Niagara’s role in the mid-18th -century global conﬂict between France and Great Britain known worldwide as the Seven Years War and in the United States as the French and Indian War. The portage at Niagara Falls was of international strategic significance as the gateway to the interior of the North American continent by way of the Great Lakes, and the British siege of Fort Niagara was a critical turning point in the war as it played out in North America.
The Niagara River was of international strategic signiﬁcance as the gateway to the interior of the North American continent by way of Great Lakes. This route gave French forces access from the St. Lawrence River Valley to the Ohio, Illinois, and Mississippi River Valleys. If they could control it, British settlement could be contained to the thin line of colonies along the east coast.
“In short, the importance of this place is almost inconceivable; it is the key to the whole continent…"
- Arthur Young, (British) c. 1759
Access to the interior of the continent by way of the St. Lawrence River, Lake Ontario, Niagara River, and Great Lakes required portage around the Falls. The economic and strategic significance of the portage was well known to the Haudenosaunee, early European explorers, military forces, and frontier settlers. After the attack at Devil’s Hole in 1763, Seneca attempts to control this route as part of their role as ‘Keepers of the Western Door’ became less successful and British influence gained power.
The nineteen-day siege of Fort Niagara by British forces in 1759 was the climax of a century-long struggle for the northern gateway to the interior of the North American continent. Conduct of the siege followed the classic techniques of then-modern warfare applied to the wilds of the remote American frontier. The bloody repulse of French troops sent to raise the siege at La Famille and subsequent capitulation of the fort ended all hopes of French ambitions within the Great Lakes. Impact on the Haudenosaunee The long standing Haudenosaunee strategy of playing European nations against each other lacked leverage with the French loss of Fort Niagara and North America.
The Niagara River, as is the entire Great Lakes Basin of which the river is an integral part, is a legacy of the last Ice Age. 18,000 years ago southern Ontario was covered by ice sheets 2-3 kilometers thick.