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Old Fort Niagara pummeled by Lake Ontario flood waters

Old Fort Niagara / French Castle
Old Fort Niagara / French Castle

Concerns are growing that the historic structures at Old Fort Niagara could be at risk of damage from Lake Ontario's flood waters. The fort is located at the mouth of the Niagara River, where it meets the lake.

This week, the staff at Fort Niagara noticed several trees were missing from the bank, just east of the fort. On closer investigation, they determined that rising waters and winds caused a portion of the embankment to collapse into the lake, taking the trees with it.

Credit Old Fort Niagara / French Castle
Damage to the embankment at Old Fort Niagara.

"It’s erosion, but the term 'erosion' sort of implies a gradual process. This was sudden," said Fort Niagara executive director Robert Emerson.

He says the park’s popular French Castle sits about 10 feet from a sea wall. That’s only thing protecting it from the harsh waves and wind.

The wall stands about 30 feet tall. And this week, the water was just a few inches away from the top of the lower section. The upper section of the wall is made of stone. If the waves reach the upper section, it could start to erode.

Emerson says the French Castle is the oldest building in the Great Lakes region, and the core of the historic site.

"It was built by the French in the 1726," he said. "It’s an architectural gem. Generations of people have come here and we don’t want to be the ones to lose it. It needs to last centuries longer, it needs to last."

Credit Water approaches the edge of a seawall
Water approaches the edge of the seawall at Old Fort Niagara

But, battling the water isn’t something new.

"It’s been an ongoing struggle against the lake for generations," Emerson said. "Even when the French were here, in the 18th century, they were complaining about the lake shore eroding."

This week, Lake Ontario's water levels were reported to be more than 22 inches higher than the long-term average.