Our unique Fort Mississauga is currently hidden under wraps.
The long-forlorn building is getting some much-needed care from Parks Canada, in the hopes of, at minimum, making it safe and drying it out.
The dreams and the building of Fort Mississauga began in 1814. The thought was to command the position of power at the mouth of the river, directly across from Fort Niagara. The property was originally named Mississauga Point after the last Indigenous tribe to settle there. Much of its history, including the unique design, is detailed in a research report prepared for Parks Canada.
The irregular star-shaped field work was created as a base for the tower and a series of barracks that were hastily and poorly built, resulting in a source of misery and illness for those stationed there. It’s the only tower in Canada with rounded corners, says Brendan Buggeln, assets manager for Parks Canada. “The story is the first 10 feet of the tower were built from the chimneys of the houses that were burned down during the war, and filled with rubble from the town.”
Two years later, the walls of the tower were only 10 feet high, and the fort had never seen battle because, as Buggeln puts, “peace had broken out.” But a visionary in the military had grand plans for a project that would extend as far as where the road and the golf club are today, with five bastions and two ravelins, the outlooks at the front of the fort. Senior officers were unable to concur on the plans for the property, so it remained with its unfinished tower and shoddy barracks.
While the tower was eventually completed, other grand plans flared and faded. In 1832, author Edward Thomas Coke described the property as “in a still more mouldering state,” and “rapidly crumbling into dust.”
In 1837, art historian Anna Brownell Jameson said, “the fortress itself I took for a dilapidated brewery.”
The fort stumbled through history, officially abandoned by the military in the 1860s, and used possibly as a squat for various families over the next while. It was also used briefly by voluntary militia during a fear of Fenian attacks in 1855 and 1856, according to the research report, available in full online.
The property around it became a nine-hole golf course in the late 1870s and used well into the 1890s, when play was moved to an 18-hole course on the Commons. In 1905, the Mississauga Point golf club was taken over by Queen’s Royal Hotel, and in 1912 the two clubs merged to form the Niagara Golf Club, where it remains today, as the Niagara-
on-the-Lake Golf Club.
The square, bomb-proof, brick tower with rounded corners features walls that are eight feet thick at the base, tapering to seven feet thick at the parapet. They are framed in brick and filled with rubble. The base is 50 by 50 feet, and the tower is 25 feet tall. There are two rooms in the basement: stores and a magazine. Two vaulted barracks form the main floor, the vaults topped with four feet of brick, as the report describes.
Occasional repairs or replacements have been made to the roof over the years, but the tower at Fort Mississauga has not seen much care since its completion in the early 1800s, the report says.
Parks Canada remains unsure about how much this history will change in the near future. “We’d like to be able to get people inside,” says Buggeln. “This project is not going to get us there.”
“Our priorities are safety, shedding water, and letting the brick dry out,” says Buggeln about the ongoing work. The current roof is based on the original one, with a sunken base surrounded by a parapet. This design collects water, which has failed to be drained by old pipes in the walls. Water damage is ruining bricks and making the tower unsafe, inside and out.
The new roof is designed to be historically accurate, says Buggeln, reflecting one that was installed in the 1920s. It is sloped, and features functional dormers to allow for further aeration. A very modern feature of the new roof will be nine solar panels, enough to support new security lighting, as the property has no hydro services.
Buggeln says several courses of brick at the top of the tower will need to be removed and replaced, due to water damage.
The work began in April, and Buggeln expects it to continue throughout the summer. The property around the tower remains open to the public, but areas of safety concern have been fenced or taped off. The Friends of Fort George will be supplying a metal gate to replace the previous one.
The same Parks Canada federal infrastructure project includes other local endeavours: the securing of the shoreline along the golf course, work on the Junior Commissariat Officers Quarters (JCOQ) and the restoration of Butler’s Barracks for use as a field unit office.
“The breakwall is well ahead of schedule — we’re hoping to be done the work by June or July. We’re cleaning up the bank, and revegetating with native trees and shrubs,” says Buggeln.
The current fortifications seem to suggest a road or path. “We know the public wants access, but we’re not sure if there’s a safe way to provide that,” due to the adjacent golf club, says Buggeln. “But we do know that access is high on the public’s list.”
He explains the current road is strictly to access the shoreline with the machinery required. “We are looking at what we can do. We’ve asked a consultant to look at it with safety in mind,” he says.
At the JCOQ, “we’re focusing on stabilizing the structure, and hoping to ultimately engage the public in a discussion about what the community wants for the property,” says Buggeln. “Currently we’re simply designing and stabilizing the roof, making the outside safe, and taking the inside down to the studs.”
For the future, “we’re looking for who we can partner with, and what we can do in there,” he says.