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Fort Erie: Rebuilt Three Times!

For the week of Monday November 5, 2012

On November 5, 1814, Fort Erie was razed by American troops, who occupied it during the War of 1812.

Fort Erie
© Canada Post Corporation / 1985
The pentagon-shaped stone fortification built on the shores of Lake Erie was destroyed several times. The original construction (1764–1779) was flooded following a violent storm on the lake. Even though it was rebuilt on higher ground (circa 1783–1803), the second fort was also destroyed in a storm. Construction of the third fort, built out of stone blocks, began in 1803, but was not finished when the Americans declared war in June 1812. However, even incomplete, the fort played an important role during the conflict.

In 1813, the fort was partly destroyed by the Canadian militia and British forces. This was deliberate: they did not want to leave anything behind for the American forces attacking them. The Americans occupied the fort, but abandoned it in June so they could consolidate all their war efforts at Fort George. In December, the Americans left Fort George and Upper Canada. Fort Erie was retaken by the British immediately, and they partly rebuilt it. However, on July 4, 1814, more than 3,000 Americans attacked the region again. Fort Erie was recaptured, and the 137 British soldiers charged with protecting it surrendered. During the American occupation, the fort was expanded and reinforced, and it became an important supply base for the Americans.

Ruins of Fort Erie painted in 1838
© Library and Archives Canada / Philip John Bainbrigge / 1983-47-83 / 1838
Toward the end of July, following the Battles of the Chippawa and Lundy’s Lane, the American forces withdrew and took refuge in the fort. On August 15, the British launched a multi-pronged attack that was met with a well-organized defence. With more than a thousand dead, wounded and missing men, the British forces abandoned the offensive and undertook another siege. That siege ended on September 17, when the Americans burst out of the fort and inflicted serious damage on the British batteries and troops. When the Americans withdrew from Fort Erie for good on November 5, 1814, because of the approaching winter, they destroyed the fort, leaving it in ruins.

Afraid of further attacks, even after the peace was signed on December 24, 1814, the British continued to occupy the ruins of Fort Erie until 1823. The ruins served a number of purposes after that until the Niagara Parks Commission bought them and rebuilt the fort on the same site between 1937 and 1939. Still standing today, the fourth Fort Erie is open to the public.

Fort Erie was designated a national historic site in recognition of the important role it played during the War of 1812. To learn more about the fort, go to the Canadian Register of Historic Places.

The year 2012 marks the bicentennial of the War of 1812. To learn more about the War of 1812, please read the stories The British Lose Ground, Americans Take Fort George, Victory at Fort Detroit!A Warrior's Death, The Battle of Lacolle, Laura Secord and Birth of Sir Isaac Brock in the archives of This Week in History.

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