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Friday, June 14, 2024
Fort Mississauga tour a trip into the past
Visitors to Fort Mississauga had a birds-eye view of the interior of the historical military installation thanks to a recently-installed elevated walkway. Below, Parks Canada project manager Chris Zoetewey points where the fort's magazine once was. RICHARD WRIGHT
People line up to enter Fort Mississauga. About 150 people signed up for the tour of the historical structure for a rare public glimpse of the interior. RICHARD WRIGHT
Originally a two-storey building, Fort Mississauga has taken a beating from Mother Nature over the years. Ice build up in the brick over years resulted in some separation that aided in the collapse of the floor. RICHARD WRIGHT
Dressed in their best 1800s civilian and military garb, Friends of Fort George executive director Amanda Gamble and reenactor Scott Finley were in fine form at Fort Mississauga during a rare tour of the centuries-old structure. RICHARD WRIGHT
A lone visitor walks through the sally port of Fort Mississauga. Sally ports are controlled entries to an enclosure. This one, about 50 feet long, runs from the inner grounds of the fort to an exit that over looks Lake Ontario. RICHARD WRIGHT
Ronnie Roberts and partner Debra Fabiani were two of the lucky people who got a rare glimpse of the interior of Fort George. Parks Canada and The Friends of Fort George have united to restore the structure. RICHARD WRIGHT

For Canadian history buffs, there was nary a better place to be on the evening of Friday, May 25 than on the golf course in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

For nestled along the back end of the first hole of the NOTL Golf Club, obscured slightly by a berm of earth works that once served as a shield for cannon fire, there is a structure with such significance to the Canadian identity that its present-day obscurity is considered an affront to some of this nation’s history enthusiasts.

“This is a part of Canada that so few people really understand,” said Ronnie Roberts, one of more than 150 attendees who attended a rare tour inside Fort Mississauga, a historical structure from the era of the War of 1812.

The Friends of Fort George and Parks Canada co-hosted this tour, which gave participants a look inside the more than 200-year-old structure located near the mouth of the Niagara River.

“The War of 1812 is a war that is so significant and yet there is a failure in our education system to really describe what went on here,” Roberts said.

A relatively new resident of NOTL, Roberts has been fascinated by Fort Mississauga since his chance encounter with the building on a walk with his wife three years ago.

“The fact that I had to ask, ‘What is that in the distance?’ is evidence to the fact that we have never been exposed to this,” said the self-proclaimed amateur historian. 

“This is one of the most important aspects of our history. We could have lost the country,” he stressed, noting the significance of the outcome of the War of 1812, which ended in a stalemate.

That significance isn’t lost on the Friends of Fort George nor on Parks Canada.

With the building sitting derelict for most of the past seven decades, the two organizations joined forces in 2019 to begin restoration of the historical landmark. 

It was all made possible thanks to a $7.3 million grant from the federal government.

A two-storey square building, it originally featured a compartmentalized interior layout of areas for soldiers, a dry goods storage, an armament storage (magazine) and wall ports for viewing outside and for pointing small arms in all directions.

It still has a centre wall extending from one end of the building to the other, but is now mainly a wide open space on each side of that wall due to the collapse of the floor that separates the first and second storeys.

“When work began, there was about 10 feet of water inside the building as a result of the roof failing and moisture coming in through the walls,” said Parks Canada project manager Chris Zoetewey, who also served as tour guide last Friday.

“The water would freeze in the winter months and the resulting ice was pushing the building apart.”

Vandals caused additional damage in the 1960s, he added.

Part of the restoration also included a new sturdy wooden gangway that allowed the visitors to see the structure’s entire interior from an elevated position.

Other work included re-establishing the earth works, the clean up and removal of debris from the interior, replacing the roof, stabilizing the central tower, restoring the two powder magazines and sally port as well as a constructing and new wooden pedestrian boardwalk to the front gate.

Tour feedback received by the Friends of Fort George was that of awe and appreciation, said executive director Amada Gamble, who was on-site to greet people dressed in her best 1800s-era garb.

“It is a great way for everybody to connect with history and to remind us that it is here and that it is so important.”

For Roberts, the experience was surreal.

“My first thoughts were of the youth who came from England and all of a sudden they were put in this situation,” he said. “To think that they were inside there is incredible, and to experience walking through it … is absolutely amazing.”

The first phase of the restoration, stymied by the work-stoppages of the pandemic, took about two years to complete.

The project’s second phase, said Zoetewey, will commence when it is certain that no water and moisture remain in the structure.

Now that proper drainage has been established, that alone, said Zoetewey, could take between five and 10 years to naturally occur.


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