Strategically located as a supply depot during the War of 1812, the Fort Willow area was also used for centuries by our Aboriginal peoples, the fur traders and explorers, as part of a major transportation route known as Nine Mile Portage.
Recent restorations have located and outlined the buildings used by the soldiers. Information kiosks give a thorough history of the area's past use and how its location helped ensure the geographical boundaries of Canada today.
Hike the surrounding trail network and plan to have lunch at the Fort. The laid-back, peaceful environment that is enjoyed by visitors today is a definite change from years gone by. Picnic tables, washrooms and sheltered rest areas are available for family picnics.
The many Monarch butterflies that call this area home during the summer make for a magical visit as they prepare for their journey south.
Soldiers of The Royal Newfoundland Regiment arrived at this site in the spring of 1814 after an epic march from Kingston. Their goal was to re-supply the British garrison at Michilimackinac and, in an operation that demonstrated their capability and determination both on land and on the water, they felled trees, built 30 batteaux and rowed down the Nottawasaga River and across Lake Huron to Michilimackinac, a distance of 360 miles. They lost one boat, crushed in the ice, but none of the priceless supplies which would allow the Britsh to retain control of Michilimackinac and the North West for the rest of the war.
Fort Willow is host each September to the Nine Mile Portage Heritage Festival, when hundreds of local school children visit a living history encampment to interact with British soldiers, Native warriors and their families, period craftsmen, storytellers and entertainers.
Other events at the site include: the Royal Newfoundland Regiment's Garrison Weekend; a Dragonhunter's Apprentice day camp focusing on dragonflies and winged insects; and visits by various groups who hike the Ganaraska Trail, which passes by the site.
Each year in May and June an archaeological dig is conducted by the students at St. Joseph's High School in Barrie, under the direction of their teacher Trevor Carter, a certified archaeologist. The information gleaned from the digs contributes to a fuller understanding of the site and its history, while the artifacts unearthed go into the collections of the Simcoe County Museum.