The Great Lakes - Neutral Territory

Rush-Bagot Treaty Demilitarizes Lakes

These fortifications were now the first line of defence for the country's interior, a role previously played by fleets of warships on the Great Lakes. Both Great Britain and the United States were keen to avoid a repetition of the 1814 costly race to build ships. In 1817 American Secretary of State Richard Rush and British ambassador to Washington Charles Bagot signed an agreement to this end. Under the Rush-Bagot agreement, each country would henceforth maintain only a small ship with a single 18-pound cannon on Lake Champlain and Lake Ontario, and two such ships on lakes Erie, Huron and Superior. The existing ships would be disarmed and no more would be built.

It was also understood that the Royal Navy would maintain small naval bases at Île-aux-Noix, Kingston and Penetanguishene until the mid-1830s. If a dispute were to arise, the British Admiralty would send small ships from the North Atlantic Squadron to the Great Lakes through the new canals. The agreement in fact proclaimed military neutrality on the Great Lakes, which suited both countries perfectly.

Although there were a few snags during certain tense periods, the spirit of the Rush-Bagot agreement was respected, and it contributed greatly to the harmony that exists to this day between Canada and the United States.