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Fort Willow Historic Site

Gary

by Festival Nomad, Gary McWilliams

History Overview
The following is an excerpt from the Fort Willow website.

"Strategically located as a supply depot during the War of 1812, the Fort Willow area was also used for centuries by our Aboriginal peoples, the fur traders and explorers, as part of a major transportation route known as Nine Mile Portage.

Recent restorations have located and outlined the buildings used by the soldiers. Information kiosks give a thorough history of the area's past use and how its location helped ensure the geographical boundaries of Canada today."

"The following is a description of our tour of Fort Willow"

Historic Fort Willow…

Deep in the forest, amongst the shadows of the trees, lies an unexpected treasure, Historic Fort Willow. This historic site is an historic conservation area operated by the Nottawasaga Valley Conservation Authority. I don’t think we would have ever discovered it if it weren’t for our War of 1812 friend and mentor David Brunelle. David J. Brunelle, OCT is currently the Project Director for the Southern Georgian Bay War of 1812 Bicentennial Committee. We saw Dave in action, at a festival he had organized, “The Nine Mile Portage Heritage Festival”, The Festival began in Heritage Park overlooking Kempenfelt Bay in Barrie and ended nine miles away at Historic Fort Willow. The Fort is a very unique, rustic, quiet place to visit. To tell you about the site, we have quoted the following from the Fort Willow website... Strategically located as a supply depot during the War of 1812, the Fort Willow area was also used for centuries by our Aboriginal peoples, the fur traders and explorers, as part of a major transportation route known as Nine Mile Portage Recent restorations have located and outlined the buildings used by the soldiers. Information kiosks give a thorough history of the area's past use and how its location helped ensure the geographical boundaries of Canada today. Hike the surrounding trail network and plan to have lunch at the Fort. The laid-back, peaceful environment that is enjoyed by visitors today is a definite change from years gone by. Picnic tables, washrooms and sheltered rest areas are available for family picnics.

The many Monarch butterflies that call this area home during the summer make for a magical visit as they prepare for their journey south. Soldiers of The Royal Newfoundland Regiment arrived at this site in the spring of 1814 after an epic march from Kingston. Their goal was to re-supply the British garrison at Michilimackinac and, in an operation that demonstrated their capability and determination both on land and on the water, they felled trees, built 30 batteaux and rowed down the Nottawasaga River and across Lake Huron to Michilimackinac, a distance of 360 miles. They lost one boat, crushed in the ice, but none of the priceless supplies which would allow the British to retain control of Michilimackinac and the North West for the rest of the war. Fort Willow is host each September to the Nine Mile Portage Heritage Festival, when hundreds of local school children visit a living history encampment to interact with British soldiers, Native warriors and their families, period craftsmen, storytellers and entertainers. Other events at the site include: the Royal Newfoundland Regiment's Garrison Weekend; a Dragonhunter's Apprentice day camp focusing on dragonflies and winged insects; and visits by various groups who hike the Ganaraska Trail, which passes by the site.
Each year in May and June an archaeological dig is conducted by the students at St. Joseph's High School in Barrie, under the direction of their teacher Trevor Carter, a certified archaeologist. The information gleaned from the digs contributes to a fuller understanding of the site and its history, while the artifacts unearthed go into the collections of the Simcoe County Museum.
As indicated in Keith Bacon's paper below, Nine Mile Portage and Willow creek became important to the British military effort in 1813, after the loss of their Lake Erie fleet and control of that lake cut of access to Georgian Bay and their fort at Michilimackinac [now Mackinaw Island, Michigan].
A party of soldiers from the Newfoundland Regiment, and some sailors and naval artificers, set out from Kingston in early 1814. Marching to York [Toronto], they travelled up Yonge Street to Holland Landing, across the ice on Lake Simcoe and eight miles into the woods, following the Nine Mile Portage. Near the head of Willow Creek, the soldiers constructed 29 batteaux, loaded them with supplies and travelled down Willow Creek and the Nottawasaga River and through the ice of Georgian Bay to Michillimackinac. The NVCA has begun the process of building a fully accessible trail through the Fort Willow site. Beginning in the parking lot, a wheelchair & stroller friendly path will follow the previous road access and make a loop down through the Fort, allowing visitors with restricted mobility to access the main features of the site. I recommend you bring along a hat, sunscreen, cold water and a big can of bug spray. After all, you will be deep in the forest!

Fort Willow has a number of special events that are held throughout the year. Here is a description of the events as show on the Fort Willow website - "Fort Willow is host each September to the Nine Mile Portage Heritage Festival, when hundreds of local school children visit a living history encampment to interact with British soldiers, Native warriors and their families, period craftsmen, storytellers and entertainers.
Other events at the site include: the Royal Newfoundland Regiment's Garrison Weekend; a Dragonhunter's Apprentice day camp focusing on dragonflies and winged insects; and visits by various groups who hike the Ganaraska Trail, which passes by the site.
Each year in May and June an archaeological dig is conducted by the students at St. Joseph's High School in Barrie, under the direction of their teacher Trevor Carter, a certified archaeologist. The information gleaned from the digs contributes to a fuller understanding of the site and its history, while the artifacts unearthed go into the collections of the Simcoe County Museum."
You can visit the Fort Willow website for current event information. (Link: http://www.fortwillow.com/index.html)

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