May 30, 2012

An army travels on its stomach

Supplying armies during the War of 1812 in Niagara was difficult at the best of times. Many roads in the Niagara were deemed impassable much of the year. In the winter, heavy or wet snow could close roads and in warm weather, rain could wash them away. Supplying armies via water was considered a better option, although, this route was not free from peril.

The British supply system began 3,000 miles away in Great Britain. The British transported troops, war material, naval equipment and even food. Upper Canada before the War of 1812 was able to produce enough food for its population; however, with the large influx of British troops, native allies and militia away from their farms, more food was needed. Ironically, the U.S. supplied a large quantity of food to the British during the war through illegal trade routes, greatly assisting in British war efforts.

In order to move supplies, a series of portage routes were in place throughout Canada. On the St. Lawrence, supply ships had to portage around treacherous rapids near Montreal in the summer. In the winter, the freezing of the St. Lawrence meant that sleds could move boats and supplies to open waters. In Niagara, transporting supplies around Niagara Falls used a similar procedure. Portage Road in Niagara Falls has its name for obvious reasons. This road became the major supply route for goods and troops heading from modern day Niagara-on-the-Lake to Fort Erie. Its use during the War of 1812 was vital to keeping the British adequately supplied in the Niagara Region.
Birch bark canoe

The long supply route leading to Niagara caused some hardship for British forces during the war. Perhaps the greatest supply shortage for the British in Niagara occurred during the 1814 campaign. During the British siege of the American held defences at Fort Erie, the British suffered from numerous supply shortages. Many men lacked adequate clothing, including shoes, in addition to tents, food and even ammunition. These shortages crippled the British and contributed to their lifting of the siege. Despite these challenges, Portage Road provided an essential link to supplying British forces in the Niagara Region.  

If you would like to find out more about logistics and portaging, you can join Niagara Falls History Museum on June 9th for their Great Niagara Portage Adventure. This event will feature a number of teams carrying canoes and food items in support of Project SHARE. For more information, click here.

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