Moving to New York, Part 3 | MI to NY, by way of the Ontario Peninsula | August 19, 2016
[This post was written by Curtis!]
On Friday the 19th, we said our goodbyes to my family and headed across Michigan to St. Clair to visit my grandparents. This was very reminiscent of our honeymoon trip a little over three years earlier. Like then, we grabbed lunch and caught up with my grandparents. And, like then, after saying goodbye, we headed off to Port Huron to cross the Blue Water Bridge into Sarnia, Ontario.
However, unlike our honeymoon, we wouldn’t be stopping to stay the night. Nor would we catch a Shakespeare play, or make an abortive attempt to visit Toronto. We were merely crossing the peninsula as the shortest way to get to New York. But of course that doesn’t mean we didn’t stop.
We followed the freeway across the western part of the peninsula stopping only to get Tim Hortons and because we missed an exit near Hamilton, then followed “Queen Elizabeth Way” out toward Niagara.
While in Iowa, Jess’ dad had suggested that we visit Fort Niagara on Lake Ontario in New York. Being a mutual history geek, I concurred until I realized that we probably wouldn’t make it by closing time. And besides, we were going to live in New York, so we should do something in Canada!
So, naturally we visited Fort Mississauga in Niagara-on-the-Lake “across” the river from its American Counterpart. And what do you know, we also got to see Fort Niagara…from a distance that is. (Not to mention, the fort on the Canadian side is free and dog friendly!)
Fort Mississauga’s history is linked to the War of 1812 (you have no idea how excited I am that I get to write about a new war, especially one of the “lesser” ones). Following the Revolutionary War and more specifically the Jay Treaty of 1794, the British were forced to leave Fort Niagara which was on American territory. Not to leave Lake Ontario and the Eastern Reaches of Upper Canada (the Ontario Peninsula – it’s called upper because it is “upstream” on the St. Lawrence) undefended, the British constructed Fort George (now a Canadian National Historic Site that I somehow MISSED) opposite Fort Niagara and upstream a ways.
In 1812, war broke out between the British and United States. And plans for the second invasion of Upper Canada began at the end of 1812 into 1813. By May 1813, all the plans were laid and American soldiers under the command of then Colonel Winfield Scott (same guy who in 1861 would come up with the Anaconda Plan) with assistance from Commodore Oliver Perry’s fleet landed to the North of Fort George on the 25th May outflanking the British position.
The primary British stronghold on the Niagara peninsula removed, the Americans needed only to march to take the rest of Upper Canada. But they were slow, and by June had been turned back at the Battle of Stoney Creek (which Jess and I visited on our Honeymoon).
The British, now back in control of Upper Canada, saw it fit to build another fort to defend against further invasion. This Fort (Fort Mississauga) was built on the Lake side and used bricks from the destroyed (by the Americans naturally) town of Newark in 1814. However, the Fort would see no action as the War would end by the beginning of 1815.
In reality, the primary historic attraction should have been Fort George. But, I somehow overlooked it in my research. Regardless, Fort Mississauga is still in fair condition and offers scenic views of Lake Ontario, Fort Niagara, and the beautiful town of Niagara-on-the-Lake. And we happened to arrive near sunset which simply made it that much better.
Following our tour of Fort Mississauga, we followed the Niagara River south towards Niagara Falls (passing Fort George on the way). Even if you are not into the historic side of things, the Niagara region of Ontario is quite scenic, filled with Vineyards and Orchards and picturesque towns; very nice to drive through.
As we approached Niagara Falls, we saw on a hill what appeared to be a tower of some sort. As we got closer it soon became apparent that it was in fact a tall pillar. Even though it was night, I insisted on stopping to see what it could be: a monument to The Battle of Queenston Heights and to Major General Sir Isaac Brock.
Toward the end of 1812, Washington was pushing for a successful invasion of Canada (Upper or Lower) before the winter so as to have a good negotiating position to end the war swiftly. The first of these invasions, taking place around Detroit, MI and Sandwich, (now Windsor) Ontario, was ultimately foiled by Major General Isaac Brock (who would receive a knightship for his actions) and the Native Leader Tecumseh.
In western New York then, General Van Rensselaer organized a second attempt to invade the Niagara Peninsula. This was made difficult due to insubordination and lack of coordination and ultimately allowed for Brock to cross Upper Canada and position himself to combat the Americans.
There was much internal politicking involved throughout the fall of 1812 that prevented either side from doing much. But eventually, Van Rensselaer organized his attack, crossing the Niagara River below the falls from Lewiston to Queenston Heights on 13 October.
The initial crossing was a success and the Americans gained the heights and silenced the British artillery. Brock, realizing that the attack was not a decoy as he initially had thought, heroically and personally lead a charge of the immediate forces up the heights. Ultimately, this attack would fail and Brock would be fatally shot (his coat with the bullet hole is in the Canadian War Museum).
At this point in the battle the Americans had gained a firm foothold on the Canadian soil and had begun to entrench. The British meanwhile, under the command of General Sheaffe were fast approaching from Fort George. Van Rensselaer returned to Lewiston to get more men and munitions across only to find the entire establishment in chaos. Soldiers refused to cross the river and the boatmen refused to re-cross and save those stranded on the Heights.
What had begun as an almost sure American victory collapsed instantaneously. Severely outnumbered, the Americans on the Canadian shore were forced to surrender en mass (including Colonel Winfield Scott).
Overall, this bungled battle served to set back the Americans and prevent any serious campaigning from occurring until the following year (see above). Van Rennselaer retired in disgrace and his replacement was none the better. On the British side, the loss General Brock was a most severe casualty as with his death was the death of arguably one of the most competent and proactive Generals of the War on either side. As such the war along the Canadian border would devolve into a series of tentative invasions followed by swift retreats accomplishing very little.
But of course today the Canadians honor both Brock and the ultimate Canadian victory with the 184 foot column which we saw. I personally really enjoy these types of monuments as they have more flair than the plainness of the obelisks we see at so many American sites.
Following our brief stop in the dark, we continued south to the Falls themselves. We contemplated parking on the Canadian side and walking to see them (as they are better viewed from the Canadian side) but then Jess recalled that she and her family were able to park for free on the American side and see them just fine (without any crowds!) last year on their trip to my OCS graduation.
So we crossed the Rainbow bridge again (just like our honeymoon) but sadly, it was not as easy as Jess remembered. Parking was $10 and it was incredibly crowded. (Note from Jess: I apologize to anyone who read my post last year and assumed you could park for free and have an easy, pleasant night visit…that was a Tuesday night in September, and this was a Friday night in August, literally 15 days apart from one another, but an entirely different experience. Just goes to show that waiting until “off season” can be cheaper, less crowded, and more enjoyable sometimes!) We decided to skip it this time and headed on towards Rochester and our hotel via SR 104 (thus also gaining us another county).
And thus concludes our 6 hours in Canada.