Manager's Report (Summer 2019)

by Richard Haynes, Acting Site Manager

It has been another busy summer at Fort York. July kicked off as usual with Canada Day when the Fort York Summer Guard traditionally begin their demonstration season. What some of my friends still call Dominion DayFY guard 2019Troops and Drums of the Canadian Regiment of Fencible Infantry (that is, the Fort York Squad) celebrate their victory at Fort George on August 18, 2019. They emerged overall winners of the 20th anniversary Drum’s Muster & Soldiers’ Field Day. Tested were the skills of drilling, marching and firing – including an execution of “the perfect volley.” Also competing were two companies of the 41st Regiment from Fort George; elements of DeWatteville’s Regiment from Old Fort Erie; and elements of the 100th Regiment of Foot, based in Ottawa. The indomitable 10th Royal Veteran Battalion (alumni of the Fencibles, curmudgeons among them) provided experienced judges and what Parks Canada calls “demonstration programmers,” assigned to amuse a fickle public. Off duty, the veterans visited Niagara-on-the-Lake for refreshments. Photo by Lance Corporal Holly Benison was a huge success, with good weather and crowds to match. Considering the relatively tight turnaround for the new recruits, the Guard was up and running thanks to their NCOs and the efforts of our staff. All in all this made for a successful and safe demonstration season.

The highlight of the summer was Simcoe Day, when members of the Fort George Guard joined us to put on a spectacular show. The great weather helped to ensure record attendance. Well done to all the staff and volunteers! In particular, the careful and constant supervision by Kevin Hebib, Ewan Wardle, Colin Sedgwick-Pinn and Sam Horne was much appreciated.

Throughout the summer, the fort hosted many programs and activities – some familiar and some new. In particular, we offered the new Staycation Sunday events, free to the public with their admission. All of our people were involved in creating neighbourhood walking tours, an evening of campaign cooking, an entire day of historic music, the Great War Picnic event, and heritage garden and honey-making tours. Thanks to everyone here for making these happen; they introduced new people to the fort and gave us many ideas to work with. Summerlicious was also on the menu here this summer when Bridget Wranich and Melissa Beynon staged their Cool Tastings ice-cream workshop. Nothing tastes more like summer than the ginger ice cream made by the fort’s culinary historians!

Fort York and the open space of Garrison Common also hosted a series of third-party events: there was Vegandale, SOCA Brainwash, the Plantain festival, the musical happening called All Day I Dream, and the Caribbean-themed day called Flare. These events all diversify our audience and generate valuable revenue that helps sustain National Historic Site work.

Bentway MoonThe Museum of the Moon hovered under the Gardiner for six days, drawing thousands toward her in a nightly tide that climaxed in the harvest moon of Saturday, September 14 (the moon can be seen in the photo rising over the armoury a few days before). The near illuminated sphere is a seven-metre sculpture by U.K. artist Luke Jerram. The Bentway buzzed with food, drink and glowing millenial headphones while films and lectures in astronomy – including on our own Captain Henry Lefroy, of magnetical fame – happened in the Fort York Visitor Centre. Under the full moon on Saturday, Laurie Brown (of Pondercast) and the electronic Julian Van Tassel assembled a podcast live with Bernice, Choir! Choir! Choir! and the Halifax innovator Rich Aucoin. Photo by Andrew StewartThe fort was also thoroughly involved with some Bentway initiatives this summer, notably the annual Block Party and their regular Sunday Socials. These were all well attended and brought many new faces down to the area. The highlight of the Bentway’s season came in mid-September: the Museum of the Moon, a spectacular installation that brought some 20,000 visitors down to the Strachan Gate.

And September was an usually busy month: even as the school year got underway, our staff was working hard on a butter-tart workshop, an entire weekend of expanded displays and events on the mobilization of the city in 1939, and on the final weekend, the new concept of The Big Draw – an international festival of en plein air artistry. The last grand event of the season was the experience of Nuit Blanche, on October 5 involving our entire 43-acre site.
As the days lengthen in October, here at the fort we begin looking forward to the coming seasons. Our popular and totally spooky Fort York After Dark lantern tours resume on October 28 – you need a ticket, so do make a reservation (see Upcoming Events for details). Our culinary historians, meanwhile, are planning their new series for children in December: there’s going to be gingerbread galore for the cook’s apprentice!

Reverend Dr John D HartleyThe Reverend Dr. John D. Hartley (1942-2019) in the midst of the reception following the fort’s Remembrance Day service in 2014. After a lifetime of service to the United Church, Dr. Hartley “drifted peacefully into the next life” (as his family put it) on February 3. He led the annual remembrance on Garrison Common for more than 20 years. Photo by Jean-Marc RobinFinally, as we approach another Remembrance Day, it would be remiss of me not to mention a very sad event. The Reverend Dr. John D. Hartley passed away in February. Many of you may know Dr. Hartley as the minister who presided over our Remembrance Day services, virtually uninterrupted, from 1992 until only recently. We had no idea he had been suffering from pancreatic cancer when he had to bow out of last year’s event. The last time I talked with him was a week before November 11 when he assured me that, if I could not find a replacement, he would not let me down. Dr. Hartley was a great servant of Fort York, a fine person and a perfect gentleman. He will be missed.

David OharaDavid O’Hara has a new job. Site Manager at Fort York NHS since the beginning of 2005, David has been at the centre of every big development since, including the restoration of Garrison Common’s landscape and the creation of the extraordinary Fort York Visitor Centre. His new role (still with the City) is overseeing the possibilities for Rail Deck Park. Above, he’s chatting with author Mike Filey on the 100th anniversary of Vimy Ridge; right, he and Richard Haynes – who took over as Acting Site Manager right after Labour Day – anticipate the arrival of Prince Andrew for the Invictus Games in September, 2017. Look for an appreciation of David’s lasting contribution to Fort York in the next Fife and Drum. Photos by (above) Kathy Mills and Bob Kennedy

Manager's Report (Spring 2019)

by David O’Hara, Site Manager

We’ve just wrapped up one of our busiest times of the year here at Fort York. We were booking school groups from far and wide even as we ramped up our largest events of the year.

In addition to our usual cross-section of school visits from the Toronto boards, Peel, York, Simcoe, Durham and the Bluewater District – and these are just the biggest – we set up tours for the men’s soccer team from Geneva College in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania; a group from the University of Klagenfurt in Austria; and a school visit from the fly-in community of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation (Big Trout First Nation). That’s an Oji-Cree First Nation reserve in Northwestern Ontario about 580 km north of Thunder Bay.

In May we were part of Jane’s Walks with our “Schooners to Skyscrapers” tour of the military, industrial and athletic history of the fort’s immediate neighbourhood; check Upcoming Events for opportunities to join this tour later in the summer. Some 3,000 participants landed at Fort York for the beginning of the annual Meagan’s Walk; our front door marked the end of the Sporting Life 10k Marathon on May 12; and on the following weekend fort staff led tours with a focus on Women in Fort York History to celebrate #WomenInCulture.

More than 2,800 people came here during Doors Open Toronto on May 25 and 26. We had displays, re-enactors and demonstrations from the present Canadian Army, our own staff and a host of historical organizations. Thanks to the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery (from Petawawa) and 7th Toronto Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery (from Moss Park Armoury); the Limber Gunners Association; HMS Psyche Canadian Maritime Heritage Society; the 100th (Prince Regent’s County of Dublin) Regiment; the Canadian Regiment of Fencible Infantry; and the Upper Canada Living History Association. Also here was Trevor Parkins-Sciberras (check Transit Bricks online) who built an amazing Fort York entirely of Lego. You can see CP24’s story about him .

I’m happy to report that Fort York and many of the other City-operated museums have had a chance to put a new idea into play: we’ve been hosting “Newcomer” visits in partnership with the city’s Newcomer Office. In a program to help improve their settlement, TTC tokens and free admission are offered to recently arrived immigrants to bring them into not just the city’s museums but Toronto’s present culture. The experience was the result of a generous sponsorship from Meridian. We hope to make this a regular program at Fort York, and thank Meridian again for their generous support.

We also helped The Bentway with Noemie Lafrance’s production of the contemporary dance piece Derives, which was workshopped at Fort York in the spring and performed in front of our Visitor Centre (largely on the Wharf) June 5-8. More than 1,200 people saw the show. We’re also an important venue of The Bentway’s New Monuments for New Cities project, which was launched on May 11 in co-operation with New York’s High Line Network. The art will be in place until the end of August.

Fort York’s popularity with the directors of feature film and television is continuing. Episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale were filmed amid the award-winning architecture of the Visitor Centre in early May. Titans is filming Season 3 in Toronto and will feature a scene under the Gardiner at the Visitor Centre. Shooting for that was at the end of May. And Shazam! was partly filmed at Fort York last year; look for the big scene with the bus.
Shazam movieThe stars of Shazam! are seen in front of the Fort York Visitor Centre during filming in March 2018. Starring Asher Angel and Zachary Levi, the film is part of the DC Comics series. Photo courtesy Warner Brothers.
Dubbed “the ultimate cottage-in-the-city experience,” Spring Beerfest TO returned to Garrison Common on Saturday and Sunday of the Victoria Day weekend. More than 3,000 people enjoyed a wide selection of Ontario craft beers and great food, outdoor games and music (even as they unfurled their umbrellas).

During the last week of May we hosted a private event for the Royal Canadian Mint. As part of the launch of the mint’s D-Day 75th anniversary coin, fort staff explained displays of artifacts to put the commemoration into context. On the day of the invasion – June 6 – program officers Kevin Hebib and Bridget Wranich gave a great illustrated lecture for members of the public on the food of the troops in Normandy. The evening was enhanced by a delicious selection of period baking.

More than 250 people came to the movies at Fort York in the middle of June for screenings of Thelma and Louise (on Saturday night) and Misery (on Sunday). It was the opening weekend of the Toronto Outdoor Picture Show series – TOPS – happening in parks around the downtown; find the schedule here.

The opening of Garrison Crossing, the bicycle and pedestrian connection over the rail corridors, has been delayed again. The final link – across the tip of the Ordnance Triangle – is now promised for late summer. The graceful landing of the bridge onto the north bank of Garrison Common is essentially finished. The reconstruction of Garrison Road, turning off Fleet Street and north past the armoury, is actually finished.

There’s also a new trail there and a more sustainable landscape. It’s the result of the fort’s own staff working with Waterfront Toronto to prepare a better connection from Garrison Crossing through Fort York National Historical Site (and intersecting The Bentway) south to the water’s edge and the Martin Goodman Trail. Below the north side of the fort, meanwhile, a 600-metre stretch of multi-use trail in the lowlands is also essentially finished. It’s the future link under Bathurst to the coming Lower Garrison Creek Park and the towers of CityPlace beyond.

Finally, Fort York’s seventh annual Indigenous Arts Festival ran from Tuesday, June 18 to Sunday, June 23. We saw about 700 people a day throughout the week and then almost 3,000 more for National Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21. The day began with Chief Laforme of the Mississaugas of the Credit raising their flag at the fort and launching the Moccasin Identifier Project, which is designed  “to mark the traditional territory and enduring presence of Indigenous peoples. ” The entertainment that night included the Métis Jiggers, Fawn Big Canoe, Beatrice Deer and Quantum Tangle.

Saturday began with the Na Me Res Sunrise Ceremony and the Grand Entry for the big Pow Wow at noon. Joining us were the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett, MPP Chris Glover, Councillors Cressy and Wong-Tam, and MoCFN Councillor Evan Sault. That night the stage on Garrison Common was lit up with Amanda Rheaume, Jah’kota and Midnight Shine.

The festival was widely covered by the media: we helped with CTV, CBC, TVO Kids, Element, The Weather Network, NOW online, the Daily Hive, BlogTO, OMNI (Russian), Fairchild (Chinese),  The Toronto Star, CFTR-AM and CBLA-FM.

A huge thank you is in order to our key partners: the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, Na Me Res, and the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto. The 2019 Festival Artistic Curator, Kim Wheatley (an Anishinaabe band member of Shawanaga First Nation) did a fantastic job and I can’t thank her enough. It was all made possible by the generous support of Tim Hortons (especially) and the Government of Canada, with sponsorships by CN, the OLG, Bell Canada and Stantec along with help from The Friends of Fort York and Garrison Common. With more than 20,000 people attending events of the 7th annual Indigenous Arts Festival, it was the largest yet seen, and proudly hosted by Fort York National Historic Site.

Fort York Foundation has a new Executive Director

Robert W. Bell is the new ED of the Fort York Foundation, the fundraising sibling of The Friends of Fort York and Garrison Common that was instrumental in the creation of the Visitor Centre. He replaces Susan Perren, the faithful and talented ED since 2013. Now retired, she’ll be an advisor to the foundation and her successor.

Robert comes to the foundation from the Royal Bank of Canada, where he was most recently Assistant General Counsel and Legal Knowledge Officer and, previously, Vice President, Law, of RBC Insurance. Robert is an active watercolourist with a long-standing interest in art history. He’s also from a long line of the historically inclined: his father, grandfather and great-grandfather (no less!) were all presidents of the Champlain Society – whose volumes are cited regularly in the pages of the F&D (including this one). He served on the committee for the tour of the Magna Carta across Canada in 2015, which included a well-attended appearance at the Fort York Visitor Centre.

Robert will also be helping The Friends as they support programming and activity at the fort. He brings experienced oversight to the management of both volunteer organizations – and that means our support of Fort York National Historic Site has been strengthened. Robert Bell can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Manager's Report (Winter 2019)

by David O’Hara, Site Manager

RCI science eventAt the RCI Science event are Sharon Lefroy, descendent of the scientist; Wayne Reeves, Chief Curator of Museums & Heritage Services; David O’Hara, Site Manager of Fort York NHS; and Andrew Stewart, Chair of the Fort York Foundation. Sharon and Wayne will be writing about Captain Lefroy and his portrait in the July issue of the F&D. Photo: Robert BellIt’s already spring and the staff here at the fort is hard at work planning a full slate of warm-weather programs and events. But we’ve also had some memorable occasions this winter.

On Tuesday, February 5, the Royal Canadian Institute for Science held a private reception in the Fort York Visitor Centre. The subject was the globe-trotting life of Captain J.H. Lefroy, RCI Science’s fourth president and the manager of Upper Canada’s first major scientific experiment. The first installation of his Magnetic Observatory – later moved to the University of Toronto – was here at Fort York.

The highlight of the evening was the unveiling of a portrait (by George Berthon) of Captain Lefroy, which the institute has given to the City. The event also included presentation of the institute’s annual William Edmond Logan Award (for popular scientific writing) and an opportunity to mark the 140th anniversary of Standard Time, an innovation brought to the world by Canadian engineer Sir Sandford Fleming.

On the Family Day weekend we partnered with The Empress Walk and hosted its Art ‘n’ Soul panel discussion, with workshops, and a presentation by Giselle Wilson, founder of The Empress Walk. On Family Day itself, all the City of Toronto museums combined to bring a full day of free programming to Fort York. Some 1,500 people were here, including Mayor John Tory, who dropped by in the afternoon to see The Bentway at Fort York and all the kid-friendly happenings in the Visitor Centre.

On February 23, the second annual Hungry for Comfort: Surviving a Canadian Winter was a big success. Our spotlight this year was on the foodways of Black communities across the country, with speakers, demonstrations, workshops and tastings. The day was presented in partnership with the Ontario Black History Society and the Culinary Historians of Canada. More than 100 people enjoyed the catered Caribbean lunch (there’s a full report on page 14) and there were door prizes from publishers like Harper Collins. We were also grateful for the participation of Redpath Sugar, Bernardin, Mars, and the Ontario Apple Growers. I’d like to thank all the staff, volunteers and partners involved – particularly the Ontario Black History Society – for putting such a tasty event together.

Christophe Jivrag, Exhibit Coordinator from Collections & Conservation, this winter spearheaded the replacement of all the panels that form the Soldier’s Trade exhibit in the Centre Blockhouse. Many thanks to Christophe and the team for so carefully refreshing a big part of the story we’re telling here at Fort York.

A significant amount of construction is already underway on site this spring. Gordon Lok, Senior Project Coordinator from our Capital Assets team, has skillfully overseen the replacement of the roof on the North Soldiers’ Barracks and the Blue Barracks. This work was partly funded by a grant from the Parks Canada Cost Sharing Program for heritage places.

Working with our colleagues in the Parks, Forestry & Recreation Division, the multi-purpose trail along the north side of the fort has been finished, along with a subtle new fence beside it. The opening of this trail that more-or-less follows the course of Garrison Creek is contingent upon the completion of Lower Garrison Creek Park (also part of Fort York NHS) on the east side of Bathurst Street (but see page 9).

Garrison Crossing is expected to open in late May or early June. This will really improve connections for cyclists and pedestrians in the area. Another new piece of the bicycle network will be a trail south-west to the bike lanes on Strachan Avenue. From there, it’s south to the waterfront trail or north to the gates of Trinity Bellwood. That trail is being built beside Garrison Road to the west of the Armoury and is expected to be ready in June.

Fort York soldiers trade panelDisplay panels in the No.2 (Centre) Blockhouse have been refreshed.A sure sign of spring here at Fort York is always the story of the late-April arrival of the United States Navy, proudly carrying an entire brigade of soldiers intent upon seizing the capital of Upper Canada (they succeeded: check page 10). We’ll be running two different tours of the battlefield – one following the fighting all the way back from the beach (on Saturday the 27th) and a shorter one on Sunday that looks at the battlefield from Garrison Common. Led by our own experts Richard Haynes and Ewan Wardle, the tours offer a fascinating way to imagine the nearby waterfront as it was 200 years ago.

Everyone who loves a fine craft beer has a real opportunity on the Victoria Day weekend. After an afternoon in the old fort’s ambience, absorbing our new displays, you’ll be able to retire to Garrison Common and the spring session of Toronto’s Festival of Beer. It’s only on Saturday and Sunday, when the fort is open as usual. On the holiday Monday we’ll have a complete program going – including the historic kitchen – and there will be lots for kids to do.

Admission is free to the fort and the Visitor Centre again during the Doors Open weekend, the last one in May. Saturday here is Artillery Day, a chance to compare the technology of 1812, the 20th century and the present day. We’re expecting to have examples of artillery now in service with the Canadian Army. (And speaking of the army, our planners are also looking farther ahead – to the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. Watch for events to be starting in September, including those focused on the wartime industry that surrounded us here on the waterfront.)

The climax of the season at Fort York is the Indigenous Arts Festival, more diverse than ever and almost a week in duration. We’re working with the Mississaugas of the Credit, Na Me Res, The Bentway, The Friends of Fort York and others to assemble an amazing program of music, dance, learning, food and the visual arts, ancient and modern. Watch our Twitter and Facebook accounts for detail as the festival approaches.