The air was thick with gunpowder smoke and every second a crack of gunfire could be heard in the fields next to historical Fort George during the War of 1812. Its fun to watch but the battles reenacted during the course of the year between the Redcoats and Blue-Coats are a squeaky clean, an imitation of the real life of the soldier at war. The only injuries being trips and falls rather that death and dismemberment. Niagara on the Lake was the site of many historic battles between the British and US forces during that bloody conflict. Fort George was the local base for British forces at that time.
The Fort George is a Parks Canada, National Historic Site today includes a rebuilt fort, using wooden stockades as were originally erected when the original fort, built between 1796 and 1802. It is a reconstructed military landmark, offering tours & living history demonstrations during the summer months. Forces stationed here saw action during the Battle of Queenston Heights (on October 13th, 1812) when US forces commanded by Major-General Stephen Van Rensselaer crossed the lower Niagara River. The fort was destroyed when the Americans unleashed a devastating artillery bombardment then captured the fort during the Battle of Fort George (May 25, 1813). During this bombardment much of the town was also victim to the bombardment. None of the original homes remain.
It was reclaimed by the British seven months later. During those seven months it was the base for many American advances across southern Ontario.
The fort today consists of earthworks, palisades, and internal structures, including an officer’s quarters and blockhouses that would have been used to accommodate other ranks. The stone built powder magazine is the only original building on the site.
Today the Welcome Centre is a great starting place to visit the fort. It is the only place for busses and coaches to park in Niagara on the Lake and includes a large car parking area. The Welcome Centre is open between Easter weekend and the End of November. It is approximately one kilometer (half a mile) from the Shaw Festival Theatre and can be a great place to park instead of fighting for one of the hard-to-get slots outside the theatre if you intend to visit the area for the Shaw Festival..
From the Welcome Centre there is a shuttle bus that will run people into the heart of the city, near the Queen Street shops. This is the only bus allowed to stop in the city. The Queen Street shops are well worth a visit while you are in the area.
The walk to Fort George is through the car park on a well trodden path to the Fort George gift shop, where you can purchase your tickets to see the attraction.
Every summer reenactors from all over North America help to recreate one of the pivotal events in Niagara during the War of 1812. The cynical may say that the result is always the same, but the idea is to stay loyal to history and show visitors what happened. There is a lot of smoke and noise as the reenactors in Red British uniforms being driven from the fort by overwhelming Blue coated American forces.
The point about re-enactments is to wind the clock back and learn something about history, witness what happened all those years ago. The point about a site like Fort George is that it is a living demonstration of history. Any day of the year you can see the rebuilt fort in its original style. These reenactments attract a wide range of visitors, from young to old, from war aficionados to the first time visitor discovering the area.
The battle reenactments do take place on open public land. Visitors should be aware when crossing all roads that they are all still open to traffic.
Fort George Site
This site overlooks the lower end of the Niagara River, just before it enters Lake Ontario. The idea of the restored fort is to allow the visitor to step back in time to experience the early military history of this area. In the centre of the fort is the original Powder Magazine house, which is the only original building on the site, and is the oldest military building remaining in Ontario today.
During May to October the site is open daily between 10:00 am and 5:00pm. In the winter months the site is only open at weekends. Outside of these hours it is still possible to walk around the outside of the fort, looking at the wonderful grounds, which are very scenic and host some wonderful views.
For further information about Fort George, events and dates for re-enactments you should look at the website for the Friends of Fort George, who should be able to provide the latest information.