Military Subjects:  War of 1812


The War of 1812 Magazine

Issue 9: May 2008

Documents, Artefacts and Imagery

Burlington Heights: A Photo Journal

By John R. Grodzinski, FINS

A modern sketch of the defences developed on Burlington Heights, 1813 - 1815.
Note the lines of defences, the battery and the military buildings. This is based on a sketch prepared by Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Bruyeres, Commanding Royal Engineers in Canada, 1812 – May 1814.
( Courtesy Hamilton Military Museum).

Click on image for a larger view.

Nestled at the Head of Lake Ontario is a feature known at “ Burlington Heights,” a position that proved vital to Brigadier General John Vincent, following his evacuation of the Niagara Peninsula in May 1813. This was brought on by the large-scale American landings on the northern end of the Peninsula that sought to capture Vincent’s troops in a pincer movement. It was from Burlington Heights that the attack against the American post at Stoney Creek was launched on 6 June 1813, which, combined with the transfer of control of Lake Ontario to the British, completely changed the situation in the Niagara Peninsula in the summer of 1813.

The geographic location of Burlington Heights made it the only truly defendable location between Fort George and York. It also served as a vital link in the supply route from Kingston and York to Detroit, to Brigadier-General Henry Proctor’s army at Fort Malden, Amherstburg and the Detroit frontier. During his initial withdrawal, Vincent had momentarily considered withdrawing even further to York, but given the added strategic importance of the Heights, he decided to remain there.

Burlington Heights is a long, narrow steep sided peninsula rising about 70 feet above Lake Ontario. It is bounded to the west by a marsh known as Coote’s Paradise and the inner part of Burlington Bay to the east. Its location has been misplaced in several books on the War of 1812, including George F.G. Stanley’s account of the Battle of Stoney Creek, where it is depicted as being in the outer harbour.[1]

Vincent quickly had the peninsula transformed into a defendable position. The farmhouse of Richard Beasley was commandeered as a headquarters, while earthworks were constructed. Eventually, once the military situation had stabilized, these works were improved and a magazine, sally port and batteries were erected. Burlington Heights remained an important post until the end of the War of 1812.

Burlington Heights had changed considerably over the last 190 years. Today it is a busy peninsula with a park located on its east side, a cemetery to the west and a major highway running through the middle, connecting the cities of Burlington and Hamilton, Ontario. The park boasts several popular tourist attractions, including Dundurn Castle, a national historic site that was the residence of one of the first premiers of Canada . Other attraction include beautiful gardens and the Hamilton Military Museum, which boasts several interesting War of 1812 artefacts, including the sword used by Major General Phineas Riall, who commanded the Right Division during late 1813 until he was captured by the Americans during the battle of Lundy’s Lane on 25 July 1814.

The following images provide an idea of the terrain and a few of the many markers commemorating War of 1812 events on Burlington Heights.


Map 1: The Niagara Peninsula, 1813 depicting various actions from the campaign season
This map incorrectly depicts Burlington Heights as being in the outer harbour of Burlington Bay.
It is actually the small peninsula on the south shore in the inner harbour.
(From George F.G. Stanley, Battle in the Dark, Stoney Creek, Courtesy Canadian War Museum)


A view on the Heights looking north towards Dundurn Castle, lying south of the 3rd line as shown on Map 2. A portion of the recreated works is visible to the left. (Author’s collection)
Click on the image for a larger view.
A view towards the Hamilton Military Museum (also known as Battery Lodge). Note the plaque in the wall, which reads, “This battery was part of the defences on Burlington Heights, 1812 – 1815. Placed by the Wentworth Historical Society, 1914.” (Author’s collection)
Click on the image for a larger view.


A view of the cemetery on the western side of the peninsula. In 1914, the Wentworth Historical Society placed four markers to indicate the general line of the first and second line of defensive works. One of these small markers appears just to the right of the road, just below the large grave marker. (Author’s collection) Click on the image for a larger view. A display from the Hamilton Military Museum showing the sword belonging to Major-General Phineas Riall, commander of the Right Division of Upper Canada, from November 1813 to July 1814. (Author’s Collection)


One of the four markers indicating the first line of defences. (Author’s Collection) One of several markers erected by the province of Ontario commemorating historical events. This one is to Sir John Harvey, who led the attack on Stoney Creek and who was also present at a number of other actions during 1813 and 1814, including Fort George, Crysler’s Farm, Fort Niagara, Black Rock, Oswego, Lundy’s Lane and at Fort Erie. (Author’s Collection) Click on the image for a larger view.



[1] See George F.G. Stanley, Battle In The Dark, Stoney Creek.  Canadian War Museum. Canadian Battle Series No. 8. Toronto, 1991.


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