On July 19 and 20, the War of 1812 came to Holland Landing's Anchor Park for an event labelled "Muskets, Drums and Secret Trails" commemorating the impact of the conflict on East Gwillimbury.
The evening of July 19 was devoted to aboriginal events, which took the public back to the first inhabitants of the area and served as a reminder of the central role played by First Nations people in the defense of Canada between 1812 and 1815.
Saturday, July 20 was dominated by the military aspects of the war, including battle re-enactments, living history demonstrations and displays, and a number of merchants. Though East Gwillimbury was far from the fighting, the War of 1812 nonetheless touched the area. When the Americans took control of Lake Erie in 1813, it cut off Britain's maritime connection to the Lake Huron and the West.
The sole link was a lengthy and time consuming overland route that saw supplies carried by ox cart along Yonge Street to the Holland River, where they were transferred to boats and transported across Lake Simcoe to the ehad of Kempenfelt Bay. There, they were unloaded again and carried along the stump-ridden Nine-Mile Portage to Fort Willow, where they were once more loaded into canoes and boats and taken down Willow Creek and the Nottawasaga River to Lake Huron at Wasaga Beach. Without this route, Britain would have lost the war in the west.
A highlight of "Muskets, Drums and Secret Trails" was the unveiling of a new interpretive plaque telling the story of the park's namesake anchor, a behemoth measuring 20-feet long. Forged at the Royal Military Foundry in England, the anchor was intended for a 44-gun frigate which was ti be built at the Royal Navy base at Penetanguishene. The anchor arrived at York (Toronto) in November 1814 and mounted atop a specially built sleigh. The anchor was painstakingly hauled along the length of Yonge Street and arrived at Holland Landing in February of 1815, but then word arrived that the war had ended and the frigate had been cancelled. The anchor no longer had a purpose and was unceremoniously abandoned along the Holland River. It was moved to the present site in 1872.
As many as 1200 people attended the two-day "Muskets, Drums and Secret Trails" event to learn of East Gwillimbury's important but oft-forgotten connection to the War of 1812.
Story and photos by Andrew Hind