Two centuries ago, war touched the shores of present-day Toronto. Many of those who fought died anonymously.
Now, 200 years later, a new exhibit aims to pull the names and stories of those soldiers who fought in the Battle of York from the shadows of history.
Saturday marked the opening of Finding the Fallen: The Battle of York Remembered at St. Lawrence Market. The free exhibit is the first of many set to open over the next two years to commemorate the War of 1812’s bicentennial in Toronto.
“In the War of 1812, most men were buried where they fell in unmarked graves,” said Wayne Reeves, one of the exhibit’s curators. “No monument in Toronto was raised with their individual names, and nationally no book of remembrance was created to record their names.
“So we asked two questions. Firstly, how can we remember and honour fallen of the War of 1812? And, after 200 years is it not time to recognize the collective sacrifice that was made by the combatants?”
The exhibit features artifacts from the war along with the personal stories of soldiers who fought in the Battle of York.
“It personalizes the war because these are real people and their real histories,” Pauline Dolovich said at Saturday’s opening.
The research leading to the exhibit, which was helped by a grant from the federal Department of Canadian Heritage, led to not only finding out the names of the Canadian soldiers lost, but also those of the British, the First Nations and the Americans.
“It’s great because it’s unique research that has been done,” Dolovich said. “They’ve really tried to answer questions that haven’t been answered before.”
The exhibit’s focus on soldiers from both sides of the conflict reflects a very Canadian sensibility, said Coun. Michael Thompson, the co-chair of the city’s 1812 commemoration committee.
“I am not aware of any other nation or any other society where one can say that we have recognized all those who died in a battle,” he said at the opening. “Clearly, as Canadians we aim and we strive to live in peace and harmony.”
Finding the Fallen: The Battle of York Remembered is set to run until Sept. 8 in the Market Gallery at St. Lawrence Market.