Fort Willow is one of the most historic sites in central Ontario. Visitors can explore the site and have a picnic or walk the beautiful surrounding trails. Throughout the Fort, information kiosks provide visitors with the outstanding history of the area.
This year we took a little weekend road trip to Barrie, Ontario for the annual Festival at Fort Willow. The Festival at Fort Willow welcomes visitors to travel two centuries back in time and celebrate the historical significance of the site. The festival features displays, entertainment and re-enactments of life as it was in 1812.
There is no cover charge to enter the festival, but they are accepting donations. Make your way into the woods and find two buildings outside of the fort walls.
There is an initial trading post outside of the gates. This shows many of the tools, artifacts, and jewelry that was used during the history of the fort.
The restored palisade surrounds part of the old fort and shows us a rough idea of what the fort used to look like. During the festival, there are “armed” guards around the fort, and some on horseback. Feel free to ask for a photo with any of them.
A palisade, sometimes called a stakewall or a paling, is typically a fence or wall made from iron or wooden stakes, or tree trunks and used as a defensive structure or enclosure.
This year’s Festival was held on Saturday, September 28, 2019, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Artisan crafts and food will be available for purchase (cash only).
Free parking and a shuttle bus will be provided at the Grenfel Community Hall (1989 Sunnidale Road). Many choose to park on the road outside of the fort but that caused a lot of congestion and we don’t recommend it. The shuttle is 10 minutes away, if that.
History of Fort Willow
During the War of 1812, Fort Willow was a supply depot that marked the halfway point between Kempenfelt Bay and the Nottawasaga River. The strategic location of Fort Willow allowed for a continuous trade and transportation route between Lake Ontario and Georgian Bay. The Fort Willow area is also part of the Nine Mile Portage, which was used for centuries by Aboriginals, fur traders and explorers who passed through the area.
Throughout the day, you will hear canons and muskets shooting. These are blanks, but still very loud. We recommend small children bring ear-protection just in case.
The shots are not scheduled, but rather, when there is interest. We were able to surround the canon and hear all about it, and ask questions, watch them load and fire the canons, on our own time.
The actors went through the proper drills of how it would have been fired back in the day.
There are several interactive stations throughout the festival. One of which is candle making. Instead of each child standing around a bucket, they have made it a circuit where the children (or adults) walked around the station and dipped their candle in each of the 3 buckets before starting back at the beginning.
Guests could walk around as much as they wanted, getting their candle to the size they liked, before having it dipped in a final bucket of coloured wax.
We were able to talk to a few soldiers about how to load and fire a musket. We learned about gun powder, how the rain affects a shot, and why most battles were fought in close quarters (because the guns were surprisingly inaccurate shots).
Near the front of the fort, on your back to the start, guests were able to make their own rope. This is also a free station but he was accepting donations.
The children were able to pick the colour of rope they wanted and twist it around the machine.
At noon, Fort Willow offered a 1-hour hike into the woods. We learned about the different types of trees and plants in the area and how they were used; Some for medicine, and some for tools.
It is not child-friendly, in that there is not much walking, but there is a lot of stop and go, listening to the tour guide. If you wanted to hike the woods, going on your own into the marked hiking trails would be our recommendation.
Getting to Fort Willow
- ADDRESS: 2714 Grenfel R., Springwater Township
- GPS: X-503000, Y-4916321
- DIRECTIONS: From the City of Barrie, go west on County Rd. 90 (Dunlop St.) to George Johnston Road. Turn right (north) and travel for 8 km. Turn left onto Portage Road and travel for 3 km to the front gates.
We had a great time this morning at the Festival of Fort Willow. It wasn’t too warm for mid-September, it is Canada after all. But it was raining a little. Again, not uncommon for Southern Ontario.
My Dad made a good point on the way home; the rain made the whole experience that much more realistic. Trudging out in the rain, muddy fields and slow to go muskets, was the norm in 1812.
I am surprised, though, that it wasn’t as busy as I had imagined it would be. Which I am grateful for, of course, but disappointed that not many people would want to experience this great festival. It only runs one weekend per year; Thursday and Friday are reserved for school trips and Saturday is open to the public.
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