Fort York, Friends of Fort York, and Fife and Drum Honoured at Toronto Heritage Awards

Patricia Fleming, editor of The Fife and Drum, and Joe Gill, past chair of the Friends of Fort York who founded the newsletter in 1998, took to the stage to receive our Community Heritage Award. Credit: Heritage Toronto

by Christopher Moore

At the annual Toronto Heritage Awards, held 17 October 2016 at the Isabel Bader Theatre, Joseph Gill and Patricia Fleming stepped up to accept Toronto Heritage’s Community Heritage Award for 2016 on behalf of The Friends of Fort York and Garrison Common. The award citation noted the Friends’ newsletter Fife and Drum, its role in bringing into being the new Visitor Centre, and its ongoing support for Fort York. The win came with a small cash prize.

Joe Gill, a long-serving chair of The Friends of Fort York and founder of Fife and Drum, said afterwards, "The Friends brought together literally hundreds of Torontonians who understood the importance of preserving our early history and the importance of Fort York to that history. They enthusiastically volunteered their time and talents to that end and all deserve a piece of this award."
Awarded each year, the Community Heritage Award salutes one of Toronto’s many heritage groups or historical societies and, given the great range of work they do, competition is typically fierce. This year The Friends of Fort York were nominated alongside the Leslieville Historical Society and the Lakeshore Asylum Cemetery Project.

Fort York had two other nominations at the Heritage Awards. Eamonn O’Keeffe’s Fife and Drum article “New Light on Toronto’s Oldest Cold Case,” [link:] was nominated in the Short Publication category. O’Keeffe, well-known as drum major of the Fort York Guard, sorted out what is known about the 1815 killing of John Paul Radelmüller, the keeper of the Gibraltar Point lighthouse. The story was long suspected of being largely an invention, but O’Keeffe established conclusively that two soldiers from Fort York, probably serving at the Gibraltar Point blockhouse, were tried–but acquitted–of the murder. Radelmüller seems to have been killed in an alcohol-fueled quarrel.

Fort York itself was in the spotlight of the William Greer Architectural Conservation and Craftsmanship Award. The City of Toronto’s Museums and Heritage Services, in conjunction with Stevens Burgess Architects and Clifford Restoration, were nominated for the 2015 refurbishment of walls, stonework, and embrasures at the fort.

The Bader Theatre was sold out for the annual award ceremony. Again this year, the event showcased the work in heritage preservation and appreciation being done by many people all over Toronto. Nominees and winners included property owners, architects, craftspeople, consultants, museologists, community groups, writers, historians, and filmmakers, many of whom attended the event.

A highlight of the evening was the Special Achievement Award presented to Carolyn King, former chief of the Mississaugas of New Credit First Nation, who was recognized for her decades of extraordinary work in drawing attention to Indigenous heritage and the role of the Mississaugas in the history of Toronto. King, a longtime friend to Fort York and a member of the Heritage Advisory Committee for Toronto’s Official Plan, gave a moving speech, based on her constant reminder that Toronto is much more than 200 years old. “We were here, and we are still here,” she said before a standing ovation.

Historian Steven High of Concordia University gave the 20th Kilbourn Lecture on lessons from oral history around old Montreal. The event was followed by a reception in Alumni Hall, Victoria University.

Writer and historian Christopher Moore is a Friend of Fort York.