City of Toronto: Fort York National Historic Site
Niagara Falls History Museum (opening July 2012)
Niagara Parks: Old Fort Erie
Parks Canada: Fort George National Historic Site

Film/Video
EighteenTwelve.ca: Make Your Own Heritage Moment Contest
NFB.ca: Films about the War of 1812
PBS.org: The War of 1812

Resources
Archives of Ontario: The War of 1812
The Canadian Atlas Online: The War of 1812
The Canadian Encyclopedia: War of 1812
EighteenTwelve.ca: interactive map and timeline
Library and Archives Canada: War of 1812
The Olive Tree Genealogy: War of 1812 History and Genealogy
The Ontario Historical Society
Strange Fatality: The Battle of Stoney Creek, 1813
Warof1812.ca