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.

Fort York presents: Canada's 100 Days (video presentation)

Manager's Report (Fall 2018)

by David O’Hara, Site Manager
Remembrance 1bPausing to reflect is Chris Glover, Member of Provincial Parliament for Spadina–Fort York, after placing a wreath by the flag of the Strachan Avenue Military Burial Ground, November 11, 2018. Photo: Sid Calzavara
 Moving into the fall at Fort York used to involve transitioning from a busy summer season with the Summer Guard and a handful of events to just getting ready for the return of school visits. The reality now is that the event season is year-round and we’re doing more in a full calendar year than ever before.

In September we developed a rich program to commemorate the one-hundredth anniversary of the Canadian contribution to the final days of the First World War. On September 21 staff and volunteer re-enactment groups provided a free education day for local schools. During the weekend were military displays, exhibits – including one from the Vimy Foundation – and demonstrations by uniformed re-enactment units. Authentic foods from the front line and the home front were prepared by our own kitchens. We offered Alison Norman’s lecture “In Defence of an Empire: Six Nations of the Grand River and the Great War,” 10 Short Films from Toronto’s Great War Attic, and much more.

A huge thank-you goes out to all involved in this multi faceted event. It clearly demonstrated the depth and range of expertise we have on staff here at Fort York as well as the strong network of partners and supporters we lean on to pull this kind of event together. (For pictures of the Canada’s Hundred Days weekend, see the previous issue of the F&D, archived at www.fortyork. ca, or scroll through the fort’s Facebook page).

One of the highlights from this living history weekend was the release of Recipes for Victory: Great War Food from the Front and Kitchens Back Home in Canada by Whitecap Books in Vancouver. Created by staff and volunteers at Fort York National Historic Site, this lavishly illustrated cookbook features kitchen-tested recipes from a century ago that will support the Historic Foodways Program here at the fort. Available in our own Canteen, the book is distributed internationally by Whitecap (and there’s a great recipe from the book on page 16).

Another aspect of culinary history at the fort was Canada’s Table, held on October 13 “in celebration of our cookbooks.” The one-day event was packed with workshops and talks by the likes of Bonnie Stern, Anna Olson, Tara O’Brady, Matt Basile and David Wolfman. Our thanks to Bridget Wranich, Elizabeth Baird and the entire Organizing Committee for putting together such a wonderful – and inaugural – Canada’s Table.

Also this fall we again hosted the Rexall OneWalk to Conquer Cancer, when more than 3,200 participants raised over $4.7 million for the cause. On September 29, the Sick Kids Foundation held its annual event at Fort York, this year with the Barenaked Ladies headlining the Get Loud Festival. The first weekend of October saw the Jumblies Theatre presentation of “Talking Treaties” with artists and visitors singing, dancing, and acting their way around Fort York, sharing stories of the complex treaty history of the city. And on October 20 and 21, Fort York hosted Toronto’s Soup Festival. Our scary Halloween programming had another successful season with the After Dark Tours running for five consecutive nights, most of them sold out.

Fort York staff continued to collaborate with The Bentway on many initiatives throughout the fall. The largest was on the weekend of October 13-15, when we hosted an installation under the Gardiner by renowned Dutch artist Daan Roosegaarde called Waterlicht. This brought as many as 30,000 people down to Fort York.

Garrison Crossing install 2Garrison Crossing’s two spans are now in place and the entire pathway connecting Garrison Common to an extension of Stanley Park should be ready for use late this coming spring. The south span is seen from Garrison Common being lowered into place early on the morning of October 13. Photo: Janine Turner, P.EngIf you had managed to stay until the early hours of October 14, you would have been able to watch the second span of Garrison Crossing, the Fort York pedestrian and bicycle bridge, being hoisted into place across the southern rail corridor. The bridge, which will open in 2019, will connect Liberty Village, Niagara and other neighbourhoods to the north with Fort York and the waterfront.

On November 10, Fort York staff in historic uniforms participated in the rededication of Coronation Park, immediately south of the armoury. Fort York and other Museums & Heritage Services staff helped develop plans for the park’s rehabilitation. Those in attendance included the Mayor, the Lieutenant Governor and a strong guard of The Royal Regiment of Canada in ceremonial scarlets. The next day, on the 100th anniversary of the armistice that marked the end of the First World War, close to 1,500 people attended Fort York’s annual ceremony at the Strachan Avenue Military Burial Ground; see the photo on this page and the Remembrance Day gallery at

On November 15, with the Institute for Canadian Citizenship, 39 new Canadians were sworn in at one of our annual enhanced citizenship ceremonies. The event featured round-table discussions, an Indigenous feast and music. Special guests and speakers included our MPP Chris Glover, Ontario Heritage Trust Executive Director Beth Hannah, and Don Cranston, Chair of The Friends of Fort York.

Finally, on the first day of December, more than 700 visitors came to our seventh annual Frost Fair. Visitors enjoyed all kinds of demonstrations and activities – notably the East York Barbershoppers – and were able to peruse vendors as varied as The Cedar Basket Gift Shop, the Lone Wolf Trading Company, ChocoSol, Toronto’s First Post Office, and more.

With the onset of winter comes the return of The Bentway’s figure-eight Skate Trail. The uniqueness of being able to skate under the Gardiner, tracing what was once the shoreline of Lake Ontario, is one of the reasons we agreed to bring The Bentway to Fort York National Historic Site. We hope you take the chance to come down for a skate and to visit the fort’s many original buildings and displays when you’re here.