Andrew Stewart, chair of the Fort York Foundation, speaks at a reception at Fort York…
“People willing to invest in this city are showing leadership for revitalizing a host of previously neglected historic sites, among them the Distillery District, the Evergreen Brick Works and the Artscape Wychwood Barns.
At 43 acres, Fort York National Historic Site is one of the largest of these urban assets. It certainly has the most storied history.
The Queen’s Rangers established this site as a military camp in 1793 and then built the first barracks. The modern regiment (the Queen’s York Rangers), one of Canada’s oldest, is still here, headquartered at Fort York Armoury, which is part of the National Historic Site, as is Garrison Common, the site of battle between U.S. troops and British, Canadian and First Nations defenders of the Town of York in 1813.
During this battle, the fort was blown up and was completely rebuilt during the remaining two years of the war. The result is what we have largely inherited – an authentic War of 1812 fort, not a reconstruction.
Very simply, Fort York is the story of how we became who we are in this country; and how we organized as a people, for the first time, to face a common threat.
Fort York is the place in Toronto where we will come to understand the relationship between natives and newcomers at the time of its founding in the 18th century. It is this relationship among sovereign peoples, on which alliances were built, that laid the foundation for tolerance, diversity and the pluralistic Canadian society we enjoy today.
Fort York will be the place in Toronto, Canada’s most diverse city, where we get to know ourselves, no matter how long we’ve been in this country. Canada is a concept that has been evolving for centuries, and certainly long before Confederation.
The British government was determined not to spend money on this place, consistently turning down proposals in the 19th century to build more elaborate forts here. The legacy of this benign neglect is that, today, we possess: North America’s only remaining War of 1812 fort; one of Canada’s largest urban archaeological sites on original landscape; a domestic and military community from the early 19th century representing Toronto’s oldest architecture and infrastructure; and a literally original place that gives us a dramatic perspective on the city’s downtown core to the east – a view from blockhouse to Bauhaus that compresses two centuries of urban change.
The place is, quite simply, a gift. We are lucky to have it.