The Nine Mile Portage is an aboriginal transportation route that existed centuries before Europeans came to Simcoe County. The portage linked Kempenfeldt Bay through Willow Creek, connecting Lake Simcoe to the Nottawasaga River which flows into Georgian Bay off Lake Huron. The portage was adopted by the British Military as a key piece of their supply line during the War of 1812. In 1814, Kempenfeldt Bay (Barrie) and Willow Creek (Fort Willow) became supply depot landings handling goods and arms from York (Toronto), north to the naval dockyard at Penetanguishene.
In 1814 Fort Willow was built near the Willow Creek portage landing. At that time Simcoe county was road-less wilderness, with no significant European population in the Barrie area. It is the portage landing on Kempenfeldt Bay that became the home location for the first settlers in 1819.
Fort Michilimackinac defended the strait between Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. there was significant tactical importance to Lake Huron. The British army was concerned that US forces would enter Upper Canada through the backdoor of Lake Huron and Georgian Bay. It is easy to understand how the British worried that if the Americans took Fort Michilimackinac, that the naval base at Penetanguishene would fall easily soon after. The fear was that the Americans would then swoop down from the North to York ( Toronto) and simultaneously attack from the south and capture British North America.
Taking control of a transportation corridor that would allow goods and troops to flow north as needed was imperative to the defense of British North America. Bolstering the Nine Mile Portage was an important piece in this strategy of creating a secure effective supply-line.
Today, the path of the Portage is marked by signs along roads in Barrie and in Springwater Township. You can follow the path from Fred Grant Square (Owen St. & Dunlop St. Barrie) to Fort Willow (Minesing). A map of the portage route can be found here on the City of Barrie web site. It’s northern point, Fort Willow, is open to the public and is a must visit location if you are visiting Simcoe County.
There is a Nine Mile Portage festival held annually. This year the festival takes place on Sept. 17 and 18th. There will be a wide variety of reenactments at both Fort Willow and Heritage Park Barrie.
Also See: Historic Fort Willow website
Updated from Original July 4, 2010 article