If you can believe it – we have lived in Kingston for a full 8 years and have only now visited Fort Henry, a National Historic Site right here in our own home! I am so glad we have finally come – it was really worth our while and we ended up spending the better part of a day exploring. With Kingston tossing around the idea of a year-round tourism season, we are fortunate that Fort Henry doesn’t close it’s gates on Labour Day but stays open for a fall season until October 31st, daily 10-5pm.
The fort that you are visiting today is the 2nd fort built on this advantageous site. The original one was a blockhouse structure built in anticipation of the war of 1812 and protecting the nearby Naval Dockyards as well as the mouth of the St.Lawrence river. The restoration began in 1837, prompted by a continued need to protect the newly built Rideau Canal as well. Fort Henry is the largest fortification west of Quebec City. The fort served the British Army until it was abandoned in 1870. Canadian troops continued to make use of Fort Henry until 1891. With the relations between the USA and Canada improving, the need to maintain border fortifications was not as urgent and the fort began to fall into disrepair.
A lesser known fact is that Fort Henry temporarily held prisoners of the 1837–38 Rebellions. German, Austrian and Turkish prisoners of war and some civilians, including Ukrainian immigrants described as “enemy aliens” during Canada’s first national internment operations of 1914–20 were also held at the fort. During the Second World War, the fort served as a prisoner of war camp for German Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine personnel. You can learn about this part of the Fort’s history in an exhibit dedicated to the various people that were imprisoned here.
In the 1930s Fort Henry was restored to it’s original state and dedicated as a living museum in 1938. The Fort Henry Guard was established to bring the museum alive and present drills and military ceremonies. The Fort Henry guard members are costumed interpreters who will entertain you and act as tour guides and share with you their knowledge of the fort. The Guard represents the British Army in Canada in 1867. The year 1867 was chosen as the date to interpret for two reasons. First, the year in which Canada became a nation was to be commemorated. Second, the British army converted from the 150-year-old “Brown Bess” musket to the Snider-Enfield breech-loading rifle in 1867 and it was thought it would be a good weapon to interpret.
Over the past 80 years, the Fort Henry Guard has earned an international reputation for its performance of precision military drill. During the famous Sunset Ceremonies that take place at Fort Henry each summer, the Drums, Squad, and Artillery come together to bring the fort to life. (Source: Fort Henry Guard Club)
Into the fall season, you will be able to take advantage of guided tours in English and French. Self guided tours taking you through the various displays will be available as well. A highlight will certainly be the rifle firing demonstrations of “Firepower Of The Empire”.
While the nice weather lasts, discover this UNESCO World Heritage site right here in town and go explore! Tickets can be purchased on location or online here.