The land the site occupies was transferred to the National Parks Branch in 1926. Today, Parks Canada welcomes visitors to tour the exposed and stabilized ruins uncovered through an extensive archaeological investigation. A visitor centre and staff help to make the story of the site come alive.
Fort St Joseph's History
Fort St Joseph was built by the British between 1797 and 1805 on the southern tip of ST JOSEPH ISLAND on the ST MARYS RIVER. It comprised a modest fort with a blockhouse, powder magazine, bakery, Indian council house and storehouse. The fort's defences consisted of a weak palisade mounting 4 six-pounder cannons and 6 small swivel guns, and it was normally garrisoned by a very small detachment of soldiers.
The Southwest Company established a fur-trading depot at Fort St Joseph in 1798, and many of their employees built houses and huts nearby. Many First Nations people came to the island to meet agents of the British Indian Department and to do business with the fur traders.
News of the American declaration of war on Britain on 18 June 1812 arrived in Montréal on 24 June. A message was quickly sent to Fort St Joseph to warn Captain Charles Roberts, who was in command of 45 men of the 10th Royal Veterans Battalion and a few artillerymen. The courier arrived at St Joseph on 11 July. Roberts received confusing orders from Major-General Isaac BROCK to take defensive measures or to launch an attack on American FORT MICHILIMACKINAC according to circumstances.
He took the aggressive approach because Fort St Joseph was too weak to defend. He assembled a force of his own garrison, 200 fur trade employees and a few hundred First Nations allies, and set off for Michilimackinac in the NORTH WEST COMPANY schooner Caledonia, fur traders' bateaux and First Nations canoes.
Arriving at Mackinac Island in the pre-dawn of 17 July, Roberts' men hauled a small artillery piece up a hill overlooking the American fort. Roberts sent a flag of truce to the fort where American commander Lieutenant Porter Hanks was informed that war had been declared and that the British and their Aboriginal allies were about to overwhelm the fort. Hanks surrendered.
Following the British victory, most of the garrison of Fort St Joseph and the fur traders moved to the stronger Fort Michilimackinac, although a skeleton garrison was left at the post until they were finally vacated by the summer of 1814. On 3 July 1814, a passing American flotilla of 5 naval vessels with several hundred soldiers aboard landed at St Joseph Island and burned the fort. This army attempted to recapture Fort Michilimackinac a few weeks later but was defeated in the attempt.
After the War of 1812 ended, the British repaired some of the surviving structures at Fort St Joseph and reoccupied the site with a small garrison. However, they established a new post at Drummond Island in 1815 and finally abandoned St Joseph by 1824.
Author RONALD J. DALE
John Roblin Abbott, Graeme Stewart Mount and Michael J. Mulloy, The History of Fort St Joseph (2000); Carl Benn, The War of 1812 (1991); Gilbert Collins, Guidebook to the Historic Sites of the War of 1812 (1998, revised 2006); Ronald J. Dale, The Invasion of Canada: Battles of the War of 1812 (2001); Donald R. Hickey, Don't Give up the Ship! Myths of the War of 1812 (2006); J. Mackay Hitsman and Donald E. Graves, The Incredible War of 1812 (1999); Jon Latimer, 1812: War with America (2007); Elizabeth Vincent, Fort St Joseph, Manuscript Report, No 335 (1978).
Links to Other Sites
The website for the Historica-Dominion Institute, parent organization of The Canadian Encyclopedia and the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada. Check out their extensive online feature about the War of 1812, the "Heritage Minutes" video collection, and many other interactive resources concerning Canadian history, culture, and heritage.
Sir Isaac Brock
A biography of Sir Isaac Brock, a colonial administrator and British officer who was lauded as a hero of the War of 1812. From the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.
The Canadian Register of Historic Places
Canada is home to a vast array of fascinating historical sites. Many of them are illustrated and described in this searchable online database of Canadian historic places that are of local, provincial, territorial, and national significance.
Fort St. Joseph National Historic Site of Canada
This site describes the fascinating history of the British-built Fort St. Joseph, located on St. Joseph Island in Ontario. From Parks Canada.
The website for "Algoma 1812." Dedicated to overseeing the Algoma region's Bi-Centennial Commemoration of the War of 1812. Check out the chronology of historical events related to the War of 1812.
Statement of Significance – Michigan in the War of 1812
A concise summary of the lasting impact of the War of 1812 on the development of the state of Michigan. From the Michigan Commission on the Commemoration of the Bicentennial of the War of 1812. A PDF document.
St. Joseph Island Museum
The website for the St. Joseph Island Museum, located on St. Joseph Island in the St. Mary's River, Ontario.
Travel - Walking with spirits at Fort St. Joseph
An article about visitor programs at Fort St. Joseph National Historic Site of Canada. From northernlife.ca.
Model of Fort St Joseph
View a model of Fort St Joseph from the Canadian Military History Gateway.
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