Most Ontario residents only know Fort Erie as the western terminus of the Peace Bridge which takes them across to Buffalo, New York, on the American side. Today, Fort Erie has a population of about 30,000 people and with a strong influx of retirees, Fort Erie has become one of the fastest growing communities in the Niagara Region.
Let’s look a bit at Fort Erie’s history. With evidence of more than 12,000 years of human settlement, the Fort Erie area was first inhabited by the Neutral Nation, a First Nations tribe so named because they stayed neutral between the Huron and Iroquois tribes that were often at war with one another. European settlement really started with the establishment of several military forts in the 1760s. Various important military battles were fought in the area during the War of 1812. Fort Erie also played a major role in the Underground Railroad when many American slaves crossed over into safety from Buffalo. During the Battle of Ridgeway in 1866, Fort Erie was attacked by more than 1000 Fenians – Irish Republicans who were based in the United States and attacked British army forts in Canada. The International Railway Bridge which connects Fort Erie with Buffalo was built by the Grand Trunk Railway in 1873 and still exists today. In 1888, the Crystal Beach Amusement Park opened and stayed open more than 100 years until it was closed in 1989. One of the area’s treasured heritage sites is the Point Abino Lighthouse, west of Crystal Beach, which was built in 1918. The most visually recognizable landmark of Fort Erie, the Peace Bridge, was built in 1927 and is still one of Canada’s most important border crossings, with about 4000 trucks traversing it daily.
Fort Erie has several well-known attractions, the biggest of which is Old Fort Erie, which was rebuilt during the 1930s as an important tourist destination. The Fort Erie Race Track has been home to live thoroughbred racing since 1897. It is also the location of the Prince of Wales Stakes, the second event of the Canadian Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing. Safari Niagara is a large nature park that features more than 750 native and exotic animals as well as walking tours, tram rides, educational demonstrations as well as special events and concerts. Currently under construction is the Canadian Motor Speedway, a motorsports facility that is slated to open in 2016.
Several historic communities are part of Fort Erie, including Bridgeburg, Ridgeway, Stevensville and Crystal Beach. These areas are popular tourist destinations and feature a variety of shops and restaurants. Festivals are also well attended in Fort Erie, and some of the signature events include the Friendship Festival on the July long weekend which celebrates the culture and heritage shared by Canada and the United States. The Ridgeway Summer Festival on the second weekend in July offers live music, street dancing, a car show, great food and amazing community spirit. History buffs will enjoy the Siege of Fort Erie, a re-enactment of the famous 1814 battle that takes place during the second weekend of August. The Ridgeway Community holds the Ridgeway Fall Festival in October as well as the Spirit of Christmas on the first weekend in December where visitors can enjoy horse-drawn carriage rides, Victorian carollers, several school choirs that sing outdoors and a strolling Santa.
Outdoor lovers will enjoy the extensive trail system in Fort Erie, which includes the Friendship Trail and the Southern terminus of the Niagara River Recreation Pathway. More than 33 parks and a great waterfront along the Niagara River and Lake Erie make Fort Erie a great destination for outdoor recreation. Whether you like history, arts and culture, festivals or outdoor activities, Fort Erie is a nice destination to visit year-round.