Fort Rouillé Monument is located on the south side of Exhibition Place, just east of the Scadding Cabin in Toronto.
About Fort Rouillé
Fort Rouillé (sounds like roo·eel) was a French trading post and stockade located on the site from 1750/51 until 1759. This particular spot was chosen for a couple of reasons, the first being it was considered a protected area (a French commander said “vessels cannot approach within cannon shot”). The second was because of its proximity to the Humber River, a key transportation route used by Indigenous peoples. In 1750/51, Fort Rouillé was built so the French could strengthen their control of the Great Lakes area by intercepting and trading the valuable furs the Indigenous people collected before they travelled to the British fur-trading post at Oswego (on the southeast shores of Lake Ontario).
Fort Rouillé was named after Antoine Louis Rouillé, Minister of Marine. The fort was garrisoned with five soldiers, one officer, two sergeants and a storekeeper. Fort Rouillé, more commonly known as Fort Toronto, had four bastions connected by a wooden palisade. Inside the walls were six buildings, including barracks, officers’ quarters, a store, a storeroom, a guardroom and a blacksmith. Outside its walls on the north side were four outbuildings, plus the fort was equipped with five canoes. While it was considered a well-built fort, it was only used for trade.
As the conflict between the French and British escalated, an order came from France in 1758 that if the British should make an appearance at Fort Rouillé, to burn it down. In the summer of 1759, watchers at the French fort in Niagara saw a column of smoke in the direction of Toronto, indicating the order had been obeyed. All that was left of the trading post was a charred mass of timber, a low chimney stack made of brick and shattered flagstone floors.
Fort Rouillé Monument
In 1878, the position of the chimney stack, depressions in the land and the line of pickets that had surrounded Fort Rouillé were still visible; however, that same year, to make way for the Industrial Exhibition (which officially began in 1879 and known today as the CNE), the ground was levelled. This destroyed the remains of the old French fort.
Dr Henry Scadding, one of Toronto’s first historians and the president of the York Pioneers, realized the historical significance of Fort Rouillé, especially to the beginnings of Toronto. One of Dr Scadding’s books is about Fort Rouillé and is titled “Toronto’s First Germ.” York Pioneers built a cairn to commemorate its existence, and in 1878, the city placed a boulder inscribed with details of Fort Rouillé on the site. The large commemorative stone, which today is on the monument’s east side, was left natural looking and dredged from the channel that leads into Toronto harbour.
Plans were then made to build a monument to the old French Fort. In 1884, at a ceremony with many dignitaries present, the column’s foundation stone marking the site of Fort Rouillé was placed. During the next two years, the lower portions of the pedestal were constructed. Funding for the monument came from grants and donations.
In August 1887, the Fort Rouillé Monument was installed. The following month, it was unveiled in a special ceremony by the Governor-General.
Fort Rouillé Monument Stats
- It was designed by architects Langley & Burke.
- The column is made from Credit Valley brownstone and weighed 8 tons when it was rough and 7 tons after being “dressed.”
- The monument was made in Lionel Yorke’s Stoneyard, which was once located on a wharf on the south side of the Esplanade, at the foot of Jarvis St. At the time, it was the stoneyard’s largest job. It was hauled to Exhibition grounds on August 29, 1887.
- Fort Rouillé Monument cost $2,500 to build.
- The total height of the monument is 9 m or 30 ft tall, and the base is 2.9 m or 9 ft 6 inches square.
- The column has eight divisions and tapers slightly from 1.5 m or 5 ft in diameter and gradually decreases to 0.7 m or 2 ft 3 inches at the top.
The Site Today
In 1982, the ground plan of Fort Rouillé was discovered during archaeological excavations. The concrete walkways surrounding the area delineate the walls of the 18th-century trading post. The site received heritage status from the city in 1995.
Did You Know?
- Fort Rouillé was the last French post built in Southern Ontario.
- It was established by order of the Marquis de la Jonquière, Governor of New France.
- Fort Rouillé was also known as Fort Toronto (before Toronto was officially named in 1834). It was also called the old French Fort.
- In 1891, during excavations at Exhibition Park to make a panoramic display, a discovery of skeletons were found laid in the ground, some in coffins and some not. The cemetery was exactly north of the monument, about 91 m or 300 ft away. It’s thought to be the remains of those who had died at the old French Fort.
- Fort Rouillé Monument was installed to preserve for “future generations the memory of an interesting fact about the city’s early history and to be an ornament of Exhibition Park.”
Fort Rouillé Monument Photos
- City of Toronto Heritage Register: 100 Princes’ Blvd
- Ontario Heritage Trust
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: Sep 8, 1882, pg 8
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: Aug 26, 1887, pg 8
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: Aug 27, 1887, pg 16
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: Aug 30, 1887, pg 2
- Toronto’s First Germ (Fort Toronto) by Rev Dr Henry Scadding (1878)
- Brief Memoir of the Old French Fort at Toronto by Rev Dr Henry Scadding (1885)
- Landmarks of Toronto: Volume 2 by J Ross Robertson (1896), pg 732
- Photos: Denise Marie for TorontoJourney416
- Vintage Photos: City of Toronto Archives & Toronto Public Library
- Toronto City Directory by Might Directories Ltd 186 courtesy of Toronto Public Library