The Fort York Visitor Centre is six months into construction. Concrete walls are being poured, resting on caissons extending deep into the shale rock below.


Looking into the future exhibits gallery of the Fort York Visitor Centre. (photo: A. Stewart)

From early in the 19th century when they first dug wells, soldiers disliked the saltiness of the water. The Royal Engineers kept digging deeper, expecting the water to get fresher. The opposite occurred. As buckets approached bedrock deeply buried under the soil, they scooped up water of Ordovician seas held within the shale for the past 450 million years. Those wells are long abandoned, but the Visitor Centre now rests on this most flavourful Toronto rock.


Relaxation around the old well (right) at Fort York, 1876 (by Henri Julien, City of Toronto Culture 1971.42.241)

We live sweeter, if not purer, lives today. Our water is drawn from deep within Lake Ontario. It has a more contemporary flavour. And our history is drawn from a deep reservoir of continuity and change.

The modern city of Toronto was founded in 1793 at Fort York. But the origins of the settlement we call Toronto go back much further in time. They include ancient patterns of village settlement and land use by First Nations along the north shore of Lake Ontario, including downtown Toronto – which was inhabited by the Anishinaabeg in the 1700s when the first British surveyors arrived. Their descendants are honoured partners with the City of Toronto for the bicentennial commemoration of the War of 1812. Anishinaabe warriors fought as allies of the crown at the Battle of York.


Unveiling the First Nations plaque at the Battle of York bicentennial at Fort York this year, in the presence of the Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario and First Nations representatives.

In 2014, the Fort York Visitor Centre will open to the public. This innovative centre will introduce visitors to the entire national historic site. The Visitor Centre will provide a taste of our founding landscape — the place where urban Toronto was established in 1793 and where the Battle of York was fought in 1813. It has weathered, with calm integrity, centuries of settlement and change, preserving within its 43-acre site a jewel-like common, green and open space.

Our steady progress can be tracked on facebook. But we need your help to complete the Visitor Centre by 2014. We have commitments from all levels of government. But citizens, corporations and foundations are vitally important partners at this critical stage. We need your financial support to complete the Visitor Centre. We will, after all, be telling the stories of centuries – of salty fear, sometimes bitter recrimination and sweet reconciliation. We promise you more than a treat.

-Andrew Stewart, chair of the Fort York Foundation