Shooting Gallery

Expanded coverage of the War of 1812’s bicentennial
Evidence of the War of 1812 is all around us — place names, forgotten plaques and memorials, and abandoned fortifications. To coincide with The Walrus’s March 2012 cover story, Stephen Marche’s “That Time We Beat the Americans: A Citizens’ Guide to the War of 1812,” and the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, we have set out to document contemporary battlefields, artifacts, and ephemera from Canada’s defining moment.

As celebrations unfold over the next two years, this gallery will grow with additional content from historic sites, museums, and anniversary events throughout the country.

Be sure to come back from time to time, and also check out our War of 1812 documentary at

The Treasures of Fort York

Photography by Bryan Dickie

Photograph by Bryan DickieClose-up of a reproduction drummer’s coat for the 8th (King’s) Regiment of Foot, two companies of which fought at the Battle of York, on April 27, 1813. The regiment used royal blue as the complementary colour on cuffs, collars, and shoulder straps. Drummers’ uniforms were often more elaborate than regular soldiers’ uniforms, but, unlike with other line regiments, drummers in royal regiments did not wear reversed colours to make them stand out. The braided lace on this uniform, with its double-thick weave and repeating fleur-de-lys motif, adds further distinction.

Photograph by Bryan DickieReproduction of an active service uniform of a private in the 8th (King’s) Regiment, Grenadier Company. In the age of black powder, when dense smoke from smoothbore muskets often obscured battlefields, brightly coloured uniforms were the norm for most Western armies. British line regiments adopted different combinations of decorative lace patterns, facing colours, and button designs, so their uniforms would be visible amid the haze.

Photograph by Bryan DickieThis original uniform tunic and epaulette is a rare survivor from the War of 1812. It once belonged to Lieutenant Levi Soper of the rifle company, 2nd Regiment of Leeds Militia, Upper Canada, which we know because he wrote his name, rank, and unit in the armpit. The styling and cloth suggest it is likely of American origin, possibly captured from a New York–area militia unit during the war and tailored for its new owner across the border.

Photograph by Bryan DickieThe recreated Officers’ Mess Dining Room. British officers of the garrison used the Officers’ Brick Barracks and Mess Establishment from 1815 until 1870. Today the Mess Room has been restored to its 1834–37 appearance, when the 15th Regiment of Foot garrisoned the fort. The table is set for a multi-course meal for officers and local guests. On most days, officers dined simply, with more opulent meals reserved for special occasions, such as monarchs’ birthdays or victory celebrations.

Photograph by Bryan DickieThe oldest surviving kitchen in Toronto, the cellar kitchen below Fort York’s 1815 Officers’ Brick Barracks, was excavated and studied between 1987 and 1990. Archaeologists discovered more than 12,000 artifacts and unearthed the rudimentary but effective drainage system.

Photograph by Bryan DickieAn officer’s apartment converted to a sitting room. By the 1830s, fewer officers resided within the walls of Fort York, and some of the bedrooms were adapted as sitting rooms and offices. Furnishings for officers in the period remained elegantly simple and portable, for when they were eventually transferred to another post.

Photograph by Bryan DickieOriginal medical chest from the 1820s–30s. Each battalion typically had two medical practitioners attached to it, the surgeon and his mate, who examined recruits for fitness, cared for the sick and wounded, monitored the after-effects of punishments, inspected barracks, and performed autopsies. Surgeons’ chests such as this one were common in the early nineteenth century. Because they accompanied the doctors on campaign, they were compact and organized to carry an assortment of remedies, among them laxatives, diuretics, and emetics.

Photograph by Bryan DickieReproduction of the mess hall uniform, consisting of a jacket and a peaked pillbox cap, worn by an officer of the Royal Engineers from the 1860s. The Royal Engineers bolstered Fort York’s defences when the Fenian Raids increased the likelihood of renewed conflict with the US. Nineteenth-century officers typically had more than one style of uniform, used for different purposes. Unlike enlisted soldiers, officers had to purchase all of their uniforms. They wore this short jacket for special meals and events in the officers’ mess, as an “undress” uniform or with other accoutrements.

Photograph by Bryan DickieClose-up of service ammunition for the Snider-Enfield, a breech-loading rifle (original and reproduction). By the late 1860s, infantry long arms began to evolve from muzzleloaders to breech-loaders, and ammunition changed with them. Soldiers adopted complete cartridges containing powder, a conical bullet, and a percussion cap igniter. The result was a substantial increase in the infantry’s rate of fire from that of the 1812 period.

Photograph by Bryan DickieScale model of the schooner HMS Nancy, built by Toronto marine historian and journalist C. H. J. Snider. He constructed it using remnant timbers from the original vessel, which were discovered in 1911 at the mouth of the Nottawasaga River on Georgian Bay, near Wasaga Beach, Ontario. Built in 1789 as a fur trade schooner, the Nancy served during the War of 1812 as a Provincial Marine and Royal Navy supply vessel to posts on the Upper Great Lakes. In 1814, the ship’s crew set it ablaze, to prevent it from falling into American hands.

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3 comment(s)

George HoughJanuary 31, 2012 12:34 EST

Thank you for the provocative article on this oft hidden aspect of Canadian history. 1812-15 was a long time ago, the battles that raged here were to some a side-show relative to the massive battles with Napoleon in Europe. But they took place here and as the article so aptly notes, their produce was the generation of a distinct identity which is no less compelling today than at any point in our past. Canadians who ponder why we are as different from our American cousins as we are, owe it to themselves to spend time in the pages of the Walrus, and perhaps a few hours tourng about the battlefields of Upper ad Lower Canada.

Rick howarthFebruary 21, 2012 10:31 EST

Just finished reading the article on the War of 1812, and viewing the photo gallery of battlefields and forts. All most interesting. However, more interesting is the total absence of any mention of, or photograph of what has been described to me as the "Bloodiest Battlefield in Canada" I speak of Old Fort Erie in Fort Erie, Ontario.
The Niagara Parks Commission has poured many thousands of dollars into the restoration of the Fort and it's surroundings and has just completed construction of a superb Visitor's Centre, thanks to their committment to heritage, as well as Federal and Provincial stimulus funds. In fact every summer, hundreds of reinactors come to the Fort over several weekends to relive the battles of the War of 1812, as well as other famous battles of the era, such as the Fenian Raids which occured later in the 19th Century and in which the Fort played a significant role , as they did during the War of 1812.
Old Fort Erie will occupy a Centre Point position this summer as a special committee in the Niagara area plans extensive celebration of 200 years of peace with our American neighbours.
The essay and photo gallery provide an interesting take on the War, and does a good job of bringing this important piece of Canadian History to the forefront. However, you should definitely correct your ommission of Old Fort Erie as soon as possible.

Thank you

Rick Howarth
Burlington, Ontario

Andrew StewartMarch 17, 2012 12:24 EST

Stephen Marche is right to point out that Toronto has not been kind to Fort York, especially to the surrounding landscape where the Battle of York was fought in 1813. Toronto is fortunate, however, in having a large collection of military buildings and earthworks that date to the War of 1812. Fort York National Historic Site also has vast archaeological resources embedded across its 43 acres, which includes two military burying grounds, part of the original shoreline of Lake Ontario and a Canadian Forces armoury.

The entire site is being energized during the period of the War of 1812 bicentennial with programming and projects like The Encampment (see With funds we are now raising from the private sector, the Fort York Foundation is helping the City of Toronto to build the Fort York Visitor Centre designed by Patkau Architects in partnership with Kearns Mancini Architects. Their design for the building won a 2011 Canadian Architect Award of Excellence.

It’s true that our side was peopled by heroes mostly forgotten or unknown. Thanks to research by staff at the City of Toronto Museum Services, building on research contained in Robert Malcomson’s 2008 book Capital in Flames, we are beginning to recall some of the names of people who died during the U.S. attack on York (Toronto) in 1813, including First Nations warriors. They include the remains of soldiers, citizen-soldiers and warriors from both sides that have turned up across Toronto’s broad waterfront at various times during the past 200 years. The main concentration is in today’s Exhibition Place, where most of the fighting occurred. This story is told in “Finding the Fallen: the Battle of York Remembered” at Toronto’s Market Gallery (until 8 September). This show enhances our sense of Toronto as a place – if, at times, trying our patience a little — worth defending and celebrating.

Andrew Stewart (chair)
Fort York Foundation

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