A504 - Lake Ontario
This previously unassigned and undated manuscript survey of Lake Ontario was almost certainly one of the first surveys of the Lake Ontario, completed before Captain William FitzOwen had taken up his position as Surveyor of the Great Lakes in November 1815. In fact this survey was likely for the use of Sir James Yoe, the British commander in the region throughout the 1812-14 conflict.
- h25" x w58.5"
On the back-side of (the original of) this document is found Sir James Yoe's name, indicating that this survey was intended for his personal use. Yeo was ordered back to London on the 25th December 1814, which would of course date the chart before that time. Further evidence of the period and date of the chart lies with the fact that Fort Mississauga, shown on the chart, was constructed in the Spring of 1814 of bricks from the ruins of the town of Newark.
The town of Newark had previously been burned to the ground in July of 1813, on the order of Brig Gen George McLure, the commander of the retreating American troops after the battle of Beaver Dams. All buildings, with the exception of some churches and one house were destroyed. Following the destruction of Newark, the British retaliated, in December 1813, by capturing Fort Niagara on the Eastern shore. After stiff resistance by the Americans, which saw the death of the British commander Colonel Murray and 10 others British casualties. American casualties were by all accounts extensive.
With regard of this attack, of note is a contemporary account from a (British?) engineer re the construction of Fort Mississauga whereby a coloured Corps was attached to the Royal Engineers in order to help repair the fortifications at the mouth of the Niagara River. 'When I visited the Niagara Frontier I found that a corps of Free Men of Colour had been raised but had been turned over to that of the Engineers, any necessity for this I never could learn, but it seems to have been the fashion in Canada to heap all kinds of duties upon the latter.'
Toward the spring of 1814 the company was ordered to construct a new fort on the Canadian shore, dubbed Fort Mississauga, materials for which were obtained from the ruins of the nearby town of Niagara. With the American navy now controlling Lake Ontario, this work was crucial to the security of British forces in the Niagara Peninsula, one British officer later noting 'Mississauga is a pretty little Fort, and would prevent vessels coming up the river'. These duties consequently precluded the Colored Corps participation in the Niagara campaign that summer, even during the subsequent Siege of Fort Erie, where British forces desperately lacked trained engineer troops.
With regard to the date of this survey the question is; why is Newark, in 1814 labeled as 'Newark' as opposed to 'Niagara', as it had been renamed by the British themselves back in 1798? Other features of this unattributed chart, worthy of special note, include the use of blue around the shoreline, very much in keeping with the same used on the survey of the north west coast of Lake Erie. Both charts share a great number of similarities, not least the feeling that they were both produced somewhat hurriedly, almost as though they were taken as running surveys.
Interestingly, the town of York is not depicted, although the harbor and an anchorage is, despite having been established by Governor John Simcoe in 1793 as the new Capital of Upper Canada. Perhaps, again an example of time constraint and a running survey? Simcoe had felt that the location of York on the North West coat of Lake Ontario would be less vulnerable to American attack. The name Toronto does appear further down the coast but at the time is more likely a reference to the Toronto (land) purchase of 1787 whereby the Crown purchased 250,808 acres of land of the Mississauggas of New Credit for some money, 2,000 gun flints,120 mirrors, 24 laced hats, a bale of flowered flannel, 24 kettles and 96 gallons of rum. Simcoe had favored European names and York was chosen to replace the Fort Toronto as the name of the original settlement.
The name later reverted to its original name in 1834. A second feature of this survey lies over at the Eastern end of the Lake with the settlement of Kingston which was during the During the war of 1812-14 was the base for the Lake Ontario division of the Great lakes fleet under the command of Yoe. This was also where the British had started to establish their surveying base and where the surveyors retired and took shelter during the worst of the winter months and may well explain why there is a higher concentration of detailed soundings and channels marked on the chart there than anywhere else on the map.
Also well marked, further south of Kingston, is Sackets Harbour which was the principle American Naval base on Lake Ontario at the time. Sackets Harbour was the scene of a major British blockade during May 1813.
As with so many apparently simple and uncomplicated surveys, charts and maps the closer one looks the more there is to see. This survey is a great example of such work. So full of questions...
 A running survey is a 'rough' survey made by a vessel while coasting. Bearings to landmarks are taken at intervals as the vessel sails offshore, and are used to fix features on the coast and further inland. Intervening coastal detail is sketched.
- Lake Ontario