How We Can Help the City Tell Its Stories

by Andrew Stewart

Among the myriad of items that City of Toronto Museum and Heritage Services has in its collections (150,000 historical artifacts; 1.1 million archaeological specimens; and 2500 works of moveable fine art), some relate directly to the history of Fort York National Historic Site. The Fort York-related artifacts are used in exhibits throughout the site to tell its story. Many will be displayed for the first time when the state-of-the-art Visitor Centre re-opens this spring. All items in the City’s collection are carefully curated by expert staff under the direction of Chief Curator Wayne Reeves.

Just as interesting as the items themselves are the many different, sometimes unexpected, ways by which Fort York (City of Toronto) has acquired them. These are illustrated, in part, by the following five examples:

  • An English Civil War cannon was inherited from the time when Fort York was a British Army outpost. Although well past its best-before date, having been manufactured during Oliver Cromwell’s Protectorate in the 1650s, this cannon was sent to Upper Canada as an already-condemned piece, intended for the defence of the colony during the 1790s. (See The Fife and Drum archive page, Vol 9 No 4 Aug. 2005 p 5, for the full story.)
  • Two pieces of gilt brass gorget (part of a British officer’s uniform until 1830) were recovered at two different places during separate archaeological excavations within the fort. One of these pieces is especially interesting as it was later repurposed by someone of First Nations origin.


Fragment of officer’s gorget exhibiting part of an engraved monogram (possibly the Royal Cypher) with later patterned punctate modification, found during archaeological excavations within the fort.

  • An orderly book of the 3rd Regiment York Militia, filled with manuscript entries of orders issued during the War of 1812, was generously donated by Fort York Foundation supporters Arthur and Linda Beatty – Arthur Beatty being a descendant of Major William Chewett, the commanding officer of the 3rd Regiment York Militia in the War of 1812. The contents of the book is now accessible digitally on the City of Toronto Museums’ Resources and Special Projects page.

Orderly book of the 3rd Regiment York Militia, donated to Fort York by Arthur and Linda Beatty of Toronto.

  • “Upper Canada Preserved” medals struck after the War of 1812 were later almost all destroyed on purpose. (See The Fife and Drum, Vol 15, No 1, March 2011, p 8 for the full story). Miraculously, a pair of them survived and were passed down through generations within the Allan family, and were given to Fort York in 2011 by Mrs Patrick Vernon and her family – descendants of the Allans.
  • In 1986 the City was able to purchase part of the uniform that belonged to a lieutenant in the 2nd Leeds Militia, Rifle Company, Upper Canada. This is a very rare surviving artifact from the War of 1812. It has a fascinating history, on both sides of the international border, and now is a cornerstone in the City’s collection. It was fortunately purchased by the old Toronto Historical Board, which had a budget for such things.


This tunic, once belonging to Lieutenant Levi Soper, 2nd Leeds Militia, Rifle Company, Upper Canada, was purchased by the City of Toronto in 1986 and is now a cornerstone of Fort York’s collection

Since the early 1990s, when acquisition budgets were severely restricted, the City of Toronto has not been able to acquire anything (at least by purchase), regardless of its importance to telling the City’s stories.

Now, with the creation of the Fort York Acquisitions Fund by the Fort York Foundation, this flexibility will be restored. “Not only will it allow staff to be nimble in bidding at auctions for artifacts deemed important to telling Fort York’s story, it will also support their conservation, when needed, allowing them to be exhibited,” according to Chief Curator Wayne Reeves.

The Fort York Foundation is proud to support the City’s efforts to preserve and exhibit the history of Fort York through artifacts, art, manuscripts—and all the material culture associated with more than two centuries of its stories. Look for a new “Acquisitions Fund” page on our website for further details and updates.