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Historic Fort York – Brought to Life Before my Eyes

Historic Fort York – Brought to Life Before my Eyes

by Mary Chong
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I’m a bad Torontonian. That’s right. You heard me say it. I’ve lived in Toronto my entire life and I’ve never once visited Historic Fort York. Sure, I studied the history of Fort York in high school, and of course, I knew where it was located; I’ve probably driven by it on the highway about a million times. But this piece of Toronto/Canadian history is so easily forgotten due to its location downtown hidden amongst the modern condominiums and construction that surrounds it. It wasn’t until Doors Open Toronto 2013, that I walked through the gates of Fort York and travelled back in time to the 1800s did I realise what I’d been missing all these years. I had a fabulous day out. It was a lot of fun!

Fort York
 

Meh, What’s the Big Deal?

At first, when I walked past the gates all I could see was a large open field with a few buildings surrounding the perimeter. I was thinking – meh, no wonder I never bothered coming here before… what’s the big deal? I started looking around, and I noticed a few people standing near the gate and sign with the tour schedule. One tour was about to start, so I thought I’ll join in, stand at the back of the crowd and if it get’s boring I’ll just quietly slip away… I never did slip away. I ended up taking all 3 of the tours being offered that day and stayed until closing. (I was trying on one of the uniforms when I was given the 5-minute warning!)

The Stories are the Big Deal

What makes the field and the buildings come alive are the docent tour guides. Dressed in period clothing the guides take you through the various buildings and tell you about the life and times of the men and women who were commissioned at the Fort. They tell the stories of the enlisted men’s barracks and how they housed 100 people, men plus their families, all eating and sleeping together in one room with little to no privacy. They guide us through the officer’s quarters and officer’s mess demonstrating the vast differences between an officer and an enlisted man’s living arrangements.

Fort York
 
They showed us the kitchen and how they cooked over an open fire, demonstrated cooking techniques and even had samples of cookies made from original recipes ready for us to taste. Without these docent tour guides, Fort York is just a large field with buildings and a few canons. It’s the stories and history that they share that sets the scene and bring the place to life.

Fort YorkI have but two regrets, one is that I waited all these years before visiting Historic Fort York; my other regret is that they didn’t have any reenactments that day so I wasn’t able to see them fire a canon. But that’s okay because I now have a reason to return … If you are in Toronto – I urge you to be a good Torontonian and get out there and visit Historic Fort York. If you live elsewhere – find a historical spot that you may have overlooked and take a tour – you might just find something interesting there!

Have you ever been to a historical site and had the most amazing guided tour? I’d love to hear where it was and what made it so amazing. Join the discussion.

For more about Toronto:
Tea for Two – High Tea at the Windsor Arms Hotel in Toronto
5 Reasons to Check Out Toronto’s Festival of Beer
Photo Essay: High Park Toronto Through the Seasons

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14 comments

The Tea Stylist July 11, 2013 - 12:23 pm

Great photos Mary. Reminds me that I haven’t been to Fort York since middle school! Really must check it out again. I’m intrigued by the historic kitchen.

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Jenna July 6, 2013 - 3:13 pm

Isn’t it funny how we can live so close to fun things and never stop for a visit? After moving away from my home state of Minnesota, I’ve realized how many places I never visited, so now on trips home we try to fit a few in!

Fort York looks like a lot of fun! We want to visit Toronto again one day, so I will have to add it to our list for when we are there!

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Vanessa (@Turnipseeds) July 4, 2013 - 8:53 am

Love it!! I’ve never been to Fort York, but growing up in Nova Scotia, I did go to Fortress Louisburg a number of times and the experience is similar (except it’s French!). I loved the food part of the visit (no surprise there!) and it was neat to try the different foods available to officers and enlisted men. We ate in a cafe designed for the enlisted men and common folk and were only given a huge pewter spoon to eat with! Apparently forks are officer-only equipment!

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Mary Chong July 4, 2013 - 9:52 am

Yes Vanessa…funny, I have tons of photos from that day and yet I chose to post mostly the food ones because they turned out the best! It was a bit chilly that day and the kitchen was warm and cozy – as the guide was talking, other people were rolling out dough and the cookies were baking on the open fire it was amazing. It was as if we were at a dinner party where everyone ends up in the kitchen talking. I do wish that they had a café that served “traditional” foods that would have been cool.

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Bennett - The Further Adventures of Bennett July 4, 2013 - 2:33 am

Mine is Stonehenge. I live 30 minutes from there at home and saw it every weekend growing up. Haven’t been since they revamped the visitors centre.

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Mary Chong July 4, 2013 - 9:47 am

Next time you are home – I challenge you to visit Stone Henge – and then write about it!

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Kimmy @ AfterGlobe July 4, 2013 - 2:23 am

I can’t remember any time I’ve gone on a guided tour. I always do the self-guided option. However, my husband has lived in Portland his whole life and there are so many places here hes never been until I took him. I just don’t understand not going to see as much as you can somewhere. It has been fun though taking him to places for the first time.

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Mary Chong July 4, 2013 - 9:46 am

I agree Kimmy, I normally do the self-guided as well but the tour was about to start – Right place right time! What a surprise! It really made a world of difference to the entire experience…

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Martin July 3, 2013 - 7:17 pm

Great pictures Mary. They really bring the historical setting to life.

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Mary Chong July 4, 2013 - 9:52 am

Thanks Martin – means a lot to hear that from you : )

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zof July 3, 2013 - 3:53 pm

Great post! Being a tourist in your own city is so much fun sometimes!

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Mary Chong July 3, 2013 - 4:49 pm

Absolutely, stay tuned for more touristy things in my city to come! Thanks Zof!

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noel July 3, 2013 - 3:47 pm

Isn’t that amazing that the things in our backyard we just don’t pay attention to until a little bird tells us to visit. Thanks for sharing Mary.

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Mary Chong July 3, 2013 - 4:50 pm

I really had a great time that day…and to think I used to go by it twice a day/5 days a week!

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