Guarding the Rideau Canal and
A visit to Fort Henry in Kingston Ontario is like a step back in time to wen Canada was an important part of Britain's worldwide empire.
Lake Ontario in the heart of Kingston
Situated high atop the steep cliffs at Point Henry this mighty stone fortress has a commanding view over Lake Ontario and allowed it to control the flow of maritime traffic into and from the St. Lawrence River.
The fort standing today is not the original fort built on the site however. The original fort was built during the War of 1812 to help defend Kingston, which at that time was the most important community in this part of Ontario and the site of the Royal Dockyards, from an attack by the invading Americans. After the war the English began construction of the Rideau Canal as an alternative transportation route as they deemed the St. Lawrence too vulnerable if another war with the United States should erupt.
The entrance to the Rideau Canal was to be at Kingston Ontario and this together with the Royal Dockyards and the location near the mouth of the St. Lawrence River made the community one of the most important military locations in the whole country. The original fort was deemed outdated and construction of a new fort was begun in 1832 and when completed in 1837, Fort Henry was one of the most militarily advanced fortifications in the world.
Fort Henry was the key part of an elaborate fortifications system that included a number of other defensive works, all of which still stand today, and together form the Kingston Fortifications National Historic Site of Canada. Fort Henry itself was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1923 and in 2007 was also declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site as part of the Rideau Canal system.
The fort remained garrisoned by the British Army until 1870 when, after Confederation in 1867 and the creation of the new country of Canada, regiments of the newly formed Canadian Army moved in. The fort remained active until 1891 at which time friendly relations with the United States made the high costs of maintaining the fort unnecessary and it was decommissioned from the active roster. It should be noted that neither the original nor the current "Old Fort Henry" ever came under military attack.
The abandoned fort began to deteriorate but it was repaired somewhat during World War I as it was used as an internment camp for political prisoners. After the war it was again abandoned and began to rapidly deteriorate. In 1936 restoration of the fort was begun as a "make work project" during the Great Depression. Completed in 1938 at a cost of over $1,000,000 it was opened as a museum and historic site by Prime Minister Mackenzie King and dedicated to all the British soldiers who had served within its walls.
Fort Henry was used as a prisoner of war cap during World War II and was known as Camp 31. It was subsequently re-opened to the public in 1948 and has ever-since remained one of Kingston Ontario's premier tourist attractions.
Location of Fort Henry
View Larger Map
Getting to Fort Henry:
Visitors should go to my Kingston Ontario page and follow directions to get to the city by their desired method. Once in Kingston the fort is very easy to locate as it is located on Fort Henry Drive on the shores of Lake Ontario and every local will be able to point you in the right direction.
If you are arriving by car simply follow Highway 401 either east or west until you arrive in Kingston and take exit # 623. There will be well posted signs everywhere that will lead you right to the fort.
Visitors to the "Old" Fort Henry today will be enthralled with this wonderful living museum.
During the busy summer months it is staffed by university, college and high school students that are trained as British Soldiers known as the: Fort Henry Guard. These dedicated students dress in full military uniform and man the gates, guard the walls, give tours and generally perform the daily tasks of an ordinary British "redcoat" from 1867. The highlight however is when they perform military maneuvers to the accompaniment of periodic music. Some of the drills performed include:
- Muster Parade
- Garrison Parade
- Artillery Drills
- Sunset Ceremony
- Sunset Ceremony
One of the highlights to any visit to thee fort is the magnificent Sunset Ceremony that takes place every Wednesday and Saturday in July and August.
This 90-minute, award winning performance features the Fort Henry Guard performing a mock battle drill complete with rifle and artillery fire, all to the accompaniment of thundering drumbeats. A new addition is a high tech 2.5 D projection system that showcases images to compliment the live performance. The riveting show ends with the lowering of the Union Jack and a subsequent fireworks display.
Please note that admission to the Sunset Ceremony is an additional fee from general admission and tickets must be purchased separately. The show generally begins at 8:30 PM and it is a very popular event so it is recommended that tickets be purchased in advance if possible. For more information visit: www.forthenry.com
In addition to the Guard other volunteers dress as civilians from the period such as schoolteachers, blacksmiths and soldiers wives.
Walking around the grounds, visitors will be impressed by the sheer size and display of military strength and they will see a number of historically significant buildings, structures and fortifications including:
- Stone walls over 10 metres (30 feet) high and 2 metres (6 feet) thick
- Advanced Battery (the highest point in the entire Kingston area)
- West Branch Ditch Tower
- Dry ditch (40 feet wide and 30 feet deep)
- Curtain Wall
- Branch Tower East
- West side well (the only part of the original fort still surviving)
- And many, many more including a couple of nearby Martello Towers.
There are also a number of daily events (Running from approximately the weekend before Victoria Day to Labour Day) including:
- Flag Raising (during reveille)
- Cannon Blasts
- Garrison Parade
- Rifle Firing
- Public Cannon and/or Rifle Firing (for a fee the public is invited to fire an authentic 12-pounder artillery piece and/or a Snider Enfield Rifle)
- Muster Parade (participants are invited to drill with the Fort Henry Guards)
- End of Day ceremony
Stories have been told for well over 100 years of the haunting of Fort Henry and the fort has even been featured on the popular show Ghost Hunters as they explored for paranormal activity. Many visitors have reported seeing ghosts and in particular those of:
- John "Gunner" Smith
A rifleman whose weapon malfunctioned and exploded in his face, he fell from the forts wall into the dry ditch and screamed in agonizing pain as he died. May people have reported seeing an injured man lying in the ditch while others have reported hearing the sounds of people scurrying in the area.
- Nils Von Schultz
A Finnish born nationalist that became involved in the Upper Canada Rebellion he was captured, tried and hung in 1838 after confessing he was full of remorse for mistakenly becoming involved in the insurrection. He is said to haunt Commanders Room #3 by moving objects around the room.
- Wandering Ghost
Many visitors have also reported seeing a man wearing a blue uniform wandering the fort at night.
All year round visitors can partake in the Haunted Walks of Kingston Tour and see for themselves if the fort is indeed one of the most haunted places in Canada and by chance run into one of the above listed apparitions. For more information visit: www.hauntedwalk.com
A visit to Fort Henry makes for a great family outing and there is so much to see and do that every family member should find something enjoyable.
I have been there on a couple of occasions myself and would definitely go back the next time I am in the Kingston area. For more information with respect to fees, event times and opening times please visit: www.forthenry.com
Get free Ontario travel tips, updates and news. Susbcribe to my newsletter.
This site is continuously updated with useful and pertinent information for your Ontario visit so if you enjoy this Ontario Travel Guide and would like to bookmark it for future reference you can do so here …