Officer’s Quarters Cookhouse

Reconstruction at Niagara on the Lake
Reconstructed Cookhouse at Niagara-on-the-Lake

Archaeology found this animal food bone waste at Fort Willow near the Cookhouse
Animal food bone waste found during archaeology near the Cookhouse

Researcher: Will Murphy, Grade 11

The Officer’s Cookhouse was a simple, single-story log building adjacent to the Officer’s Quarters (Commandant’s House) and the Visiting Officer’s Quarters. Here, the officer(s) and their families (if they had any) would prepare and eat their meals privately from the common soldier’s kitchen on the other side of the fort.

Use in the British Army

​Officers and soldiers did not dine together. Soldiers tended to be recruited from the downtrodden, the poor, and the homeless people of both Canada and Britain, meaning that they were often (though not always) far from respectful, civilized, and lawful citizens. The officers, who tended to be higher class citizens from Britain, wanted to avoid being around the soldiers as much as possible, and so would have their meals made for them (by either an accompanying wife or a soldier chosen by the Officer himself) and eat their meals in the Officer’s Cookhouse, far away from the soldier’s cookhouse and barracks. Visiting officers would also share the Officer’s Cookhouse with the permanent officer stationed there.

Construction & Design

​The Officer’s Cookhouse was a single story, rectangular building,17ft x 25ft (according to the measurements by 1950s archaeologist Wilfred Jury), and constructed out of local timber by the British army. The building would have been a simple one, relatively easy and quick to make, with a wood shingled roof (as opposed to a thatched roof, which would be more likely to catch fire) and at least one cooking hearth and accompanying chimney to release smoke from the building.

​When the British began to build the structures at Fort Willow, they did not have time to perform the usual practice of leaving the freshly cut logs to dry and shrink naturally. This meant that after the cookhouse was built, the space between the logs would gradually begin to grow as the logs shrunk, making the building drafty. Soldiers would have to then stuff the gaps between the logs with straw, mortar, or whatever was on hand to seal the gaps in the cookhouse walls.

References:

  1. http://www.historicplaces.ca/en/rep-reg/place-lieu.aspx?id=4806
  2. http://www.warof1812.ca/food.htm
  3. http://www.archives.gov.on.ca/en/explore/online/1812/soldier-life.aspx
  4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mess#United_Kingdom
  5. http://seniortravel.about.com/od/canadatravel/ss/Photo-Tour-Of-Fort-George-National-Historic-Site_2.htm
  6. http://www.forthenry.com/index.cfm/en/about-the-fort1/tour-the-fort/officers-kitchen/
  7. http://www.fortwillow.com/

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