Nine Mile Portage and Willow Depot

Backgrounder

During the War of 1812, Nine Mile Portage and Willow Depot were crucial in getting provisions to the British post at Fort Michilimackinac. After their supply line through Lake Erie and Detroit was cut in 1813, the portage and depot allowed the British forces, Aboriginal Peoples, and fur traders to maintain control of the upper Great Lakes and the country west of Lake Michigan to the headwaters of the Mississippi River until the end of the war.

Nine Mile Portage was a trail leading from Kempenfelt Bay, on Lake Simcoe, to Willow Creek, a tributary of the Nottawasaga River, which flows into Georgian Bay at Wasaga Beach. Willow Depot, located on high ground about a mile from Willow Creek, was built as a storage and shipping post for goods coming over the portage. In 1814, Nine Mile Portage and Willow Depot were an important link in a logistical chain that stretched from York to the British post at Fort Michilimackinac on Mackinac Island. This military and fur trading post, located in the strait connecting Lake Huron and Lake Michigan, was key to the control of the upper lakes and the upper Mississippi River country to the west. The British alliance with the western First Nations also depended on retaining Michilimackinac as a supply post for the distribution of provisions.

After the British forces had lost control of Lake Erie and the Detroit River in the autumn of 1813, their position at Fort Michilimackinac was in jeopardy. Cut off from the supply base at Detroit, the fort relied on troop reinforcements, provisions and supplies that could only be sent from York up Yonge Street, over Nine Mile Portage, and across Lake Huron. An expedition led by Lieutenant-Colonel Robert McDouall in the winter of 1814 improved the rough track of Nine Mile Portage and began shipping goods across it, saving the Mackinac garrison and Aboriginal allies from imminent starvation. Subsequent delivery of supplies over the portage before the American squadron could sail into Lake Huron in July not only provided the post with the resources to defeat an American attack in August, but allowed it to send a relief expedition to the headwaters of the Mississippi River to retake the fur trading community of Prairie du Chien, recently captured by an American force. Once the blockading American schooners, Tigress and Scorpion, were captured in September, provisions and supplies again flowed over Nine Mile Portage to set the stage for a planned British campaign in 1815, but the signing of the Treaty of Ghent in December of 1814 brought an end to the war.

Following the War of 1812, Nine Mile Portage and Willow Depot remained useful to transport supplies to the new naval and military base at Penetanguishene and as a convenient route for travellers to and from the upper Great Lakes and the northwest, until it was replaced in the 1850s by a railway from Toronto to Collingwood on Georgian Bay.

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