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Captain John Coote – a sailor or a soldier?

19 December 2015

Cootes Paradise graphic

Almost everyone knows that Cootes Paradise, the wetland at the west end of Hamilton Harbour, is named after Captain John Coote but there seems to be some disagreement about who he was.  Today’s edition of the Hamilton Spectator, in a feature called The Namesakes Challenges, states that he was a naval officer.  McMaster University website on Cootes Paradise agrees but the Royal Botanical Gardens is conflicted with one page calling him a naval officer, one page calling him an army officer and a third compromising by calling him a military officer.

Dundas Museum & Archives has him as a soldier stationed at Fort George, which was not built till 1796 after Thomas Coote had died.  Another website claimed that he was stationed at Fort Henry.  The one in Ontario was not built till 1812.  The one in West Virgina was built in time but neither would have been convenient for a hunting trip to Dundas!  Other sources claim that he was naval officer on leave from his army duties.  Maybe some people don’t know the difference between a soldier and a sailor!

I have to side with Margaret Houghton, who, in her Hamilton Street Names:  An Illustrated History (James Lorimer & Co, Toronto, 2002) claims that he was an army officer, first in the 8th or King’s Regiment and later in the 34th Cumberland Regiment, stationed at Niagara, which would have been Fort Niagara in what is now New York State and that he arrived there in 1782.  There were few Royal Navy officers in our area prior to the war of 1812 while there were many British army officers.

Either way, it raises questions.  Fort Niagara had only been captured from the French in 1759 and the American Revolutionary war lasted from 1775 to 1783.  It’s hard to reconcile those turbulent times with the image of a bucolic Captain Coote, be he sailor or soldier, out duck hunting in the wetlands of Dundas.