Grade school was the last time I visited Fort George in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario – until I took my dog there in February 2017. Wow, time has passed.
When you revisit a historic site as an adult two things happen: you understand the historical context that likely eluded you as a kid, and you understand why you’re there. It’s not just an outing.
Well, ok. It is an outing.
My dog Victor and I are on a mission: Fort George is stop number two on our yearlong quest to see Canada’s National Parks and Historic Sites. It’s the county’s 150 Anniversary and to celebrate we have our free 2017 Parks Canada Pass dangling from the car’s rear view mirror.
We’re heading to at least one dog-friendly Parks Canada site per month – most in Ontario, our home province.
“You’ve got your pass, head on in,” the clerk says to me at the entrance of Fort George. “But you might have to carry your dog in some of the buildings,” she adds, “because of the artifacts.”
Wait. I can take Victor into the buildings? Awesome.
That’s not true of most of the living history museums this little mutt and I have explored together, including the Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill in Kentucky. But here, nothing’s off limits and there’s wide-open space, which Victor loves, along with weird smells like aging wood and wild animals.
February and March no surprise are off-season; the fort is only open on weekends. The skating rink in the woods draws the most visitors. (Parking is $6).
Victor didn’t bring his skates, so we head into the fort.
Fort George, originally built between 1796 and 1799, served to defend Canada, then a British colony, against American attacks during the war of 1812. A massive bombardment by U.S. troops in 1813 left it in smoking ruins. The Americans rebuilt it, but retreated in December of that year.
Fort George was abandon in the 1820s, after the British and First Nations secured the area. In 1950, the site was refurbished to its 1812 appearance and opened as a public museum. Parks Canada has been responsible for the site since 1969.
Today, you can tour many buildings including the soldiers’ barracks where costumed interpreters tell you about the visibly cramped living conditions – and pose for pictures with your dog if you ask. Comparatively, the reconstructed officers’ quarters are a stark contrast in comfort and amenities. In this building, interpreters play flutes and answer questions around the dining table set with china and stemware.
Carrying my dog isn’t really necessary, because all he does is walk on the wooden floors like everyone else and sniffs in corners – fortunately, not like everyone else.
Except for the musket firing twice a day, Victor loves it here – outside anyway. The advantage of being in a fort is six walls of tall wooden stakes fence it in. Few people are here today. So, I let my dog run, glorious and free, around the cannons on elevated hills – artillery now pointing towards expensive homes lining the Niagara River. (Yes, dogs are supposed to remain on leash).
From the cannon vantage point, there’s a clear view of the U.S. and any advancing troops crossing the river. (No word on advancing ideological threats though). Today, the yacht club is the most menacing thing in sight.
My little black terrier would have done well among 19th century amenities, or at least he’s enjoying them now. I like to think that’s due to his advanced intelligence and appreciation for historical preservation.
Likely, though it’s the smells.
For a dog, this place is an olfactory field day. Apparently, rabbits, foxes and even deer stroll through the grounds at night. Field mice are plentiful and even in the cold, Victor finds one and chases it around a cannon (but doesn’t catch it).
Rodent catcher would likely be his calling if he were one of the pups who once lived among the soldiers – assuming paintings in the officer’s quarters depicting dogs are accurate.
The jail, however, Victor isn’t so fond. He enters enthusiastically, sniffing creepy dank cells smaller than horse stalls. But he retreats quickly preferring grassy knolls, more space and freedom.
Read about Canada’s National Parks in this National Geographic Guide Book available from Amazon (affiliate link).
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