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Dan Laroche, Site Supervisor, Fort George National Historic Site
December 12, 2023 @ 10:00 am - 11:00 am
Dan Laroche, – Site Supervisor, Fort George National Historic Site
Topic: Fort George, in an interesting Show & Tell presentation
Battle of Fort George played key role in war of 1812
Duncan McLaren introduced Dan LaRoche, Site Supervisor of the Fort George National Historic Site. Dan presented the background of the War of 1812 and specifically the battle of Fort George in 1813. The Fort George property extended four miles inland from the Niagara River and was purchased from the Anishinaabe people in 1781.
The interests of the Anishinaabe people and the British in the lakes and rivers in the late 16th century were the same – transportation. The upper lakes and rivers connecting to the St. Lawrence River were the route to the middle of the continent along with the Mississippi River. From a strategic perspective, waterways were everything and if you owned the waterways, you won wars.
The American strategy was the same each year: a three-pronged attack on Montreal, Niagara and Detroit. In 1813, the Americans attacked York which was a major naval facility. They defeated York on April 27 and proceeded to Fort George with a flotilla of 14 ships with which they controlled the Great Lakes.
The British were fighting Napoleon in Europe and the war in the Americas was a “side-show” and there was little assistance available. The Americans built up their forces at Queenston with five artillery batteries that bombarded Fort George with “hot shot”, 24-pounder cannonballs heated in a furnace before being fired. These set buildings on fire and all wooden structures perished except the powder magazine which miraculously survived and remains today.
Dan said that after heavy bombardment of the fort, the American landing craft were beaten back three times before successfully landing and forcing the Canadian troops to retire. British Brigadier General John Vincent feared being caught in a pincer movement and moved his troops all the way back to Burlington Bay.
Dan brought many artifacts of the battle era including a musket and rifle, bayonet, tomahawk, cannon ball, canister shot plus a diagram of the fort. He explained the use and limitations of the artifacts including the musket’s misfire rate of 30% and inaccuracy due to the ball wobbling as it passed through the smooth bore barrel. He pointed out that rifles were more accurate but took much longer to reload.
Dan said that the War of 1812 is important to everybody because a different outcome could have changed what our country looks like today.
A map showing Fort George in 1804-1806 that was acquired on eBay helped with the reconstruction of the palisade and buildings. A cache of artillery buttons from the time period were found during the reconstruction.
In the Q&A period, Dan profiled the local militia and the coloured corps that included men aged between 16 and 60 who volunteered and drilled once or twice per year and provided their own weapons and uniforms. The British had disdain for the militia, so they trained them into a more traditional fighting force and provided weapons and uniforms in the second year of the war. Together they became an effective fighting force.
Duncan thanked Dan for his informative and knowledgeable presentation and for bringing the artifacts that gave a real perspective to this important part of Niagara’s history.