In the past two decades of publication, The Fife and Drum (The Friends of Fort York’s critically acclaimed and widely distributed quarterly newsletter,) has included many stories illuminating some aspect of personal history connected to Fort York. More than 20 people have come to life through images and words, providing a glimpse of some aspect of the fort’s life between the 1790s and today.
They include for example, indigenous people of the Great Lakes region. The Great Sail, together with his father, also of the same name, was a friend of John and Elizabeth Simcoe and a respected Mississauga leader. He was sketched by Elizabeth Simcoe in 1794 (“From the Gallery: The Great Sail”, vol. 18-3, p.10). They include inspirational leaders of the War of 1812: Isaac Brock, whose executive office and home were based at the garrison today known as Fort York (“In Review” a Matter of Honour: the Life, Campaigns and Generalship of Isaac Brock”, vol. 15-3, pp 5-6); and the wonderfully named Zebulon Montgomery Pike, commander of United States forces at the Battle of York, who died near Fort York during the battle on 27 April, 1813 (“Pike’s Pikes”, vol. 15-4, p.3). They also take in less well-known, but highly accomplished military men (e.g., Commanding Royal Engineer for the Canadas Gustavus Nicolls) and civilians (e.g., the Rev. Dr. John Strachan) linked to the events of that war and deeply embedded in the story of Fort York and early Toronto (“Who was Gustavus Nicolls?”, vol. 20-1, pp 5-6; and “Faith and the Fort”, vol. 20-4, pp 3-5).
The fort played a major role in the development of the social community of the Town of York (later, City of Toronto) throughout the nineteenth century, as well as in the community’s developing sense of its own history. This role is played out in Fort York’s cast of characters, such as the dapper Lieutenant Charles Wallace Heath of Deer Park, who settled in Toronto after his service in the army, became a lawyer, and married Sarah Boulton of the Grange (“Sleighing Soldiers: the Toronto Tandem Club”, vol. 16-5, pp 1-3); and the unfortunate Charles Fothergill, who tried to bring an Enlightenment sensibility to 1830s Toronto through his offer to donate a remarkable collection of more than 2000 items of natural scientific and cultural interest to the Province of Upper Canada. He tried his best to place it in Toronto’s first museum, to be built in Garrison Common. Government indifference and a disastrous fire destroyed the collection and extinguished this ambition, at least for another 70 years until the founding of the Royal Ontario Museum – and we’re still, of course, awaiting a City of Toronto museum (“Charles Fothergill’s Provincial Museum on the Garrison Common: a Dream too Far”, vol. 13-2, pp 5-9).
One of the most enduring images associated with the fort’s history is a Mount Rushmore panorama of characters at a meeting of the Toronto Civic Historical Committee in 1959, defending the integrity of Fort York against demolition and removal by plans to build the Gardiner Expressway through the middle of the fort (“Victory at Fort York”, vol. 14-4, pp 1-2).
These stories, with a focus on Fort York National Historic Site personalities and portraits, are just a few among many told in The Fife and Drum, now in its 21st year of publication. Be sure to subscribe, support The Friends of Fort York, and explore back issues at: http://www.fortyork.ca/resources/newsletter-archive.html