Huronia Chapter OAS meeting – Fort Willow presentation

In the evening on May 14, the Huronia Chapter of the Ontario Archaelogical Society met at the museum in the gallery. Trevor Carter gave a talk with slides about the field school for high school students he has been supervising for the last five years. The field school is excavating at Fort Willow.


Trevor Carter and John Raynor

Fort Willow it turns out is actually more properly called Willow Depot. It is located west of Barrie on the eighth mile of a nine mile portage from Lake Simcoe to Willow Creek and the Nottawasaga River giving access to Georgian Bay at Wasaga Beach (formerly known as Schooner Town). The depot consists of a group of warehouses. The current reconstruction of the site shows the outlines of these buildings. In the 1950s, Wilfrid Jury excavated on the site over two seasons. The first known mention of the portage is found on a French map from the 1630s. It was next mapped by an aide to Governor Simcoe in 1793. During the War of 1812 it became necessary to assist in the movement of supplies to Fort Michilimackinac and other posts in western Upper Canada. In February of 1814 the first trip using the portage for this purpose was made and the depot was begun. No fighting took place at or near the depot. After the war, it was used to provision the outpost at Drummond Island (which was later found after mapping associated with the treaty to be located on American soil). In 1815 the Northwest Company had some buildings at Fort Willow. By 1825 its use as a depot began to decline, in part due to the improvement of the Penetang Road. In 1831 a surveyor reported that he was unable to locate the portage trail and all buildings had burned down. There is rumour of a settlement known as Willow Hamlet, but it has never been located. Also it is believed a tavern existed on the site, it is also as of yet undiscovered.

The site has some problems with backfill and a history of a lot of disturbance. Still the students have enthusiastically worked at the third stage and each year have found some 3000 artifacts. Special thanks is due to Rotary Club of Barrie for assisting with funding of ths program which involves some 24 high school students. Ten people attended the session and they enjoyed the talk and dug into some cookies and coffee after the break. The regular chapter meeting followed.

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