From the bluffs of Niagara, to the banks of the St. Lawrence River, to the shores of Lake Erie, Ontario’s waterways are dotted with impressive forts built during colonial times and used in the War of 1812. Today, you can walk the ramparts of these well-preserved fortresses, learn about the history of the conflict and life as a soldier, and perhaps even witnessing historical reenactments of famous battles.

Here are some of the most iconic historic forts in Ontario, perfect for day trips or extended tours.

Fort Erie Guard

Image by Edd Scorpio via Wikipedia.

Old Fort Erie

Located at the mouth of the Niagara River, Old Fort Erie was built following the Seven Years War and became one of the most bitterly contested War of 1812 battle sites, as American occupiers fought back a massive British night assault.

Today, Old Fort Erie is a picturesque living history museum, where costumed reenactors teach visitors about daily life as a soldier during the war. The grounds include lovely riverside paths and a gorgeous view of the river from the walls, so non-history buffs can also enjoy the scenery. 

Visit in the summer to experience the reenactment of the Siege of Old Fort Erie, commemorating the 1814 battle in which American forces successfully repelled the British attackers. The reenactment features a full day of events, including multiple battles and demonstrations ranging from artillery demonstration to battlefield surgery. 

Fort George

Fort George

Situated at the other end of the Niagara River from Old Fort Erie, at the mouth of Lake Ontario, Fort George National Historic Site was involved in multiple War of 1812 battles, including the Battle of Queenston Heights where Major General Sir Isaac Brock died as his men retook a strategic gun emplacement.

Though the original structure was largely destroyed by American bombardment during the war, Fort George National Historic Site is a faithful reconstruction that hosts historical reenactors and demonstrations. Fort George in Niagara also has a reputation for a number of hauntings, and some say visitors can encounter the spirits of fallen soldiers on ghost tours.

The area is also home to Brock’s Monument, a striking memorial to the fallen general that rises high above a lovely park with a number of picnic pavilions and flower displays.

Fort Henry

Fort Henry

Built atop Point Henry, overlooking the waters of the St. Lawrence, the current Fort Henry National Historic Site is actually the second such structure to occupy that position. The original Fort Henry of Kingston was less a fortress and more hastily erected fortifications built to protect a nearby naval base from the American Navy during the War of 1812.

The second iteration of Fort Henry was completed in 1832, featuring imposing stone battlements that earned it the nickname, the citadel of Upper Canada.’ Visitors to Fort Henry, near Kingston, will be able to enjoy activities ranging from guided tours, to watching the Garrison Parade, to firing authentic period weaponry.

While you’re in the area, be sure to charter a Thousand Islands cruise and get some great pictures of the fort from the water, just as passing ships would have seen it.

Fort Malden

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Fort Malden

Located by the shores of the Detroit River in Amherstburg, Ontario, Fort Malden played a key role in the conquest of Fort Detroit, one of the most dramatic episodes of the War of 1812. It was from Fort Malden that Major General Isaac Brock and Shawnee Chief Tecumseh plotted a daring plan to defeat the larger American force by taking advantage of their poor morale and fear of the indigenous fighters.

Through tactics like spreading misinformation and lighting additional fires to create the perception of a larger force, the British and indigenous forces were able to secure the surrender of the entire American garrison after a lucky cannon shot hit the officer’s mess, shocking the dispirited U.S. General Hull to surrender.

Visitors to Fort Malden today will be able to tour the fort’s barracks, the historic Hough House, and the nearby Amherstburg Navy Yard. Once one of the largest ship building centres in British North America, the navy yard today serves as a community area and park along the river.

Fort George Canons

Special thanks to the staff at the Comfort Inn Hwy. 401 in Kingston, ON for their suggestions.

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