Battle of Beaver Dams National Historic Site of Canada

The Battle of Beaver Dams National Historic Site, near Thorold, Ont, was designated in 1921, and commemorated by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada in 1923 with a bronze plaque on a stone cairn erected on part of the battlefield. The locale, at the present-day intersection of Thorold Stone and Davis roads just east of the Thorold Tunnel, is the site of a victory by First Nations over American invaders on 24 June 1813 during the War of 1812. The Battle of Beaver Dams prevented the Americans from making further advances into the Niagara Peninsula.

In 1976, the cairn was moved to the newly created, Battle of Beaverdams Park in Thorold. Also moved to the park was a stone monument, erected in 1874, marking the grave of 16 American soldiers found during the construction of the third Welland Canal. The remains of the soldiers were reinterred in the park.

Overview of the Battle of Beaver Dams

In May 1813, a large American army captured Fort George. Shortly after the British victory during the Battle of Stoney Creek on 6 June, a company of 48 chosen men of the 49th Regiment was formed, led by Lieutenant James FitzGibbon. This force, based at the house of Captain John B. De Cou near Thorold, used guerrilla warfare to harass the American army. On 23 June, American Brigadier-General John Boyd, in command of Fort George, ordered Lieutenant-Colonel Boerstler of the 14th Infantry Regiment to lead a small army of about 500 men to attack Fitzgibbon's position.

Boerstler's army marched from Fort George in the afternoon of 23 June, stopping at Queenston for the night. At dawn on the 24th, they marched toward the British position. In the meantime, Fitzgibbon's company had been reinforced by 280 Mohawk warriors from Lower Canada, 100 warriors from the Grand River and 60 Ojibwa from Rice Lake and Toronto. First Nations scouts were able to keep track of Boerstler's force all the way from Fort George and gave warning to their comrades as the Americans advanced. Fitzgibbon also received warnings from Canadian inhabitants including Laura Secord.

As the Americans approached a wooded area near Beaver Dams, the First Nations warriors sprung an ambush, firing at them from the thick woods and from behind farmers' fence lines. They were joined by some of the local militia. The action began around 9:00 am and by noon the Americans had suffered heavily with 25 men killed and 50 wounded, including Colonel Boerstler. The First Nations had at least 5 killed and 25 wounded.

When Lieutenant Fitzgibbon and his detachment arrived, the Americans raised a white flag. Fitzgibbon attempted to negotiate their surrender but it was the timely arrival of some British light dragoons from a detachment at Twelve Mile Creek that finally made the Americans accept the terms of surrender of their remaining force of 512 men.

The First Nations expected to receive all of the weapons and equipment surrendered by the Americans and a bounty for the prisoners taken but this was not to be. Some of them were able to spirit away souvenirs of the battle but expectations were not met and due credit for their victory not given. The Kahnawake, Akwesasne, and Kanesatake Mohawks, greatly slighted, returned to their homes. Mohawk War Chief John Norton observed, "the Caughnawaga Indians fought the battle, the Mohawks or Six Nations got the plunder, and Fitzgibbon got the credit."

Author: Ronald J. Dale