The original structure for the
great metropolis of Toronto
Not many people have heard of Fort Rouille (aka Fort Toronto) but it is a very important site in the history of the City of Toronto for it is here on the grounds of the current Exhibition Place near the site of Scadding Cabin that, for all intents and purposes, the city began in the year 1750.
While nothing remains except for an obelisk marking the spot, a concrete outline of where the fort stood and a small historical plaque giving scant details about the fort's existence the importance of Fort Rouille cannot be underestimated as almost 3 million current inhabitants of the city can attest.
Location of Fort Rouille
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Getting to Fort Rouille:
Located near the western extremity of Exhibition Place please visit my Canadian National Exhibition
page to find out the best way of getting to the CNE grounds. Once on site walk or drive to British Columbia Road until you reach Alberta Circle then head south towards Lake Ontario. Fairly difficult to find a good landmark to help you navigate is the huge windmill that is located very close to the Fort Rouille marker.
This is a busy part of Toronto and parking is both scarce and expensive. I would suggest taking one of the public transportation options if possible.
A city is born
When early explorers first penetrated into the Canadian hinterland it was usually with just one goal in mind: discover and secure the rich fur trading areas of the local First Nations tribes. The first to do so were the French but the English, seeing the riches that were to be found, quickly followed.
As competition between the two intensified they began to establish permanent trading posts as a means of claiming the land and providing the local tribes with a place to trade their wares. The French were the first to arrive in the Lake Ontario area and they established forts at Fort Frontenac and Fort Niagara on the northern shores in an attempt to lock up trade along this heavily trafficked route. The English soon followed by setting up a fort across the lake at Oswego in present day New York State.
In the early 1700's the Humber River in what is now Toronto was a main traffic artery for native canoes between Lake Toronto (present day Lake Simcoe) and Lake Ontario known as the "Toronto Carrying Trail". When French explorers first reached the area a major aboriginal community called Teiaiagon stood near its mouth. While the community had since been destroyed the Humber remained a busy native highway and the English had established Fort Oswego almost right across the lake from its mouth. As such it prospered right from the start much to the detriment of the French.
The French had earlier tried to lock up trade along this route by establishing a trading post near the site of Teiaiagon called Le Magasin Royale (The Royal Store) in 1720. The small outpost that was also known as Fort Douville after its builder Le Sieur Douville was too isolated and proved unprofitable and was abandoned in 1730.
In 1750 they returned and built another small outpost along the Humber closer to Lake Ontario called Fort Portneuf after its builder Pierre Robineau de Portneuf. This small outpost was immediately successful so the governor of New France ordered a larger, more secure presence be built.
Situated on a small hill on the shores of Lake Ontario Fort Rouille (also known as Fort Toronto) was built and it unknowingly proved to be the last French fort built in southern Ontario. It was named for Antoine Louis Rouille, the French Minister of Colonies.
The small pallisaded fort measured approximately 55 metres x 55 metres (180 feet x 180 feet) with a bastion at each of its four corners. Inside the walls there were 5 main buildings:
- Senior Officers Quarters
- Soldiers Barracks
- Blacksmith Shop
- Magazine House
Located on the portage route of a main First Nations trading path this small "fort" was really little more than a fortified trading post but it did serve its purpose and prove its commercial worth by capturing a significant share of the local fur trade and help establish good relations with the local tribes.
By 1754 the fort had grown in importance and there were 8 permanent inhabitants:
- One Officer
- Two Sergeants
- One Shopkeeper
- Four Soldiers
By the end of the year the military presence quickly grew though as hostilities between the British and the French intensified and a conflict known as the French and Indian Wars broke out across North America.
The French sent re-enforcements to Fort Rouille and the troops stationed there over the next few years varied from 10 -15. Fort Oswego was captured in 1756 but from this time onwards the war was mainly a series of French reversals. In 1758 Fort Frontenac was destroyed and in 1759 both Fort Niagara and Quebec City were laid siege to and eventually fell.
The French hierarchy realized the vulnerability of Fort Rouille and decided to withdraw the 15 soldiers stationed there to Montreal. In July of 1759 the soldiers set fire to the fort and burned it to the ground before retreating.
Fort Rouille remained in this state for over 100 years as when the British finally did decide to establish a presence in the area many decades later they did so by building a garrison a few kilometres eastward near the site of the present day Fort York. The burnt out remains of "Old Fort Toronto" stood in eerie silence until they were leveled and covered over with sod in 1878 in preparation for the upcoming Toronto Industrial Exhibition
, forerunner to today's Canadian National Exhibition
At that time a small cairn was placed on the site as testament to its existence, in 1887 the obelisk that now stands there replaced this.
The site was excavated by the Toronto Historical Board in 1979 and 1980 and in 1984 in celebration of the City of Toronto's 150th anniversary the original outline of the fort was marked in concrete around the obelisk to give visitors a general feel as to the shape and size of this structure.
For most people visiting Toronto today Fort Rouille will not be on their itineraries. This is understandable as there really isn't anything here to draw people except for the most ardent of history buffs. Even if you do make you way down to this difficult to find spot on the grounds of Exhibition Place plan to spend no more than 5 or 10 minutes at the site.
If you do however plan to check it out it will bring one a sense of awe when you look around and see what Toronto is now and think that this is the exact spot where it all began many years ago. If you are in fact on the grounds of Exhibition Place, attending the CNE
or visiting nearby Scadding Cabin
it does make for a nice stroll to see this small important historical site but just be forewarned, don't expect much.
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