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Gananoque Blockhouse 1813-1859

Beginning in 1934 Frank Eames a local self-taught historian, began compiling notes on the history of the Gananoque Blockhouse.  In 1950 Eames published his monograph in a special edition of the Gananoque Reporter entitled:  Special Eames article ran with the caption: “Illustrated with Sketches, Plans and a Facsimile."  In 1951, Frank Eames published his monograph in its own booklet1 consisting of 14 pages.  

He described the material as, 'What follows is based on a reprint from Volume 33 of the Papers and Records, Ontario Historical Society, by the present writer, with some amendments and additional detail as appendices."

[Note: TI Life will publish the entire edition in three parts. The following is Part I.]

GanBlockhouse
Gananoque Blockhouse 1813-1859, by Frank Eames, published 1951.
Courtesy Eames Collection, Sagastaweka Island.

Gananoque's Blockhouse 1813-1859

“The cut of the blockhouse presented here does not pretend to be true to design of the original structure. There seems to be some existing evidences to prove that the building when erected was of the overhang type… with the upper storey extending beyond the lower.

Of this latter statement the only existing detail that is available, so far as is known to me, is the only painting of the Bridge Island Blockhouse that hangs in the Brockville Court House. There is documentary proof that this and the Gananoque structure were both alike, and built by the same contractor, Charles MacDonald, of Gananoque… not the MacDonald brothers.

Aside from the Brockville painting, I understand that a former magistrate of Gananoque, in the person of the later Joel Parmenter made a crude drawing of the local block house which also shows it to have been of the over hanging upper storey type.

Beyond this evidence, I cannot go for proof, since it seems nothing further exists. facsimile

The site of the blockhouse as shown is intended to represent what the scene must have looked like after the land was cleared in preparing for the building, the timberline shoeing the line of Stone Street today.

(Author’s Note [Eames] This closes the discuss of design. What follow is based on a reprint from Volume 33 of the Papers and Records, Ontario Historical Society, by the present writer, with some amendments and additional detail as appendices.

The maintenance of the only line of communication between Montreal and Kington [sic] became imperative as soon as war between the United States and Canada was openly declared.

All stores had to be conveyed along the St. Lawrence 'route. Privateering was a danger, and invasion of Canadian territory would have severed the single means of intelligence.

By the establishment of relay posts at intervals of a few miles, roughly eight to ten, the route overland was kept open by mounted men of the 'Militia Dragoons.

Through Leeds and Grenville Counties some of these relay stations were Cornwall, Morrisburg, Prescott, Brockville, Halleck's, Mal­lorytown, Gananoque, Frankl1n's, or half-way house in Frontenac, with the end of the route, Kingston.

These post stations made the forwarding of dispatches between Montreal and Kingston possible in about 24 hours. At the roadside taverns, where they existed, the dispatch soldiers and their, mounts were billeted[sic]. The Gananoque station was known and will be referred to later as "Dragoon's' Stables."

Every class of supplies had to be carried by water to the navy-yard at Kingston. Ships' timbers, framed in England, may seem to many of today as a ridiculous cargo to send to a land of mighty and 'unlimited forests, but they were sent solely to speed construction by having been manufactured and seasoned, thus greatly facilitating final assembly at a time when need was urgent and shipwrights none too readily available.

Ships' guns, carriages, forgings, rigging, cables, chains, sails. clothing, provisions and stores in abundance were all passed up the river by brigades of batteaux. Fifteen formed a brigade for conveyance of these stores and troops.

At Tousaint's Island on the 16th of September, 1812, two armed enemy vessels attacked a brigade of boats, escorted by Major Heath­cote and his command. The latter turned attack into defeat, capturing one of the enemy craft. Small flotillas of gunboats were· assigned to escort duty with later brigades.

General Jacob Brown, in command of Amer1can frontier forces, from St. Regis to Oswego, needed ammunition badly. Captain Ben­jamin Forsyth had heard that the munitioI16 might be obtained by an attack on Gananoque. Leave to make the raid was granted by General Brown.

Details of Forsyth's success are well known. Had Colonel Stone not weakened, this most venerable post between Prescott and Kingston, by escorting a brigade of batteaux to the latter point, the story might have been different.

Colonel Lethbridge, in command at Prescott, responding to Colonel Stone's report, wrote:

Prescott, Sept. 21, 1812.

"I am extremely concerned at the report you have made in your letter of the successful attack made by three American vessels on the Port of Gananoque, and, though there can be no excuse for the devastation committed by the enemy, yet I cannot help inferring from the tenor of your letter, that some omission of necessary vigilance must have occurred, and it is my particular desire that you will distinctly state what number of officers and private men were present at the port when the attack occurred.

"After my orders to have the flank companies completed to the establishments provided by law, I presume the force at Gananoque must have been sufficient and considerable, unless your detachment to assist in guarding the batteaux to Kingston was very large indeed .... You will be pleased to send as soon as possible an accurate return of the arms, ammunition and flints that have been received by the 2nd Battalion Leeds Militia from the public.”

Colonel Lethbridge added an expression of regret at the wounding of Mrs. Stone by a musket ball. Forsyth’s raid caused loss of life, stores and munitions.

The bridge over the Gananoque River was also destroyed, and this cutting of the overland communication upset the regular routine for some days, which prompts the conclusion that the fording of the river at the Upper Dam was not feasible because of the Lower Dam having raised the water in the cupper pond; Stone had built his mill at the Lower Dam, so had Johnson, on the other side of the river.

The Upper Pond above the Falls is rather wide at the crossing, however, the bridge was replaced and Gananoque became active as a relay station once more.

But this re-establishment had to be maintained to prove effective, and it was with this in mind, that Stone seems to have made a suggestion in a letter to the Hon­orable Richard Cartwright. Cartwright’s reply is dated Oct. 19th, 1812, out of Kingston. and runs as follows:

"I wish our blockhouse had been thought of earlier and mentions to Col. Vincent when you were on the spot. He is alarmed at the expense, and indeed I think that the same purpose might have been answered at a much cheaper rate. What is there to prevent the men themselves from throwing up a building of round logs that would be equally strong and warm, though it would not look as well. (Stone had evidently suggested hewn logs). By making it double and filling it with earth and sod this would be completely effected [sic? Possibly the world should be “effective”]. The nails and glass would be cheerfully furnished. But in times like these, it is expected that the people of the country will do as much as they can for their own protection ......”

This letter seems to be the first reference to Gananoque block­house. Despite persistent searching over many years, I have been unable to learn the actual date of construction, but, a close approximation can be made for our purpose.

We do know that Charles Mac­Donald, a partner in business with Colonel Stone, was awarded a contract to construct a blockhouse according to specifications. (Note 2­ – Also one at Bridge Island), Not only was the harborage in the mouth of the river to be protected, but also the bridge, a vital and most vulnerable point in the overland route. (Note 3 – More open and exposed to attack was the bridge at Toniata Creek, now Jones Creek, the old stone approaches of which still remain in this year, 1947, as a part of the old route of the De­spatch Riders). However, the site for the blockhouse covered both the local bridge and harbor at Ganan­oque.

There evidently was some activity at the "Great Gananoque Falls," a site apart from the Falls at the present town of that name.

Concerning these "Great Ganan­oque Falls," it would appear that the cutting of the district road had been done by Abel Stevens and Matthew Howard, who, in a petition of the 4th of May, 1799, called themselves "Managers of the cuttings of the road from the Great Gananoque Falls to Kingston." The petition further states that the men employed on the road "have given up all assessment for cutting the road if there is any collected toward building a bridge across Gananoque Falls or River:' (Note I – Papers and Records Vol. XXXI, page 68.”) It did not occur to me at the time of writing my first paper for the Ontario Historical Society, that "Fur­nace Falls" might have been meant as "The Great Gananoque Falls.” Since its appearance, Mr. R. H. Mor­gan, of the Brockville Times, has suggested that there might have been an error on my part in assuring that "The Great Gananoque Falls" really meant what has long since been known as :"Furnace Falls," and I am of the opinion that he is correct, because of the locality having been the scene of Abel Stevens' activities for so long during pioneer days.

Compiled by Susan W. Smith

[Editor’s note: Frank Eames was a self-taught local historian. He produced hundreds of articles while living in Niagara and in Gananoque, Ontario. After his death in the 1950s, his daughter Pearl Davis sent many of his books and papers to the Canadian Archives and to Queen’s University Archives . In addition the Gananoque Public Library and the editor, Susan W. Smith, were given many historical documents compiled by Eames in the 1930-1950s. TI Life will publish a number of these in the future, thereby allowing greater access to this remarkable collection of Canadiana].

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This little monographs, printed and published by Frank Eames personally,was distributed to more than two dozen institutions including: the Gananoque Reporter, Gananoque Historical Society, the Mayor, the School Board,and to many prominent Canadian historians.  He also sent copies to the Public Actives of Canada, The National Library and the British Museum.