This Week in History
"St. Joseph...the Military Siberia of Upper Canada"
For the week of Monday July 15, 2002
"A mere matter of marching" was what the Americans thought when they declared war in June of 1812 and prepared to invade Canada. But on the morning of July 16, 1812, at a remote frontier settlement on St. Joseph Island at the western end of Lake Huron, it was rowing not marching that launched the opening moves in the bloody three year conflict, and the British struck the first blow.
Fort St. Joseph was the most westerly military post in Upper Canada when it was built in 1796 after the British ceded the fort on Mackinac Island under terms of the Treaty of Paris. The fort became the centre of a community of traders and British Indian Department officials. Each summer the community witnessed speeches, feasting and ceremonies during the annual present-giving to First Nations allies and the fur traders' rendezvous. But after the success of July 17, 1812, the community was abandoned and American raiders burned it two years later.
The Fort St. Joseph ruins were 'rediscovered' in the 1920s. In the 1960s and 1970s extensive archaeological excavations revealed most of the remains of the structures within the palisade walls, some of the civilian buildings and thousands of artifacts. Today, the ruins remain visible in a landscape little changed from the early 19th century. Once a remote military post, described by one soldier as the "Military Siberia of Upper Canada," Fort St. Joseph is now a National Historic Site of Canada.
For more information, visit the Fort St. Joseph Web site.
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