Kingston Fort Henry National Historic Site

Kingston Fort Henry

A top site to see in Kingston is actually an authentic British-built military fort where the sound of rifle shots and cannon fire are still heard and witnessed daily. Fort Henry is a restored 19th-century military fort and is now a museum. In fact, it is Kingston’s largest museum. It is located on a strategically elevated point near the mouth of the Cataraqui River, where it flows into the St. Lawrence River, known as Point Henry. The fort and the point are named after former Lieutenant Governor of Quebec Henry Hamilton. It is a UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE site.

The fort was built in 1812 at the beginning of the War of 1812 as a fortification to protect the Kingston Royal Naval Dockyard ( the site of the present Royal Military College of Canada) from an American attack and to closely monitor maritime traffic on the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario. In the early 1830s, the original fort was demolished and rebuilt as a much larger fort. It would still protect the naval dockyard and established protection for the southern entrance to the Rideau Canal.

Neither the original nor the current fort were ever under attack or damaged during wartime. It was Canada’s strongest fortification west of Quebec during that time. British(Imperial) troops were deployed to Fort Henry from 1813-1870. The Canadian Militia garrisoned at the fort until 1891.

Fort Henry held prisoners temporarily from the 1837-1838 Rebellions. During World War II, the fort was a prisoner of war camp for German Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine personnel. Some German, Austrian, and Turkish prisoners of war plus some Ukrainian Immigrants and civilians were held at Fort Henry during the first internment operations of 1914-1920. Rich in the birth of Canada’s history and its beginnings, the fort has so many stories to tell.

As American and Canadian relations improved, the need for protection along the borders ceased, and the military abandoned the fort. It fell into disrepair, but in the early 1930s was restored ( a work project during the Great Depression). It re-opened in 1938 as a living museum complete with the Fort Henry Guard. The Guard still staff the museum in full military uniform. They are interpreters, tour guides and give demonstrations of British military life, such as re-enactments of battle tactics, drills, a Victorian schoolroom, and the Garrison Parade. Young visitors may have the chance to dress in uniform and march with the Guard.

Each Wednesday, there is a Sunset Ceremony with a full historic drill complete with music and artillery exhibited in July and August. The fort offers ghostly tales and tours of the supposedly haunted fort for those who may want an evening of adventure.

Once visitors step inside the museum, it’s like stepping back into 19th-century military life. The Fort Henry Guard are university students that are highly trained and disciplined as British soldiers from 1867. Some civilians also staff the fort as soldier’s wives and school teachers, and the staff has excellent stories and accounts of strange and mysterious happenings at the fort. Many ceremonies and special events are held at the fort.

Fort Henry is one of Kingston’s iconic attractions. Rich in history and offers beautiful scenic views upon the point. A great way to reach the fort and the other historical sites is to hop on the red Kingston Trolley; it stops at most top attractions. Fort Henry is part of a larger historical site called the Kingston Fortification’s National Historic Site, which also includes the Shoal Tower, the tower/ Walls of Fort Frederick (near the Royal Military College), and the Murney Tower. It’s like stepping back into early Canadian history, a truly enriching way to spend the day. 

Check out the Kingston Penitentiary which is in Kingston ON too.

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