On The Road: Fort Erie, Ontario
"But in looking back at the
places that I've been
The changes that I've left
I look at myself to find
I've learned the hard way
"Good and bad, I define
Quite clear, no doubt
somehow. Ah, but I was
so much older then, I'm
younger than that now."
We lived in Fort Erie from November 1995 to June 1997. A short time, to be sure, but growing up twenty-odd miles away made me familiar with it.
There were many nights and weekends during my teen years when hanging out at a coffeehouse in Fort Erie was the epitome of freedom. It was the early seventies—which looked like the leftover sixties—and the Jesus People movement had reached sleepy southern Ontario.
Raggedy wannabe disciples, clad in bleach splattered blue jeans and sandals, were surging together and making plans to change the world. Everyone was accepted and welcomed without overtones of judgment.
We sang folk songs, flirted with each other, and sat in circles in the candlelight to discuss some obscure bit of theology as though we were the first to ever think these thoughts. Our exploration of Scripture could switch from intensity to hilarity in a heartbeat.
We were underground seekers and scholars, and a sense of defiance was strong. Established expectations were to be pushed aside because all previous generations had screwed up the Lord’s Prayer. We smoked cigarettes by the pack while drinking gallons of coffee, and took great pride in our spiritual enlightenment.
However, for all our rebellion against the status quo of institutionalized church, we developed a remarkably structured conformity. We mimicked the hippy culture, so instead of suits and ties, tattered and frayed glad-rags were our uniform.
Looking back, it is clear that Mr. Dylan was correct: “Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.”
Light & Peace
Fort Erie is directly across from Buffalo, NY. It sprawls along the Niagara River at the east end of Lake Erie and is connected to the United States by the Peace Bridge.
With a population of 30,000, Fort Erie stakes a claim on being one of the fastest growing communities in the Niagara Region. Garrison Road a.k.a. Niagara Regional Road 3 is its commercial corridor, running east to west through town.
History has stamped its imprint on Fort Erie. During an infamous and near apocalyptic Great Lakes storm in 1913 the Buffalo-based Lightship #82 went down with all hands near Point Abino on the Canadian side of Lake Erie.
The Point Abino Lighthouse, which is ornate and unique in its beauty, was built by the Canadian government in 1918 as a memorial for the crew of Lightship #82.
Automated in 1989, the lighthouse was decommissioned in 1995 and designated as a National Historic Site. It’s owned and maintained by the city of Fort Erie, and though upkeep and renovations are ongoing, is available for tours.
During the 1800s, Fort Erie was a station along the Underground Railroad, a place of refuge for those escaping the horrors of slavery. A building near downtown, which reputedly is haunted, houses the Doll House Museum, but had been a hostel and hiding place for those fugitives seeking asylum.
The Peace Bridge is maintained by and under the jurisdiction of the Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority. The landmark structure came into being because the International Railway Bridge, which had been built in 1873, couldn’t accommodate pedestrian and motor vehicle traffic.
The project was an immense undertaking. It received a green light by the International Joint Commission on August 6, 1925. Work began almost immediately and was completed in the spring of 1927.
A difficulty that the engineers had to overcome was the swift currents of the Niagara River, which at that juncture averages 7.5 to 12 miles per hour. It took a prodigious amount of material for its construction: 3,500 feet of steelwork, 9,000 tons of structural steel, and 800 tons of reinforcing steel in the concrete abutments.
On June 1, 1927 the Peace Bridge, named in commemoration of 100 years of peace between Canada and the United States, was opened for business. In 1977, the summer of its 50th Anniversary, a joint issue of stamps was published, though in a burst of contrariness, the two countries settled on significantly different designs.
Treaties & War
The 1763 Treaty of Paris brought the hostilities of the Seven Years’ War, known in the U.S. as the French and Indian War, to an end. With the stroke of a quill, all territory held by France in the New World was ceded to Great Britain.
The British flexed their muscles by taking control of the French forts, and solidified their presence by constructing a communications and supply line along the Niagara River and Upper Great Lakes. Fort Erie was established as an integral part of this network in 1764.
Originally the edifice was built nearer the water’s edge below the present site. In its initial service, Fort Erie was an active port for ships and a depot for merchandise and passengers to be transported westward via Lake Erie to the Upper Great Lakes.
In 1776, when colonial patriots declared their independence from Great Britain, Fort Erie was a base for British Troops, Loyalists, and Iroquois allies. It didn’t experience any actual engagements during the American Revolution, but over the years it suffered considerable damage as a result of annual assaults by winter storms.
In 1803, plans for relocation and rebuilding were authorized. Construction of a more formidable structure was started on the heights above the earlier post.
In an example of government inefficiency, nine years later, at the outbreak of the War of 1812, the new fortress was unfinished. Troops stationed there were caught off guard due to the fact they were involved in masonry and other such efforts.
Fort Erie was fiercely fought over, with possession of it changing hands more than once. In July 1814 American forces captured the post for the second time.
The Siege of Fort Erie took place over the summer and autumn months. It was an ugly and protracted affair destined to be the bloodiest battlefield in Canadian history.
In November, inflated rumors about the eastern seaboard of the U.S. being under severe attacks reached the American troops defending the fortress. On the 5th, running short of supplies and with winter approaching, the soldiers abandoned the outpost and skedaddled to Buffalo. Before doing so, they destroyed the fort.
The Treaty of Ghent, which ended the War of 1812, was signed on December 24, 1814. Enemies didn’t instantly become trusting friends. A British contingent remained stationed at the ruined stronghold until 1823.
Meanwhile, when the railroad came to town, the settlement began to grow and stretch out north of the crumbling fortifications. The scattered debris of the old fort was reclaimed and rebuilt as a tourist attraction in 1939.
In your experience Is there a dime's worth of difference between Americans & Canadians?See results without voting
The Friendship Festival happens annually, with coordinated activities taking place on both sides of the Niagara River. It occurs during the first week of July, coinciding with both Canada Day and Independence Day.
The week-long international handshake emphasizes the culture, heritage, and unique connections between Canada and the U.S.
Events held in Fort Erie and Buffalo include free concerts, pageants, arts, crafts, children’s entertainment, a carnival midway, and a spectacular fireworks display.
The fun-filled days bear testimony to the peaceful relationship between neighbors who share the longest undefended border in the world. From my perspective as one who has a Canadian Passport and an American Green Card, it is an essential affirmation of our common history.
In my lifetime, growing up in Canada a short hop from the border, married to an American for thirty-five years, and being steadily in the U.S. for over a decade, it is evident to me that there is a continuing disintegration of the bonds that tie our nations together.
It’s a disturbing observation, but wishful thinking or denial won’t make it go away. Agitators on both sides stir dissension for purposes that must be profit driven because there can’t possibly be any other reason to crap on friendship.
Ameri-centric or Cana-centric viewpoints are ignorant and equally offensive. Each only serves to contribute to misperceptions which do nothing to edify.
Perhaps there are sometimes truths within stereotypes, but the blanket caricatures Americans apply to Canadians and vice versa are often laughable to me. We ought to look for and cultivate our distinct similarities, and in doing so, demonstrate that we value the woven strands of diversity that unite us.
Hopefully the Friendship Festival will always be a true reflection, strong and free.
- Friendship Festival
- Wanted Man
Wanted Man a.k.a. Ken R. Abell, seeks to be a blessing to others. He's a rake, a rambler, and a teller of tales who understands that there is strength in a story well told and well lived. To learn more, inquire or schedule him, visit this web site.
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